In a flat-margin economy, practicality rules this season.
Whenever I see IHL Consulting’s Greg Buzek at retail shows, I make it a point not to ask what caught his eye on the show floor that day. I made that conscious decision after reading an opinion column he wrote for IHL’s home page (www.ihlservices.com) to which I can completely relate. In the column, he relays his real-life response to that very question when asked by a fellow analyst: “I saw twelve things that can change the world today, but for the life of me I can’t remember a single one.” Analysts and editors, barraged with information from hundreds of vendors in a two- or three-day blitz, feel the same brain drain at the end of a long day on the show floor.
I don’t know about changing the world, but item-level RFID (radio frequency identification) for inventory management and NFC (nearfield communications)-driven loyalty and payment applications are two of the neat things I saw at this year’s retail technology shows. These are cool applications with the potential to change retail. But neither ranks high on retailers’ 2006 holiday wish lists. Oracle recently released the results of a survey that asked retailers what they expected of sales this upcoming holiday season and what technologies they’d be wishing for to help them make the most of it.
Retailers Want Workforce, Inventory Management
Gladys Lau, director of Oracle’s retail practice, gave me an overview of the survey’s findings. Close to 60% of nearly 200 respondents to the survey are expecting holiday comp-store sales growth between 5% and 10%. The bad news is, the majority of retailers are expecting margins to remain flat due to rising energy and transportation costs. It seems retailers are afraid of dampening top-line sales if they pass their rising costs on to consumers in the form of price hikes, but remain optimistic that, with the right tools, they can at least preserve their margins. What are the right tools? Workforce management and training systems, for one. “Put resources where the customers will be, whether that’s on the store floor or in the call center, and make sure those resources are properly trained,” Lau says. “That’s fundamental to a positive consumer experience.” There are some amazing tools on the market to help retailers allot human resources more appropriately. But training associates to the point that they’re more educated, and therefore more valuable, to today’s well-armed consumer is just as important. “Training takes time and planning, and that pre-holiday ramp-up should be happening in stores now,” says Lau.
Also high on retailers’ wish lists were inventory planning and management tools to help manage the movement of goods based on demand, taking historical sales, seasonal adjustments, and promotional lift into consideration. While it’s likely too late to benefit from these kinds of tools for the upcoming season, implementing them now means precious data you capture these holidays will yield better merchandising decisions next year. I’ll post a complete version of my Q&A with Gladys on our brand new home page at www.ismretail.com very soon. In the meantime, you can check out more store-level research in this issue by flipping to the State Of The Store Manager report we put together with the help of Forrester Research analyst Nikki Baird. If you’d like an electronic copy of this report, or if you’d like more information on Oracle’s research, e-mail me at email@example.com.