Information-technology retailing executives have a lot going on at the moment. They are simultaneously facing challenges as basic as labor and as complex as systems integration. But, those issues aside, much of the interest from such executives is now being focused on Internet-based opportunities, whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer.
At least that's the strong indication gleaned from the "Technology Roundtable" special report that begins on Page 21 of this week's SN. The report is presented in multiple segments, each of which centers on a certain topic such as B2B, B2C, customer service, labor and the like.
To develop the report, SN's Dan Alaimo surveyed a number of retailer executives with technology-related responsibilities to determine what their opinions and experiences have been, and the direction retailer technology is going. Let's take a closer look at some of the news feature's topics, and what some of the roundtable participants had to say: Business-to-business applications: Said one: "Now that we have finally gotten past the year 2000, taking advantage of the Web and using Web technologies is going to have the biggest impact on the IT departments for our industry going forward. Using the exchanges and B2B is probably the highest priority project, at least right now." Another: "We think B2B is important enough that we just recently designated a full-time, senior-level person from our IT staff to focus on it."
Business-to-consumer: One comment: "We have just about seen the end of the day when there is a tolerance of pure cash outflow without making a profit. Click-and-mortar is probably going to be the biggest growth area of the B2C arena."
Another: "I don't think the pure-play Internet grocery retailers are going to make it. In the long run, they are going to have to align themselves with a brick-and-mortar company. [Traditional companies] offer brand recognition, and consumers want the ability to return product."
Other factors: One: "The most recent development that has been very important for us has been the integration of payment systems. It's all seamless and very nice for the customer."
A second: "With the labor market being what it is, we have less of a luxury of having experienced cashiers. Using a POS system with interactive displays and keyboards has had a profound impact on usability at the front end."
Finally: "We are not yet using [self-scanning], but we will. I think that the innovators have proven the concept. I don't think labor [saving] itself is going to be the key driver of success. Customer empowerment, where the customers are in charge of their transactions, is actually going to be appreciated more and drive the growth."