A Decade Of Retail

Recently, Retail TouchPoints had the opportunity to speak with Brad Fick from Direct Source, and find out his viewpoints on how technology has changed retail over the past decade.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What are some of the most significant ways technology has changed the way merchants do business during the past 10 years?

Brad Fick: Looking back 10 years, technology just got faster, more competitive, a little cheaper and now offers more capabilities than it did before. That business model didn’t change drastically. After many years of experience selling POS technology to tier one retailers,  I would say that the advent of ruggedized PDAs for retailers are what’s allowed them to begin thinking about different ways to conduct store operations and interact with customers. Then wireless got faster.


Now when we look into the mobility realm of things, retailers, especially bigger box, were trying to utilize that technology on a variety of fronts. Today the store executive dashboard is more commonplace. Before the introduction of the iPad, I had always been a major believer in tablet technology — we had commercial ruggedized tablets but we had a hard time finding retailers who had a vision to use it. So I am quite grateful Apple came out with the iPad, then tablet technology took off, now we also have the Android tablets. That certainly has forced the retailers, in my opinion, from the C-level down, to rethink POS and store ops and you’re also seeing that from middle management.

Now networking is a no-brainer. Now we can’t understand why team can’t work faster at the store level.

RTP: Has mobile technology served up the greatest changes in recent years in retail? Please explain. Do you believe mobile POS could completely replace traditional POS?

Fick: Mobility is really changing things for retailers. But, we have some retailers that will continue to use checkout lanes because they sell commodity items. Not everybody can be an Apple store, because they have so many commodity items. Mobile is changing some of larger big box stores to be more like an Apple store. I’m certainly seeing a large section of retailers that will look at going with tablet POS and using them in docking stations. It still can be less expensive than traditional POS, even if you have to refresh the tablet down the road. It also is less disruptive for the stores — just unplug and replace.

In the specialty space many are moving to tablet technology, even mom-and-pops. Recently I went into a small shop; the shopkeeper pulled out his iPhone and he said it tracks every transaction — he used my card with a Square device and asked if I wanted to email the receipt. Many retailers are now using technologies on the phone they have — shifting away from traditional POS.

From a macro level what I see going on with stores and technology is that C-level executives can easily call IT folks and say “Give me this technology at store level.” But what I find, time and time again, is a lack of centralized effort driven from the top down. Marketing, store ops and IT all want something different. Retailers should implement a coordinated effort, starting with leadership, toward one common goal. As a consumer, I am surprised with some tier-one retailers that have not integrated their websites with the store environment. Even retailers selling commodity items (e.g., flat screen TVs, blue ray players) aren’t able to conduct quick transactions to order out-of-stock product. That is a missed opportunity, especially when working with loyal shoppers. I am still perplexed as to why some retailers are not moving faster.

RTP: Where do you believe most retailers are in terms of preparedness for the future — ability to move forward with the new technologies that will help to improve their businesses?

Fick: Retailers should appoint senior leadership at the corporate level to implement technology initiatives that reach across all stores and can benefit marketing, store ops and IT. Many retailers understand why senior leadership should drive technology upgrades, but they often have many leaders in different departments trying to accomplish different goals. In addition, it’s important to get feedback from the stores after an upgrade is implemented and installed. Continuous improvement should always be a goal. I always hope to see retailers spend their money wisely. Direct Source focuses on helping retailers make the right long-term investments.

RTP: How vital is it for retailers to embrace the benefits of analytics throughout their businesses?

Fick: These days, retailers that are willing to reward  loyal shoppers who are opting in using smartphones with GPS can gain valuable information through business analytics. Video surveillance cameras and software allow retailers to do people-counting and sales conversion to understand shopping patterns and make changes to optimize store layout.  On top of that, retailers can do dwell analysis with cameras in-aisle.
The other thing that I find a lot more exciting is that there could be a financial reward for getting loyal shoppers to opt in because retailers could use GPS to track shoppers while they are in the store. You may not know their specific account information, but if you can track the GPS on the phone as they are shopping, with right system you will know the path, aisle, and how long they spent in a section; then at checkout you should be able to do some correlation between size of sale and GPS tracking. This wealth of information will be tremendous. There will be privacy concerns but we are having these conversations right now with retailers.

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