Digital development 'a game of inches' for retailers

Retail leaders from different sectors of the industry offered their views on the multichannel journey at a conference in London, last week – and one key message was that digital development must be seen as a gradual process.

Monsoon-Accessorize CEO John Browett – the former Dixons CEO and Apple retail boss – said integrating online channels with store systems is "not easy" but at a time when his company is currently working through various tech projects, he is confident that digitalised stores are the future for fashion businesses like his.

In March the retailer launched a live pilot of an in-store sales application that connects the web with point-of-sale. The introduction of the Micros-based Monsoon Accessorize Extended solution allows store staff to use iPads to engage with customers on the shopfloor and present the retailer's full online range and process transactions.

Browett described the use of iPads in-store as "magic" for fashion businesses, and the new tool which has been trialled in some of its stores is clearly one part of the business's strategy to establish a more online-focus. The CEO said his team is in the process of reducing the standalone-Monsoon property portfolio to around 125 stores and he expects the physical retailing space to play more of a consulting role in the shopping journey for consumers who will typically research and purchase items online, either side of a store visit.

He was speaking at the British Retail Consortium's annual Retail Symposium, which was held at The Brewery in central London, as part of a programme of presentations from some of the largest players in the UK retail industry.

In terms advice to delegates, Home Retail Group CEO John Walden – who is currently overseeing Argos's roll-out of more futuristic stores – used his presentation to say the technological journey retailers currently need to undertake "is a game of inches", as opposed to making revolutionary change.

On the subject of using customer data and eCommerce to boost sales, Charles Tyrwhitt founder Nick Wheeler commented: "Very well-controlled testing makes it work. Don't try and do too much; whatever you are doing, do it well."

Shop Direct CEO Alex Baldock explained how his company has invested heavily in "test and learn", and runs user experience (UX) – labs to help develop its digital proposition. Customers are invited to the company's research and development facilities, and are assessed on how they interact with new technologies.

As Essential Retail reported last year, intricate work goes into analysing consumer behaviour on tablet and mobile devices, as Shop Direct aims to understand the behaviours of a new type of shopper.

As technology continues to play a more prominent part in the store environment it is clear the responsibilities of staff are going to change, too. A recent announcement from the UK's second largest supermarket, Asda, is a case in point, with various store management roles soon to make way for more customer-experience-focused positions surrounding emerging services, such as click & collect.

Asda said that thousands of job positions will be impacted, although the grocer expects the realignment will ultimately result in a net increase in its workforce.

Home Retail Group's Warden views the technological evolution as an opportunity for the industry's workforce, rather than a threat, saying that new retail could provide "much more rewarding" job positions than it has done the past.

"Technology doesn't mean less employment, it just means the roles change," he commented.

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British Retail Consortium