Retail technology view from the top: Epson's David Spratt

As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail continues to gauge the views of the sector's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews over the coming months. This week, it's the turn of Epson UK's head of business systems sales, David Spratt.

Fresh from a trip to New York to visit the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Big Show and expo, the clear message for Epson UK's David Spratt is that the next era for retailing revolves around enhancing the physical shopping environment and mobilising transactions.

The exhibition halls were brimming with technology companies showcasing mobile tablet devices for the point of sale, or hardware aimed at engendering a consultative approach to retailing. Spratt, who is head of business systems at Epson UK, told Essential Retail that there is tech equipment now available that gives forward-thinking businesses a chance to challenge some of the long-established market leaders.

"This is an exciting development for the industry as I believe it creates an opportunity for agile retailers," he explained.

"Perhaps some of the traditional retail names will be less able to implement digital services at the point of sale. The market is potentially changing and there are opportunities for businesses to steal an advantage."

From his conversations with clients and other industry players, Spratt suggests there is a feeling that there has been a lot of talk over the last few years about innovation and retail transformation at the point of sale, but perhaps limited action from the businesses operating in the sector.

Consumers – and their growing capability in terms of their use of new technologies – have driven significant change in the shopping dynamic over the last decade, with a number of retailers struggling to keep up with a more demanding and empowered customer base than there has ever been before.

The talk at NRF tended to centre on how retailers now understand the concept of customer centricity, and the majority of them are directing their efforts towards embracing change and investing in technology to enhance their offering for consumers.

"Companies have an aspiration of implementing new technology, such as mobile point of sale and assisted tablet-based selling, but I don't think they have really known how to do it before now," Spratt remarked.

"We are starting to see projects where businesses are running pilots and there is now potential to start implementing this type of change. Retailers do want a more interactive point of sale, they do want to de-clutter, and our challenge is to convey the message that we have the solution."

There is an argument that a change in economic fortunes in the UK is having an impact on business investment. Caution is advised when listening to politicians talk about the state of the economy during a General Election year, as the different parties manipulate figures to support their individual targets, but recent Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures appear to show that, in 2014, the UK economy grew at its fastest pace since 2007.

According to the ONS, the economy grew 2.6% over the last 12 months – compared to a jump of 1.7% one year before. The final quarter did see growth slow down, but there is a general upward trend in terms of economic health.

Retailers, such as the UK's largest supermarket Tesco, have gone on record saying they are making significant investments that will have a short-term bottom line impact but are expected to generate long-term reward. This attitude across the industry has resulted in some large-scale transformation projects kicking off over the last 18 months.

"For a year now the senior management at Epson have been asking me if there's an economic revival and I've been reticent to say 'yes'," noted Spratt.

"Even though our business is accelerating now, I've been a bit cautious. I do actually think there is a recovery – where we see that is in some of the new retail projects. Our tier one and two partners were the companies that stopped their big projects in the recession, so it is good news that business is going well."

Following the busy Christmas period, there is a buoyant mood within retailing on the whole. Businesses in the sector are showing a willingness to invest in making the customer experience as good as it can be.

"It's a dynamic market at the moment and there's an opportunity to compete like never before," Spratt asserted.

"Retailers bringing in new services may well take the advantage."

Epson will be exhibiting at RBTE 2015, which takes place at London Olympia between 10-11 March. Attendees can visit Epson at stand 410.

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