Retail and E-commerce – Why IT is more important than it’s ever been

Posted by Tilt Recruitment on April 27th, 2020

Retail and E-commerce – Why IT is more important than it’s ever been

Posted by Tilt Recruitment on April 27, 2020

It’s a tough time for retailers. UK retail sales took the biggest fall on record this March, with stockpilers’ spending on food and toilet paper completely eclipsed by plummeting sales in every other area. And April’s figures are likely to be even worse.

 

Even the giants aren’t immune to COVID-19. Apple, which had just reported a record-breaking quarterly revenue of $10 billion, took the unprecedented step of announcing that its quarterly results were no longer accurate after the outbreak in China hit both production and demand. The news triggered a fall in shares, not only for Apple but also for the many other tech companies with factories in China.

 

Regional tech analysts TrendForce said the smartphone industry was hit particularly hard by coronavirus because of its ‘highly labour-intensive’ supply chain. They predict that the real first-quarter output since 2020 will be the lowest since 2016 – and could fall even lower.

 

Meanwhile, retailers in sectors like online food delivery have been struggling to cope for equal and opposite reasons. High-end online grocers Ocado closed their website in March to carry out essential work to distribute delivery slots. The Waitrose and Sainsbury’s websites were noted to be down at the same time, while their budget counterparts Tesco, Morrisons and Asda were still standing but booked up for weeks.

 

Now more than ever, retailers stand or fall on the strength of their IT.

Amazon, which happened to have made recent investments in its delivery infrastructure to support more one-day deliveries, has weathered the storm of increased demand and emerged as a winner, hiring an extra 100,000 workers in the US and increasing pay in the US, UK and Europe (by $2, £2 and €2 respectively, meaning British workers are getting the best of that deal.)

 

Lesser-known companies are coming out smelling of roses too, such as Starship Deliveries, which manages a fleet of delivery robots in central Milton Keynes. Via the company’s app, people in the area can order food and drink from popular brands and get it delivered by cute robots reminiscent of the mouse droid from Star Wars – which not only reduces the risk of infection but also cuts traffic pollution and congestion.

 

As a retailer during COVID-19, whichever sector you’re in, you need a good IT infrastructure to cope with the massive fluctuations in demand and customer behaviour, enable effective home working and automation, and defend against unscrupulous cyberattackers who are exploiting fears of the virus to steal data.

 

But the importance of IT infrastructure in this new world goes far beyond coping with lockdown. We’ll emerge from the crisis into a drastically changed retail landscape, in which competition will be fierce and companies will leverage new technology to win territory.

 

There’s no longer a clear divide between pixels and bricks-and-mortar; we can expect them to become more and more integrated, and the companies that achieve the most seamless integration first will have an advantage over the competition.

 

For example, luxury jeweller De Beers has just equipped all its stores with its own software, called Iris, which allows in-store customers to see the details of diamonds the way an expert would. It’s also added Oracle Retail Xstore Point of Service, which allows employees to offer ultra-personalised service based on customers’ transaction history, and Oracle Retail Xstore Office Cloud Service, which centralises everything that goes on in the back office, enabling faster and more flexible responses and removing the need for extra datacentre costs.

 

De Beers might not be thrilled with itself right now for having rolled out this expensive software in empty stores. But once things start to go back to normal, the retailers who seize the opportunities first will become the new industry leaders.

 

 

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