Technology for Small Retail and Distribution Operations
Big Business - Online Retail
Much space in blogs is dedicated to the retail revolution driven by insights into consumer behavior, powered by big data and instant home delivery. Behemoth traditional retailers Walmart and Target, new age retailers Amazon in the USA, ASOS and Tesco in the UK and Alibaba and JD.com in China are the trailblazers of the modern way of retailing.
Focus of that business model is on same day delivery and efficient return processes. Cutting-edge third-party logistics along with a variety of payment options is essential and require topnotch technology working behinds the scenes. The goal is to provide a seamless customer experience.
But what about all the small and mid-sized retailers? Those which do not have large scale and financial muscle to embark on this way of doing business?
Fortunately, not all looks bleak and there are a number of trends which play into the hand of that retail segment.
Whilst shopping online is convenient and conducive for making informed decisions it also leads to a commoditization of the experience. The relentless drive to push down prices and the catering to the masses requires rigorous pruning of the assortment.
Instead of interacting with a human the best you can hope is to get a reaction from a chatbot when starting a live chat. Shopping online is a very one-dimensional affair. There is no room for the senses touch, taste or smell.
Small Retail - Wholesome Experience
Small and mid-sized retailers need to focus on shopping as a human experience. We live in a world where shoppers not solely look for convenience but also want to experience shopping as enjoyable and fun. Proven retail success factors such as shop design, focused assortments and a smart pricing strategy, in combination with short replenishment cycles continue to be mission critical.
This should further be complimented by a clever online presence in social media to meet potential customers at the place where they make decisions. All this could probably be best summarized under the headline ‘relevance’.
Systems and Processes
Albeit, this different focus still needs to be complemented by a strong support system and high quality processes in the background.
The terminology of a process is ‘a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end’. Retailers need to ensure that can fulfil shopper’s expectations by ensuring that stock is available. Data collected from POS systems provide information what sells and what doesn’t. The information needs to be accurate and up-to-date. It also needs to be granular enough to finetune the assortment and shorten the replenishment cycle.
There have been exciting developments over the years with technology for SME. Historically, as small businesses evolve, only an Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP, system could deliver data of the quality that allow to optimize processes. Now there are more and more tech startups delivering cloud-based SaaS solutions into the realms of SME. Applications such as Cin7, which capture sales data at the POS, Cin7 and Tradegecko, which helps to improve stock management, Albert, which creates training lessons for sales staff on a daily basis, etc.
Another big positive of a modular approach is that it allows an implementation step-by-step, at a speed which is tailor-made and comfortable for management and employees. As a business grows, the systems grow too and continue to accommodate the needs and requirement of the business.
Due to the modern architecture and the prevalent way of thinking of the SaaS industry, where the customer is rigorously put in the centre, convenience and ease of use are other plus factors.
However, not the full benefit from all these Applications would be realized without a suitable and integrated accounting system in the background. Xero is an example of a cloud-based accounting software that seamlessly integrates with many other cloud-based Applications and is a cost-effective solution, which can be easily implemented. As a matter of fact, the library of bolt-on solutions for Xero enables even a small company to create its own ERP system with all its advantages.
CFO / COO
However, data analysis, information driven decision-making and setting-up effective processes requires that there is a strong team in place.
Most small and mid-sized business may not have a fulltime in-house CFO for various reasons. One of them is the lack of a budget. Bringing in an external resource on a project or part-time basis can be a solution for such a situation.
As a conclusion, smaller retailers can more than compensate for the lack of scale when playing on their strength and use technology to their advantage and as a leveler of the playing field.