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This year, Retail Assist will be 20 years old. Against a backdrop of fear that planes would fall out of the sky, power stations would melt down and – worst of all – tills in shops would stop ringing, in 1999 we created a business that was not only ‘Y2K compliant’ but ready for the 21st Century.
By the mid 1990’s, it was clear to us that a paradox was occurring. Retailers were starting to demand more from technology but their attempts to harness the power and reap the benefits were being thwarted by a lack of technology providers that understood the sector. The big IT players dominated the industry and, whilst they were technically capable, they clearly didn’t understand the nuances of retailing.
Alan Morris, Gary Broughton and Nigel Illingworth
Recognising this, we created Retail Assist to be ‘retail ready’. We put the business use for the technology at the centre of everything we did. We created service level agreements that measured system performance in the overall context of business objectives; picking accuracy, sales data reporting and warehouse throughput were some of the outcomes measured each month, instead of just focusing solely on the technology layer as our competitors were doing.
We employed people from a retail background to work on the front line of our operation to ensure the dialogue with our clients was conducted in a language that was meaningful to both sides – a standard that we still hold true today. We understood that retailers must be flexible; they have lots of ideas and need to act quickly to survive and get ahead of their competition. Yes, we needed processes and procedures to ensure that what we did was replicable to the highest quality standards, but rather than put in place a standard, off-the-shelf methodology, we took the best bits of several different ones and created our own. Adopting this meant that we were able to keep pace with our clients’ demands whilst maintaining order and control over the architectures we were building.
As the retail industry continued to evolve, with new channels to market being created, expanding trading geographies and variable opening hours, our proposition changed too. We invested a lot of time, money and endeavour to ensure that we kept sight of where the retail industry was headed and where new technologies and innovations could support and drive retailers forward.
But now the role of technology in retail has changed; it is no longer just about supporting existing processes and making them, bigger, better, stronger and faster. Technology now defines the retail operation because customers are demanding an experience that means its involvement is imperative. This means that retailers are having to re-invent themselves in order to remain relevant to their target customers: this is not an easy challenge and it is one that is testing every aspect of their business. The need for speed and flexibility around deployment to support the retail proposition has never been as great as it is today and there are no indications that it will ever slow down. Therefore, technology vendors need to innovate like never-before if they are to keep pace with the demands of the sector.
I have come to realise that the future of retail technology is about delivering a platform upon which customer facing technologies can be plugged in, maximised, then disengaged and replaced in relatively quick order. The way people want to shop will continue to evolve and retailers need to ensure they keep the interaction appealing, fulfilling and continually refreshed with something new. Customer loyalty is not what it was and it never will be again. We live in a gadget-driven world where fads are not to be dismissed, but harnessed, and every drop of potential exploited before the next one arrives. The best performing retailers of the future will be the ones that create an environment that supports this principle. But there are foundations needed to support a flexible app eco-system and I am delighted that Retail Assist, 20 years on, has got this covered.
This year, Retail Assist will be launching OMIO PIM, their new product information management solution that enables a retailer to control its products via a centralised system giving them one point of entry to gather and enrich a product’s data and publish the information out to all the desired digital selling channels with speed. This is the data that will be the lifeblood for every application that the customer interacts and it is vital that it is accurate, timely and enriched so it provides the basis of the best customer experience.
So, Retail Assist was created to meet one set of needs in 1999 and through its forward thinking, retail sector knowledge and technology skills and experience, it has evolved: in 2019, it is still very relevant to the market it was set up to serve. I am still very proud of the business: not only of what it has achieved to date, but also of what it will continue to achieve in the future. The key strength is the same today as it was when it started and that is the people: them individually and them as a team. Very few companies have a USP because nothing is unique for long, but the best companies are the ones that get the right people, doing the right things, ahead of the competition.
Happy Birthday, Retail Assist.
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