With many retailers in the UK currently battling rising material costs and falling sales, it may seem to some that technology investment is a luxury they cannot afford.
Plenty of industry studies, however, show it is becoming increasingly vital for companies to have a multichannel presence to ensure they can provide services on the many platforms customers now use to buy goods and access information.
Andy Tudor, the former Senior Systems Development Manager at Aurora Fashions, now Head of Multichannel at technology solutions provider Retail Assist, is in a prime position to share his views on the technical developments in retail and the importance of keeping up to date.
“The Head of Multichannel Solutions job was a natural progression from where I was, demonstrating the emphasis we are seeing in the retail sector as a whole right now,” he tells Retail Gazette.
“Clients are putting together this type of strategy and we want to be a position to support that in the best way possible.
“Across the industry companies are looking to integrate with customers and enterprise through social media and technology.”
Technology is changing all the time and it is now widely acknowledged that multichannel retail is an essential consideration for any businesses in the industry looking to grow both at home and abroad.
B&Q owner Kingfisher recently announced a £35 million investment in developing its multichannel offering, while Argos, which saw an 18 per cent decline in profits last year, was voted the most popular retailer for multichannel shopping in a PricewaterhouseCoopers poll, suggesting it still has a future if it can make the most of technology.
Indeed, instead of worrying how retailers may find spare money to spend on technology in this growing climate of squeezed margins and falling retail sales, Tudor asks: “How can retailers afford not to invest in the latest technology?”
He believes - as do an increasing number of retailers - that it is vitally important to evolve with the consumer to stay relevant in terms of technology.
“For whatever reason the consumer seems to have an emotional attachment to smartphone - and that is being seen in the adoption of these devices,” he states.
“Incomes are apparently down but the adoption of consumer technology is on the increase so there is a desire to keep in touch, and this is an emotional thing.
“Consumers feel compelled to be part of the whole social electronic experience so retailers have to be cognisant of that and adopt the latest technology.”
Whether that is through exploring ways of using social media to reach customers, developing mobile applications to engage with them or creating practical devices to serve people more effectively, it all comes down to following consumer trends.
We have had the rise of e-commerce, the birth of m-commerce (business conducted on mobile phones), and there has even been talk of F-commerce (selling through Facebook), but there is still room for yet more buzz terms in the sector.
A new phrase, emanating from the US and being put into practice worldwide, is that of Me-commerce, which roughly translated is the idea that all business decisions need to be made with m-commerce and traditional e-commerce in mind.
But Tudor, who recently wrote about this notion in his Retail Assist blog, believes this actually takes on another meaning. He says it highlights how businesses need to recognise that the shopping experience is all about “me”, the consumer.
“It is essentially the retailer putting itself in the mind of the shopper, supported by the appropriate IT service provider or the internal IT function, to shape what tech means to the consumer,” he explains.
“This is the most appropriate way of strategising how to interact with the customer now and in the future.”
Tudor describes the pace of change in retail as “phenomenal”, and it is clear if companies in the sector do not quickly latch onto consumers’ technical preferences, they may find that they never catch up at all and are forever behind the times.
Fashion retailers like Aurora Fashions and Asos.com are using technology to help boost sales in the UK and aid international expansion; other players in the industry should not let the potential of multichannel retail pass them by.