NRF’s BIG Show 2017: Retailers Must Invest in Tech to Effectively Compete

BizTech – To close the technology innovation gap, retailers need to invest in systems that will help deliver a unified commerce platform for customers, analysts say.

Amazon’s retail business is eating retailers’ lunch — and dinner too. To compete with the online retail behemoth, retailers must invest in technology at higher rates and transform their IT environments, retail analysts say.

The goal that many retailers are now trying to achieve is known as “unified commerce,” which, in the words of retail research firm Boston Retail Partners, involves a “single, centralized, real-time platform for all customer engagement points.” Unified commerce “combines point-of-sale, mobile, web, call center and clienteling into one single integrated platform.”

At a breakfast panel on challenges facing retail CIOs at NRF Retail’s BIG Show 2017 in New York City, Greg Buzek, president of IHL Group, a research firm for the retail and hospitality industries, noted that while overall retail sales were up in the holiday shopping season by around 3.6 to 4.9 percent over 2015, Amazon’s retail business garnered 38 percent of all online sales during the season and shipped more than 2 billion items.

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84% of retailers to use mobile POS within 3 years

Fierce Retail – As many as 84% of retailers are planning to use mobile POS within three years, according to a new report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP). Having a constant and almost unlimited array of information through mobile devices has forever changed the shopping experience and elevated consumer expectations for customer service.

BRP’s 2017 POS/Customer Engagement Survey of top North American retailers offers insights into retailers’ current initiatives and their attempts to offer a seamless experience across all channels. Along with POS systems, 89% of those surveyed said they would offer mobile solutions for sales associates within those same three years.

“Unified commerce goes beyond omnichannel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a common commerce platform,” said Brian Brunk, principal at BRP, in a release. “Retailers are moving in this direction with 71% planning to have a unified commerce platform within three years.”

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Get Ready for Unified Commerce as a Service

Retail TouchPoints – Retailers recognize the need for a holistic customer experience that transcends channels, but most attempts to deliver a seamless cross-channel experience are falling short. Many retailers have taken the “just get something done” approach and cobbled technology and processes together, with little to no integration, just to try and keep up with customer expectations. The unfortunate result of this quick fix approach is a “faux” omnichannel model that doesn’t execute as promised and risks disappointing customers.

The industry has now reached a critical point where retailers can no longer afford to operate from within channel silos. They must transform their organization, business processes and technology to align with the demands of their customers. According to BRP’s 2016 POS/Customer Engagement Survey, 85% of the retailers surveyed realize the importance of offering a true unified commerce environment to their customers, but most have not reached that goal yet. Only 18% of the retailers surveyed indicate they have implemented a unified commerce platform, and two-thirds of those companies indicated that it “needs improvement.”

Unified commerce goes beyond omnichannel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a common commerce platform. A common, centralized, real-time platform for all customer engagement points is a key tenet of unified commerce. A unified commerce platform is not simply the future in-store or web platform, but combines in-store POS, mobile, web, order management, call center and clienteling into one integrated platform. It has become the new retail imperative.

While retailers understand the importance of moving to a unified commerce model, it can be a daunting project when considering the scope of a commerce platform that enables and supports every customer touch point — and in real time. An additional complexity is the rapidly evolving solution landscape, as software vendors look to best position their solutions for unified commerce. Throughout this evolution, more and more capabilities are being moved out of point solutions like POS and being centralized, or in many cases being enabled as cloud-based services.

Retailers are embracing this move to the cloud as they realize that it is key to accelerating their vision for a unified commerce platform that is integrated, scalable and flexible to support evolving business needs.

Further bolstering the move to the cloud is the availability of much more sophisticated networking technology. With today’s network technology, retailers can truly achieve 100% uptime, removing the last perceived hurdle to moving away from decentralized commerce solutions that have been the norm for decades. As retailers are deploying more applications in the cloud, the new norm has become hybrid cloud environments, with a mix of private and public cloud-based service. This is where the network plays a central role in the future of unified commerce platforms. A robust, well architected and properly managed network solution is imperative for unified commerce success in the cloud.

Given the move to the cloud for unified commerce and a growing preference by retailers for utility-based, as-a-service solutions, we see the next step in this evolution is “Unified Commerce-as-a-Service.” We see this as a real opportunity for retailers to accelerate their unified commerce journey with a one-stop service, inclusive of hardware, infrastructure, applications, implementation and maintenance services. This bundled, all-inclusive approach would simplify and accelerate retailers’ path to achieving a unified commerce platform. Additionally, if the offering was available as a utility-based payment plan, it might also make it easier for retailers to justify this transformation project from a financial perspective. Rather than investing millions in upfront cost to start the development of a unified commerce platform, retailers could spread the cost over several years and just pay a monthly subscription fee for the entire unified commerce bundle of applications and services. What a novel idea!

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Personal + Mobile + Seamless + Secure = Unified Commerce for Retailers

Card Flash – Unified commerce goes beyond omni-channel, putting the customer experience first, breaking down the walls between internal channel silos and leveraging a common commerce platform. Retailers are moving in this direction with 71% planning to have a unified commerce platform within three years.

According to a new report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP), the mobilization of retail and a renewed focus on customer centricity is the catalyst for the new retail paradigm of unified commerce. According to the 2017 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey, retailers understand that the always-connected consumer expects a personalized, seamless experience wherever, whenever and however she shops and they are focused on delivering a unified customer experience.

Critical to unified commerce are the four key pillars that define the required customer experience: personal, mobile, seamless and secure. Personalization of the customer experience is key and offering more mobile options and real-time retail are necessary to make the experience seamless across channels. To ensure the trust and loyalty of the customer, data security is also critical.

BRP’s 2017 POS/Customer Engagement Survey of top North American retailers offers insights into retailers’ current priorities and initiatives as the digital and physical worlds converge to facilitate a seamless experience across channels.

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Finding Win-Win

Frozen and Refrigerated Buyer – What makes a good trading partner? Manufacturers can start by taking a more customized approach to each retailer.

Unlike those youth sports competitions where everyone gets a trophy, the grocery game often produces clear winners and losers. Thanks largely to consolidation that’s created increasingly powerful retailers, suppliers are the ones that usually take a licking. But so-called “partnerships” that keep one company on the verge of bankruptcy aren’t good for anyone — even retailer winners. In order to succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace, they need strong partners that can help them get ahead.

In fact, says Ken Morris, principal at Boston-based Boston Retail Partners, when they make an initial pitch to a new buyer, smart manufacturers will focus more on the benefits of the business relationship and less on product attributes. “While making the product compel- ling to the retailer is important,” he explains, “it’s even more important to demonstrate how you can add value to the supermarket’s business or make their operations more efficient and easy.”

“Good suppliers share insights that help retailers improve product forecasts and make smarter decisions around purchase volumes,” says Morris. “They also help retailers minimize out-of- stocks with insights into delivery schedules, the impact of the manufacturer’s advertising and promotions calendar and enhanced forecasting data.” An extranet that enables efficient data sharing between retailers and manufacturers is an invaluable tool, he adds. And manufacturers would be smart to stay on top of RFID technology.

Already prevalent at the carton and pallet level, RFID will eventually move to item level as well, allowing real-time visibility of inventory, reports Morris. What better way for suppliers to help their retailer partners reduce labor costs and improve inventory planning?

Another increasingly important manufacturer role revolves around food safety. Recalls are costly not only in terms of dollars and cents but reputation, so more and more chains are looking for suppliers that have not only taken steps to prevent them in the first place but also have a well thought-out, immediate action plan in the event one is required.

“In addition to improving their own production and distribution processes,” continues Morris, “Manufacturers can help retailers by providing guidance on food safety practices and technology that can track products and monitor temperatures to ensure the cold chain isn’t broken.” Because no matter which company is at fault, a recall hurts both partners.

Read Full Article: Finding Win-Win (page 36-39)

Unified Commerce Adoption Snag: 71% of Retailers Don’t Have Formal Omnichannel Demand Planning Processes

Bulldog Reporter – Savvy retailers know their current planning tools are not capable of supporting the unified commerce environment necessary to satisfy today’s customers, according to a new report from Boston Retail Partners (BRP). The firm’s 2016 Merchandise Planning Survey reveals that retailers understand that merchandise needs to be available across channels—but this makes planning exponentially more complex and challenging.

Today’s retailers wrestle with a myriad of business and IT issues as they strive for an efficient and effective omnichannel environment. The common issues include: current organization structure is not set up to plan and support an omnichannel environment; planning applications are ineffective and not integrated; and the current environment can’t support the complex analysis of the high volume of data required to optimize planning decisions and meet customer demand.

“While unified commerce is the desired model to which most retailers strive, planning organizations are struggling with the current lack of system, process and organization integration to support the necessary model,” said Gene Bornac, vice president at BRP, in a news release. “The good news is that retailers recognize that there is a problem and there are a number of very good tools available to address the current planning needs. The bad news is that getting the budget and resource commitments to upgrade systems is a huge challenge.”

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Going Beyond Unified Commerce

RIS News – Say the term point of sale, and a fixed terminal mounted in a dedicated cash wrap station likely comes to mind. But POS is rapidly transforming in both its role and look. POS is now a key facilitator of the brand experience, one that is specific to each customer and each shopping occasion. That’s challenging retailers to take a greenfield approach to their next POS deployment.

As part of that recasting, retailers are replacing POS-specific applications with unified commerce platforms. It is a monumental shift, but it’s not the only challenge retailers face as they revamp their points of sale.

Just 28% of retailers are up to date with POS technology, and the average POS system is 6.7 years old, according to RIS News’ “13th Annual Store Systems Study” and EKN Research’s “Retail Point-of-Sale Blueprint.” Old hardware is restraining adoption of unified commerce, due to limitations in access to data, processor speed and storage.

As they scope out their next POS, many retailers are rethinking the form factor to suit new roles. POS now takes the form of self-checkout, mobile devices, kiosks, scan as you go, fixed/mobile hybrids and click-and-collect stations in addition to numerous variations on traditional fixed cashwrap solutions.

“The biggest decision factor retailers are struggling with is finalizing their holistic customer experience vision and customer engagement model,” said Brian Bunk, principal, Boston Retail Partners. “This is the starting point to drive POS and in-store form factors. We think most retailers will continue with a hybrid approach that focuses on the greatest flexibility and support of robust and dynamic customer engagement.”

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Retailers Fight to Stay Alive

Valley News – It was a tough year for mom-and-pop stores in the Upper Valley. At least nine longtime independent retail stores closed their doors in 2016, accelerating a trend that has been especially noticeable since the end of the 2008-09 recession. The roll call of fallen businesses include retailers that had welcomed customers for decades, if not generations, leaving in their place vacant spaces that in many cases have yet to be occupied by new tenants.

“Independents have really felt the brunt of it the past two years,” said Perry Kramer, vice president at consulting firm Boston Retail Partners, which advises retail businesses. “And there’s going to be continuing closures,” noting that this past season 15 percent of holiday shopping occurred online.

Especially vulnerable, he said, will be national chains, with their vast retail networks now facing excess capacity. “There are something like 1,500 malls in the country, and 700 of them are struggling,” he said.

Kramer, the consultant, said that small, independent retailers actually have advantages over both online retailers and chains by “making the shopping experience enjoyable” through in-person service that no algorithmn has been able to replicate. Among the ideas that he has seen work are “shopping nights,” where downtown stores stay open later one evening a week — Thursday is popular — often promoting themselves together with restaurants and movie theaters to attract as many people as possible. “But you need to get the community together and organized. This is where the chamber of commerce can really help,” he said.

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Lands' End, after years of struggle, searches for its retail mojo

LA Times – Lands’ End once again is seeking a path out of the retail wilderness, and I’m hoping it makes it.

It’s not that the company, which last week hired a new chief executive, is particularly essential to the retail landscape. But it would be nice to think that well-established businesses that have had a few hard knocks can nevertheless find their place in a world where any dot-com is a player.

The fact that I work for a newspaper probably has a lot to do with my rooting for the underdog here.

But experts I spoke with agreed on this much: Lands’ End serves as a cautionary tale for survival in a fast-changing industry.

“Retail is a business that’s constantly in transformation,” said Gene Bornac, vice president of the consulting firm Boston Retail Partners. “Right now, we’re in one of the biggest periods of transformation ever.”

The buzz word I heard most from industry insiders was “relevance.” If a business or brand isn’t deemed “relevant” by customers — that is, hip, trendy and offering high quality at low prices — it can quickly become roadkill.

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Unified Commerce is Changing POS Forever

RIS News – Retailers are in the midst of an arduous but essential transition from siloed channels to unified commerce. Much of that work entails transforming the underlying infrastructure that controls the way merchandise is planned, orders are managed, inventory is distributed and customer data is accessed.

But the unified commerce transformation also changes the end points that feed off that foundation. POS, long considered the heart of a retailer’s store systems, is now disrupted. At the same time retailers are shifting their cultures and infrastructure, they must reconsider how POS functions in this new world.

“Traditional in-store POS capabilities are becoming modularized and are being migrated to a single commerce platform,” says Brian Brunk, principal, Boston Retail Partners (BRP). “With the increasing sophistication of today’s network technology, we will see a more rapid movement of these capabilities to the cloud. POS as we know it today will be changed forever.”

Why Unified Commerce
Eight-five percent of retailers consider unified commerce a top priority, according to BRP’s “17th Annual POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey,” but 37% also report their POS software is more than five years old. So at the same time they are working to integrate or replace disparate backend systems, those retailers need to revisit the role of POS in the customer experience, and consider how they can align new solutions with both where they are now and where they want to go. That’s a lot to take on.

In the company’s benchmarking survey, BRP’s Bunk, called this singular approach “the game changer, as it fundamentally changes how retailers think about POS and is driving much of the activity we are seeing in the solution marketplace.”

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