Tackling the festive rush; a Christmas present for the retail industry

Christmas is the highlight of the UK retail calendar. As the public look to open their purses during the festive period, retailers place much emphasis and energy into maximising their sales at the busiest shopping time of the year. For all the opportunity that Christmas creates, it does bring the challenge of fulfilling swelling customer demand. Although it may seem like a nice problem to have, in reality the scenario of supply outweighing demand could leave retailers with reams of untapped sales revenue and dissatisfied customers.

Why identifying the single point of failure could save your retail business

As multi-store chains look to provide a seamless customer experience across numerous channels and locations, retailers are increasingly turning to technology to deliver a connected, consistent service that gives the customer choice in their shopping preferences.

Solutions such as ERP, CRM and cloud hosting have been integrated into the systems of a series of nationwide retailers to collect point of sale data, show inventory availability, and solicit online purchasing patterns from remote locations on mobile devices. This all helps retailers to understand their customers, and utilise these insights to provide the products, promotions and services they want.

Due to the ever-increasing functionality that multi-chain retail-specific solutions provide, organisations rely heavily upon technology for the majority of business tasks, from enhancing supply-chain operations to taking payment for goods. Which raises the alarming question of “what if it all goes wrong?”

The iBeacon: changing the face of the UK retail market

Do you know what an iBeacon is? If not, you’re sure to soon, as this new technology could be set to change how retailers go to market, and revolutionise the way you shop. So what’s it all about?

Interacting with smartphones via Bluetooth technology, an iBeacon alerts retailers to customers in nearby locations and sends them tailored messages and promotional collateral as they shop. Sending out marketing material relating to your products when customers are just round the corner has a much higher success rate than automated emails received at all times of day.

Due to the interaction between iBeacons and smartphones, retailers can create bespoke messages for individual customers. To illustrate, if you recognise a customer nearby has downloaded your businesses app, and has a loyalty account, they could be sent an offer as a means of rewarding their loyalty and retaining their custom.

With such a high percentage of the population owning a smartphone, this technology has the potential to take off and shape the retail industry. Although the iBeacon is very much in its infancy and few retailers are yet to utilise it, let alone harness it efficiently, there are possibilities for sellers to alter prices in real-time, dependant on a host of variables. A multi-store retailer could capitalise on sunny weather in a certain region of the country and distribute offers on summer-related products direct to the phones of customers local to their stores in this area. Popularity of certain goods could even promote real-time price changes to related merchandise, creating an in-store market.

Retail challenges: the story of fluctuating demand

Despite being regularly categorised as a single industry, the challenges facing businesses in differing retail sectors vary considerably. The immediate issues occupying the high-end fashion boutiques are likely to be significantly different to those of a multi-store supermarket chain, for example. However, one constant battle that retailers must face is fluctuating demand.

As much as retailers review past sales figures and factor in market conditions, it’s very difficult to anticipate customer requirements. Aside from having a lack of clarity over generated revenue, businesses face a logistical nightmare around resource allocation, stock distribution and the possibility of being unable to process increasing customer orders.

By migrating to the cloud, retailers can function safe in the knowledge that their IT infrastructure has the scalability to store and process information as their operations grow. With hosting platforms paid for on a ‘pay as you go’ tariff, organisations can scale up and down as demand dictates. This is of particular benefit to retailers who expect significant fluctuations in the call for their goods due to the seasonality of their products such as summer clothing or Christmas decorations. These businesses can operate in a cost-effective manner and only pay for the storage capacity they use.

Mitigating risk in the retail industry with hosting platforms

In many businesses, the loss of IT systems can cause a logistical nightmare. People are unable to access email, save documents or utilise applications. This sounds troublesome enough, but the loss of IT in a retail environment is more than a mere inconvenience, it can bring the whole operation to a grinding halt.

The migration to an omni-channel business model that features prominent digital elements has further increased retailers’ reliance upon technology. This means that system failure could leave a company incapable of processing orders; therefore, missing out on large amounts of data collection and crucially, losing revenue. If the impact of lost sales during system downtime isn’t bad enough, the episode can leave customers with a negative impression of that organisation and cause near irreparable brand damage.

With the ramifications of technology downtime clear, taking disaster recovery measures to enable a resilient, always on IT infrastructure is becoming an increasing priority for retailers. This desire for security and reliability is seen as one of the main market drivers behind cloud migration.

Charities look to digital media to gain competitive advantage

Over the past 10 years there has been a shift in consumer behaviour towards online channels. At the start retail and media were two industries which were significantly impacted, with consumers preferring to shop online rather than high street stores. Suppliers which couldn’t adapt quickly enough became insolvent or were bought out. Some high profile examples are Blockbuster, Woolworths and Dixons.

Charities now face a similar challenge. Digital media and online presence is becoming more and more integral to raising brand awareness and collecting donations. Multi-channel interaction with customers is vital to establishing brand recognition in the 3rd sector where today there are over 150,000 charities in the UK competing for donations.

Some Charities have embraced the trend and recognised social and digital media as a huge opportunity to open new donation channels and increase brand awareness.

A recent success story has been Cancer Awareness who raised £8m from a Facebook campaign (girls take a picture with no-makeup and post on facebook to raise awareness for breast cancer).

One agency that is leading the way in digital media to launch campaigns and raise awareness is Amnesty International. To drive its digital strategy, Amnesty’s IT team embarked on an ambitious three-year project to overhaul its hosting platform. This project would involve the consolidation and re-engineering of Amnesty’s hosting infrastructure, and aimed to fully integrate all its online properties, and to provide enhanced data analytics and much greater functionality to users. Other objectives included simplifying the management of the platform and eliminating other inefficiencies, and improving the reliability and flexibility of the online infrastructure.

Claranet has helped us to simplify our back-end processes and to automate fulfillment, so that our staff can get on with more important things like building additional functionality to support our next campaign."
Kamesh Patel, Head of IT at Amnesty

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