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RETAIL | Staff Reporter, Singapore
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Singapore retailers turn to technology to boost productivity

Shopping for the first child is always challenging for the parents. While all parents want to buy the best things for their new born, they are not always sure about their exact choices. There are multiple factors that influence their decision, including pricing, product quality and in many cases the sex of the child.

All of that means first time parents want to look at all available options when it comes to buying things. That presents a big challenge for retail stores specialising in baby products. While it is easy for stores to stock multiple varieties of smaller and less bulky products like clothes, swaddles and feeding bottles, it is extremely difficult to do so for large and space-consuming products such as cots and strollers. 

It’s a problem that Motherswork, one of Singapore’s fastest growing baby products retailer, has encountered. Their biggest store in Singapore is spread over 5,000 square feet. But despite that size, they are unable to display their complete range of products, especially the bulky ones. 

“It’s a big challenge as new parents want to see a large variety of products before making a decision. If we are unable to show them the full range, we run the risk of losing a potential client,” says Sharon Wong, founder and Chief Executive of Motherswork.

Moving into a bigger store is not an option for the firm, not least because of high rentals and the difficulty in finding good retail staff in Singapore. As a result, it has turned to technology to help address the issue. The firm is using tablet devices with a state-of-the-art retail software which enables it to better engage with its clients.

The software, called RetailPro, a comprehensive retail speciality solution that goes well beyond the traditional Point of Sale (POS). system used in retail stores across the globe. 

“The POS systems are undergoing rapid change. Traditionally, they were used to scan merchandise and generate bills for customers which are classical POS functions. However, they are now transforming from being just sales support systems to enablers of service,” says, Bikash Kumar, Managing Director of Integrated Retail, the firm behind Retail Pro.

RetailPro enables the staff at Motherswork to showcase various designs and colour options of bulky products to the customers without having to physically display them. While that may sound simplistic, the software takes customer service to the next level with customers being able to order goods and pay for them and book deliveries via the tablet device rather than having to queue up at the cashier counter separately. 

And RetailPro’s service oriented features are not its only attraction.

The software also helps boost productivity at retail outlets, a key objective for the industry across the globe, especially in Singapore where the sector is seen as a productivity laggard. One of the key features of the software is that it enables inter-connectivity between different systems and across stores within a retail organization. 

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This helps provide employees of a retail outlet with a real time update on stocks and inventory in their store and warehouse as well as other outlets of the firm. In the current retail environment, where firms are running both online as well as physical stores, it helps align the sales and inventories across both channels in near real time. 

Motherswork is one of the many stores that are investing in modern day technology to help boost their productivity and offer a truly engaging omni-channel retail experience to its customers. Retail businesses in Singapore are spending nearly one to two perecent of their annual revenue on retail system implementation.

On the face of it, investments by retailers in the retail systems may appear large. However, the benefits delivered by good, robust systems far out-weigh the upfront investments. These benefits accrue to the retailer in terms of higher productivity, greater consumer engagement and brand differentiation. The Government agencies like SPRING, IDA and IE Singapore also contribute significantly towards adoption of state of the art systems by retailers, and boosting the productivity in the sector.

Integrated Retail, a pre-eminent solution provider in Singapore, has worked with many leading retailers, including Motherswork in its quest to deliver higher retail productivity. The firm services 200 plus retail companies with over 3500 retail points across Asia, and enables retail commerce of approximately SG$1 billion annually. “Increasing competitive pressures, wafer-thin margins, high occupancy costs, and unpredictable supply base present challenges to retailers in attaining operational efficiency and profitability,” says Mr Kumar.

“We not only understand these challenges, but also have the ability to help retailers effectively deal with them. We strongly believe in the fundamentals that it is the triad of people, process and technology that determines business performance,” he adds.

Mr Kumar says that many retail outlets have taken the use of technology to a whole new level. He says that some outlets have even integrated their POS systems to the closed circuit TV (CCTV) cameras in their stores. This helps them monitor the foot falls in the store and generate near real time reports on conversion rates. 

“The management can quickly ascertain if those entering the store are buying any merchandise. If not, they can assess the situation, look at the possible reasons and take remedial action quickly,” he explains.

With social media becoming an integral part consumers’ lives, POS system manufacturers are trying to incorporate this aspect into their offerings. Increasingly, these systems are being designed to connect to external websites like Facebook and Groupon.

This not only allows the retailers to validate and track discount coupons, but also helps them tap into social media to attract more customers. The ultimate aim for them and firms like Integrated Retail is that the technology which helps attracts new customers to a retail outlet should play a vital role in servicing them as well. 

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