The expanded use of systems that enable store associates to connect to real-time data via mobile devices is having a ripple effect on in-store management. Several such systems were showcased during the National Retail Federation Annual Convention & Expo in January.
Seoul, South Korea-based Bluebird Inc., which reported it manufactures handheld computers, tablets and mobile payment devices for more than 3,000 retail, hospitality and transportation customers and 600 partners in over 120 countries, unveiled a line of devices embedded with Dedham, Mass.-based Reflexis Systems Inc.'s StorePulse real-time store execution and workforce management software.
According to BlueBird, sales associates equipped with its integrated devices now have access to multiple store systems, whether the systems are mobile-enabled or not. It also makes it possible to detect real-time events and trends, and intelligently redirect store associates to respond to unplanned events such as stock outages, truck deliveries and store pickups without having to leave the sales floor.
For the past 14 years, Reflexis has focused on building a platform that aligns store labor and activities with corporate goals based on key metrics. The company's patent-pending technology synchronizes workforce activities with key performance indicators, alerts and customer demand, and it performs these functions in real time. By synchronizing store activities merchants can more quickly spot the trigger events that can impact revenues, Reflexis noted.
"Store associates have to complete a broader set of tasks than ever before and must be able to respond to hundreds of unexpected events every day," said Brett Walker, Vice President of Global Alliances and Solution Consulting at Reflexis. "By partnering with Bluebird we can now offer retailers uniform access to StorePulse from any type of Windows 10 device, including PCs, tablets and mobile computers, enabling real-time store execution and more efficient handling of unplanned events."
An ACI Worldwide retail industry survey conducted during the NRF Show validated the importance of having digitally connected store associates. Being agile across multiple sales channels was also broadly viewed as a priority for retail leaders surveyed.
ACI's survey revealed that online commerce continues to be a top channel priority for 70 percent of those surveyed. Online shopping in-store via a tablet or other device, which ranked second among digital sales channels in relevance for 45 percent of the respondents, offered a clear signal in-store sales associate intelligence has entered the fold as a critical piece in the retail digital puzzle.
"Today's connected consumers demand that store associates have greater product knowledge, and they expect a higher level of service than ever before," said Jangwon Lee, Chief Executive Officer of Bluebird. "Our partnership with Reflexis helps retailers level the playing field by providing store associates with information at their fingertips so they can spend more time selling and helping customers and thereby have direct impact on revenue and customer satisfaction."
Other digital sales channel priorities and preferences cited by survey respondents at the NRF show were implementation of the international and cross-border online commerce channel, reflected by 44 percent of respondents. The mobile in-app purchase channel was relevant to 38 percent of those surveyed. While social media payments, which 11 percent viewed as important, have yet to take off, ACI believes this is one trend to watch.
"The proliferation of retail digital channels demonstrates the trend that 'clicks upstage bricks,' but even consumers shopping at traditional brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly using in-store browsing capabilities, which puts the power of information in sales associates' and consumers' hands," said Lynn Holland, Vice President, Product Line Manager, ACI Worldwide.
Mobile app and wallet priorities identified in the ACI Worldwide survey include:
Survey results suggest that until data breaches begin to fade as layered defenses become more prevalent, payment security will continue to be of concern to merchants, especially as more of the liability shifts to them. "Regardless of the channel, our survey results demonstrate that payment security is a core area of concern, particularly around tokenization and point-to-point encryption," Holland said.
New Jersey-based research and advisory firm EKN Research released its top five "under the radar" retail technology solution providers to watch, which it selected from the estimated 3,500 companies who participated in this year's NRF show.
Among the winners were Arizona-based Spark Analytics, a company founded in 1989 that prides itself on providing cloud-based predictive analytics to more than 12,000 retail, hospitality and restaurant businesses globally. Its modular system collects and analyzes location-specific data to create actionable recommendations for both in-store and field sales applications.
The OmniStore POS software released by globally operated Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. in January was another EKN winner. "TCS is focused on developing solutions that harness the power of digital technologies to help retailers innovate and differentiate," said Pratik Pal, President of Retail at TCS. "TCS has invested in building OmniStore, which is a compelling alternative to a traditional POS. Built on micro-services architecture, it enables orchestration of omnichannel user journeys in stores."
Also named was New York-based Shoptelligence, whose unified personalization engine was designed to improve sales conversions across all retail touch points. U.K.-based OmniCo Group, which developed a modular customer experience suite that integrates with most existing POS systems, also made the grade as did Virginia-based EnterWorks Acquisition Inc., whose cloud-based product information management and master data management platform helps ease the integration of digital retail processes.
The big takeaway from industry trade shows like NRF's is that developments in retail technology are not only making it easier for merchants to add and manage new sales channels, but also to connect with shoppers online and in-store on a more personal level so the shopping experience matches consumer expectations at each leg in the journey.
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