Ironing Out the Creases
Paul Fisher, MD at Wincor Nixdorf UK, focusses on Driving Innovation In Self-Service
Over the last five years IT systems designed for the retail environment have evolved at an incredible pace. New technologies such as self-checkout and information kiosks are increasingly being seen as a staple. This is not only true of retailers with large branch networks, but also now of convenience retailers who need to differentiate and offer the level of service this type of technology brings to a business.
There can be no doubt that for some retailers, the last few years have been tough. The economic downturn has seen stalwart retail names disappear from the UK high street and, as consumer demand is now driven by necessity and not impulse, the retail industry is being tasked to ‘do things differently’, with potential risk to sales and profitability if they do not meet this challenge.
To ensure constant growth, retailers are looking at how they can streamline their business – investing in improving business processes and store environment to generate significant and sustained benefit.
Technology has a specific role to play at this time of regeneration. It must deliver improvements, not only to the consumer but to the employees, management and most importantly the overall retail environment. If we focus on retail automation, in particular self-service, this relatively new technology has proven itself as an enabler to deliver flexibility, transparency and security – not only front of house on the shop floor, but throughout an entire retail enterprise. This is validated in the growth of self service touchpoints in retail: indeed, according to Summit Research Associates, the worldwide kiosk installed base will reach 2 million in 2011, where in the UK major retailers like Morrisons and Tesco lead the way.
Automation is Shaping Up
The popularity of automated channels is driving massive growth in IT innovation for the retail industry, with smaller, streamlined and much more usable technology being widely available. As a result, retailers are introducing the newest, coolest technological devices onto their shop floors to drive interest back into their branches and live up to the consumer’s expectations of the service they want to receive. To do this, UK retailers are deploying more innovative automated solutions like self checkout into their stores. Modular systems with intelligent applications offer such flexibility that they can be structured and installed for a specific customer demographic, on a store by store basis and from fully automated cash recycling systems to the slimmest, non-cash PayTowers – or even pocket sized payment terminals. The popularity and success of this drive for innovation is proven as we begin to see non-grocery retailers (DIY, electrical, general merchandise, forecourts and pharmacy) and smaller format stores implement self-service technology into their branches.
A great example of this is the Anglia Co-operative which is a forward thinking organisation and invests consistently in quality service to their customer. Interestingly, Anglia Co-op was one of the first retailers to deploy first generation self-checkout in the UK, even before some of the biggest UK retailers. With a simple redesign, working with Wincor Nixdorf, Anglia Co-op has deployed full function self-checkout with a tiny footprint for their smaller convenient stores. With this in place, Anglia Co-op has the ability to deliver high-end ‘out-of-town’ type service to their local customers and retain that all-important community retail feel to their stores. Self-service allows the group to maintain its brand and offer its customers choice – whoever they are and however they want to shop, without creating a negative impact on store operations or consuming staff time.
If it is to meet its full potential in retail, automated technology has to be easy to integrate into existing infrastructures without impacting front or back office core processes. Today’s retail store applications have the flexibility to allow items purchased using self-service to be recorded and reconciled instantaneously and as easily as they have been traditionally. That sales data is then fed into and used within other areas of business administration, for example in areas like inventory management, purchasing and other enterprise management systems.
Similarly, this easy integration is vital for retailers that develop creative loyalty schemes and invest dedicated resource to keep these programs competitive and up to the minute. To do this, they need to ensure all of their initiatives are available on every customer channel seamlessly, whether that is at the till-point, online, self service, kiosk or mobile application. Any retailer, no matter how small their business, that does not provide the consumer with a complete, fully-integrated, multi-channel offering will find growth limited, especially today as it is accepted that consumers have taken back control of their retail habits and are driving retail trends.
So, now that automated technologies and self-service solutions have become a standard in the retail industry, how will the technology move forward? In short, online technology and automation is now a prerequisite for any organisation offering consumers a broad range of services. We are already beginning to see how this technology can benefit industries outside of retail and retail banking, especially those industries where there is an expectation for poor user experience.
Budgetary cuts to public services have attracted many column inches over the last six months. The fear that funding cuts will result in fewer services and restricted availability of those services remaining is a frustration felt throughout the entire country. Some local authorities are already shutting core public services or reducing opening hours in an effort to reduce costs. This of course results in longer queues, more frustrated staff and inevitably reduced customer satisfaction. By introducing automation into a multi-channel environment, Local Authorities and the public sector could realise enormous benefit: better use of real estate, staff efficiency, opening hours, accuracy and ultimately customer satisfaction.
Automation and self-service has changed the traditional retail store environment and the overall customer experience. It is clear that, in retail, to survive the post-recession economic pressures, businesses need to adopt a more customer-focussed, intelligent, technologically enabled infrastructure.
Automated technology that is continually improved and developed can do just this. If used correctly, these advances will ensure UK retailers and indeed the public sector or any other areas adopting the technology, are performing at their most efficient, delivering the best possible service to customers. This will, in turn, encourage increased sales and strong brand loyalty.
Thursday, April 14, 2011