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While Black Friday might not mean a chaotic doorbuster event at every retailer these days, thanks to e-commerce, it’s still one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Customers are looking for big deals, whether they’re lining up outside of brick-and-mortar stores or shopping online from home next to a plate of Thanksgiving leftovers. And the Black Friday spike in e-commerce has started to do a number on networks, as demonstrated by last year’s well-publicized spate of costly website outages from big-name retailers on Black Friday weekend.
So, as surely as retailers will be offering can’t-miss deals this year, some of them will be running into technical difficulties. And when the holiday dust settles, they might be seriously looking at the right way to rebuild their IT infrastructure – not just to handle the year’s biggest traffic spikes, but to do business better year-round.
With this in mind we spoke to retail expert Paula Rosenblum, co-founder and manager at RSR Research, who gave CompTIA a view into what IT problems retailers face, what they’re looking for and what they need. If you’re considering selling solutions to retailers of any size, these critical insider insights can help you position yourself as the right choice to re-architect and replace those post-Black Friday punished systems; ones that may be, as Rosenblum put it, “old enough to vote, and too brittle to change and update.”
Don’t Try to Force a Cultural Change
Retailers, whether they’re SMBs or big enterprises, tend to like keeping things the way they are. Internal processes, policies and ways of doing business are ingrained. You stand a far better chance of creating a successful partnership if you build your solution to accommodate them – rather than asking them to accommodate your system.
And even if a solution theoretically meets the retailer’s need, if you implement it and no one uses it, you’re still losing. Having herself worked on tech implementations as a practitioner in the retail space earlier in her career, Rosenblum has seen that first hand.
“I experienced my fair share of technological successes that were cultural failures,” Rosenblum said. “That becomes a pure failure. Never underestimate the power of cultural resistance.”
Know What Success Is – and Quantify It
Retailers are looking for ROI and don’t want to throw money away on solutions that aren’t meeting a need. So it’s critical to define what a system is supposed to do when you implement it, and be able to show that it’s doing that.
“I think the most important thing is to define very clear metrics for system success, and to ensure that what you’re installing matches the way things are done,” Rosenblum said.
Clearly demonstrating value this way, with metrics and benchmarks, is critical to cultivating the kind of ongoing business relationship you’re looking for.
Understand How Stores Are Changing to Know What to Sell
The distinctions between different types of retailers are not as clear cut as they once were. For IT solution providers, it can help to understand how concepts are changing and hybridizing to assess needs.
Rosenblum notes that while fresh item management solutions are a need for grocery, and size-pack optimization solutions are big necessities in the apparel market, segment convergence means individual retailers can have very individualized IT needs.
“I mean, when Kroger announces that it’s going to carry a line of private label apparel, what does that make the store?” Rosenblum said, referencing a recent announcement by the national grocery chain.
With Cloud, Function Comes First
In this day and age you want to have cloud-based solutions on offer, but don’t forget that what the solution can do for the retailer is what’s most important to them, not the type of infrastructure it’s deployed on.
“[Retailers] are looking for functionality and if it’s delivered through the cloud, that could be [beneficial] for them,” Rosenblum said.
That said, cloud cuts down drastically on capital expenditure (CAPEX) costs like purchasing in-house infrastructure, so keep in mind a retailer may be looking to switch things up in that regard.
“Some retailers are willing to trade CAPEX for OPEX [operating expense] and want [cloud solutions,]” Rosenblum said.
Matthew Stern is a freelance writer based in Chicago who covers information technology, retail and various other topics and industries.