Swan Retail’s Laura Buczynskyj discusses the importance of IT in helping retailers to ride the Brexit storm

Research shows that even though the deadline for the UK leaving the European Union is fast approaching, more than two-thirds of retailers have not yet made a plan for how they will manage the changes this will bring. Without a doubt, complexities will arise for retailers as a result of Brexit, ranging from new trading tariffs which could impact profit margins to changes in regulations surrounding UK retailers selling within the EU and the resulting VAT compliance.

As you are more than likely aware, Brexit has caused a weakening on the pound, raising living costs which in turn has resulted in reduced levels of spending across all sectors but in particular, those deemed as non-essential. The political uncertainty of the negotiations has also resulted in a general overall dampening of consumer confidence.

Overall, this paints a pretty bleak picture for retailing over the past year and heading into 2018, however, if you plan accordingly then you should come out the other side relatively unscathed and hopefully with a foot up on your competitors.

As a leading supplier of Retail solutions to furniture, carpet and bed stores, ranging from single stores to nationwide retailers, here at Swan, we feel that we have a unique insight into how the furniture retail sector can ride the storm by changing their focus inwards to their IT systems.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking something along the lines of “of course, you’d say that you’re a provider of retail systems!” However, bear with us.

Retailers are now under continuing pressure to reduce overheads, increase efficiencies, increase footfall and convert more sales opportunities. On top of all this, the way in which your customers interact with your business is shifting at an alarming pace. Where last year we talked about needing to be a Multi-channel retailer in order to stay relevant, now you need to be omnichannel.

So, what’s the difference? Multi-channel retailing refers to all shopping channels; in-store, Online, mobile etc, being available to the customer however they are not integrated with each other whereas omni-channel retailing connects these channels to create a seamless, cohesive user experience across all touchpoints.

Consumers are wanting instant satisfaction more and more. If they decide they want new bedroom furniture for example, they are no longer content to wait until the following weekend then spend a day traipsing around the local stores until they find one they like and can afford.

They will use their ever-present smartphone or tablet to start their research there and then, more than likely coming to a decision on their choice of the product without having even stepped foot into a physical store. They will then visit the retailer who they know the stock that particular item to ‘road-test’ it before making the final purchasing decision. For the larger purchases, eg a 3 piece suite, it is possible that even after a store visit they will still want to go home and take their time deliberating before placing an order, preferably online via the retailer’s website using a quote they were given in-store to save them the hassle of having to re-enter all of their option choices.

An omni-channel retailer will offer a shopping experience which allows the customer to seamlessly switch between the different channels, satisfying their need for an easy interaction with the retailer and instant gratification.

If during initial research, the customer is unable to see that you stock the product they want, you are likely to lose them to a competitor who does provide that information without ever having come face-to-face with them. You need to have a modern, easy to navigate online presence which is optimised to display on all devices and appears high up in the search engine results. This online portal to your business needs to give the consumer all of the relevant information including, but not limited to; product specification, price, available options, stock levels, delivery timeframes and even customer reviews. All of this is to try and tempt the customer to take the final step and come into store to make the purchase with you and not your competitor.

This requirement for you to not only provide these multiple channels of consumer engagement but ensure they are integrated with each other and provide an accurate representation of your business and product offering can seem like a daunting task however it is necessary for you to invest in this so that you not only survive but thrive in the changing retail environment.

Through investment in your retail systems, you can manage your entire business from a single point of administration, reducing your overheads, increasing efficiencies, and overall, providing a better customer experience so converting more sales opportunities. A good IT solution will enable you to enter information once for use across all of your sales channels and tools – EPoS, online, telephone orders, ticketing, promotions and accounts. This ensures that regardless of how your customers interact with you they receive the same product offering, price structure, and delivery options.

It will also allow you to expand customer loyalty schemes and make more use of customer relationship management (CRM) tools to drive repeat business or re-engage those customers who may have dropped out along the buying process eg put a product in their basket online but not proceeded to checkout or received a quote in-store but not placed the final order.

Finally, a retail system which provides the right functionality will help with improving business efficiencies through the provision of tailored reports and KPI dashboards and the ability to interrogate sales data for trend analysis allowing you to become a responsive business which can quickly adapt to the opportunities presented by the changing face of retailing.

Moving forward over the next twelve months Swan is making considerable investments in the web area with both recruitment and acquisition to deliver a true Omni channel solution from the single application.