By Mike Mulholland, head of services and solutions at print solutions and services provider Brother.
The latest findings in the BRC-KPMG Retail Sales Monitor show that sales are up for retailers by 1.3 per cent year-on-year, meaning the industry managed to gain some lost ground in September after a couple of stagnant months. In fact, like-for-like sales also increased on the previous month's growth of 0.4 per cent[i].
However, against this backdrop of optimism, retailers must endeavor to maintain growth by building their profit margins and ensuring cost-efficiency with the retail environment remaining turbulent.
What's the solution?
There are a number of ways retail businesses can look to increase efficiencies and make savings, whether this is through business structure, product portfolio or technology.
Used in the right way, technology can play a leading role in helping to keep costs under control, be that through large reductions or smaller savings over a longer period of time. To stay ahead in today's market, it's essential that large retailers look at every aspect of how their business operates by working on even small marginal gains.
When it comes to pricing, there are lots of overheads that are built into costs that retailers need to charge consumers in order to make a profit, and every one of these needs to be properly understood and questioned as to whether savings can be made.
The starting point is being able to identify where the potential savings are, and this means investing in technology to capture data. This could be anything from the domain hosting costs for your online site, to heating and air conditioning. It could even be the usage of office consumables.
Once you have done a thorough evaluation, detailing a picture of usage levels, you can then tackle any pockets of inefficiency and work towards optimising processes at every location across your network. Technology is the key to achieving this, enabling you to put well-designed systems in place that integrate well, reduce costs and make your employee's lives easier.
Consistency can be challenging
Our main focus with our retail customers is to help them control print costs, and manage this function across their estates. We believe that retailers' print costs are often higher than those of similar-sized businesses in other sectors because of both the geographic distribution over which they operate, and the volume and variety of printed material they often produce.
The way major multiple retailers operate, with one or two central offices supporting a large number of sites across the country, means that back-office operations can be more difficult to monitor and manage than in other sectors – where employees are often based in one large location. Ensuring uniformity of working practices across this kind of estate can be a challenge, and this can mean excessive levels of unnecessary printing and poor technical support, both of which result in additional costs.
What makes the challenge even greater is that the printing needs of retailers are often more complex than those of a typical administrative office. As well as traditional materials, like invoices and accounting documents, they also typically produce a range of customer-facing media such as labels and signage on-site. Ensuring the system that produces this collateral works reliably and delivers consistency from location to location is paramount.
The network approach
In order to tackle the twin challenges of printing efficiency and consistency, we believe the best approach for retailers is to implement multi-site managed print services (MPS), outsourcing responsibility for printer monitoring, maintenance and technical support to a third-party supplier.
Using a networked printer system allows printer usage and consumable buying to be centrally monitored so that the least efficient locations can be identified and solutions put in place. MPS agreements will also often include creation of bespoke software interfaces to guide employees efficiently through the process of printing whatever assets they need to create.
Increased competition in the market means prices have become more dynamic, so it's vital that retailers are agile in their printing of in-store media.
Looking to the future
There's an argument that retailers may move towards a paperless approach in the future, where digital price displays and signage takes the place of paper collateral. However, we are still a long way from this being the case and would likely require significant investment. In the meantime, Brother believes retailers should think carefully about their print functions and consult with an MPS provider to audit the way printing is being carried out at shop-floor level.
A good retail technology partner should be able to work closely with you to build the service or solution around your specific needs at both shop-floor and warehouse level.