Simon Phillips from Barron McCann suggests that many retailers may have got their priorities wrong in paying too much attention to the larger stores - and ignoring the perhaps more important service needs of their smaller operations.
David Vs. Goliath: The importance of smaller stores to retailers
Smaller stores are as important to a retailer as their larger stores. Customers often have little particular reason to favour one smaller store over another. Brand loyalty is typically secondary to the feeling of ease and convenience.
These customers repeatedly visit a store largely because there’s no reason not to, which means that it’s very easy to lose a customer if the store isn’t capable of providing them with a smooth shopping experience.
It’s common for retailers to favour their larger stores when it comes to IT support services; there’s a feeling that these larger stores with a higher volume of footfall require more protection due to their significance.
There’s sometimes a feeling that the more comprehensively equipped a store is, the greater the need for IT support services due to the size and complexity of the IT estate. In reality, it tends to be the case that larger stores are far more resilient to IT downtime, and that incidences of downtime typically have a much lower impact on the customers.
In a store with 20 EPOS, one or two devices failing might go almost unnoticed. Except at peak times, these stores typically have the capacity to absorb part of their IT functionality becoming unavailable. Except at very intense periods, it’s unlikely for 20 EPOS to be running at full capacity; these large stores can usually meet the needs of their customers quite comfortably.
Having devices which are often redundant gives a retailer a margin of error and allows staff to shuffle operations around a little without much difficulty.
In a smaller store, the situation can be very different. If a store has only two EPOS, losing one of them could create enormous strain on the staff, diminishing customer service and even rendering the store unable to process customers properly.
Expectations are high and customers expect their shopping experience to be fast, smooth and easy. In smaller stores with less overall footfall, each individual customer is more precious and often easier to lose.
Furthermore, the importance of the brand extends through every part of a retailer’s customer-facing operations. At the heart of branding is consistently high quality, whether this be products, range, or the overall experience of shopping with a certain retailer.
Consistency is crucial; even a customer who’s always had good experiences with a retailer can be put off from returning if they have a bad experience in one store.
People now expect to shop in highly competent, well-organised stores delivering easy, simple shopping experiences, and in a small store it can be almost impossible to deliver this experience when IT systems fail. It’s easy for a store to develop a reputation for difficulty of use from just a couple of IT failures if these failures have a big impact.
The difference in the larger stores is that each area can be subdivided. These subdivisions will generally consist of the main bank of tills, the self-checkouts (which are serviced by the manufacturer) and the kiosks – which usually sell tobacco products and lottery tickets, consist of one-basket tills and are often used by convenience-style shoppers.
These kiosks normally have two or at most three tills and, due to the popularity of the products they sell, if one goes down the one or two others will feel the strain. It is therefore recommended that larger stores use a combination of different service levels across their tills – one level for their main tills and another level for the high-traffic kiosks.
Protecting the IT systems of a smaller store with high quality second line support allows retailers to equip stores very efficiently. When you can truly rely on the few EPOS you have to function properly, there’s no need for redundant devices or backups.
The right maintenance service can greatly reduce or prevent IT system failures, allowing for both an efficiently-equipped store, and the peace of mind of knowing that the store will continue to run smoothly even in the event of e.g. an EPOS becoming inoperable.
Having a service provider identify failure trends for all devices can provide insight which can make failures much less likely, and provide warning flags when devices look to be at risk of failure. Even more comprehensive is the availability of constant operational monitoring to ensure that devices remain perfectly operational at all times.
It’s possible for the right monitoring service to all but eliminate IT failures, and to ensure either that any IT failures are immediately dealt with whenever they arise, or ideally to pre-empt failures through pro-active maintenance when devices look to be at risk of failure.
Protecting your bottom line and your brand can be as simple as re-evaluating your service level agreement when it comes to smaller stores.
Having high quality second line support allows for an efficient store to be as secure as a larger store with excess capacity; each precious device is safeguarded against failure to ensure that staff don’t find themselves struggling with insufficient IT provisions, while disgruntled customers leave their baskets at the non-functioning till.
Negotiating a six or four-hour fix SLA ensures that any failures can be dealt with promptly, minimising disruption to customers. It also creates the impression of a competent and caring retailer looking after their customers as well as their own interests, by ensuring that every store can offer a pleasant shopping experience.
About the author
Simon Phillips is head of business development at IT service provider Barron McCann.
Barron McCann specialising in secure installation and support of distributed IT systems. They have over 39 years experience in the implementation, transition and support of IT assets across multiple platforms and environments, and clients include Wickes, Primark, TK Maxx, The Body Shop, CostCutter and Iceland.