The worldwide growth of mobile technology is having a massive effect on the future of global retailing, where the possibilities in wireless kit and being discovered
13 October 2008 | 0
At the recent National Retail Federation’s (NRF) annual convention in New York, retailers were advised to ride the wave of the future – mobile coupons, bar-code readers for mobile phones and virtual worlds – to be more competitive. “These technologies are going to change the way you interact with your customer, they’re going to change the way people shop, they’re going to change the way you manage your brands,” said Giff Constable, general manager at Electric Sheep Co.
Interestingly, the US retail industry is behind compared with its Asian counterparts. For instance, Japanese shoppers can scan food items via the barcode reader included in their mobile phones so they can easily check the freshness of the product. Currently, most retailers are focusing on the improvements of basic technologies such as cash registers and inventory management systems. So where does that leave Ireland?
Self service keeping costs down
Veronica Sullivan, head of IT, BWG Foods Ltd, said self service for the customer is one of the fastest growing technology sectors in the marketplace and one that is exciting retailers and customers alike. Self checkout is becoming increasingly more commonplace within the market and customers are beginning to expect this service.
She said self service ‘Pay at Pump’ on the forecourt has appeared in several sites in Ireland. “We have had a very successful recent trial of this technology in Spar. With the cost of labour continuing to increase, it is important that retailers become cost effective by using technology to achieve this. There has been keen interest in adoption of electronic shelf edge labelling, biometric security, workforce management solutions, and recently there has been a rebirth of interest for in-store media advertising.”
Sullivan said the technology has had a major impact on day-to-day operations especially for retailers and suppliers because it gives them the ability to make decisions and changes as needed, saves time and improves accuracy. “In the area of stock replenishment, retailers and suppliers use these as commonplace tools when visiting the floor and the latest wireless devices show a multitude of information previously not available. Orders can be placed quicker, and ultimately dispatched sooner. Warehouse Management systems (WMS) in the warehouse would not be possible without the advances in this area.
“The availability of GPRS and 3G communications now mean the office becomes mobile and can be taken anywhere in the country quickly and easily.”
Technology benefits large and small retailers
According to Fergal Kinane, retail technology manager at BWG Foods, technology is not just for the big multiples; smaller independent grocers can also attain huge repayment from it. He remarked that technology benefits all and this has been proven in the past few decades as technology is continuously used in an effort to gain competitive advantage.
According to Kinane, the big companies tend to be the early adopters with new technologies due to their bigger capacity for research and development, the cost of which in the early stages of any product are beyond the scope of smaller companies. “Technologies that would be viewed now as basic, such as EPOS, mobile handhelds, warehouse management systems, and most recently self checkout, were all pioneered by the major industry players such as Walmart. These are everyday technologies that are being integrated into our business to huge success. As the costs of these technologies decrease over time they become more affordable. By teaming with symbol groups such as Spar, economies of scale further brings these technologies within reach of the independent retailer.”
Regarding the future of these technologies, Kinnane said in the self scanning area, the next generation of self checkouts have been released, where cash and coin recycling is the dominant addition to the product. He said these units will require less upkeep by store staff, meaning they become even more cost effective to maintain. “Imagine a scenario where these machines only need to be attended to once a week! Self scanning mobile solutions will focus on complementary selling of product and point of sale advertising.
“Likewise forecourts will have an element of self service as standard within the next three years. We expect ‘pay by wave’ to be introduced to the market soon, although this will be driven by the banking sector. This will further enhance the customer experience and will be the start of a serious move towards a cashless shopping experience.”
Timely monitoring and reporting are key
Richard Baird, sales director of WASP Technologies, believes that because of increased levels of competition both on price and range of products, FMCG suppliers must keep a very close watch on how their products are presented within the typical store environment. With the growing own label sector, additional pressure is also being felt by the established branded suppliers. Added to this the almost full roll out of central distribution means a typical FMCG supplier now needs to be very aware of the product’s delivery cycle right the way to the shelf and consumer shopping basket.
He said more frequent promotional cycles also call for close attention to compliance and reporting of same. And deploying powerful reporting systems is key to measuring the success of a wide range of factors that can adversely affect the sell through of a product.
“With sales order capture, handheld solutions by their highly portable nature now deliver a fast ‘order to delivery’ cycle, delivering benefits to all concerned.”
Regarding smaller players in the market, Baird said technology gives them a platform to compete on. “Big or small these system are very important. The obvious challenge of a big company is met as deploying a handheld system gives a highly efficient way of working to many stakeholders.
“However, in smaller companies…the benefits to the retailer and consumer are the same and thus the smaller company is at no disadvantage. Real time order capture and fulfilment is an example of major benefit and levels the playing field for smaller companies. The ability to provide international suppliers of the smaller FMCG distributor with high grade information is also a major benefit.”
Baird believes the future offers many technical challenges and opportunities. He said progress will be a gradual deployment of more versatile systems encompassing such technologies as RFID, which allows the individual marking of each SKU with a distinct radio tag which can contain more information than a regular barcode. “This will see a rep being able to interrogate a shelf of products and identify sell by dates etc more easily. Greater bandwidth from mobile carriers will also allow increased features to be deployed and at a lower cost. There are still great possibilities within the existing systems and many FMCG companies are only just beginning to unlock this potential.”
Reaching for backup
Bernie Dunne, account manager at the Calyx Group said the biggest change in this has been the integration of broadband, e-mail and networking into retail sites, but also, new scanning and point of sale systems have come online. “Many of our customers are investing in getting the infrastructure right, with technology such as advanced Cisco switches forming the backbone of the tills and back office systems. We’ve also seen individual store information being stored centrally rather than locally to make it more secure.
“Calyx has installed Cisco-based wireless systems around many stores so that stocktaking and ordering is much easier. The other key development is the building of specialised, custom-built systems to integrate all of the local data into the central systems.”
Dunne said collecting data in real time really drives a business forward; reporting is much more accurate and profit situations are seen instantly. “You can see who is buying what, why and when. You can see the effects of promotions, displays, offers, announcements, advertising and other sales techniques. You can even tell what effect the weather has on purchasing!”
He also believes that real time reporting shows daily and real time stock, sales and profit so that all the information that is traditionally available only to the bigger players is now also available to the smaller stores. And ultimately this levels the playing field and can put the facts, trends and decision-making data into the hands of every owner-operator in the country.
Dunne sees information technology as a key component in the retail and FMCG sector for the coming years. “When we first began working with customers in retail 18 years ago it was to simply install a PC and a printer. Since then we have obviously seen huge changes to the point where ICT has become vital to the success of a retail operation. The solutions we design and implement today involve a complete networked, analytical, control and reporting system, integrated over LAN, WAN and the web. Everything is linked so that the retailer can see what is selling at that very second, what to order, what to promote and what has worked well at any particular time in the past.”
Small and rugged
Frank Shakespeare, business development manager at Ioresource, said one of the big trends in mobile technology was that data capture terminals were becoming more ruggedised and are reducing in size. “In the past they were large cumbersome devices, now they’re small pocket sized and ruggedised. They can be taken ‘on the go’ and have signature capture facilities so people can sign for deliveries on the device’s screen. This can then be transmitted back to the office via 3G or GPRS or uploaded at a later date.”
Shakespeare said efficiencies were probably the main benefit of handheld and wireless technologies. And because broadband and radio technology now reaches throughout the country, the ability to transmit information over 3G or GPRS is benefiting companies in terms of information and possibly cash flow, in that they can actually send the information and it can be invoiced the instant goods are delivered. “It’s immediate, no coming back to the office and waiting for it to be inputted manually.”
Shakespeare also said this type of technology is valuable for smaller organisations as time is often the small firm’s worst enemy. “You’re trying to maximise the amount of time that you can be out there with your customer. If you’re a one man organisation and out all day on the road the last thing you want to do is spend the weekend inputting invoices and documentation together.
“Whereas with a handheld device you can do it online, upload it and probably spend less time behind a computer inputting the invoice. And often you can print the invoice at point of delivery so you’re cutting back on time in addition to printing and postal costs. It’s a big saving for an organisation.”
David Jones, director of field force planning for CACI, said from his company’s perspective key developments are centred around minimising the amount of time the sales reps are on the road and maximisng the time they are before the customer. He said while the software CACI manufactures has more or less stayed the same in terms of its functionality, although there have been some dynamics in the market place that have changed such as the cost of fuel, CO2 emissions, the credit crunch and cost cutting in general. “Yet people want to maintain the feel of a large sales team and by using systems such as ours they can keep their costs low but not impact on their sales.”
He also believes that smaller companies and traders should not feel left out when considering utilising these technologies. “There is relevance in these solutions for all sizes of organisations. After all they all have the same issues. The magnitude of saving might not be the same. However the percentage of saving, which is more significant to a smaller company than a bigger company, is extremely important and the ROI, in terms of investment, is exactly the same.”
What they do
A distributor to the trade, its main products are from Unitech. Most of the units supplied are ruggedised handhelds which are used for route accounting, such as people collecting PODs and so on.
Has a number of store-focused additions to its technology portfolio. It now offers electronic shelf labelling, pay at pump, and biometric solutions along with its standard retail technology portfolio through partnerships with a number of retail technology suppliers. According to BWG, self checkout will be available from the start of 2009 to its retailers, should they wish to implement it. In the supply chain, it has WMS in operation in various business divisions such as BWG Wines & Spirits. Its sales representatives can create in store orders in real time and send them immediately to the warehouse for dispatch.
WASP Technologies promotes its own product “IntelliBrand” in the FMCG industry and it is now one of the leading deployed systems. IntelliBrand delivers in five main areas: smart sales order capture including barcode capture; in-store business intelligence; sales team administration; full e-mail and PIM connectivity to MS Exchange; and a powerful and highly flexible reporting suite. It has been deployed by such companies as Nestle Ireland, Diageo Ireland, Breeo, BR Marketing and GlaxoSmithKline to name a few.
Calyx can handle everything from planning to maintenance. It is a successful independent ICT company in Ireland and the UK, and has massive experience in retail solutions. Calyx will supply and install the best-of-breed scanning machines, customer services machines, handheld devices, wireless networks, accounts and exchequer machines. The company can also take care of all training and maintenance requirements nationwide.
FMCG planning consultant, CACI has three main products: InSite FieldForce, a headcount analysis and territory optimisation tool which helps, among other things, to map out how many sales people are needed to cover the clients and thus, helps control the costs of sales people; Call smart, a journey planning tool which determines how many calls and what day to do them on, and most efficient route; and finally, a consultancy based around the products above.