The cash register has evolved from a till to an IT system. Emma Herrod investigates whether it’s time for it to drive the omnichannel store of the future.
Product not in stock and long queues at the checkout are just two of the things that people don’t like about shopping on the high street. Of course, they are very generic and issues alter depending on shopper’s age and also with what they are actually buying and how critical the shopping journey is. Both problems though can be alleviated by the electronic point of sale (EPOS).
The humble cash register has moved from decrementing stock and opening a cash drawer as an item is sold, to stock and order management linking with web orders and to EPOS v3 with store staff able to look at a customer’s account. EPOS systems available today blend order management with on- and offline clienteling as retailers work to bring together the stock and customer channels giving store associates a single view of everything. By putting this onto a mobile device, such as an iPad, store associates are no longer tied to a fixed till position so sales can be made anywhere on the shop floor.
Clienteling apps enable store staff to view all of the data held about stock, store and customers as well as aiding them in giving discounts (with a view of a customer’s behaviour and total value across online and physical platforms) and in some cases taking payment so that they don’t need to break the flow of conversation with a customer or ask them to move to a fixed till point. They also help with queue busting – one of the things that Brits are famous for, but also the aspect of shopping that’s the biggest bug bear. In fact, 57% of consumers have named queuing as their biggest frustration with the in-store experience. Despite this, only 2% of people would go somewhere else with a shorter one, showing that while we like to moan and groan, we generally put up with it. The fixed till point is also being augmented by mobile.
It’s becoming hand-held devices carried around supermarkets by customers and downloadable apps enabling shoppers to check-out and pay for goods on their own mobile phone without interacting with a store employee. The AmazonGo store is a prime example here as Amazon enables shoppers to walk into a store, pick up items and walk out again without interacting with another person, having their every move tracked and payment for anything they walk out of the shop with taken via their Amazon account as they leave. Retailers are having to work with lots of different types of shopping journey in store as they do online; Does the shopper know what they want to buy, get it and rush out or do they want the full immersive experience with added personalised retail theatre? For those shoppers who want to be entertained, to be loved and connect with their favourite brands, retailers need to treat them as more than a number – be that their credit card, mobile or loyalty card number. They want to be seen as an individual and if that means sharing something with a retailer then so be it.
"Is it time to move stores onto the same platform as digital, mobile and stock?"
Technology in store, therefore, needs to be able to track these people around the store (GDPR allowing), for their every move to be monitored and analysed, for product to be identified via RFID and for beacons, mobile phones and screens to connect messaging or store staff with individual shoppers in real time. But, what does all this change mean for store IT and POS?
ONE PLATFORM TO RULE THEM ALL
Many digital innovations in store are augmenting the fixed till rather than replacing it, explains Richard Willis, VP Solutions Management EMEA, Aptos. There are still operational reasons to keep the ‘cash and wrap’ environment in store but centralising everything from stock and customer data to loyalty, promotions and content is the panacea and many ‘store of the future’ technologies such as integrating a customer’s wish list with items in the changing room and taking payment seamlessly from any location all rely on the same digital content, interaction with social media and secure store infrastructure. Is it time, therefore, to move stores onto the same platform as digital, mobile and stock? “It would be unrealistic and unaffordable for retailers to just strip out legacy store systems. The key to digital transformation is architecture first, then pilot and scale. An architecture that enables the new digital world and integrates into the existing retail legacy system is key,” says Jeremy Griggs, Head of Retail IoT, BT. “Having a single platform that serves all channels is about availability of technology to do that and vendors being in a position to support it”, says Willis. “Investments made by retailers in channel specific areas haven’t been fully realised so they are looking at how to deploy technology in store that will make use of the digital content,” he adds. “without having to write off or completely change all of the infrastructures.”
Retailers with an aging ecommerce platform have the opportunity to turn towards a single platform if its replacement cycle coincides with the 7-10 year cycle for POS. The store environment could operate like the digital world with a single cloud-based platform into which retailers can plug different specialist systems as they do with analytics, search and personalisation online. “It’s about creating the framework in store in the same way that vendors collaborate online since no one vendor will have all of the technology,” says Willis. Retail technology companies are not unaware of the growing use of digital in store and the way that EPOS systems are changing.
A number of companies from the ecommerce arena are expanding their platforms into the store so that a single platform can be used to link up every touchpoint across omnichannel. Suppliers from warehouse management are expanding into the in-store platform arena too as the importance of a single view of stock, its movement and impact on the customer experience grows. The store technology companies are wise to the changes too. Systems are moving from all areas of the customer, stock, store, online perspective to join up the experience across every touchpoint. Aptos, for example, has developed a platform which will bring together all aspects of ‘unified commerce’ and 3 of its ecommerce customers in the USA will be testing it before the end of 2017. EPOS supplier Vend is also enabling stores to run off an integrated omnichannel platform through its partnership with Shopify. Menswear retailer Number Six, for example, is opening a second store in September which will operate from an omnichannel platform giving every part of the business a single view of stock and customer data.
LEGACY & SCALABILITY
However, pureplays moving to click and bricks and small, independent retailers have the advantage over larger retailers with widespread store estates. They are not being held back by legacy IT systems and hardware buying cycles nor by organisational mindset. They also do not have issues with scalability since implementing solutions in one or two stores is a different matter to rolling something out to 100 or more shops across the country – or across a continent. Large connected digital screens in a flagship store in London add retail theatre and column inches in the press while the same screens across a large estate, for example, are cost-prohibitive. Willis believes that apart from trials and single flagship stores showing how digital can work in a single store, we’ll see more trials in 2018 but in store omnichannel platforms will not be mainstream for a couple of years – and “not until 2019 at least”.
Retailers not only have to prove that they have the right technology but also that it works and makes a difference to the customer experience not just in one flagship store but across their entire estate. It also needs to do this at speed. “It’s straightforward to do this in one store but how do you roll that out across your estate of stores cost effectively and bet your business on the right technology to ensure you have the right balance of customer experience, resilience and ability to trade across all of those stores,” he says. In the meantime, we’ll see an increase of retailers introducing digital into store as a point solution for different business challenges rather than being integrated from a single platform as well as a continued move away from fixed tills towards a mobile store environment.
So, while Amazon continues to disrupt every aspect of retailing and pureplays and brands show how the store of the future could operate it must be noted that it will still take a lot of investment, a deep understanding of the customer and their different journey needs along with IT resilience to truly bring omnichannel onto the high street. A lot of money can be invested to drive customers to a flagship store experience but the pioneers haven’t signed off the experience to their full store estate – yet.
FARFETCH INTO THE FUTURE
Online luxury fashion platform Farfetch has developed a Store of the Future technology platform to support the physical stores of the independent, luxury clothing boutiques that it partners with online. The platform integrates with customer data, omnichannel fulfilment options as well as product analytics such as connected rails which show when products were lifted off clothes rails and add themselves to the shopper’s wishlist.
The technology extends to the changing room where interactive mirrors allow a customer to communicate with a sales assistant. Payment is via mobile. The Store of the Future technologies are built on Farfetch’s proprietary API platform. “It’s modular, so solutions can be fully tailored to the needs and desires of each partner that we work with,” says Stephanie Phair, Chief Strategy Officer, Farfetch. Individual boutiques will be able to choose the components that they want to use. Future components are expected to be developed by third parties.
The platform is in beta currently and will be trialled later this year at Browns, the London boutique which Farfetch owns. “To capitalise on the future growth of ecommerce, luxury brands and retailers must think holistically about how to put the customer at the centre and tell their brand story by leveraging all touchpoints,” says Phair. “We must bear in mind that we are servicing a customer, who is actively choosing to consume through multiple channels – from bricks and mortar to online ecommerce stores and social media networks. They expect an equally connected and luxury experience across all of these. It is about utilising inspirational content and editorial, as well as harnessing the power of data, both online and offline, to create a completely unique and personalised luxury experience.”
Farfetch believes that brick and mortar retailing will continue to have a critical role to play in luxury retailing with 75% of purchases expected to be made in a physical location by 2025. “Bricks and mortar is not going away, but it has to be done differently,” says Phair. “People want an experience when they visit a luxury store, not just a transaction. To achieve this, the in-store and digital experience need to be connected - it is about knowing the customer’s habits and preferences at all levels, whether they click on your website or walk through your store doors. This is the thought behind why we created Store of The Future – this platform of technologies will allow retailers to bring meaningful and completely tailored tech in-store. It’s the next step in our augmented retail vision.”