Jack Wynn, Author at The Retail & Hospitality Design Forum - Page 4 of 11
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Jack Wynn

Shop Direct ‘first UK retailer to launch WhatsApp-style service platform’…

Shop Direct has become the first UK-based retailer to apply conversational user interface (CUI) technology for customer service, launching ‘Very Assistant’ for customers to find answers to their questions in a WhatsApp–style chat environment.  

The owner of Very.co.uk, Littlewoods.com, VeryExclusive.co.uk and LittlewoodsIreland.ie has initially made the automated platform available via the Very.co.uk iOS app, and claims the technology makes the user journey even simpler for customer service questions, allowing people to easily interact with Very.co.uk representatives in a format that they are adept at using on a day-to-day basis. 

Developed in-house by Shop Direct’s multi-award-winning eCommerce team, Very Assistant works by asking the app user if they need any help. The customer is then presented with a sequence of questions and multiple action options, which the customer taps within the chat environment. The customer’s answers enable the platform to instantly serve up the information they are looking for. 

Jonathan Wall, eCommerce director at Shop Direct said: “This fully native platform is squarely focused on what our customers need. It’s delivered through our app because that’s where they want to have questions answered. It’s also the best place for us to collect feedback and constantly improve Very Assistant. 

“We think this new technology will simplify our user journey, improve satisfaction, and help to boost efficiency in our customer service operation. It’s also the first step towards ‘natural language’, AI-driven CUI – which is something we’re hugely excited about.” 

Customers can use Very Assistant to make a payment on their Very.co.uk account, check their payment dates, track an order, confirm that recent payments have been processed and request a reminder of their account number. 

Retailers that shun technology risk major dip in consumer confidence…

Three quarters (75 per cent) of UK shoppers say they have more confidence in retailers that use up-to-date technology, with Londoners and the under-35s considered the most judgmental. 

Conducted to support the launch of Worldpay’s My Business Hub till system – an all-in one, tablet based point-of-sale (POS) created to help independent retailers transition into the digital age – the payment company’s research found that 80 per cent of respondents in these demographic groups said they are more likely to trust retailers that utilise up-to-date technology than those that do not. Many state tech-savvy retailers come across as more professional and committed to improving the overall experience. 

Among the 2,000 consumers surveyed, only seven per cent said they had concerns that technology could get in the way of delivering the type of experience they were looking for in-store. 

Retailers that refuse debit and credit card payments provoked a particularly strong reaction within the research, as one in five under-35s said they would be concerned about the quality of products in stores that only took cash, and a further 22 per cent have abandoned purchases when their preferred payment option is not available.  

Dave Hobday, UK managing director at Worldpay, said: “Consumers still have a strong connection to the high street, but technology has transformed their expectations. Today’s digitally driven shoppers want to be able to research their purchases online, seek advice from staff in-store, pay in any way that they choose, and return items at the click of a button. Businesses that fail to offer that level of service are increasingly viewed with suspicion. 

“80 per cent of consumers think retailers could be making better use of technology to improve the instore experience, so it’s reassuring that similar proportions of high street businesses see technology as holding the key to their future survival. Innovations like My Business Hub ensure that great technology is easily accessible to all business. Small businesses need to embrace change and digitally evolve in order to thrive as part of a modern and diverse high street.”   

Cash only payments, handwritten receipts and the lack of a website were among the main ‘technology triggers’ which led consumers to think twice about whether or not to part with their money. 41 per cent of consumers said trustworthy retailers make it easy to pay by card as well as cash; while 39 per cent said they trusted retailers who offered digital receipts to make returns easier.  

Learn more about ‘MyBusinessHub’ here 

Guest Blog, Tom Mankin: The reality of working in a family retail business…

The differences between family and non-family retail businesses may seem subtle from a customer’s perspective. After all, both kinds strive to deliver quality products at a profit, and provide the best service they can in an effort to encourage customers to return. However, if you take a peek behind the scenes and examine how these companies are run from an employee’s perspective, a lot of the differences soon become clear.

Size is, perhaps, the most notable difference. For the most part, family businesses can be a lot smaller than their non-family counterparts. When working within a family-run business, this can serve as a double-edged sword in terms of career progression. You can’t deny that the number of job opportunities within a business correlates to its size, with larger companies being able to offer promotions more frequently. The downside to this, however, is that it can lead to employees feeling like they’re a cog in a machine. Whereas, with family-run businesses, everyone knows each other and senior managers can take the time to get to know those working for them. This is a huge plus for both employers and employees, as it creates an atmosphere that helps workers to feel appreciated, which can have a positive impact on their productivity and wellbeing.

Working within a smaller business also allows employees to demonstrate their skills to the key decision makers and, if they use this to their advantage, it can benefit them hugely when jobs open up. Although, vacancies do tend to be rare due to the typical size of family businesses, and the fact that people feel appreciated and don’t wish to leave.

When deciding to work for a family or non-family business, you need to consider what you want to get out of your working life. If you wish to gain a title and progress quickly through the ranks, a larger company is likely to suit you better. On the other hand, if you would rather be given the time to develop your skills and grow within a role that you can make your own, a family business is more likely to provide you with the means to do this.

While it may sound cliché, or even slightly obvious, family businesses do usually try to adopt a ‘family atmosphere’ within their company, which means they’re willing to invest in their workers and provide a solid support system for employees. This often leads to a lot of senior management positions being filled by people who joined as juniors and have gradually worked their way up the ladder, as these kinds of companies tend to recruit internally, before searching further afield for new team members. Of course this isn’t a tactic used exclusively by family-run businesses, but employees within these companies do have more of a chance to demonstrate their skills and get noticed.

There is usually a much greater sense of autonomy within family businesses, as the close proximity of staff to senior management allows for a lot more discussion about changes to policies and working practices. This, again, is an advantage for both sides of the table, as it encourages creativity and can stop restrictive one-size-fits-all policies, which are often an unnecessary evil within larger business models, from being implemented.

While family and non-family business are similar in many ways, employees of family-run companies often find that life behind their shop-front offers greater freedom and a warm environment where hard work is more likely to be noticed and rewarded. There’s pros and cons to working for both kinds of businesses — anyone looking for a new job just needs to consider what they want from their working life before choosing which is right for them.


Tom Mankin is the digital marketing administrator at Charles Clinkard. He joined the company part-time as a student and then the digital marketing team on a permanent basis after completing his master’s degree at Northumbria University.

Industry Spotlight: Why RFID could save the retail industry billions from theft…

Retailers globally rely on security systems to protect their goods from the manufacturer’s door all the way to the store where the product is eventually sold. However, there is a very significant issue within the industry as retail shrinkage is increasing worldwide and retailers are losing significant profits due to shoplifting, employee fraud, and inventory errors.

In fact, combined losses due to shrinkage cost the retail industry more than $123 billion according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer 2015. The study also found shoplifting to be the biggest cause of retail shrinkage in 18 of the 24 countries that were surveyed; proving that theft is a sting currently felt globally.

In the UK, retail crime has hit a record high at £613m and in 2015 alone, 750,144 incidents were reported by retailers to the police with a noticeable rise in sophisticated equipment being utilised to steal high-end, luxury products.

With shrinkage seemingly increasing and theft becoming more commonplace, despite increased security efforts; retailers are at a crossroads and must decide how to best address this issue.


EAS: An outdated form of protection?

Electronic Article Surveillance (EAS) systems were first invented in 1966 and since then, according to the Association of Automated Identification Manufacturers (AAIM), have been installed in over 800,000 retailer outlets worldwide. Having been widely adopted by the retail industry, EAS is considered to be the principal way in which the industry has combatted theft and fraud.

Traditional EAS methods of theft prevention only alert the retailer to the fact that something is being stolen. However, it provides no information about what is missing in real-time and therefore increases the risk of a lost sale if merchandise isn’t replenished on the sales floor.

Although EAS tags do present a physical deterrent to potential thieves, some criticism has risen where EAS tags can seem a very one-dimensional product that serves only one purpose – to sound an alarm when an item is taken out of the store. Although at that point it is often too late to prevent the loss of the product.


A need for seamless protection

Although RFID technology has been around since the 1940s, the retail sector has only recently started to see the benefits the technology presents to inventory accuracy, shrink reduction and security.

Unlike traditional EAS tags, RFID technology has evolved significantly in recent years and can provide a much sleeker and discreet proposition for retailers. With RFID tags now being integrated into the brand labels of clothing, there is no risk of tags falling off, damaging clothing or ruining the aesthetic appeal of a store. Woven RFID tags provide retailers with a full proof method of ensuring their items are protected not only against thieves but also against counterfeit products.

The technology is also well suited to track and protect retail merchandise around the stores themselves which could actively prevent a theft from occurring. For example, if a fashion retailer installs a RFID reader outside the changing rooms, this can tell staff how many items each customer has taken to try on. It can also identify how long those items have been in the changing rooms for and alert staff to any suspicious movement in order to flag a potential theft and prevent it from happening.

With theft still presenting a significant challenge within the industry, retailers need to implement a solid security measure. Have traditional EAS tags outstayed their welcome within an industry that has evolved so rapidly and seen new challenges arise?

For example, the Global Retail Theft Barometer 2015 study looked into the cause of shrinkage and missing goods. It found that alarmingly employee theft was just as common as shoplifting with 28 per cent of global loss due to dishonest staff. In the US this statistic was notably higher with 39 per cent of all shrinkage down to employee theft.

Therefore, how effective are traditional EAS tags in combatting merchandise theft when a high percentage of thieves are staff and have access to the tools to remove them?
Although EAS systems, can act as a deterrent to thieves, and prevent many cases of theft. RFID tags present a modern, full proof system that can trace each item which begins at the manufacturing stage and protects your product all the way to leaving your store doors.


Stephan Buehler is the CEO of TexTrace who based in Switzerland, provides the manufacturing line as well as the components for the industrial in-house production of woven RFID labels. In close collaboration with Jakob Müller AG TexTrace guarantees the highest quality, reliable service and technological support for all their clients.

Forum Insight: Customer engagement methods to maintain strong relationships…

Now more than ever, customer communication methods are becoming varied and diverse. Trade exhibitions, social media platforms, focus groups and surveys, personalised email campaigns – the list is endless. But which methods will prove to be the most effective for your business? Before investing too much time and effort into just one, think carefully about all available options, and ask your customers how they prefer to be contacted…

Keep track of emails: Make it your personal – and even company – goal to respond to all customer emails within a five minute time frame. Not only will it generate appreciative responses, people love fast and efficient customer service, and this level of service will lead to an abundance of recommendations and increased trade. Need more convincing? View Eptica’s ‘Email Management’ article here.

Be active on social media: By now you’re probably tired of the constant emphasis on regular social media use, but inevitably, one of the best ways to connect with customers is through social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. The good thing about social media is there is no time schedule to follow – you can reach customers at any time of the day. Use your company’s Facebook fan page or Twitter account to engage your followers and keep conversations flowing. Nowadays, social media has been incorporated as a form of customer service, so make your platforms adaptable for staff members to handle customer questions and complaints. Read through Conversocial’s case studies for influential insight.

Answer the phone: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! No matter what industry, a significant focus seems to be on new customer channel developments. But whatever happened to the traditional phone conversation? Whether you’re following up, apologising for something that went amiss, or wondering why you haven’t received an order in a while, there’s no better way to strengthen a customer relationship. According to eConsultancy, customers prefer assistance over the phone (61 per cent), followed by email (60 per cent); Live Chat (57 per cent); online knowledge base (51 per cent) and “click-to-call” support automation, (34 per cent).

Start a weekly blog: Why not create a weekly blog to keep your customers up-to-date? If you actively keep up a quality blog, not only will your customers read your blog, but they will respond to your blog. This creates a positive flow of communication and helps build customer loyalty. Find inspiration from these companies that have made blogging a ‘top priority’.

Conduct market research: Surveys allow businesses to identify customer needs. Once acknowledged, companies can steer their offerings towards filling these needs. Surveys are also a good tool to bring in prospective customers who are on the fence about a product/service, i.e. surveys can be used as a platform for prospective customers to voice their needs. Confused about whether to conduct quantitative or qualitative research? Learn more about the differences here.

eCommerce Christmas sales expected to hit over £16bn in the UK…

The data and market research company, eMarketer, has predicted that UK retail eCommerce sales will reach an estimated £16.9 billion during the ‘core’ season shopping period of November and December; an increase from the £14.65 billion recorded in 2015 and the rising use of consumers making purchases via their smartphones considered a major contributor to eMarketer’s predictions.

According to analysis, the smartphone medium will account for 36.4 per cent of total retail mCommerce (mobile commerce) sales for the whole of 2016, and by the year 2020, total mCommerce sales is estimated to reach 52 per cent.

Senior analyst at eMarketer, Bill Fisher said: “Retail ecommerce sales during the festive season look set to shine this year, despite the wider economic conditions in the UK. This is in no small part due to a digitally advanced consumer, who has been quick to embrace digital buying and particularly smartphone buying. And during the Christmas shopping period, these digital habits become even more accentuated.”


Read more from eMarketer here

Thousands of Christmas retail temp jobs still available on UK market…

Surprisingly, 21,000 Christmas jobs are still available in the UK, marking a 24 per cent increase in the number of festive roles since last year as employers are working to fill seasonal contracts for an anticipated festive rush.

With the largest proportion of this year’s vacancies falling in the retail, logistics and sales sectors, data from Adzuna has revealed that big-name online and high street retailers are stocking up on extra staff this winter, leading to thousands of temporary, part-time roles flooding the market.  Average pay for these roles is in decline and advertised pay for seasonal workers has fallen from £11.50 per hour in 2015 to just £9.32 this Christmas season.

Co-founder of Adzuna, Doug Monro said: “With a wealth of negative news hitting the job market in 2016, this boost in festive vacancies is sure to put a smile on the faces of British jobseekers. It’s not all good news, however, as average pay for festive workers looks set to drop significantly compared to last year, suggesting some top retail employers may be hiring more staff for entry level positions and cutting back on higher paid management roles.”

In addition, Royal Mail, Amazon, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer have the most jobs available, with over 70,000 positions predicted between these four major players alone.

Personalisation to substantially spur digital coupon growth by 2021…

A new study from the digital market research specialists, Juniper Research has found that the number of coupons issued via mobile and online channels will grow by more than 60 per cent over the next five years – increasing from 224 billion in 2016 to an estimated 362 billion by 2021.

The ‘Mobile & Online Coupons: Loyalty & Beacon Engagement 2016-2021’ report indicates growth in digital coupon volumes is mainly attributed to a greater retailer emphasis on the provision of highly targeted, personalised offers to consumers; as well as brands deploying artificial intelligence applications which can interact with consumers via social media and messaging applications such as Facebook Messenger.

A wide-scale deployment of beacons – Bluetooth devices which can send offers to consumers whilst they shop – have been constrained, as research author, Lauren Foye explains how beacons enable retailers to collect valuable and relevant data points: “For retailers one of the major tools is knowing their customers. Tracking user movements in store via beacons allows for targeted marketing and offers, this can also aid in providing invaluable data and statistics to a company, this then later applied to drive sales.”

Read the full report here

15 stores ‘disappearing’ from UK high streets every day, new analysis uncovers…

New data compiled by the Local Data Company (LDC) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has revealed that an average of 15 retail stores a day are faced with permanent closure, as analysts found that 2,656 shops closed down on the UK’s high streets and retail parks in the first six months of this year.

Calculated as a slight increase on the 14 stores a day recorded in H1 2015, the number of new openings has also fallen and has led to a net 503 stores disappearing from shopping centres and high streets in H1 2016; representing the highest net decline since H1 2012, when 953 more stores closed than opened. (Fig 1).

Figure 1.


Inevitably, the analysis of 66,401 outlets operated by multiple retailers across 500 UK town centres, also pinpointed online shopping’s growing popularity to be a contributing factor; indicating there are over 22,200 click and collect services across 130 of the largest national retailers. Carphone Warehouse (+129), ScrewFix (+58), Toolstation (+36) and LloydsPharmacy (+33) have experienced the biggest growth in click and collect services between 2015 and 2016.


Read the full research here


Guest Blog, C A Design Services: How the BIM process will benefit retail planning teams…

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is driving a revolution in the construction industry. There has been a marked and steady increase in use across the industry in the last four years and it’s an upward trend that is predicted to continue.

Meanwhile, the retail space planning industry has been slower to adopt BIM – despite its huge benefits.

The creation of 3D virtual models that contain all the key project information means data is easily co-ordinated between design and planning teams and communicated to the field.


Collaboration creates opportunity


This means Building Information Modelling also has huge potential for planning and maintaining retail space. It forces teams to collaborate. Without collaboration between construction disciplines, for example, the architect, surveyor, MEP engineer and structural, the BIM process quickly falls apart and the benefits are compromised.

But get it right and the BIM software and techniques, that are now becoming mainstream in the construction process, have the potential to deliver some unique benefits to retailers.


Consider the benefits of live accurate data integrated with 3D visualisation


Imagine a world where the fixtures on a sales floor inside the 3D construction model are live connected to 3D versions of planograms. These would be instantly updating with revised profiling and facings on the shelves, hangars and cabinets.


Time for change


So what is preventing this from happening? In short, it is the disconnect between a model being using for construction in 3D and the on-going management of the retail space within the store.

Currently, the latter has to be done in 2D because this is where all the main software products currently live – our own StoreSpace® product being one of them.

Once in 2D, the danger is that if the store plan changes this is then not reflected back to the model – if this is being maintained for, say, FM or asset management purposes.


Current planogram software needs a 3D solution


This is where BIM will help the retail planning function in the longer term. But this won’t happen until the planning software catches up and becomes integrated with the collaboration needs of the extended BIM team.

At the moment this is not happening. Indeed, it may not happen until clients have enough appetite to justify the required investment to integrate the macro and micro space planning processes into BIM.

Data must become central to the resolution of the problem with space plans seamlessly integrating into 2D or 3D environments.


The BIM process will benefit retail planning teams … but not just yet


When I talk to most of our major clients, they tell me there is no appetite or budget to leap into wholesale 3D store-estate conversions.

As a result, it’s likely that 2D will be around for some time to come until early adopters help us change the face of the market.


If you are considering the opportunities of 3D space planning and BIM collaboration, we are looking for retailers to partner with on such a project. Please give Guy Moates a call on 01493 440444 or email: gmoates@cadesignservices.co.uk.