Capitalising on science of selling

IT software solutions consultant, De Data, has been sharpening its retail strategy for more than a decade. It has seen big demand for mobile sales automation systems, particularly in the past 12 months, and already has some big consumer packaged goods (CPG) players under its wing.

Today's technology goes well beyond data capture and into the realm of automation, integrating field and back-office operations and allowing additional workflow capabilities. The trick is to be able to push intelligent data out to the field team, according to managing director, Frank De Palo.

"A lot of the CPG players don't supply direct to store so they don't know what's going on at the retail outlets," De Palo said. "The two data metrics for retailers are the distribution space on shelves and the stock on shelf."

Drilling down

The company's purveyance system takes the guess work out of retail environments and allows for data capture at store level. All reports are Web-based and include the ability to drill down into details.

The retail market was a prime hotspot for mobile sales force automation solutions like purveyance, De Palo said.

Sales force automation of just one of a number of technologies changing the competitive retail landscape. According to a recent IDC study, Australia Retail and Wholesale Market, local IT spending in the sector will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 2.5 per cent between 2005 and 2010 to reach $1.68 billion.

IDC vertical market research analyst, Phillip Allen, said operational efficiency and the ability to capture and share massive quantities of data were necessary for both retailers and wholesalers.

"These require back-end integration, providing opportunities for both systems integrators and consultants," he said.

Five key themes driving IT spending and transformation within the retail and wholesale industry are customer centricity, a scientific approach to retailing, greater emphasis on skills and training, changing patterns of consumption, and radio frequency identification (RFID).

Immediate focus

While RFID is a hot topic, Allen doesn't expect to see many deployments in the near term. The immediate focus is enhancing customer experience, integrating technologies with applications, improving inventory management, and sharpening data management capabilities.

"Retailers have functionality diverse application portfolios. The ability to closely link related information within a company and from supplier partners should enable better decisions," he said.

"Retailers will divert their attention to the supply chain, unify business processes and operations, and enhance customer experience by getting to know them better and using business intelligence."

While the retail sector is increasing IT spending in a bid to sustain growth and gain competitive advantage, the majority of spending is still project-based.

NCR vice-president of retail sales solutions, Con Vass, said vendors and resellers could help retailers boost productivity and bottom line.

"There's a lot more science in the stores. Retailers want to ensure the checkout environment is productive, there's a good health and safety design, and in-store operations are optimised," Vass said. "There's a lot more data collection around making more scientific decisions."

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Scientific approaches centre on customer loyalty software, self-checkout and self-service, decision support, relationship management software and remote systems management.

IDC's Allen said taking a more scientific approach emphasised how technologies were being applied to real business issues and the importance of better management information.

Fujitsu Australia retail industry director, Conway Kosi, said resellers should look for opportunities peddling customer loyalty solutions, workforce management and digital media as a mechanism to advertising and targeted in-store promotions.

"Help retailers increase brand power, drive supply chain efficiencies and be more responsive to consumers," Kosi said. "Kiosk technology is enabling consumers to do product enquiries and orders.

"There's an opportunity to help mid-tier organisations below major players like Coles and Woolworths.

"Retailers need an integrated supply chain and ERP system so they can be more nimble and flexible. There are many fragmented legacy systems that need replacing."

Mobile moves

Symbol Technologies wireless expert, Damian Stock, said there was a lot of action in hooking up retailers with mobile solutions and device management. Enabling a mobile workforce is a key area of focus to enhance productivity as well as improving customer service, he said.

In the past, retailers adopted simple, DOS-like devices running single, rudimentary applications. Now the devices are more complex, providing the retailer with sets of applications.

But with the added benefits and features, comes the complexity of device management.

"Users in the past could reset the devices if something went wrong, but now they must consider if it needs to be locked out of the operating system, and also ensure they always have the latest version of applications."

Open opportunity

There's a lucrative consulting opportunity for resellers asked to implement mobile solutions and device management in retail environments due to the dearth of technology out there in terms of managing networks and devices.

"There are many point products out there that do basic management, but there's not a lot that manage both the infrastructure and the client to offer event correlation," Stock said.

Stores need help with the deployment, management and support phase when moving towards a mobility platform and online, real-time applications.

Remote management - including the ability to lock down lost devices, generate incident reports and track memory utilisation, RF signal level and battery condition - are all important device management features.