Plan effectively for downtime in your retail revolution

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By Claudine Mosseri, Group Services Director, ByBox.

It's been dubbed the fourth industrial revolution – and amid all of the concern and scaremongering about robots replacing workers in roles, there is at least one sector which has the potential to be transformed by technology – retail.

In part, this has come about as a natural - and essential - response to the world changing around stores. Traditional retailers have struggled for years now with the challenges presented by fusing clicks with bricks, trying to reconcile the issues of retaining property portfolios and the fact that people will likely always want to access some form of physical store or 'showroom'.

The concept of click and collect has brought these issues of online access and 'researchability' together with solving age-old delivery issues, while also encouraging people into physical stores. And now retail is innovating further – developing and investing in digital screens for stores to reduce shoppers' need to compare on mobile, automating tills to reduce waiting times, even developing cashier-free Amazon Go stores where people can just pick up goods and walk out of the shop.

All very exciting. But, in this tech-fuelled future, where convenience and speed for the shopper are placed front and centre, what happens when that technology goes down? We've all experienced the frustration at an automated till when it refuses to accept an item. Add to that the more mature technology which has become intrinsic to the store experience, like card readers or the manned till – all can cause delays and disruption when they fail.

As the high street retail experience becomes ever more dependent on this technology, shoppers are likely to grow more impatient and frustrated with spells of downtime associated with technology repair. If a shopper has come to expect a quick trip to a store thanks to these devices, this frustration will grow, and even possibly dent their relationship with the retailer.

When alternative options to the new technology, like manned tills, have become thinner on the ground, then you may well see long lines and irate people. Research has found that after 2.5 minutes, customers become frustrated at no progress in a line, and one in every three customers will abandon a checkout queue if they have to wait longer than five minutes. The stakes of retail technology downtime are high ones.

How high? For a business, network downtime can lead to a chain of negative events, including disappointed and even lost customers, data failure and of course lost revenue. By our calculations, the average cost for retail downtime incidents currently sits at around £3,675 per minute. As technology continues to transform stores from within, this number is only likely to rise.

However, to avoid these costly delays and disruptions, retailers need only to have an effective plan in place for swift replacement of faulty parts. Technology in stores has become so varied already that there is unlikely to be one single cause, which makes preventing downtime more of a challenge; but there is a solution. Because this technology is becoming widespread, replacement parts are also becoming plug-and-play, meaning a fast fix can be completed.

The issue is simply to get the parts to the right retailer as quickly as possible. Current systems typically involve the staff logging a job to the supplier in the case of technology breakdown. Usually this means the supplier sends the part, and the engineer completes the fix the next day. Based on our calculations above though, and using standard shop hours of 10am-6pm as a basis, this means potential lost revenue of £1,764,000 – all for lack of one part.

Using lockers for collection of these parts solves part of this problem. Stock can be held in these secure facilities, close to the high street, providing quick access, so replacements can be picked up with the minimum of downtime. Getting the engineer to complete the fix, thanks in many cases to that plug-and-play technology – should no longer be a problem. Which then brings us to the final issue – making sure the part gets there as quickly as possible. This is why ByBox operates a network which runs through the night to banks of lockers, to make sure essential items get to stores as quickly as possible.

Of course, with all these smart in-store devices quickly becoming connected, the potential for machines themselves to alert to a part wearing out is not far beyond our reach. Smart data analysis can also cut down delivery time. In one case, because we manage the inventory and delivery data for a customer, we have managed to spot patterns in their device downtime trends. If the data shows that, within a fortnight of part A breaking, part B also typically fails – why would an engineer fixing part A not just replace both of them at the same time? Think of all of those valuable £3,675 minutes that could save.

Technology has the power to transform our shopping experiences, but we all know it is not infallible. With clever planning and insightful approaches to their device management, maintenance and delivery techniques however, the country's retailers can keep their tills ringing and their customers happy, while also developing and embracing the store setup of the future.

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