IN THE HOT SEAT:Checking the retail game

IN THE HOT SEAT:Checking the retail game

Whether you think shopping is a necessity, a hobby or even a lifestyle, few could deny that it is ubiquitous. And where there is a retail store there is a point of sale (POS) system. Where there is a POS there is a self-checkout system - or so NCR vice-president of retail sales solutions, Con Vass, hopes. With self-checkouts now a serious consideration for Australia's tier-one retailers, Vass is keen to align the channel to push the technology down through the rest of the sector.

What is your background?

Con Vass (CV): Prior to this role I was based in the US and Europe for eight and a half years working with NCR and a number of global retailers in the self-checkout, POS systems and mobile solutions space.

How would you describe your role?

CV: Last year I was appointed to bring self-checkouts to the Australian and New Zealand markets as well as look at how the local operations could interact better with NCR's other business divisions. Part of it is utilising the learning I got overseas to ensure we have the types of partners and solutions we need to give us more bandwidth to sell to the lower tiers.

How is NCR's retail channel structured?

CV: We have a lot of different verticals within retail - specialty, general merchandise, food and so on - so we have set our channel up to address them. Goodson is our master distributor, which gives us about 400 resellers. Then we have ISV partners like Retek, Unisys-Surefire and Futura. They have their own path to market, software and roadmaps. They help augment our platform, technology and service network. NCR is good at structure and process - ensuring there is good rigour around managing risk for large installations and deployment. Channel partners are smaller, more agile and flexible - they add to that structure.

What's the company's approach to the channel?

CV: We have in the main dealt directly with tier-one retailers and have not had much of a channel in the past. Looking forward, the second and third tier retailers will need to keep up and quickly follow what the top retailers are doing. So NCR has been focusing on education and bundling the hardware, software and services at price points the channel wants.

Has self-checkout technology been around for long?

CV: It is one of those technologies that has been on and off the cards for a long time. It is a bit like RFID and shelf labels, which have also been marginal. Over the last five years we have been globally building the self-service market. It has gotten to the point where the major retailers - particularly in Europe - have taken it on board. It's a matter of time until larger retailers here take it up. We're actually doing some pilots now and that will put pressure on smaller retailers to ramp up if consumers expect the technology.

Does self-checkout technology rely on an optimistic view of humanity?

CV: Chains such as Home Depot, Tesco, Sainsbury and Wallmart have taken it up and there has been no increase in shrinkage at any of those retailers. Plus there are psychological barriers to shoplifting with alarms and an attendant still handy. It's too visible an area to steal anything. We also have weigh-scales which have memory and reasoning tools to ensure that what you weigh and what you checkout are actually the same.

What are some of the trends in this market?

CV: The key driver for the POS market is going to be taking a data-driven approach to what happens at the front-end where the customer and cashier interact. There is also the trend towards more remote management and diagnostic tools to support the POS infrastructure. Not having to have a service person go onsite to consult on technology in the long-term will be one of the biggest benefits. Once the market develops, resellers will be able to provide the self-checkout installations as well as the remote links and services to manage them as well.

What are the opportunities in the Australian market?

CV: We are a fairly concentrated market in that we have five or six major retailers who make up the majority of what is sold. Underneath that it is a much smaller and fragmented industry. So the opportunity for the channel is bringing value, performance and pricing to the lower tier markets.

What would you be doing if you weren't in IT?

CV: I have three young children and enjoy travelling so it would be nice to find somewhere with blue seas and green trees.

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