Written by Zahid Jiwa, VP UK&I, OutSystems
The retail sector was hit hard by the recession. High-profile struggles of longstanding fixture such as Blockbuster, HMV and Comet shook the industry as many more retailers failed or worked to stay afloat.
The retail industry tends to be the bellwether for the economy as it highlights consumer confidence and today there are signs of cautious optimism. According to the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium (BRC), UK retail sales were up 0.4% in December 2013 on a like-for-like basis from December 2012, when they had increased 0.3% on the preceding year. On a total basis, sales were up 1.8% in December 2013 against a 1.5% increase in December 2012.
That said, retailers continue to face significant challenges. Competition remains fierce and loyalty is low. Consumers are demanding and fickle. They want their purchases to be fulfilled instantly, and if they don’t get what they want, they will quickly move on to another supplier. If retailers are unable to adapt, they will become irrelevant or fail altogether.
Continued innovation will be key to meet retail business goals and satisfy changing consumer buying patterns. IT plays a pivotal role in helping retailers engage with customers, partners and suppliers – delivering seamless multi-channel experiences, improving business efficiency and product fulfilment, and so much more. IT departments however are struggling to keep up with the pace of change demanded within the retail environment, which is affecting retailer’s ability to innovate.
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In order to remain relevant to today’s consumer driven world, retailers need to be nimble enough to outmaneuver the competition, and this means retail IT departments have to change the way they operate. Faced with current constraints, retailers need to move toward adaptive software development systems that can be changed quickly according to business needs. Traditional hand-coded application development platforms are no longer the fastest way to develop applications. Retailers need to investigate other approaches and platforms in order to make the application development environment more productive.
At OutSystems, we have worked with a number of retailers over the years helping to innovate in a variety of ways across their business. With the OutSystems Platform, we have helped retailers deliver amazing web and mobile applications, achieve complex integration, and create highly flexible and adaptive environments. We help retailers overcome innovation challenges and effectively outmaneuver the competition by taking a different approach to application development. This includes helping IT departments automate where they can and seeking out more intelligent and effective ways to develop applications.
One customer, a supermarket retailer in the Netherlands known for its excellent customer service, used the OutSystems Platform to build an application that made stock information from the website and from the shop system available to employees on the shop floor. Accurate stock intelligence now helps guide shelving decisions and enables employees to respond quickly to customer requests. Employees also have visibility into future order information so they can let customers know when stock will be back in the stores. As a result, new levels of customer service and loyalty have been achieved.
Another customer, a top 100 retailer worldwide, used the OutSystems Platform to implement a new differentiation strategy that seamlessly knit together its own production of goods with white label products and branded goods. The most recent element of this strategy was to implement a new product development and quality control solution that delivers more competitive pricing and attractive margins by enabling more control over the supply chain. As a result of this new adaptive system, the retailer now has full control from product design, contract negotiation and quality control. In addition, the retailer has been able to negotiate better prices with its suppliers. The combination of lower shipping costs and better alignment of its offerings to market demand has helped to significantly improve the retailer’s margins.
Employing a more strategic approach to development helps retailers to better manage their application stack and development requests. This includes improved segmentation and prioritisation of their application portfolio so that they are better equipped to deal with the speed of change. In fact, our retail customers claim that the OutSystems Platform has enabled them to deliver solutions with aggressive deadlines that would be impossible to achieve using traditional technologies.
There’s no doubt that adaptive systems speed innovation. Top retailers are no longer relying on yesterday’s tools and approaches to solve today’s business challenges. Instead, they are using agile development environments to control the cost of change, increase productivity and enable their businesses to innovate faster. Are you?
To read more about The Changing Face of Retail, visit http://www.outsystems.com/offer/it-strategy/changing-face-of-retail/