Retail technology view from the top: Wincor Nixdorf's Thomas Fell

As new systems and digital capability continue to evolve the way retailers run their businesses, Essential Retail is gauging the views of the sector's main figureheads, via a series of exclusive interviews. This week, it's the turn of Wincor Nixdorf's senior vice present for retail, Thomas Fell.

In consultancy-speak there seems to be a new buzz-phrase emerging every other week to sum up the retail industry and the way in which it needs to operate in a digital world.

Whether it is multichannel, omnichannel, mCommerce or omni-commerce, retailers are either creating terminology for themselves or being given labels to describe the way they should be viewing their organisations as mobile technology, connectivity and eCommerce capability continue to evolve and disrupt traditional business channels.

For Thomas Fell, senior vice president for the retail division at hardware, software and services provider Wincor Nixdorf, this period can be summed up simply as the "digital revolution". In his mind, it represents the third major era of modern retailing.

"We are in a middle of a paradigm shift in retail – something we don't have very often," he told Essential Retail.

"In my view, we have only had two so far: the first was self service and the second was the discounter concept, but this third big change is the digital revolution. It is having a big impact on the industry."

The new era of retailing, which can be defined by the rise of eCommerce over the last 15 years, the increasing use of mobile phones by consumers in the shopping journey and the general rapid development of technology that retailers can now access to revolutionise their front- and back-end operations, brings major challenges – according to Fell.

"Retailers need to be prepared and must work on providing a seamless customer experience across all of their channels," he explained.

"The second big thing is the in-store shopping experience. Technology can be an enabler for retailers and make a difference in the physical store. The third dimension is creating operational excellence through harmonised and integrated solutions."

There is no denying retailers have had to react quickly to the power of new technology in recent years. With consumer habits changing so rapidly, business strategies have needed to switch from one thing to the next ever since the dawn of the so-called digital revolution.

In the supermarket sector, for example, there was for years a great space race, as Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda looked to open giant superstores across the UK, but now there is a growing desire among consumers for smaller format shops in convenient locations, as well as pick-up points for online orders, easy-to-use mobile apps to build shopping lists on the go, and other tech-led services that can speed up the grocery experience.

Across the wider retail industry attention has now switched to personalisation, and using the technology that is now available to really understand shopper behaviour, reward loyalty and ensure consumers have a personal connection with individual brands.

"All the retailers I know globally are thinking about how to build this seamless customer journey online and offline," Fell remarked.

"A lot of them are no longer interested in what the share of offline and online revenue is and what area is increasing: for them it's more or less one channel to their customer, whether that involves using the internet to attract a customer to a showroom and a purchase in-store, or from showroom to internet and then an online purchase."

For the majority of retailers, Fell acknowledges, the ability to recognise an online customer in-store still does not exist – meaning there is some significant mileage for the industry to travel before it can lay claim to delivering the experience customers now require.

In terms of in-store technology, where much of Wincor's expertise lies, it is becoming increasingly clear that no two shoppers want to use this equipment in the same way, which is prompting businesses to offer as much choice as possible in their stores – be it self-service machines, automated checkouts or mobile scanning and payments.

According to Fell, offering choice must not come at the cost of confusing consumers, and this requires a joined-up approach to strategy across a retail enterprise.

"Retailers know they need to think about combined and more integrated formats," he noted.

"It is not just to do with IT or technology, it's about business processes in a store environment. IT needs to work closely with the operations departments. IT can be the enabler, but it needs to be discussed from an operational perspective as well.

"This is starting to happen, and retailers are now considering it."

Wincor Nixdorf will be exhibiting at RBTE 2015, which runs from 10-11 March 2015 at London's Olympia. Visitors can find Wincor on stand 940.

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