Common Technology Challenges Facing Retailers

30 January 2023

When facing challenges in your retail business, they can seem too big, too difficult, or simply too expensive to overcome. This is especially true when it comes to your technology. The problem is that the longer you ignore the issues created by your technology, the more difficult finding a resolution begins to feel and both colleague satisfaction and customer experience begin to suffer.

You might think that other retailers have it all figured out. That they are more advanced than you and that, surely, they must have better, more effective systems and technology in place. But the reality is quite different.

Most of the retailers we meet with and speak to about their technology are experiencing similar challenges and some themes crop up time and time again. Here are the most common technology challenges we see retailers facing today:

Difficulty servicing multiple hardware solutions

We often see retailers that have invested in multiple pieces of hardware to satisfy various tasks within their stores. Usually, each of these hardware solutions has been bought and implemented independently with a specific task in mind and without a joined-up technology strategy in place.

Not only is this difficult from a management perspective with a whole host of different types of devices to track and maintain, but having multiple solutions also creates a lot of frustration for staff. Either they must carry several devices with them, or devices are left in various places around the store such as at the till or in the back office. Having to frequently login and out of different applications on different devices and walk back and forth to get the ‘right’ one for the job creates inefficiencies in how your store colleagues work.

Technology that’s right for today, but not for tomorrow

Your device choice may well have been fit for purpose at the time it was bought with a single application in mind, but it didn’t consider a vision of what might need to be done in your stores in a year, two years or even three years time.

It wasn’t all that long ago that many retailers invested heavily in iOS devices but didn’t foresee that a lot of business applications were moving to Android or that device use and functionality would need to be more robust. This meant that the need to reinvest came around much more quickly.

A short-sighted view of in-store technology requirements is a key contributor to why multiple hardware solutions are purchased, creating gaps within your capabilities that need bridging – and fast. The longer-term impact of this approach is that you spend more than you otherwise would have on technology and still don’t achieve quite the right mix for your needs.

Trouble managing your hardware estate

With a varied hardware estate that has grown over time, it ends up fragmented and difficult to manage. When you continue to add new and different types of devices, even with the many software management tools available, you lose visibility of what technology you own and what it is used for.

All those different devices come with some form of management capability and soon you’ve got several platforms that your business needs to manage. This brings with it a whole new layer of complexity. Those multiple platforms don’t complement each other, they provide similar but not identical data, and significant time and resources are absorbed trying to make it all work together. The result: it becomes too hard and too much effort to manage your many different devices properly.

Poor in-store connectivity

In-store connectivity is inconsistent at best, yet most applications need an online connection to work properly. The quality of your WiFi will vary from store to store, depending on the location and who is responsible for the network infrastructure.

There is also a growing trend for collaboration between retailers which sees concessions opening within other stores. While this is a great use of space where retailers have a complimentary product offering, from an infrastructure perspective, connectivity can be a real blocker to success.

You need technology solutions that will perform even where network connectivity is weakest or entirely unavailable. Consider implementing applications that work can offline and where necessary, invest in SIM-enabled devices to keep your store colleagues connected.

Difficulties pairing devices

Connectivity between different pieces of hardware can prove problematic too. You want your store colleagues to be able to easily trigger printed output from their mobile devices but then you find that your application isn’t compatible or making it print isn’t as simple as you thought. If it’s too tricky or getting devices to connect is a temperamental process, your team will become frustrated with the tools provided.

There are different ways to connect technology, from pairing by Bluetooth to over your wireless network or directly tethering your devices. The best method for you will come down to how many devices you need to connect and how your applications work. With the right support, testing and configuration of your applications and devices, you can minimise problems and quickly troubleshoot connectivity issues.

Aged technology

Technology is a significant investment and so it’s common for retailers to push devices to the limits before refreshing their technical estate. But consider the impact of this aged technology…

Where you’ve got old hardware in the hands of your store colleagues, it takes a long time for the device to boot up, it takes much longer to download data, its slower to respond to commands and its battery runs out of juice much faster – all this time wasted waiting on an old device is time that your store colleagues are not enabled to work efficiently.

Today, we’re all used to big, bright displays and intuitive applications that require minimal training. This expectation is now the same in business; users fire up their mobile devices with the same smartphone mentality and you need your technology to empower staff and enable them to go quickly.

Not enough devices

A common complaint is that there are not enough devices in stores for colleagues to do their jobs effectively. Where a store has only a single device to carry out all applications, in-store tasks will back up as colleagues wait to use the device. They might be challenged to price the store, but if they can’t use the device because this morning’s delivery is still being booked in, they’re not enabled to do their job.

Ultimately, your operations can only go as fast as that one device will allow, even if it is a brand-new shiny device. And what if breaks, do you have a contingency to keep your store operations moving?

The effect is similar where you’ve invested in multiple technology solutions. With lots of different pieces of hardware, you’re more likely to have just one of each type used for just one application that can only be completed by one person at a time. Instead, if you could get as much value out of a single piece of hardware by running multiple applications, you could afford to invest in two or three devices to support each store.

Availability of data

Data is a challenge for a lot of retailers. Where you’re running multiple applications, each will ask for your data in a different format. If systems are dated and can only deliver data in a set way, it then requires significant time and people power to manage and manipulate that data so that it can be used.

We find that retailers’ data typically involves different departments to those stakeholders involved in technology investment and this makes things more complex. Do you know who is responsible for your data? Who knows what data you have, in what formats and how to access it? If a retailer can tell us what data is available, we can reduce the pain by managing it in the background, integrating with our system and giving it back to them in a format that can be directly uploaded to their system.

If these challenges sound a little too familiar, with the support of an experienced retail technology provider you can overcome the barriers preventing transformation within your retail operations. Contact our team of retail experts to see how we can help you face your technology challenges and improve store performance.

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