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Retail Tech Powers Recovery

IoT Dev Chat | Sponsored by Toshiba

Sponsored by Toshiba

Even before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar merchants were fighting to remain relevant in an online retail world. But the crisis dramatically accelerated the evolution of the retail industry. Customers have changed what, where, and how they buy—and they have new expectations for the shopping experience.

Join us as we discuss the new challenges and opportunities with Stephanie Beer, Director of Product and Channel Marketing at Toshiba Global Commerce Solutions. We explore:

  • Ways merchants can optimize their operations while reducing interpersonal contact
  • How to deploy new services like online order/in-store pickup
  • The short- and long-term benefits of the latest retail tech

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, SoundCloud, and iHeartRadio, the IoT Dev Chat covers what matters most to engineers and developers. Subscribe now to keep up with the latest in the industry.

 

This episode is sponsored by Toshiba.

Transcript

Stephanie Beer: Retailers are trying to get back to higher margins and profitability. And while they're doing more things like these industry leading grocery services to offer order online, pickup in store, long term, the cost isn't sustainable.

Kenton Williston: That was Stephanie Beer, the Director of Product and Channel Marketing at Toshiba. I'm your host, Kenton Williston, the editor-in-chief of insight.tech. I'll be talking with Stephanie today about brick and mortar retail in the wake of the pandemic. Join us in this podcast sponsored by Toshiba as we explore ways merchants can adapt and thrive in this new environment. We'll examine the ways shopping patterns have changed and how merchants can respond with new business models. We'll discuss how stores can quickly reorient their operations for safety and efficiency while also putting systems in place that will serve you in the longterm. And, of course, we'll talk about the role technology plays in all of these changes. Stephanie, welcome to the show.

Stephanie Beer: Hi, Kenton, and thanks for having me today.

Kenton Williston: My pleasure. Let's just get right to it. How, in your view, has the pandemic changed the retail landscape and how are merchants rethinking their operations?

Stephanie Beer: Well, if you think about it, even before the pandemic and the economic crisis that kind of came along with it, brick-and-mortar retailers had actually been fighting that battle to remain relevant in an online retail world and the retail industry was actually changing. So I think those changes have now accelerated and it brought along with it some new challenges.

The pandemic changed what people shop for, where they shop and how they shop, and every aspect of retail is shifting because of it. And although it may be different, extends for brick-and-mortar retailers versus online retailers or for even high volume grocery versus specialty brands, some of those demands are suppressed.

So like, example, clothing and luxury goods aren't being purchased as much now because it's stay at home. And some of those purchases are being amplified like home products and do-it-yourself. A lot of people are doing home projects right now. And then, consumers have shifted where they buy, right? A lot of people have now gone online versus offline. And how they buy, so in bulk. Everybody was panicking originally with the pandemic and now they're coming down and going back to their normal assortment of things that they buy. And even how they obtain it. So if you think about it now, it's curbside pickup, home delivery, buy online, pick up in store. So more and more people are realizing they don't even have to go out to shop.

Kenton Williston: Where do you think this is going next? Will consumers revert to previous shopping patterns or is this more of a permanent change?

Stephanie Beer: I think consumer behavior is going to be changed for a while, but you still also have those consumers that need to venture out, right, to our essential retailers and even that experience has changed. So they're making fewer trips to the store because of safety concerns. But for retailers, they actually have a chance to deepen their relationships with customers, which actually helps strengthen their brand by implementing special hours for more vulnerable groups due to the pandemic. And then, implementing the safeguards at their point of sale like plexiglass shields that protects both their employees and us as consumers.

And then obviously, technology comes along with that, embracing the digital options like consumer mobile shopping or the availability of self-checkout stations and the contactless payment options that everybody is trying to do now. So the less contact you have, the better. So when you look at it, retailers can't afford to be in a wait-and-see mode right now. So they're realizing that they need to be more proactive. They need to have a more progressive approach to both the digital and the front end transformation. And it's kind of a new era of customer experience and service.

Kenton Williston: What does this mean for store operations? How are retailers adapting to these new realities and what role does technology play in all of this?

Stephanie Beer: From a operations perspective, the lifeblood of the retail store is operations. And now, the retailers are looking to find their way to the next new normal, whatever that will be for them. So it's very critical for them to re-imagine their business model as they kind of return to full speed or what the new normal may be. The pandemic has actually radically changed demand patterns for products and services across various sectors. And it also exposed points of fragility in global supply chains and service networks. And at the same time, it's also been very striking how fast many retailers have actually adapted and they've created new levels of visibility, agility, productivity, and end customer connectivity.

One of the things we did this year was the pulse survey that was sponsored through Retail [Guys 00:05:02]. The retail executives focused on key items like reducing operating costs and expenses, and moving to more online. So eCommerce is now an essential, not a nice to have. So along with internal spending shifts and reallocation, they're going to spend more on technology like exploring their backend systems and integration frameworks needed as well as their frictionless experience for their customers.

So several of those retailers, as part of that survey, actually referenced our TCx™ 800 point-of-sale system and our self-checkout systems as having been some of the most effective and efficient ways to transact during the pandemic.

Kenton Williston: Speaking of the TCx™ 800, let me take just a moment to thank Toshiba for sponsoring this podcast and to note that the TCx™ 800 is a pretty cool point-of-sale system. The TCx™ 800 is an agile, modern and flexible all-in-one system that delivers an exceptional in-store experience. It is fully configurable as a point-of-sale system, kiosk or self-service unit. To support these varied use cases, the TCx™ 800 offers three multi-touch screen sizes and the ability to seamlessly shift orientation anywhere from 90 degrees to lay flat. And the system is backed by remote system access so you can monitor your device for peak efficiency. Designed for retail, this innovative platform scales to your needs on your terms. To learn more, visit bitly/tcxpodcast. Back to the show.

I think some of our listeners might find it a little surprising that point-of-sale systems would come up as an important part of this conversation. So how exactly do point-of-sale systems help address the new realities that merchants are facing?

Stephanie Beer: So when we think about the new reality, they need to look at solving their real world needs around loss prevention and inventory and customer tracking and that path to that frictionless experience. They have to try to replicate the in-store experiences that their consumers want while protecting them at the same time. So it's now a safety issue as well as a customer experience issue.

Kenton Williston: That makes sense and it's interesting, as you were talking about some of the factors retailers are dealing with, I was reminded, recently I went out to eat and I was very pleased to see that on the table, they put down some mats with QR codes to get the menu, right? I mean it really made me feel a lot more comfortable eating out 'cause I could tell that the restaurant had really put thought into how to minimize the contact points and that makes me think more broadly about the customer experience.

And I think this is something that in the retail industry, folks have been talking about for a long time was kind of obvious to everybody that that customer experience is really critical both because, the point you made, there's just so much competition from the online domain and for that matter, a need to have a continuous experience that goes from a retailer's own web experience, a mobile experience that carries on in through the store.

So I'm wondering what exactly goes into creating a good experience in this new environment when there's so much less interaction, when so many things are being delivered by like an Instacart type service. So much of the shopping is being done, order online, pick up in store. How do you actually create a good experience in this context?

Stephanie Beer: Sure. So if you think about it, customers don't expect a virtual experience to be like an in-person one and nor do they want it to be, right? So most retailers simply try to replicate that. And so, that's where they have to start investing in some of the unique capabilities of digital. So that means including real-time inventory management, predictive analytics, personalization. That can create a completely new and different shopping experience for consumers. And then, ensuring that the digital experience is truly zero friction, right? In store, we always talk about frictionless. Well, it's the same when you look at online.

So consumer expectations are rising for digital channels. So things like site speed, stability, delivery times, those are table stakes now. To keep pace, retailers need to design their web pages that they are optimized for digital shopping. So make the highest selling and ideally highest margin products easy to find and help make the customer journey more seamless. And then with customers now engaging through mobile devices, retailers also need to ensure that all digital channels are integrated and that they offer the consistent services such as payment options and the same experiences, we're talking omni-channel here, that big buzzword that you hear a lot. And so, that means that shopping carts are updated in real time across all your devices. And when you're talking about your shopping carts, that's where the TCx™ 800 point-of-sale experience is also integrated at that point.

Retailers are trying to get back to higher margins and profitability. And while they're doing more things like these industry leading grocery services to offer order online, pick up in store, long term, the cost isn't sustainable. So while they can create a fantastic online experience, they're also going to be looking for other solutions that help them from a cost perspective.

One of the things that actually Toshiba offers is part of our Elevate Solution and our partner Self Point, and we also include a picking application for store associates, and it integrates at the point of sale for accountability and applicability and includes online, pick up in store, curbside pickup and delivery options. So you get everything all in one.

Kenton Williston: So I'm glad you mentioned the associates there because I think that's something that's easy to overlook in these conversations. And that is that the job description really has changed quite a lot for the associate and really for all the employees of retail or the IT departments and everybody else are having to think about things in a little bit different way and factor in new considerations.

So one example that comes to mind there is just servicing equipment. It's always been the case that it's expensive to do a truck roll and there's lots of advantages to being able to avoid those truck rolls through having more reliable or remotely serviceable kinds of equipment. But that's taken on a new urgency now because it's not just a cost issue, but it's a health and safety issue to send somebody out.

So what are some of the things that merchants should be thinking about in terms of the new challenges that their associates and their IT professionals and all the rest of their employees are facing?

Stephanie Beer: Sure. We have partnerships with the likes of [inaudible 00:12:29] and so when you're looking at remote management, we look at those types of remote tools so that we can diagnose things prior to sending someone out. And we also have a product that actually looks at the health of your systems. So Toshiba Proactive Availability Services brings retailers' insights through a remote monitoring service that assesses store health and detects issues and provides time sensitive and actionable insights through advanced analytics. It's about support and service, but it's also about understanding the health status of all your point-of-sale systems across all your store locations so that you have visibility into the health and operations of your store in real time and it's critical.

So between a remote management agent and then your retail enterprise management service, you can deploy it at multiple store levels. So you can actually see the health of your in-store POS systems, your peripheral devices and software, and it can be all monitored remotely so both individually and in an enterprise aggregated format. So what that does is it helps internal IT teams and associates maintain awareness of your entire systems' health status and performance metrics. And inevitably once you start looking at that, you actually move the kind of current retail maintenance model from a reactive to a proactive and potentially with all the AI components to predictive.

Kenton Williston: So, that's really cool. I love the idea of AI being able to help you look a step ahead and get in front of your maintenance needs. And I'm also wondering what Toshiba's doing to help merchants kind of get ahead of the curve in terms of adapting rapidly to changing situations. Obviously, we're in a different phase, not necessarily post pandemic everywhere, but moving in that direction, but there's still lots of uncertainties. And I think there's going to continue to be a lot of pressure on merchants to change and adapt quickly to unforeseen circumstances. So what can you do as a technology vendor to help merchants become more agile and more responsive and even proactive?

Stephanie Beer: So when you look at moving into either a recovery phase, whether that's how do point-of-sale systems help address new expectations for retail environments or how do we help retailers rebound, it's a combination of things. So whether it's environmental safety for customers, employees, that's pretty key in the new normal, if that's what we're going to call it, right? So from a retailer standpoint, it's imperative that both systems and people are secure and performance is at its optimal level from your systems perspective in order to deliver that seamless experience to your customer.

And then from a point-of-sale system to help kind of address all of the new expectations in the environment, if you take a look at the shopping journey, it's more fragmented than ever as a result of the pandemic. So if you think about retailers, they're under an enormous pressure to maintain stores in accordance with all the social distancing and other health guidelines. So our point-of-sale technologies have to be able to support a wide variety of touchless payment options as part of the mission to keep customers moving through the line as quickly and safely as possible and keep associates and customers healthy.

So when you look at front ends, they're having to adapt to new configurations to limit the spread of the disease. So infrastructure solutions like our TCx™ 800 that are flexible and durable enough to withstand those kind of pressures are very critical in keeping retail businesses moving forward. And then keeping pace with the ever-changing consumer expectations, obviously, that's a key component. And then for retailers, controlling the costs in those environments also is a very key component.

Kenton Williston: Yeah. And I think that point about flexibility is really critical, even to the extent that we've been talking a lot about "point of sale systems," but really what that means has taken on a whole lot of different meanings. So, of course, there's already been a lot of migration from traditional checkout to self-service checkout, and there's all kinds of other scenarios where you need transactional or informational kinds of points of contact. So from your perspective, what are some of the best things retailers can do to ensure that their transactional information systems are as flexible as possible?

Stephanie Beer: Every retailer has a special story, right? So when you look at their different environments, their unique floor plans, or even different use cases within the same store, right? A grocer might need a deli point-of-sale kiosk. Several traditional front end lanes in a bank of self-checkout lanes to round out their ability to serve all the ways their customers like to shop and check out. So their point-of-sale systems require flexibility, durability, and performance. And if you look at hospitality, the same holds true of a scenario like grabbing some late night snacks and beverages and kind of their grab and go selection, right, next to the check-in desk at a self-service point-of-sale kiosk. So I think flexibility is very key here.

And if you even go into specialty environments, if we're talking about that even further, as an example, I'll give you a customer of ours whose store format had a uniquely sized counter for everything. And then even the material counter was made of every different type of material. And some counters were short, some were tall, some marble, some wood. They needed point-of-sale systems, accessories, printers. And so, the deployment plan was extremely complicated. So based on our capability of using our TCx™ 800 all-in-one platform to handle every situation, they needed up to 14 different configurations. And having the breadth of portfolio within the TCx™ 800 family that featured multiple screen sizes that also laid completely flat, raise or lower the head, four different stand styles, including the ability to mount it on a pole as well as two different color offerings that fit the design elements of the store essentially allowed us to fit any scenario they needed. So that's adaptability from our perspective and also from theirs.

Kenton Williston: That's really cool. And I'm sure that flexibility also goes a long ways towards making these solutions suitable over the long term as your needs change. But of course, there's other elements that come into that longer term thinking. So I'm thinking, for example, about parts availability and maintenance services and all the other things that would go into making a point-of-sale or other transactional solution not only good for the new realities that merchants are facing right now, but also the unknowns of where they might be in five years. So what are some of the things retailers should be looking out for there?

Stephanie Beer: And exactly what you said, the true measure of any technology's value isn't only its performance on day one, it's years down the line when the equipment's still working. So when we look at our system availability and hardware reliability, that's what retailers should prioritize in their technology investment. So when a piece of equipment is required to allow customers to complete their purchasing trip, the last thing a retailer, a store associate, or even a customer wants is a malfunctioning hardware component. When a store technology isn't reliable, customer's trust is impacted. So what we try to do is make sure that that doesn't happen so it doesn't affect the brand's bottom line.

So we have what we call retail hardened devices. And what that means is our point-of-sale systems like the TCx™ 800 are built with rugged retail environments in mind and they go through extensive testing scenarios the retailers might experience like ensuring liquids can't reach critical areas inside. So even if it enters the chassis, they won't take the equipment out of commission. And our fans maintain an optimal internal temperature and they're designed to keep working despite the normal buildup of dust and lint.

So these are what we consider essential design elements to help avoid downtime due to damage and ensure the hardware's longevity. So normal manufacturer support, three years. Ours is seven years of system support and 10 years of parts support. So, we definitely understand the value of making our devices easy to use and maintain for a very long time.

Kenton Williston: I'm sure your customers appreciate that. So I want to zoom back out to the big picture here. Like we've been talking about, we're kind of moving into a new recovery phase and retailers are looking to really rebound and accelerate out of these difficult times. And I'd like to get your perspective on how these transactional systems can help with that. Is it mostly about delivering a better customer experience that we've talked about? Or there are some other elements that are really going to be critical here?

Stephanie Beer: So I think it's actually a combination of both. When you look at it, technology needs to deliver the customer experience because that's key for every transaction, right? That's become what's expected and that's through any kind of transaction, whether that's online, offline, any device that you use today, whether that's a tablet, a cell phone, a desktop, a laptop. And now, that's expected at a point of sale as well, right? Anything that goes down when you're using it is considered downtime. And for retailers, that means downtime is money.

So I think when you look at the customer experience, that's a key component. And then when you look at from a retailer's perspective, they're looking at all of these various things that they need to make sure from their business perspective is going to keep their operations and their business profitable. So they have to look at their product offering, their operations scenario, their cost measures and everything else that corresponds with how they set up their store environment.

Kenton Williston: Very cool. Well, I really appreciate you sharing all these ideas, both big picture and in the details. That's really great. And so, I just want to ask you, is there a question you really wish I had asked you?

Stephanie Beer: Let's see, putting me on the spot here. Over the next couple of years, once the pandemic we hope is over, what might the new technology investments be?

Kenton Williston: That is a good question. And I would say just from my point of view to speak in my own little answers there, I think you touched on some of the most important ones, namely, making better use of data through AI and other machine intelligence kinds of capabilities. And I'm curious where you see investments going?

Stephanie Beer: So we look at things like exactly what you said as far as AI, but it's also robotics. It's IoT technologies, edge technologies, block chain and some of the other key components in technology that we think will be implemented in the next three to five years, pending what happens with the pandemic and when that actually abates.

Kenton Williston: Well, I look forward to us all getting past this and seeing what the future holds. That just leads me to say thank you for joining us, Stephanie.

Stephanie Beer: Oh, it was a pleasure, Kenton. Thank you very much.

Kenton Williston: Before we go, reminder you can get more information on the topics we discussed today at bitly/tcxpodcast. You will discover how a modern flexible point-of-sale system can help you deliver an exceptional in-store experience for your customers. Again, that's bitly/tcxpodcast.

This has been the IoT Dev Chat Podcast. If you enjoyed listening, please support us by subscribing and rating us on your favorite podcast app. We'll be back next time with more ideas from industry leaders at the forefront of IoT design.

About the Author

Kenton Williston is the Editor-in-Chief of insight.tech and served as the editor of its predecessor publication, the Embedded Innovator magazine. Kenton received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering in 2000 and has been writing about embedded computing and IoT ever since.

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