Without talking the market down, Ian Tomlinson of Cybertill is convinced that, in boardrooms across the land, retailers - irrespective of business size and product type - are preparing themselves to cope with a deepening of the current retail slow-down.

Whilst theres no easy solution to the challenges that lie ahead, the situation calls for strong nerves and the creativity to go against traditional thinking. A part of the answer has to be not to cut back on technology spend but rather to invest more heavily in it.

If this seems to fly in the face of common sense, its because technology alone can help retailers to truly know their business and know their customers. Its this knowledge which will help them to do more than survive; to thrive, in a difficult trading climate.

So precisely what can IT contribute? Regardless of scale, a retailer equipped with the right armoury of technology tools gains three business-saving advantages:

  • A constantly up-to-date snapshot of performance
  • The ability to proactively manage customer relationships
  • The means to manage multiple channels in the way that customers want

Managing Trading Performance

Whilst the complexity of todays retail operations makes it impossible to truly know your business without the support of IT, the modern EPoS system can shine a spotlight on your performance. These systems enable you to access and manipulate trading data from any location, any device, at any time of the day or night, and indicate precisely what is selling and what isnt.

This gives you confidence to make decisions about stock, promotions and pricing. You can react to footfall instore to run promotions that are tailored to local events or the weather. In fact, we recommend that retailers set up a portfolio of promotions which can be turned on and off quickly as trading performance changes. Management intelligence from across the business, plus an analysis of till-by-till takings, gives a level of detail that makes you hyper-alert to the world youre operating in.

Managing Customer Relationships

Todays EPoS and e-commerce systems are strong on CRM. They capture customer address and purchase information. By telling you who your customers are and what theyre buying, you can build a relationship with them. That means the chance to up-sell by proposing products that match their buying history. Interrogating customer databases means you can issue targeted promotions, and setting up accounts and operating loyalty schemes helps to tie in your customers.

In the same way, management reporting capabilities help you to maximise your product estate because your stock is visible at any time and from anywhere. Because of this, you should effectively never lose a sale, never over-commit and never disappoint a customer.

Managing Multiple Channels

A well-managed multi-channel business has more resilience and more opportunity to build loyalty in its customers than a single channel operation, but only if it has the IT to do this well.

The best multi-channel systems take into account buying psychology and have been built around a universal database which gives a unified view of stock and customer data. By running as a single application across multiple channels, these systems store each product on the database once and once only, so theres just one, real-time version of the truth.

That means customers can check and reserve stock, make special orders or buy online or at a till point, and the transaction is deducted from a single source of stock. The same logic applies to collecting and returning goods instore that may have been purchased via a call centre or a web site. Similarly, loyalty cards and vouchers can be used, and gift cards charged up and used in any channel.

Knowing your business, knowing your customers and managing your multiple channels as one are tools that no retailer can afford to be without. The same tools that have helped retailers to thrive will help them to survive in difficult times if they have the courage to spend their money wisely.

About the Author:

Ian Tomlinson is Managing Director of EPoS and e-commerce solution provider Cybertill.

Please visit www.cybertill.co.uk