From self-scan checkouts to online shopping, as retail becomes more high-tech, independent shops need to embrace a new challenge with consumer technology, writes Joseph Lee.

Step up to the challenge

Research shows that nearly half of convenience stores see supermarkets as their biggest competition. But how can they compete with major companies’ investment in technology?

It’s an issue that technology suppliers want to help with. “Twenty-five per cent of corner shops say limited access to advanced technology is the biggest challenge to delivering a good customer experience,” says Steve O’Neill, group marketing director at PayPoint.

“To continue to compete effectively, new technology is needed for independents to optimise their business and increase their market share.”

Get it right, and they can reap the rewards. More than a third of convenience stores say that getting a better understanding of their customers through technology is their biggest opportunity for growth.

Loyalty Schemes & Data

Retailers can gather crucial insight about their customers and encourage repeat visits  through loyalty schemes.

Until now, industry experts say retailers have generally not taken up the opportunity to analyse customers’ habits using data technology.

More than half of retailers use paper-based, non-automated records to track their customer experience, according to Velocity Worldwide, which offers a personalisation and customer insight system called Darius for Retail.

The company says 30% of retailers struggled to maintain loyalty, with most waiting for customers to walk in or check out of the store before they engage with them.

“Retailers must stop talking about customer engagement and start acting on it,” says Enda McShane, CEO of Velocity Worldwide. “By integrating data collection through technology, retailers can change the shopper experience and create personalised experiences.”

For convenience stores, it can mean a much more flexible approach to loyalty schemes, beyond traditional points collection. Retailers that integrate Darius with EPoS can measure customer interest in different loyalty benefits, such as regular exclusive offers, rewards and giveaways. A recent trial in a store in Falkirk resulted in average basket spend by repeat customers rising by 48%.

EPoS

The first step to better understanding customers is having EPoS.

Installing an EPoS system can speed up the checkout by introducing barcode scanning, as well as offering up-to-the-minute data on sales performance and customer buying habits.

For PayPoint, the answer to competing with multiples is PayPoint One, which combines EPoS, card payments and PayPoint services.

At a cost of £20 a week for new customers, or £15 for existing PayPoint retailers, shops are equipped with an Android-based tablet that runs dedicated software. “PayPoint One improves the customer experience and drives growth by delivering real-time insight into retailers’ customers,” says O’Neill.

“For example, you can check stock levels in real time while at the cash & carry, or change prices and promotions instantly from your personal mobile device.”

Mobile payments

With the death of cash frequently predicted, retailers might rightly be concerned about what will replace it, given the additional cost of card payments.

The NFRN is seeking to turn the situation to retailers’ advantage, with a combined mobile payments and loyalty programme, created with tech company Zapper.

It aims to cut queues at the checkout with a quick way to pay by mobile: the till creates a QR code which the shopper scans on their app. With one tap, it automatically updates their loyalty card and applies any vouchers they have stored.

Shoppers can rate their store experience to give retailers instant feedback, and retailers can track purchase habits and create targeted marketing campaigns via the app to help grow their profitability

“This combined solution will enable independent retailers to offer digital loyalty cards, send targeted in-app promotions and accept mobile payments,” says Margaret McCloskey, NFRN head of operations.