The future starts here

#ThinkSmart2 conference speakers

Technology and data took centre stage at SLR’s new annual #ThinkSmart conference as speakers from across the globe offered a glimpse into how the future of convenience retailing might look.

by Antony Begley

It is becoming clearer than ever that data and insight, facilitated by new technologies, are set to transform the retail industry – and that includes local retailing. Last month saw SLR launch a new and unique event, #ThinkSmart, that aimed to explore that opportunity and consider what local retailers need to be doing to ensure they are not left behind in an increasingly data-driven world.

A look around the wider world of retail tells us that data and insight is what drives modern retail. In the online world, data and insight is the only thing that drives retail, given the more or less complete absence of face-to-face interaction between the retailer and the customer. Increasingly, data and insight is what also drives decision-making in the bricks and mortar world of retail too.

The problem that #ThinkSmart2 attempted to address is that while the supermarkets, discounters and high street retailers now ‘get’ insight – and are spending vast sums harnessing its power – local retailers have been slower to get on board, albeit for very understandable reasons.

The danger here is that the fabled intimate relationship that has long been the convenience store’s USP is rapidly being eroded. Where once a convenience store could rely on having a uniquely close understanding of its customers, the exponential growth of data-driven retail is turning that notion on its head.

Amazon, for instance, an almost entirely online business, arguably understands its customers far better than a local retailer does. Even Tesco and Asda, who are quite a way behind, are spending fortunes on data and insight these days to get closer to their customers. And that’s why we created the event. To help attendees and the wider SLR readership to get closer to their customers; to deeply understand the types of experience and the range of services customers will expect from their convenience store in three, five or 10 years’ time.

And one thing is for sure: it won’t be even remotely close to the experience they expect today. So the time to start planning for that connected store full of connected shoppers is now. Waiting around is not an option. We need to take the initiative now and that might mean getting out of our comfort zones and trialling some new solutions and ideas we hadn’t considered before. But the future will be an exciting place and the best way of predicting the future is to create it yourself.

#ThinkSmart2 was created to be the first step on that journey and the many delegates from across the UK who braved the snow and travel chaos were rewarded with an enriching, enlightening and inspiring day packed with fantastic speakers, brilliant ideas and great technology and data-based concepts to help them drive their stores forward into the new era of customer engagement.

Hosted by former HIM joint owner Tom Fender, now MD of Glasgow-based Bolt Learning, the event took a fast-paced run through some of the technologies that will undoubtedly be impacting upon our sector in the months and years to come.

It was a fascinating day and we would encourage all retailers to make sure they attend next year’s event as things will no doubt have developed even further by then. The future is yours for the making.

Paul MerciecaPaul Mercieca

Founder, Hi Street Digital

Paul Mercieca, better known as the man behind the eponymous multi-award-winning London integrated communications agency Mercieca, launched Hi Street Digital Media in 2017 after testing the concept in major independent c-store chains across the UK for a full year. The in-store screens add colour and excitement to c-stores and feature a rolling programme of ads and offers to entice shoppers into the store and get them spending more.

Free to retailers, the screens have been proven to drive significant sales uplifts (15.3% on average) in featured products and the company is currently seeking retailers in Scotland looking to bring a new tech-driven angle to their stores.

Mercieca’s presentation took delegates through a potted history of how technology has influenced shoppers and retailers over the years and demonstrated how quickly technological advances have revolutionised local retailing outlets.

He highlighted how feedback from retailers struggling to find room and time to site yet more in-store POS led him to the idea of digital screens that could be managed remotely, leaving the retailer free to concentrate on selling. The technology provided by Hi Street allows retailers and brands to influence shoppers at the crucial moment as they enter a store.

Average sales increases for retailers using the screens have been 15.3% while footfall has risen 4.3% and basket spend grew by 6.8%.

Katie JenkinsKatie Jenkins

Head of Customer Proposition, Bolt Learning

Bolt Learning’s mission is to help retailers, wholesalers and suppliers improve their business by leveraging technology to grow their biggest asset: their people. Bolt’s online smarter training solutions offer an extensive range of online modules containing realistic scenarios, immersive stories and engaging graphics, combined with trainee and performance analytics, to inspire behavioural change, ensure compliance and drive productivity. The company already works with key retailers and wholesalers including Lifestyle Express, McColl’s, Parfetts and Brakes.

Jenkins discussed how 22% of staff receive no induction training at all and less than 50% of local retailers offer no health and safety training while 77% of retailers say time is the limiting factor to training. Additionally, she highlighted how 44% of shoppers don’t feel staff are adequately trained in the stores they use.

If you aren’t investing in staff training or employee engagement, she said, then you run the risk of losing out to your competitors and losing out in the ‘talent war’. It’s worth noting too that in five years’ time millennials will make up 50% of the workforce and they value training more than they value more traditional perks.

Jenkins explained how modern learning is 24/7, is interactive (not passive) and is any device, any language, anywhere. Bolt’s solutions have been tailor-made to leverage these opportunities and have the added benefit of being hugely helpful in maintaining and storing staff training compliance records.

Bolt, she said, helps retailers protect their stores, grow their sales and build a winning team.

John BirtJohn Birt

Retail Director, Zapper

Free to download for all stores, Zapper’s award-winning mobile payment with in-built loyalty app is now available in more than 1,000 stores across the UK, including Spar, Nisa, Best-One and Booker.

Jon Birt’s presentation highlighted how Zapper is helping retailers meet consumer demand with new technology. With just one tap to pay, digital store loyalty cards are instantly updated and available vouchers automatically redeemed. Using Zapper, retailers and brands can instantly match a name to every basket and create targeted marketing campaigns to encourage a higher visit frequency and increase basket spend.

With payments settled within 24 hours, Zapper’s low-cost loyalty solution also helps retailers to improve cash flow. Birt discussed how 37m adults in the UK now own a smartphone and one in four use a smartphone to pay in-store. Over six billion vouchers were issued last year with a marked shift away from paper vouchers toward digital – and Birt also stressed how important personalised offers are becoming. One size no longer fits all and customers are increasingly expecting offers tailored to their preferences and shopping habits.

Zapper’s technology allows retailers to leverage their shopper data to drive targeted campaigns, run engagement campaigns and carry out customer surveys, continually enhancing and improving their marketing along the way.

Tom HallTom Hall

Retailer Analytics and Consulting Practice Leader, IRI Worldwide

Tom Hall has worked across the globe in both developed and developing markets dedicated to helping retailers and manufacturers optimise their price, media, promotion and ranging strategies. He has a wealth of experience and has specialised in rolling out data analytics to new markets, working on convenience business optimisation across the world.

He currently leads the Retailer Analytics and Consulting Practice at IRI, driving the development of tailored business optimisation packages for the UK convenience sector.

Hall’s presentation centred on improving the performance of stores through real time data analytics, something IRI has been doing in the supermarkets for many years, but has now brought into the convenience arena.

He started by insisting that, despite what retailers think, they already have all the data and the ability they need to create amazing insight to optimise business performance. A controversial section of the presentation revealed how more than half of all promotions in a c-store actually have a negative impact on revenue growth.

He then highlighted how choosing promotional lines and indeed wider ranging decisions should be based far more on real data than on the current wholesaler/supplier driven model. He also outlined how powerful data analytics technologies can be in any stores, using digital shelf edge labels as an example of technologies that can help retailers optimise sales and profits.

Stephen BurnettStephen Burnett

MD, The Retail Data Partnership

Twenty years in the independent retail sector has confirmed Burnett’s belief that independent retailers need to use technology and their personal service to defend their livelihoods against ever-growing competition. The Retail Data Partnership is one of the largest suppliers of Epos to the convenience retail sector in the UK and its ShopMate Epos system is designed to take the work out of running Epos in-store, and to provide retailers with the key information they need to build the profits of their business.

The Retail Data Partnership sets itself apart through some truly innovative data and insight work to help retailers run more effective businesses, and it was one such piece of recent work that formed the basis of Burnett’s presentation.

The ‘Optimising Prices’ project was a first of its kind attempt to examine the effects on sales volumes of proactively moving prices of a basket of high volume lines in a selected group of real convenience stores over a period of time, including SLR’s own Woodlands Local. The project aimed to tackle the received wisdom that increasing prices will necessarily reduce sales and profits – and indeed aimed to show that retailers can add 10% to their margins without losing sales.

While the project was live at the time of the event, the indications were that by taking a structured, analytical approach to pricing, retailers could significantly increase profits without taking a hit on sales and footfall. SLR will report on the project in more detail in future issues, but it is indicative of the innovative, hands-on approach to data analytics that the company takes.

Harris AslamHarris Aslam

MD, Eros Retail

Harris Aslam runs Eros Retail, a fast-growing family-owned chain of seven stores. He believes innovation is a fundamental driving force behind the company’s mission to “redefine convenience retail”. Harris recently visited the famous Amazon Go store in Seattle and shared his first-hand experience of the trip from a retailer’s point of view. He also discussed what local retailers in Scotland can learn from this unique store and considered whether this is a model that that could be replicated, at least in parts.

The most surprising element about Amazon Go is that, far from replacing staff with technology as many people assumed it has, the store is actually using technology to free staff up to carry out roles much better suited to humans, principally customer service. Harris highlighted how the store has countless staff on the shop floor who now have the time to talk to shoppers in-depth, offer advice and simply help them with anything they require.

The store also focuses enormously on fresh food and food to go, including a team of workers behind a glass panel preparing fresh salads, sandwiches and so on all day long. While much of the store could not be replicated directly on this side of the Atlantic, the overall commitment to customer service and key categories like fresh, chilled and food to go is enlightening.

Steve O’NeillSteve O'Neill

Group Marketing Director, PayPoint

Steve O’Neill oversees the development of PayPoint’s strategic marketing, as well as its consumer insight, media relations and brand agendas. Having held senior roles at HSBC, Carphone Warehouse, Orange and John Lewis, he is passionate about technology, retail and shopper behaviour and has played a fundamental role in the transformation of the PayPoint brand in the last couple of years.

PayPoint is now present in over 29,000 c-stores across the UK and its new PayPoint One platform is now live in over 8,000 UK stores.

O’Neill’s presentation focused on how the future of convenience technology may look and stressed how difficult predicting the future can be, citing the then CEO of Microsoft Steve Ballmer’s casual dismissal of the iPhone in 2007 as a case in point. He also discussed the fact that most technologies fail while some, like the QR code, lose popularity before being given a new lease of life.

The best advice, he said, when choosing which technologies to invest in was always to start with the customer, quoting HIM data that showed that friendly and helpful staff was consistently the number one driver to store for customers between 2013 and 2017.

The key areas to focus on, he concluded, were “how people find you”, “how people shop” and “how people pay”. Most technologies should meet at least one of these key challenges and help your store improve its performance in these areas.

Scott CampbellScott Campbell

Director, Snappy Shopper

A home-grown Scottish solution, the Snappy Shopper app was designed and built specifically for the convenience store market. As consumers continue to migrate to online services and away from traditional offline business models, it was clear that the convenience store market would go the same way, said Scott Campbell. Snappy Shopper’s response was an app that gives local retailer a powerful ecommerce website that allows shoppers to order via the app and have the products delivered to their door.

The app automatically highlights participating stores in their area for the shopper and allows them to quickly and easily build an order before checking out and paying via cash, card, Apple Pay or PayPal. The order is then delivered to them.

Initial results have been phenomenal with test stores seeing additional sales of £35,000 a month – a 45% increase in turnover. The app has already processed £2.5m of sales per year with over 20,000 successful deliveries in the Dundee area alone.

The app also provides the retailer with a host of customer insights that can be used to drive sales further and target customers more efficiently while the loyalty club functionality makes launching a club quick, easy and rewarding for both retailer and customer. |

Enda McShaneEnda McShane

CEO, Velocity Worldwide

Flying in specially from New York where he is based, Enda McShane is CEO and founder of Velocity Worldwide, a specialist in using creative marketing and personalisation technology to help retailers grow their business.

Velocity’s proprietary personalisation and insight technology, Darius for Retail, helps convenience stores and fuel retailers gather, profile and segment shopper data. McShane explained how Darius drives more visits, engages customers and grows sales by making it possible for retailers to deliver personalised, relevant messages, experiences and rewards to their shoppers across all channels, both offline and online – when they’re instore and when they’re not.

He summed Velocity’s proposition up as helping “more customers spend more, more often” and highlighted the company’s impressive client list from Spar, Londis and Family Shopper to Virgin Holidays, Standard Life, Gap and, of course, SLR’s own Woodlands Local.

His presentation explained how the real threat to local retailers is from changes in shopper behaviour driven by online shopping – but offered a caveat that the death of bricks and mortar has been greatly exaggerated. Now, he said, is the time for local retailers to start the fight back by understanding and utilising customer data to drive sales and profits efficiently.

McShane also warned retailers off “chasing shiny objects” by investing on the latest big thing, instead advising them to focus on technologies that blend physical and digital touchpoints in a single solution. He concluded that most retailers know what they really need to do but don’t know how to do it. The solution? Go back to basics by gathering customer data in a way that lets you actually do something with it.