Retail technology needs to think on its feet

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There's no doubt that everyone is feeling the pressure as 2011 comes to a close, and it's clear that the retail sector has been hit incredibly hard.

But there's no point dwelling on the past, instead we should be looking to the future and devising plans to turn the sector's fortunes around.

Retailers need to think creatively to boost profits, and as CIOs we should be thinking about how we can use technology to help support these initiatives, or indeed lead them.

We must think on our feet and explore the more agile, and flexible technology that is becoming increasingly available and affordable.

As I've said before, the consumerisation of IT means that tablets and HTML5 based Point of Sale systems are becoming more visible on the high-street.

Apple has been using its own products as portable POS system for some time.

The combination of a HTML5 POS with the portability and low cost of tablet computing means this type of technology is well-suited to retailers, restaurants and bars looking for a flexible solution.

The technology is applicable for delivery through a cloud-based service, making it easily accessible, without a big investment in hardware and can be set up in a matter of minutes.

This agility and flexibility could allow retailers to explore new sales channels to meet targets, particularly in the run-up to Christmas and over the January sales.

Pop-up shops are a fantastic example of how businesses can be flexible to take advantage of seasonal demands.

Several big-name brands have started using pop-up shops to take their offering closer to the consumer this winter.

E-tailer giant eBay has taken its proposition to an empty shop just off Oxford Street where it has opened the eBay Boutique.

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The store is stocked with 350 eBay bestsellers ranging from perfumes to digital cameras and flatscreen TVs. There are no tills, instead customers pay with their smartphone by reading QR codes on product tags.

On a larger scale, Shoreditch's Boxpark project mall recently opened; this being the world's first pop-up mall, built from stripped and re-fitted shopping containers.

This principle can be applied to other seasonal opportunities such as Christmas markets, summer festivals and the January sales.

For instance John Lewis, traditionally a bricks & mortar retailer, has opened pop-up shops at the Vintage at Goodwood festival for the last two years running.

The shop was geared towards the festival's audience, stocking vintage products and running sewing workshops, fashion and furnishing advice.

This retail format allows retailers to personalise their offering and take it closer to the consumer, for minimal cost, providing they have the right technological support to allow them to do so.

Being creative and flexible is critical during times of economic strife.

Mike McNamara, CIO, Tesco recently revealed that Tesco is investing a significant sum to ramp up its support of mobile devices in-store.

McNamara understands that technology is an important part of the sales channel and feels that investing in infrastructure is one the smartest things he's done for the brand.

Given the brand's dominating market share, who are we to argue?

Paul Broome is CTO at Torex

Pic: Bennett 4 Senate cc2.0