Retailers fail to understand potential of advanced comms technology

By Matt Newing, CEO and Founder at unified communications specialist,

According to research from Retail Futures, a fifth of Britain's high street shops (62,000) are set to close by 2018.  Therefore, customer retention and loyalty is essential to survival, along with the ability to reduce overheads without compromising on service. To gain competitive advantage, more savvy retailers are taking advantage of new channels such as online and mobile to reach more consumers and win greater market share, but the ones that are retaining and growing their customer base are typically the ones that understand the importance of service and communication within the pre and post sales cycle.

Introducing unified communications (UC)

This is where unified communications comes in. For as long as most of us can remember the telephone and the IT system have been two separate technologies whose paths never crossed. Each had separate infrastructures that were often viewed as expensive and necessary evils; not tools to make a business more efficient. However, the emergence of new technologies such as Voice over IP (VoIP) and unified communications* has changed this way of thinking, by seamlessly linking telecoms and IT together into a single network.

In turn this fully integrated approach enables staff to engage in more tailored and higher quality interactions with customers. Dependent on the caller’s ID, relevant customer information is fed automatically from multiple back-end data sources (from back-office apps such as stock or CRM to web-based information such as social media) and displayed on a single screen. So if you’re speaking to a customer about a delivery, then information on its status will be instantly displayed for that caller, together with other relevant information such as their buying history and so on.  This ‘joined up’ level of communications gives you the ability to engage in highly personalised conversations with customers, that in turn make them feel valued, resulting in more repeat business in the future.

Similarly, communication between colleagues based across multiple sites is made much easier with the likes of ‘rich presence’ which allows every staff member to see the real-time status of others regardless of location (e.g. on the road, in a meeting, in the stock room etc.) and choose to contact by whatever method is most appropriate, whether it’s on the office extension, mobile, email or even instant message.  This makes it so much easier to get in touch, as well as respond to customer requests that might need you to transfer a call to another department or particular person, or gather additional information from a different part of the organisation.

What are the key business benefits?

Not only does UC lead to a more positive experience and happier customers, as you can see below, because communications (phone, instant messaging, video etc.) is just another application on the network it also has the potential to deliver other key bottom-line benefits to the retailer as a whole such as:

  • Improve customer service  and reduce churn
  • Reduce overheads (telecoms  and IT)
  • Win greater market share & increase value of company
  • Increase sales territory - sell around the clock in different time-zones
  • Differentiation from competition
  • Minimise downtime – stay open whatever the weather
  • Enhance brand credentials
  • Speed up roll-outs of new outlets
  • Decrease wage bills
  • Lower real-estate costs such as rent with flexible working/virtualisation
  • Improve staff well-being and reduce churn

A strong indication of how UC is impacting business was revealed in a recent survey by Ovum that found that over 80% of global businesses are implementing some form of unified communications over the next two years.

Almost 70% of retailers are not aware of UC’s potential

However, new research sponsored by Elite and unified communications vendor, Swyx, in association with Retail Week revealed that the retail sector is in danger of falling behind other industries as it fails to invest in this new technology.  The survey found that a whopping 68.9% of retail executives did not recognise or fully understand the advantages of the technology. In the poll of retail businesses, ranging from 1 to over 1,000 employees it showed that only 34.9% would be willing to invest in UC features over the next two to three years.  When asked what the biggest obstacle was to invest, 43.7% of retailers answered that understanding and knowledge of the technology was a key issue.

The Survey also identified trends and the impact that UC will have across all communications mediums in the future. Moving forward it is essential that retail organisations are aware and act on these developments which include:

  • 41% of respondents stated that social media and other multi-media channels will be the biggest trend to face the retail sector over the next 12 months.
  • 33% stated that mobility and fixed mobile convergence trends will have the biggest prominence throughout 2013.

Ralf Ebbinghaus, CEO at unified communications vendor Swyx, who co-sponsored the research with Elite sums up the key benefits that UC can bring to a retail organisation, “As the customer becomes more discerning, and more likely to shop around, retailers need to recognise that to maintain customer loyalty, they need to offer a more unified interaction that takes into account all the possible information available, wherever this is stored within the organisation – from stock control to the CRM system.”

It’s clear that retailers need to continually evolve, but it will be those that keep ahead of the technology curve that are likely to be still here in ten years’ time.

For more information you can access the full results of the survey as well as download a complimentary whitepaper, ‘How Retailers can drive growth with unified communications’ by visiting
*Unified Communications (UC), it is the consolidation of all communications and networking resources, such as telephone, server-based applications, voicemail, email, IM (instant messaging), video or conferencing into a single network infrastructure.

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