Retail Business & Technology Expo Recap

by | Mar 14, 2013

I spent today at the Retail Business & Technology Expo. Held today and tomorrow at Earls Court in London, RBTE has become the preeminent retail technology show in the UK.  The event is centered on the exposition’s exhibit hall and featured two theaters with a general retail focus, two Pecha Kucha stages featuring rapid-fire product presentations, a theater focused on card and payment, and a theater dedicated to International Women in Business.

I spent about half of my day in sessions and about half the day on the show floor talking with clients, partners, running into old friends from North America and Europe, and learning about some cool new technologies.  Like any retail show in 2013, there was a lot of discussion about mobile/tablet, customer experience management, and of course, Big Data.  Let me cut through the hype and share what caught my attention:

1. Workforce Management provides guard rails for Tesco’s global operations. You know me: I believe articulating and maintaining your labor model is paramount to the short-term and long-term success of any WFM initiative.  So, it did my heart good to hear Tesco’s Jimmy Feeley talk about how their operating model encapsulates the Tesco way.  This helps Tesco exploit best practices, leverage shared assets, and export innovation to its stores outside of the UK.  He then went on to describe how JDA Software’s WFM solution (this is the recently-acquired RedPrairie solution) has provided a mechanism to deploy this operating model to its stores around the world.

2. Big Data: lots of talk, little adoption.  While big data is a hot topic, Christine Bardwell from IDC Retail Insights has said that only 25 percent of European retailers have adopted a Big Data strategy.  This number did not surprise me for all the talk that we hear about Big Data.  I know few retailers, here or in North America, that have much more than a pilot going on.  While she cited case studies from Macy’s and Carphone Warehouse, she was quick to point out that these successes are very narrow (she used the term “silo’d”).

2a. Use Big Data instead of people for labor-intensive tasks where possible. During a session with Marks & Spencer on big data, Daniel Corsten, a professor from the Instituto de Empresa, encouraged retailers to use big data rather than labor to do store walks and cycle counts because people cost more and their results are too error prone.  What a great idea!

3. Simplify customer experience management.   Customer experience management programs are cool but CEM surveys can be long causing high drop-out rates, dated by the time that you receive them, and are skewed to those that are really unhappy (or happy), or those that just want to win your $5,000 gift card.  Finland-based HappyOrNot changes this by providing a simple one question CEM measurement tool that sits in the store.  Results are transmitted via 3G to their servers and you access reports and provided the day after the customer experience is recorded. 

4. ARTS Standards really do save retailers time and money.   Tom Litchford, Vice President, Retail Technologies at National Retail Federation, showed the results of a survey commissioned by NRF’s Association for Retail Technology Standards (ARTS).  It showed that 70 percent of the retailers that used ARTS standards saved 20 percent in terms of cost and time compared with those that did not, and adoption certain standards provided savings north of 40 percent.  I’m a big fan of ARTS and was involved in developing its WFM XML and RFP standards.  It was nice to see data that supports the value that I thought was always there.

5. WFM is still finding its place in UK retail.   UK retailers are always quick to say that they are “behind” the US when it comes to WFM adoption.  RBTE seems to illustrate this with its odd mix of WFM vendors that exhibited.  While JDA Software was there, none of the other big players – Kronos Ceridian/Dayforce, Reflexis, Infor, etc. – had booths. At the same time, two Ireland-based WFM vendors, Time Point and Softworks, had booths.  Time Point offers a client-server based with deployments in the UK, Spain and Portugal.  Softworks is a web-based solution with offices with the UK, Canada and the US.

5a. Are you really a WFM vendor?   At trade shows, my pet peeve is vendors who try to show their solution’s breadth by saying they offer every solution under the sun.  I hate wasting my time to stop by one of these supposed-WFM vendors only to have their booth staff look at me like I have three heads when I ask for a demo of their labor solution.  A note to vendors, please stop this tactic.  Stop wasting my time and the time of retailers who now have a bad impression of your company.

Tomorrow, I’m headed to Retail Week Live, the other major retail trade show.  Follow me on twitter via @robert_clements for live updates throughout the day and for anything workforce management-related.

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