A survey by UK retail software specialists CTS Retail states that more than 60 per cent of retailers asked for their views on technology were unsatisfied, in particular about fee structures, costs and flexibility. Many complained about the way they are effectively locked into contracts and often pay unnecessarily for generic software tools they either don’t need or don’t use. Another complaint was the time and investment required to continually update and upgrade to different versions.
There also appears to be growing interest in cloud computing, on-demand, Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), or managed services. Around 30 per cent of respondents said they were thinking of moving to retail software packages via the cloud in the next two to three years, making it possible to pay only for what they needed. Over half thought that SaaS would be one of the biggest growth areas in retail IT during the next decade. However, a surprising number admitted to not fully understanding what cloud computing is.
Company executives and finance directors seemed more concerned with costs and fee structures while IT directors voiced more support for managed services and spending less time on lengthy implementations and upgrades. The rising cost of maintenance from IT vendors was another common complaint from CIO’s.
Greater integration of technology across all channels was also ranked as very important, as customers increasingly shop online, or via mobile phones. Almost eighty per cent of respondents acknowledged that a lot more work was needed for a truly integrated multi-channel IT approach. Many felt that ‘out-of-the-box’ retail software systems were still too orientated towards traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ retailing. The sentiment was that while multi-channel software tools were out there, most software vendors were not quite there yet in answering the needs of tomorrow’s consumer.
During these difficult economic times, many retailers voiced support about being able to free-up cash and turn capital IT expenditure into less burdensome, day-to-day operating expense.
Dealing with the recession remains clearly a big concern during the next year or two, and while cutting costs remains a high priority for most retailers (ranked second), software to help improve customer satisfaction was the number one driver for continuing to invest in IT over the next decade. However, many smaller retailers, or particularly those struggling because of the recession, felt that IT investment would be hampered by the large upfront costs required.
The survey supported both AMR’s and Gartner’s recent research claims that a lack of capital expenditure was the biggest hindrance to improving IT efficiency, and that retailers are increasingly shifting projects from capital funding to operational expense. In terms of how IT spend is split in retail, the biggest slice of the investment cake goes into store operations software, with point-of-sale being the most significant.
Integration is becoming less of an issue, although many retailers said they opted for software because of compatibility with the business and widespread IT solutions like Microsoft Excel or Office. However, a bone of contention was the frequent need to adapt existing systems or change hardware every time new tools were required. Retailers were also wary about switching to new emerging technologies for fear that they soon might become outmoded or redundant – for instance, mobile payment devices. Nonetheless, mobility was considered a hot prospect for the next few years.
On the strength of the survey’s findings, CTS Retail has launched a new pay-per-transaction IT solution for retailers, Cervello, with no need for capital expenditure and free maintenance and upgrades. The way in which this software is delivered, with no upfront costs, either as a hosted service via cloud computing or using a traditional client server on-premise, allows retailers for the first time to adopt solutions that normally require investments of sometimes millions of pounds.
While retailers want flexibility and price control, many argued that cloud computing and managed services are not the definitive answer – CTS Retail believes a hybrid of the two is the way forward, taking into consideration all the different delivery mechanisms, with a combination of on-premise and SaaS software. Based on the results of the survey, CTS Retail predicts that in the next five to 10 years, all software will be delivered on a demand basis.