Embracing Tech to Power Productivity: Retail Insider Tips

Standing still in retail isn’t an option. The opportunities to implement ground-breaking tech are all around us.

From slick payment options to streamlined scheduling, there are tools out there to buck the trend of high street closures by empowering employees and charming customers.

And at this year’s WFM Forum, hosted by REPL and ReThink, an expert panel shared their experiences about embarking on projects for transformational workplace change.

Here we share their insight about how communication, transparency and a willingness to change all play their part in a successful tech project.

The Panel

Panel DiscussionChaired by Simon Hedaux, founder of ReThink, the panel consisted of:

Oliver Banks, founder of retail transformation specialists OB&Co
Diane Wehrle, founder and director at retail intelligence specialists Springboard
Phil Whittle, retail director at Schuh
Lisa Perez, resource and planning manager at Screwfix
Pamela Withers, head of operational delivery, food and beverage at the National Trust

Together with delegates, they explored a range of topics and generated some lively debate to inspire and educate.

Why Do Good Projects Go Wrong?

“If the right level of support and understanding is missing within an organisation, projects can suffer. Everyone needs that overall knowledge of why we’re doing it, how we’re resourcing it and a ‘let’s make it happen’ attitude.

“They also need to fully understand the benefit. Does it result in a worthwhile return on investment, both in terms of time, which can be forgotten about, and money. Communicating to employees about how they experience that value is also key.”

Oliver Banks, OB&Co

“At Springboard, we’ve always got projects on the go and one of the things we’ve learned over the years is that someone has to take ownership.

“Rule by committee doesn’t work because everyone thinks someone else is doing the important tasks. So you need to have both someone taking responsibility for doing it and someone sponsoring it internally.

“You also want true belief in that project. Honesty is key. We’ve all hung onto projects that we know aren’t working but because we’ve invested so much time and effort into it, we don’t want to let it go and give up.

“But if you have the metrics and data to tell you the truth about it, and you truly believe in them, then be prepared to stop the project and walk away if it’s not going to plan.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard

“Losing sight of what you were trying to achieve. You can go off at so many tangents that the project simply doesn’t move forward and everyone realises that what you’re trying to deliver is never going to happen.

“So, for us, it’s about staying focused on the end goal at every stage.”

Lisa Perez, Screwfix

“In our experience, one of the stumbling blocks can be with third party tech providers. What they promise at the beginning can look very different to what they deliver. It may be that they’re not very customer-focused, or not as flexible as you need.

“Choosing those partners wisely is a vital part of making sure good projects don’t go wrong.”

Phil Whittle, Schuh

“People play a huge part in the success of our projects. If they have experience working on something similar, that’s a fantastic bonus for us.

“It’s also so important to give both our customers and employees lots of love during the transformation. We’ve learned not to underestimate the amount of hyper care they need.

“Training, support and communication, delivered in a very hands-on manner, has to be central and has to be invested in.”

Pamela Withers, National Trust

What important things should companies do before starting tech/productivity projects?

“Take that long hard look in the mirror to decide exactly what problem you want to solve. Get that wrong and the wrong path has been chosen right from the start, leading to wasted money and time.

“From there, getting the organisational buy in to that idea. If that doesn’t come through, it’s pretty much a non-starter.

And finally, set early deadlines. If you manage to get early momentum by delivering a proof of concept or tangible early deliverables, you’ll be building trust in the project. That will give you the energy to keep going and make it a success.”

Oliver Banks, OB&Co

“For all businesses, making sure that whatever the project is, particularly around tech, there’s going to be a positive ROI.

“Will this deliver something above and beyond what you’ve already got? That comes from evaluating demand. Do their eyes light up or is there a blank face? You can’t measure that but you can feel it.

“Once you’ve got that, having the passion, vision and skill sets in house to deliver it and make sure it’s done properly.

“Those people will be able to think of alternatives if the first route isn’t going to plan. They’ll be continually learning lessons and driving it through, provided there’s still a demand and a positive outcome in sight.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard

“Speaking to the right people from the start: talking to colleagues from other businesses, seeing what works, swapping ideas and taking on board the possible pitfalls to avoid.

“I would also recommend going to all the end users to double check that we’ll be delivering something that will work for them across the board. Have we got the premise right? Is this really what they need?

“I also adopt a willingness to check with myself, as a project lead, that I’m not the one with all the answers. We have to be willing to listen to people and willing to be proven wrong.”

Lisa Perez, Screwfix

“Getting the enthusiasm in place right from the beginning from across the board. Also, appreciating that your in-store teams understand the challenges you’re trying to fix better than the people at head office do.

“Make sure the brief is really clearly defined and that any external companies are crystal clear what the issues are and what your ideal outcome is.

Phil Whittle, Schuh

“Convincing the organisation that this is not a technical change at all it’s a cultural shift. Many think that the solution is going to be a silver bullet but we need support from everyone to make sure it’s understood and embraced.”

Pamela Withers, National Trust

What tech are you most excited about and how will this impact your business?

“Mobile video offers a huge opportunity for online and physical retailers to engage face-to-face using a remote method. I believe we haven’t even touched the sides of it yet.

“There’s so much scope to capitalise on this technology in terms of boosting employee engagement and customer service.”

Oliver Banks, OB&Co

“Technology that can give businesses greater data insights at a low cost. Retailers can exploit existing hardware, such as CCTV architecture to count footfall and analyse demographics.
“There’s no need for a large investment in kit here. It’s all about being nimble and capitalising on what you already have to think quickly and link data sets together.

“By doing that, it’s possible to start bringing in line the data bricks and mortar retailers can gather with the amount at the fingertips of those online.”

Diane Wehrle, Springboard

“For us, it’s about WFM and getting that right to provide consistency for our teams. We understand how our operations impact on our employees’ lives and it’s essential for all retailers to get flexible scheduling right.”

Lisa Perez, Screwfix

“We’re currently at the pilot stage of using Springboard’s demographic software with our cameras. We can see who’s coming in to stores and also who’s outside them on the pavement and walking past.

“This data, combined with information about our target demographic, gives us insight into the % of people that we’re pitching to who we’re actually capturing on the street.

“As footfall continues to fall across the high street, we can analyse where those falls are coming from. Is it a certain gender or particular age group? Data can be used to see where you’re winning and where you’re not.

“We’re also about to introduce Klarna to our stores which will allow customers to split their purchase into three monthly payments at no cost. The aim here is to drive increased basket size and encourage them to buy if they’re hesitating, wondering if they can afford it today. These are exciting time for both them and us.”

Phil Whittle, Schuh

“Again, it’s all about the capabilities of a great workforce management solution and how revolutionary it can be in terms of how we manage our teams and how we offer great service to our customers.

“We’re lucky in that we don’t have a problem with our footfall. For us, it’s all about keeping up with capacity, so we need the right people there in our food and beverage operations.”

Pamela Withers, National Trust

This year’s WFM Forum showed how sharing insight and experiences can unlock ideas for retail growth and future-proofing.

At REPL, we know this collaborative approach achieves exceptional results. If you’re ready to start your tech transformation journey, our industry experts can get you on the right track.