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More tech innovation needed to accelerate the burgeoning online retail sector

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In 2013, the UK spent £91billion online as the online retail market grew 16% (IMRG, 16th Jan 2014). As more and more of us use our mobile devices to shop, IMRG forecasts that 2014 is set to perform even stronger, with 17% growth estimated for the year and a total online spend of £107 billion.

Some retailers remain sceptical about the increased use of technology as part of the customer’s shopping experience, concerned that in-store price comparisons could move customers away from completing in-store purchases. However, other retailers have actively embraced the influx of technology, using it to improve the service they can offer their customers and encourage repeat purchases.

IKEA’s well-known augmented reality app is a perfect example of some fantastic innovation in front-end retail technology, but what about the less-glamorous back-end? As the e-retail sector grows, the evolution of innovative supporting technology needs to match it stride for stride. The likes of Amazon and ASOS have raised customers’ expectations when it comes to the speed and quality of their delivery processes and unless smaller companies match this agility, they risk falling behind and losing potential customers.

This is where innovation can help bridge the divide. Technology enthusiasts and developers are responding to the changes in the retail landscape but for smaller companies competing in a crowded space, innovation really needs to accelerate over the next few years. For many businesses, the smart option is agile, cost-effective, automated cloud-based technology. Quite simply, it offers the most flexible and affordable way for smaller retailers to compete with the retail giants, helping remove many of the daunting complexities they currently face.

If there’s one thing customers demand time and again it’s affordable and timely delivery. Product delivery is essentially your main interaction with your customers: get it right and you will increase your likelihood of retaining their business and inspiring word-of-mouth driven growth; but get it wrong and you risk losing them forever.

It was a recognition of the complexities that businesses were struggling to deal with that led to the foundation of eCommerce delivery business Scurri in 2010. It was clear that more and more retailers were developing an eCommerce model but needed a platform that could deliver what customers expect. No business likes the upheaval that new systems often bring to their operations, so it was clear to us that any new software would need to integrate seamlessly into existing order process and fulfilment software, minimising potential disruption. To achieve this, it took a lot of hard work from some extremely talented and dedicated IT engineers who built our advanced software from the ground up.

We also made a conscious decision to ensure the company was launched as a lean start-up, designed to avoid the waste that often occurs in larger companies. This approach focussed our efforts on creating a totally new, innovative product that would let us handle the complexities of automated delivery, while leaving the front-end easy and simple enough for our customers to use.

We’re still a young company, but Scurri is now helping to ship millions of deliveries across the UK and Ireland each year and our success is born from the original technology we created. If we had not been able to provide an innovative, easy-to-use integrated solution to the problems retailers faced, we would not be where we are today. It’s up to the developers of the future to continue innovating and providing the drivers that can fuel a truly global retail market.

My experience with Scurri has given me a world of insight into the time, money, talent and effort required to create something new and bring it to market. Here are my top tips for anyone thinking of doing the same:

1) Identify a market need – Scurri was founded after a realisation that mid-sized retailers were crying out for an affordable delivery platform that could let them compete. Do your market research and focus your team on delivering an affordable, scalable solution.

2) Get the right people – There are some amazingly talented technologists desperate to have a real impact in the retail world. Whether they are in your local area or on the other side of the world, building a passionate, creative team is essential for building new ideas.

3) Plan for the future – From the outset, our lean business model meant we were able to deliver the core competencies our clients and partners needed, without wasting precious resources (manpower and finances) on non-mission-critical services. By developing agile cloud-based software, you can grow exponentially with your customers.

4) Be prepared to take risks – Nothing is guaranteed but if you’re not willing to take risks you won’t learn the lessons needed to succeed. We actually brought ahead our original launch date by two weeks and learned more from this period than we would have done by waiting until we felt completely ready.

5) Don’t go it alone – I had a moment of epiphany during a mentoring session with author Eric Ries (The Lean Start Up, 2011), which led us to the decision to launch earlier than planned. We also benefitted from an incubation on the iGAP accelerator programme and have recently established offices in London’s TechHub, which lets us benefit from its proximity to a world of some of the most innovative technological minds in the industry today.

Published on Wednesday 02 April by Editorial Assistant

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