By Amitesh Sinha
I have been working in the home furnishings industry for over two decades developing technological solutions for retailers to help them more efficiently manage their business, and make more money doing it. My journey has lead me to develop inventory software solutions, creating databases, Home Furnishing Software, POS Furniture Software, and reengineering of software with extended features and support.
What I find interesting is that the same excuses for not integrating technology into retail store systems and processes exist today as they did 20 years ago. The top 5 reasons being;
- We don’t want to or can’t invest the dollars and time to integrate technology into our retail systems and processes.
- Our business is doing fine as is and because of that we don’t believe we need to upgrade or improve our business model.
- We don’t have a tech savvy workforce that can oversee and manage technological upgrades.
- The Owner needs to champion the change – he / she is not willing to.
- If the upgrade / integration does not fetch us the results we want, then what?
All of these reasons are valid…up to a point. Let me explain
We don’t want to or can’t invest the dollars and time to integrate technology into our retail systems and processes.
Today running a retail store is all about GMROI – Gross margin Return on Inventory (And Investment). To accomplish this you must have access to information 24/7 like your customers do with all their Smart Devices.
You probably have staff that runs reports; sales, inventory and logistical management, warehouse, dispatch/deliveries, social media analysis, sales/commissions, daily/monthly/yearly sales data and more. Maybe it’s one person, or several that you’ve delegated this responsibility to and the question that I always ask is this;
Off the shelf software geared towards retail allows you to create and run a variety of reports, then someone has to compile these reports and combine them to get meaningful data from them. This way of managing your business costs you a lot of time and money, because it probably takes 3-5 days for you to get these reports and you are a week behind in making any sales/marketing and other business adjustments based off what you’ve learned.
Plus, you have to pay people to create these reports, that are most likely obsolete or irrelevant by the time they are done.
Today, you need a provider that can take all this “big data” about your business and create a customized one-page report that outlines all your critical business issues, instantly, and obtainable 24/7 on any device for all your key employees to monitor. Yes a Dashboard, but not a dashboard that you have to hunt for information, a dashboard that is automated, accumulating business critical information on one page so all concerned can see instantly what is happening in your business. Then you can use the money you saved from people creating reports and have them focused on reacting to business critical issues “as they happen”.
Our business is doing fine as is and because of that we don’t believe we need to upgrade or improve our business model.
My quick answer to this is “great”, but are you prepared for “what if”?
Even if your retail business is unique to your trading area, the landscape is littered with retailers and brands in our industry that had to liquidate because they didn’t change based off changing consumer dynamics and today those dynamics are changing very quickly, almost weekly. And remember, the economy can change quickly, which can drag down sales and profitability even for the best run retail establishments.
In the Art of War, Sun Tzu stated; In times of war, prepare for peace and in times of peace prepare for war”. The keyword here is “prepare”. So I have ten basic questions to ask;
- Do you have the ability to instantly generate sales reports automatically so you can instantly see how your company is doing, by product, collection, by sales person?
- Do you have the ability to instantly see and manage where customers go within your store, track what products they interact with?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage all of your customer relations? This includes keeping a door count, providing Sales Person UPS as well as support for SPG.
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage your warehouse through warehouse management, prep & load, manage fleet management, generate service and repair tickets?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage your merchandising options through floor allocation, alerting you about best sellers, losers, plus tells you the difference between available and ordered inventory and Auto move losers to watch list?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage dispatch through better delivery management, scheduling, routing, and support last minute deliveries and or delivery changes?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage your overall retail operations to have better customer service through customer receipts, delivery notifications, and automated pre-calling?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage full price vs. discounted price analytics?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage Full social media analytics integration?
- Do you have the ability to instantly manage the average time spent with a customer – shopper analytics – time stamps and how to Reward high gross margin sales items/salespeople.
These are just a few questions I ask retailers when they use this rationale and there are a dozens more I could ask. Your takeaway should be that if you don’t have these questions answered “instantly at your fingertips” you may not be as “prepared” as you think you are.
We don’t have a tech savvy workforce that can oversee and manage technological upgrades.
I can definitely emphasize with this concern, especially if you are hiring for a position that you don’t fully understand the intricacies of the work that is required.
I’m fortunate for all I do is work in the field of retail technology and I have the knowledge and resources to hire the right people for the job and I not only manage them, I train them too.
You train your sales people, customer service people and other employees daily to manage your retail environment and to manage your business intelligence technology you and your staff will need to be trained on this too.
There was a time, believe it or not, that learning how to do email was terrifying to most. It was complicated and email platforms had difficult interfaces…I still remember, do you?
The key to solving this concern is fairly simple;
First, your provider must deliver a simple user interface and easily identifiable buttons that manages all your critical functions. And you need a simple “how to guide” for reference.
Second your provider must not limit you to how much training you receive to ensure that you and your key people fully understand all the elements associated with your business intelligence reports. This should be included in your price and NOT cost you extra.
Lastly, consider outsourcing this function instead of having a full time employee, it probably will save you money. Here’s an article recently written by Bill Napier that addresses the costs associated with an employee vs. hired consultant. You can read that article HERE
The Owner needs to champion the change – he / she is not willing to.
This objection is probably the only one I can’t address with a solid solution. All I can say is that in the past 10 years our industry has lost over 100’s of manufacturing plants and over hundreds of thousands of jobs, mostly because businesses didn’t change and/or adapt to change.
Change is hard. Change that requires a new learning paradigm is even harder for some. My suggestion is for the owner to talk to the providers’ clients and ask them that question; Why did you see the need to change, what caused you to change your mind and was it worth it?
If the upgrade / integration does not fetch us the results we want, then what?
This is the number one fear retailers have when making an investment in technology, or for any investment. So how should you address this?
- First, I would ask for a list of clients you can talk to, specifically those clients that had the same fear and concerns we’ve been discussing here.
- Second, I would require your business intelligence provider to create your most complex report, and let them turn it into an easy UI report for you. Base off those results, your decision should be easier.
- Thirdly, I would ask them for a discounted Trial/Pilot period of 90 days so you can fully immerse yourself into the features and benefits of the information you can now have access to
- Lastly, your agreement should not be a long-term binding agreement. If the provider fails to live up to what they sold you, you should be able to fire them.
Technology runs everything in our personal lives 24/7 and not embracing it and integrating all the incredible ways it can save you money and make you money, doesn’t make sense in today’s wired world
More about Amitesh Sinha:
Amitesh Sinha is a contemporary technology consultant based in North America who focuses on the home furnishings industry. With over 20 years of hands-on experience in developing and deploying innovative solutions for retail stores, Sinha has gained a distinguished reputation for Business Intelligence & Analytics for Retailers, inventory software solutions, creating databases, Home Furnishing Software, POS Furniture Software, and re-engineering of software with extended features and support. His company, iConnect offers business technology solutions that integrate with most P.O.S. systems to make them more efficient and user-friendly.
For more information about this article or any retail technology question contact Amitesh at 703-471-3964, firstname.lastname@example.org
Furniture World Magazine-Business solutions for furniture retailers