Welcome to our third Back of Store feature of 2017. It’s no surprise to find Amazon topping the list of the UK’s best brands for customer service, in the fourth annual study by service design consultancy Engine. Retail makes a clean sweep of the top five brands. Predictably, numbers three to five are Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Sainsbury’s. But number two is John Lewis, upping its game recently with store partners, including many seniors, taking to digital technology.

John Lewis’ CEO Mark Lewis said two years ago that Amazon was their closest competitor. Since then Amazon has been taking customer experience to a new level, rolling out new business models including Prime, Amazon Fresh and the Dash ordering button to deliver things customers want as quickly as possible.

You might have thought Amazon was the death knell for department stores, but John Lewis has been getting its act together. At this year’s RBTE Sean O’Connor, John Lewis’s Head of Online Product, recalled how the company brought online into store with a mobile app at their Cambridge branch. The shop floor partners were quite senior, with a fear of tech, but by the end sales were up and staff felt happier and more productive. John Lewis is now rolling the app out to other stores. With people working longer, this could be the way forward for other retailers to involve seniors in more meaningful work.

Zebra Technologies is playing a key part in retail’s ongoing transformation, providing much of its ‘Mobility DNA.’ In 2014 they bought Motorola, bringing scanners, POS and mobile computing into the mix and now they serve many retailers with mobile devices for pricing and shelf labeling, and product visibility throughout the supply chain.

OmniChannel is adding to the challenges and retailers need more agility.

Zebra supplies the Scan & Go devices widely used in store, allowing shoppers to scan their own products and take them to the checkout, reducing store staff’s workload and focusing on the payment transaction. Another of Zebra’s technologies is Smartlens, giving retailers an accurate view of stock in the store and helping move products from the back to the front.

“RFID has been around nearly 20 years but retailers have been fairly cautious about adopting it, living up to their reputation as the oil tankers of the business world,” says Mark Thompson, Director of Retail, EMEA at Zebra Technologies. “Now raised expectations among customers due to the Amazonisation effect are putting huge pressure on traditional retailers to come to the tech companies to help them have more visibility of stock in store and in the warehouse and wherever problems are occurring.”

In another key development retailers are also looking at reducing the pain points in the business, including waste, says Mark. Price markdowns are helping reduce waste and most retailers are advising local charities and food banks through FoodCloud in the UK and Ireland through their instore scanners and smartphone apps, linked to stock control systems. FoodCloud currently has over 1,900 retailers and food industry partners in the UK and Ireland and over 3,600 charity and community partners, with 9,234 tonnes of food donated so far and 20,300,000 meals redistributed.

“Solving these problems is certainly doable,” says Mark, “but it relies on the data being available and stores having the technology to access the information. After that all the retailer needs is the will to act on it.”

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