By Nick Pike, Vice-President, EMEA, OutSystems
The invention of the barcode revolutionised the retail industry, making it possible for individual stores to stock a far wider range of products and to diversify their offering to appeal to a broader market.
Walmart was an early adopter of barcodes, and the technology is credited with launching that retail giant’s rise to marketplace domination.
More recent innovation in retail is proving a serious challenge to a sector that is in a state of flux, however. Every week brings a new tale of High Street casualties as hitherto unassailable brand favourites struggle to pivot their business models to meet changing customer expectations. There is competition on all sides, from the 1000-pound gorilla of Amazon to nimble web-native fashion start-ups setting out to corner the market without the overhead incurred by High Street brands. Large retail companies are being forced to work out how to transform their way out of trouble when they are anchored to legacy systems and don’t have the luxury of the technological blank canvas that their competitors enjoy.
From operational to strategic: IT takes a seat in the boardroom
Fundamentally, companies are trying to negotiate the shift from bricks and clicks to the seamless experience that consumers now expect. Retail has evolved from a product-centric sector to a customer-centric, data-driven industry, and relevance is at stake for companies that can’t keep up. History is littered with cautionary tales of businesses that didn’t see the writing on the wall. Therefore, boards are looking at what the new, agile competition is doing and wondering how they can compete before it’s too late.
All this has put retail-sector IT firmly in the spotlight. Once considered primarily an operational cost centre, savvy retailers are now turning to IT to deliver the strategic initiatives that affect their futures. There’s a growing realisation that the function of IT in retail is now much more than enabling a logistics business; it needs to be a fully-fledged software company that is driving initiatives with a presence at board level. This puts even more pressure on already stretched departments.
What’s preventing innovative digitisation?
Faced with the need to digitise almost every part of the customer journey, retail companies have been tempted to plug the gaps with off-the-shelf packages and apps built by third parties. These packages and apps deliver a quick fix and get their brand presence into the app store. But, when it comes time to integrate the sparkly front-end with the big iron on the back-end, companies can end up devoting a lot of valuable time and resources to simply keeping the lights on.
As a result, developing innovative propositions for the long term becomes difficult if not impossible. Updates to systems such as SAP swallow a significant proportion of retailers’ budgets. As a result, little room is left for innovation, and the appetite is scant for pursuing experimental startup-style fail-fast-and-evolve strategies.
Retailers need a middle ground so they can capitalize on their previous investment in technology systems while also liberating in-house IT teams to build apps that solve business challenges and meet customer expectations. Low-code rapid application development platforms can help companies achieve this by enabling swift app development while still ensuring that they integrate fully with legacy databases and systems.
Delivering exactly what it says on the tin
Low-code does exactly what it says on the tin. It reduces the amount of time-consuming hand-coding required from developers. Apps can be developed and released to users faster. This reduction in coding has a couple of key benefits. First, no matter what industry you’re in, skilled developers are a scarce resource and recruiting talent is difficult. With low-code, there’s less technical expertise required. Business users can scope, design, and build their own apps. IT then enters the picture to tweak and iterate. Second, with the burden of hand-coding lifted, more skilled developers can build complex applications that integrate with critical systems much more quickly and effectively. In both cases, the pressure on IT department is relieved.
One business reaping the results of low-code is the international B2B pet supply company Beeztees, which has a 35-year heritage. Having identified the risks of the traditional wholesale model, the company knew it needed to transform into a full sales-and-marketing-driven e-commerce business. Beeztees had a legacy investment in SAP and turned to strategic partner B-Synergy to unlock its extensive data and make it available via web and mobile. B-Synergy deployed OutSystems for SAP and used its dedicated SAP connectors to build an e-commerce platform with features such as real-time inventory, order track-and-trace, and vendor integration facilities. As a result, Beeztees is now viewed as an innovator in the sector, exploring new ideas and quickly bringing them to market. IT is now seen as enabling strategic business growth, not just supporting the organisation.
Less risk, more agility for retail
Whether it’s automating a business process to make logistics and delivery more efficient or creating a new behavioural-insight-driven digital experience for customers, low-code allows retailers to become more agile. The risk associated with exploring new ideas and applications is reduced, giving teams more freedom to innovate. Apps can go from concept to deployment in weeks. And, they can be modified and improved in a live environment, delivering ROI fast. In the fast-paced world of retail, that’s a key advantage that helps redress the balance between established brands and their nimble competitors.
Effectively, by going down the low-code path, established retailers can adopt the same tactics being used by their competitors. By taking a disruptive technology and embedding it into the organisation, it becomes enabling. That’s essential for driving innovation, transformation, and, ultimately, long-term survival.
How retailers can deliver in the social commerce boom
By Sian Hopwood, EVP, Local Business Units at BluJay Solutions
E-commerce may have made waves across the supply chain over the last few years, but freight forwarders, shippers and those delivering on the last mile have seen nothing yet: a social commerce boom is upon us. Consumers are increasingly making purchases on social media, helped by the one in four British businesses which had enabled this by the end of last year. According to PayPal, this number will have doubled by time of publication. Britain is still playing catchup, however: this is nowhere near the global average of 45 per cent of sales volume which is purchased through social media.
Social media platforms are creating opportunities for businesses to convert consumers’ browsing behaviours into frictionless shopping experiences. Once destinations for interacting with family and friends, these platforms have added marketplaces and become another shop-front for brands. By integrating ‘buy’ and ‘checkout’ functions, social platforms have given consumers the ability to browse items and make purchases directly through Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, creating new ways for them to take immediate action on purchase intents and interact directly with brands, in real-time.
However, as immediate communication and instant service becomes the norm across all industries as digital transformation takes hold, freight, transportation and distribution businesses need to adapt to keep up. BluJay research indicates that 61% of supply chain professionals believe that delivering an enhanced customer experience is now the main driver for supply chain innovation, over reducing costs. This means understanding the shift in consumer behaviour, being aware of advancements in ecommerce and service provision and knowing how to leverage these changes to achieve a competitive advantage.
New ways to shop
Consumer attitudes and preferences have changed dramatically over the past five years. Alongside advancements in mobile technology, consumers have embraced immediate communication and now expect instant customer service. UK businesses have a huge opportunity to capitalise upon the impending boom, with 8.4m British consumers already shopping via social media. With a fifth of those already taking part in social commerce weekly, this proportion looks set to rise, along with the average monthly spend of £71.
Consumers are seeking new ways to engage with brands using technology, with younger generations leading the social commerce charge. According to the Global Web Index report, the adoption of social commerce is particularly high among Generation Z and Millennials, with 60 per cent more inclined to make a purchase on a social platform when given the opportunity. Buy now, pay later schemes like Klarna also give customers even easier ways to purchase products at a time of their choosing.
Transforming delivery on the last mile
Social commerce is about offering a fast, easy and frictionless end-to-end experience. Unfortunately, one of the less considered components of this revolution is how supply chains need to evolve to meet the expectation for seamless, speedy delivery.
The challenge for freight, transportation and distribution companies is fulfilling orders placed via social media efficiently, competitively and conveniently. This is imperative as it only takes one bad experience for a customer to look elsewhere.
So, how can these businesses keep pace with socially minded consumers, given the speed at which purchases can now be made?
Today, shoppers expect brands to be ‘always on’ and provide real-time product information, such as whether a product is available in a particular store and delivery time frames. But to do this requires two things: visibility into inventory levels and the ability to communicate real-time information to partners, suppliers and customers alike. Brands will be looking to freight, transportation and distribution companies to provide the visibility demanded by customers, making visibility solutions vital for shippers.
How BluJay networks helped AO.com to deliver
Freight, transportation and distribution companies will also struggle to meet customer expectations in the age of social commerce without the support of a wider network. For retailer AO.com, the expansion of its supply chain operations and delivery support for its vast and growing product range meant disruptive change. A focus on improving last-mile delivery would benefit both its business model and foster good customer relationships.
In order to capitalise upon the market and take the business to the next stage of growth, AO.com chose to join logistics specialist BluJay Solutions’ DropShip network. Streamlining AO.com’s transactional processes, the drop shipping solution helped maintain a reputation for delivering on time, highly valued by customers. At the same time, AO.com was able to join BluJay’s Commerce suite, join a Global Trade Network of logistics firms and the hundreds of suppliers also in the DropShip networks to expand.
Networks provide a base from which flexibility, scalability and operational creativity can be born. In the case of brands experiencing surges in sales as a result of social media posts, with a network, workflows can easily be adjusted to optimise the supply chain, or 3PLs combined with drop shipping called on to meet demand. It’s a balancing act to ensure the orders get fulfilled on time, yet if a delay was to occur, their transport counterparts can offer ad-hoc services, such as overnight delivery, to meet their requirements.
Into a new retail landscape
Social commerce and its parent e-commerce are only going to increase in the coming years as 5G is rolled out across the planet and mobile shopping becomes not only possible for more people in more places, but a higher-quality and more pleasing customer experience. Processes must be streamlined and optimised if businesses are to satisfy changing customer expectations and fulfil their promises. Across retail and ecommerce, from freight to delivery, businesses must have a strategy if they are to survive in a new retail landscape populated by socially-minded shoppers.
Rightmove portal sees strong UK housing activity in 2021, reinstates dividend
(Reuters) – Rightmove, which runs Britain’s largest online real estate portal, on Friday said it expected continued robust market activity this year, ahead of a potential extension of tax break and reinstated dividend payment.
House building has been a bright spot for Britain’s economy as buyers have taken advantage of low interest rates and the temporary tax break, while appetite for bigger homes suitable for remote working has also driven demand.
Britain is set to extend the stamp duty holiday by three months to June 30, local media reported, a move that could additionally support the housing sector after Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier this week unveiled a phased exit plan from coronavirus lockdowns.
“The UK housing market has, for the most part, shaken off pandemic-related challenges to forge an optimistic start to 2021”, the company said. It added it was likely that the current shortage of new listings will correct once the immediate lockdown is lifted and will have no lasting impact on estate agency branch numbers.
Rightmove, which had to offer a 75% discount to agency and new home customers during the April-July period in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, said that annual Average Revenue Per Advertiser (ARPA) fell 28% to 778 pounds per month.
The FTSE-100 company, which operates the popular portal that helps take the pulse of the UK property market, declared a final dividend of 4.5 pence per share, while annual operating profit slumped 37% to 135.1 million pounds ($188.26 million) for the year ended Dec. 31, 2020.
($1 = 0.7176 pounds)
(Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)
Pandemic pushes BA-owner IAG to a 4.4 billion euro loss in 2020
LONDON (Reuters) – British Airways-owner IAG posted a loss of 4.37 billion euros ($5.31 billion) for 2020 after a year of minimal flying and burning through cash, and it warned on Friday it could not say what would happen in 2021.
The worsening travel outlook and tighter restrictions brought in by countries over the last two months have threatened to ruin Europe’s critical summer season and leave some carriers in need of another round of funding support, analysts warn.
IAG said that the ongoing uncertainty and duration of COVID-19 meant that it could not provide a future profit forecast, illustrating the scale of the challenge for IAG’s new boss Luis Gallego, who is six months into the job.
The group’s focus continues to be on cutting costs to reduce cash burn to try to ride out the crisis.
IAG said on Friday it had total liquidity of 10.3 billion euros, and there were now signs there could be some relief on the way for its strained finances.
UK-focused airlines were buoyed earlier this week when Britain laid out plans for travel markets to possibly reopen from mid-May, prompting a flood of bookings, but uncertainty remains over whether it will include IAG’s long-haul routes.
“Getting people travelling again will require a clear roadmap for unwinding current restrictions when the time is right,” IAG’s Gallego said in a statement on Friday.
“We’re calling for international common testing standards and the introduction of digital health passes to reopen our skies safely.”
IAG’s 2020 operating loss before exceptional items was slightly better than a consensus forecast for a 4.45 billion euros loss, after it sunk to a 1.165 billion euro loss in the October-December quarter.
($1 = 0.8230 euros)
(Reporting by Sarah Young; Editing by Kate Holton)
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