Ready, Steady, Grow: how technology is putting struggling retailers back in the race

May 28, 2019 Claranet Limited

Expectations for the future were fading for Patisserie Valerie at the end of last year. But now under new management, plans are on the table again to bring the coffee and cake chain back to what it serves up best.

So, what’s the big focus for steadying this portfolio of 96 saved outlets and resetting the business on a path for renewed growth? According to the company’s new chief executive, Steve Francis, it’s tech, with a range of initiatives to reinvigorate the brand. 

While there are no immediate plans to grow the estate, investment will be ploughed into its existing portfolio to ‘fix the basics’ and improve sales. The central plan is reportedly for the new owners to create “a better customer experience” by introducing music into stores and installing more powerful Wi-Fi. Investment in its online business – already worth around £3m a year in sales and “growing like crazy” – will be a central pillar of the recovery drive. Having the capability for in-store order processing, and wider supply chain visibility across the business is also a major part of Pat Val’s new proposition. 

"Things are moving fast but the pace is set to accelerate even further."

Change must be on the menu
So often in retail, not having the right infrastructure in place, and being limited by legacy technology, is what causes customers to walk away in the first place, simply because they can’t shop in ways they’d like to. Old tech struggles to deliver, and in 2019, papering over the cracks won’t help.

Vibrant new brands can start from scratch with the very latest SaaS solutions for payment, inventory and order management, hybrid cloud data storage, and unified communication platforms so that slick, cross-channel customer service is always delivered. Long-established retailers meanwhile face the challenge of integrating their existing systems, but still need to offer all the very latest omnichannel services today’s shoppers demand.

When it comes to operating stores, we repeatedly hear how vital it is to offer a seamless customer experience, slick payment and add-on services such as ordering from ‘endless aisle’ inventory, joined up CRM, and fulfilment options such as click-and-collect and ship-from-store.

But to do this well requires excellent in-store network connectivity, fully integrated systems, and totally reliable unified communications across the organisation. At the same time, systems and data storage must be fully security compliant and protected from cyberattacks, malware, and natural disasters.

As always, things are moving fast but the pace is set to accelerate even further. Retail IT departments – and increasingly the entire senior management team - are aware of the urgent need to adapt and upgrade to be fit for the future. And because there is such pressure on margins, they are understandably seeking a better way to match technology investment requirements to very specific commercial key performance indicators.

Clear roadmaps for retail needed
Of course, this is a complex issue and retail CIOs with sprawling legacy estates have a lot of thinking (and influencing) to do. Fixing old technology while addressing the need to deliver new digital capability is no easy balancing act and wholesale change can’t happen overnight. That means knowing where to start the journey of incremental, continuous improvement.

But technology is now one of the defining factors for the industry, and many retailers – both new start-ups and well-established players – are well ahead in developing their future digital businesses. Technology partners with combined expertise in Cloud, Networks, UC, and Security can play an important role but, ultimately, retailers that can adapt to the changing behaviours of customers are the ones who will out-perform their competitors.

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