By Bob Johns
A conversation with Acuative's Chad Mead
Technology is changing extremely rapidly, and for the first time in a long time, retailers are becoming early adopters. Here we talk with Chad Mead to discuss how retailers can maximize their budgets and stay ahead of the technology curve.
Bob: Hello everyone, and welcome to an Integrated Solutions For Retailers podcast on technology in retail. I’m Bob Johns, editor with the magazine and website, and I will be your host for today. Joining me is Chad Mead, chief operating officer with Acuative. Chad has over 20 years of experience in information systems and network operations. He was even named one of the 50 most powerful people in networking in 2006 by Network World magazine. Hi, Chad, and welcome to the podcast.
Chad: Hi, Bob. I’m glad to be here.
Bob: No problem. I know you have a lot of experience in the industry. So, I really wanted to touch base with you on technology changes in retail. What are some of the technology trends on the horizon that will have the greatest impact on retailers?
Chad: Thanks for asking that question. It is actually one that comes up quite frequently. There are several things that are coming out, some of which we’ve already heard as industry buzzwords. Things like GPS in-store tracking, the ability to track both the product itself, but also track the individual consumers as they navigate their way through the individual stores. Self-checkout, which is something we are already seeing in the grocery space, but is also beginning to become more prevalent in some of the commoditized merchant-based services. Digital signage; wireless point of sale transactions that are encrypted because of the transmission of personally-identifiable information; buyer presence — whereby the retailer can understand where the individual consumer is within the actual location based on the devices that they have on them at the time; and, obviously, omni-channel and the endless aisles.
Bob: Now, what about challenges? What are the retailers’ biggest challenges in terms of maximizing their investments in technology?
Chad: So, one of the things that always becomes a challenge for retailers is the natural cost aspect of things. As new technology becomes more prevalent, the cost goes down. However, many retailers want to be seen as being on the cutting edge, especially with the demographics in that 18- to 40-year old marketplace. Reliability is also a key factor. As new technology comes out, it is not necessarily known as the most reliable when it starts. And then response time, most manufacturers are not necessarily as responsive to the early adopters as they would be once it becomes more mainstream. As more geographically dispersed retailers come up, there is the ability to actually provide remote support, and when that remote support is unavailable, it becomes a real challenge to provide rapid response-time , where minutes can mean hundreds if not literally millions of dollars in lost revenue for those marketplace and those retailers. The other piece is across a wide area network and across many platforms, the ability to maintain quality of service. As these systems become more integrated, and specifically as it relates to the persistent interconnection of technology, the ability for all of these interconnected devices within the retail brick-and-mortar location becomes very challenging. As one of them goes down, it can literally become a chain of dominoes affecting the entire location’s ability to provide effective retail solutions, and in turn, gain customer market share.
Bob: Great. Now given the trends and challenges you just discussed, how does the support model change?
Chad: That’s actually a really good question, Bob, because the support model is one that’s been in place or relied upon for years. Typically in the past, it was reliance upon the cash register. There were many manufacturers and providers that really did the support on a call-out basis, but it was one specific piece. Or, the point-of-sale credit card authorization machine. There a many manufacturers of the credit card authorization machines that provided support only over the phone. Their machines were throw-away, and there was always some sort of business continuity disaster recovery plan. If it didn’t work over a phone line, you did the old credit card machine where you had to do the imprint across the carbon. There were ways around technology. And, the biggest hurdle many locations faced was around building maintenance types of activities. If I am a grocery, you know, the fact that my freezer went out, I had to call a freezer repair person; lights, similar situation; heating and cooling.
Many of these were issues that were dealt with by different contractors. In today’s day and age, because of that persistent interconnection of technology, there are so many interdependencies that you no longer can rely on a recovery or backup plan. There has to be the ability to proactively maintain technology, both by ensuring that systems are running at their optimal level by ensuring that parts are replaced and stocked locally, but also by ensuring that the resources you have are skilled across many technology platforms. One sort of individual cannot necessarily fix all of the capabilities that are in place in many brick-and-mortar shops today. What I mean by that is your traditional PC technician can’t necessarily fix the Wi-Fi, POS, digital signage, and some of the other technologies that are coming out there. You need an individual who has the ability to run across all of those platforms. More importantly, you need an individual who is there on a regular basis to ensure that everything continues to operate well and is responsive and is able to get to those locations when they need it within a fast time. It needs to be flexible, and also needs to be customer-focused.
Many companies have realized that having a local presence for support is not always cost-effective for them as an individual retailer. The other piece is that many of our retail brands are franchises in nature, and franchises are usually given the option of how they’re going to provide support services and sometimes don’t always necessarily provide it to the expectations of the franchisee. Acuative, in fact, has recently taken that and developed a service offering that we refer to as our ValuNet Field Pro Maintenance. Our ValuNet Field Pro Maintenance is designed to provide retail markets with support that is both proactive and reactive. We provide a technician who would come by the locations on a regular basis, ensuring that all machines are operating at the highest possible quality, but are also able to respond within a four-hour service level agreement. This allows us to be responsive to both the immediate and urgent needs and those items that can be deferred or are able to be looked at as a replaceable consumable item within their technology stack. So, the support model really has to get pushed further out instead of things being done all remotely. But, we also have to have a blend in there, so at the end of the day that technology reliance of our retail marketplace today has to be served in a different way. And that is why Acuative came up with our ValuNet Field Pro Maintenance solution.
Bob: That’s really interesting. It is amazing how technology support is changing right now. Well, I think that’s all the time we have for today. Chad, I want to thank you for joining us and offering some great information.
Chad: Thank you, Bob. I appreciate all of your listeners and the information you provide both to support the technology industry as well as your readers.
Bob: No problem. I appreciate that. Well, this concludes our podcast. I hope everyone was able to get some good, actionable data today, and I look forward to the next time we can get together. Remember, take a look at the latest edition of Integrated Solutions For Retailers magazine in print and online and our website www.retailsolutionsonline.com. Also, check us out on Twitter at @retailmag and @BobOnRetail. Check out Acuative at www.acuative.com. This has been Bob Johns with Integrated Solutions For Retailers and Chad Mead with Acuative. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.