By Mike Monocello, Business Solutions magazine
Retail experts share their advice on the most significant trends facing retail IT VARs in 2013.
Retail has been one of the most reliable markets for resellers and software developers historically, although the economic downturn a few years ago has affected retailers — and therefore solutions providers — in ways still being felt today. We solicited feedback from industry experts representing a variety of different technologies and viewpoints in an attempt to gain a holistic view of today’s retail market and identify the areas in which you can thrive.
According to Bill Brennan, senior director of channel sales, resellers for Panasonic, “Mobility is undoubtedly a major trend shaping retail technology budgets. This ranges from mobile POS [point of sale] systems to tablets for managers and customer-assisted selling.” He goes on to explain that with the rise of the tablet form factor, mobile devices have the opportunity to serve as a sales tool by providing new levels of customer service and real-time access to information, such as in-store inventory figures and current pricing and sales promotions.
While Justin Zeigler, marketing director for Datacap Systems, believes that tablets will become more prevalent in applications where a low-cost POS extension would benefit the retailer, he cautions that many of these solutions still need to evolve to integrate seamlessly into store systems to maintain accountability and reporting. Wise VARs should avoid selling such feature-lacking products and be educated enough to point out such flaws when competing for sales.
There’s also a big trend in retail when it comes to video surveillance. “The use of video analytics in nontraditional surveillance applications is growing,” says Steve Gorski, GM of Americas for Mobotix. “With analytics, video becomes a management tool to optimize overall operations. For example, analytics can be used to gauge staffing levels and measure the number of customers in the store at a given time, monitor dwell times and traffic flow patterns, and enhance customer service.” He adds that video analytics turn video data into business intelligence and, therefore, this enables other departments, such as marketing and human resources, to benefit from a surveillance system, thereby allowing the cost to be divided across multiple departments. This is one of the biggest keys to successfully pitching today’s IP-based security solutions.
Of course, you can’t talk POS without talking about payments. Patrick Turiano, channel marketing manager for Merchant Warehouse, points to the overwhelming emergence of mobile commerce and alternative payment options. “We all know EMV [chip and PIN] and near-field communications [NFC] technologies will be prevalent in the coming years. These technologies, along with the insurgence of smartphones and consumer familiarity, are the catalysts for arguably the most disruptive impact in payments in the last 25 years.” He continues by pointing out that large, nonpayment companies like Apple and Google are getting into the mobile payment space, along with hundreds, if not thousands, of mobile wallet, loyalty, and gift providers. “Their business models and presence will undoubtedly change the way consumers want to experience a retail checkout,” Turiano says. “Consumers will be demanding mobile and loyalty-type solutions, merchants will need to be able to accept these payments [along with traditional payment types], and VARs will need to provide the solutions that allow merchants to take advantage of this paradigm shift.”
“Everybody wins,” says Sean Kramer, president and CEO of Element Payment Services, concerning the future of payments. “The availability of highly secure mobile readers finally allows merchant service providers to offer their differentiating services to their ISV [independent software vendor] community, and the ISVs now have a secure entry point with which to offer their services to their customers. Retailers can finally capture payments in the most natural, convenient, and secure manner possible.”
So there are technology-based trends, and then there are operational- or business-based trends. One that came up often among experts was the “as a Service” model. “Solutions providers that sell a system for a lump sum and dismiss the opportunity to generate recurring revenue via Solutions as a Service programs and ongoing support/maintenance contracts are doing themselves a remarkable disservice,” says Zeigler. “ISVs and VARs should be engaged in recurring revenue programs that serve to extend the life of the account, leading to more income for all parties. Additionally, ISVs and VARs should employ SaaS programs that offer account protection, while MSPs [managed services providers] should engage VARs as cooperative, variable-cost sales forces to mutually grow their respective businesses.”
Finally, Dana Bargell provides some advice worth keeping top of mind. “It’s easy to get caught up in things we find new, exciting, or profitable and forget about the basics,” he says. “We all too often try to sell features or technologies our customers either aren’t ready for or just don’t want. We need to remember to listen to our customers, which builds trust and subsequently allows us to help them implement technology that is practical and fitting for their business.”