Whitepaper

How to Build Business
Resilience in Telecom Retail

Essential strategies and technologies to prepare your retail operations for the “next normal”

 

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Contents

  1. The Only Constant is Change
  2. Preparing for the ‘Next Normal’
  3. Questions Retailers Need to Ask
  4. Elements of Business Resilience
  5. Technologies for Retail Business Resilience
  6. RMS, POS, and Payment Solutions
  7. Inventory and Supply Chain Management
  8. Omnichannel and Channel Management Solutions
  9. Data and Analytics
  10. Adaptable Retail Technology
  11. Welcoming the Unknown
The Only Constant is Change

The Only Constant is Change

Change. It’s constantly redefining our retail landscape, whether triggered by technology innovations, cultural shifts, or world events. Organizations have always understood and planned for change, putting continuity and recovery plans in place to help them return to “normal” operations as soon as possible.

But what made the coronavirus pandemic so different? Organizations were faced with changes so large, so fast, and so many, there was no “normal” to return to.

In some cases, businesses saw existing trends suddenly accelerate. In early 2020 and into 2021, for example, there was a massive increase in their remote workforce, and a subsequent exponential increase in security concerns. And in other cases, organizations saw new dynamics appear, such as the need to re-examine workplaces and evolve business models to balance worker and customer engagement with personal safety.

In the retail sector, customer behaviors changed virtually overnight, and retail operators were forced to radically change many of their products, customer experiences, and delivery models. Customers became so accustomed to this new way of shopping, so quickly, that many now expect this will be the “new normal” going forward.  

Looking forward, even as the world emerges from this pandemic, there is every reason to assume that there will be other business outliers that will emerge. Each year, the business community—and the global population—faces increased risks from:

  • further large-scale health crises and pandemics;

  • climate change, potentially resulting in increased natural disasters as well as climate refugees and extensive global climate migration;

  • geopolitical crises;

  • changing levels of urbanization, immigration, and population;

  • increased data security breaches as a result of the global digital revolution;

  • and many more major local, national, and world events that are impossible to predict.

We will examine how telecom retailers can prepare themselves for the unknown, and create resilience in their business by being agile and adaptable.

Preparing for the ‘Next Normal’

For leading organizations, including carriers, authorized wireless retailers, and other telecom brands, it’s time to look beyond the “normal”—or even the “new normal”—towards the “next normal.”

Businesses must be ready to:

  • embrace the ever-changing reality of their future with new levels of resilience, to not only recover in the face of change, but also grow and thrive;

  • reach new levels of organizational resilience by reimagining workforces and workplaces to mitigate change across their organizations, technology investments, and business landscape; and

  • deliver an adaptable, productive, and trusted experience for their employees, customers, and partners.

Marty Yaskowich, Chief Operating Officer at iQmetrix, said, “I think of ‘business resilience’ as interchangeable with adaptability—the idea that, as a business, you can pivot and move where the customer is moving in their behaviors. If consumer sentiment is changing, you need to adapt to that and be successful by meeting that demand. You need to go where that trend is leading you.”

Although the pandemic has sparked unprecedented adaptability in the retail sector in general, this level of agility has always been a tall order in wireless retail. Despite its high-tech product offerings, the industry has been historically slow to change due to the huge complexity of the sector and its retail structure.

Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences at iQmetrix, agrees. “Historically, telecom retailers tend to wait and see what others do, watch what fails and what works, and then they’ll do whatever everyone else did,” Hamer said. “But that’s not going to work anymore—the landscape is changing so fast, you no longer have the luxury of waiting to see how things will shake out.”

 

Retailers have to start planning now because, by the time you get around to implementing changes, you’re already behind on the next thing. It’s about being willing to change at the right time.
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
 Stacy-quote

 

Questions Retailers Need to Ask

With the future unknown, businesses of all stripes are trying to prepare themselves for future crises—but attempting to predict the next event is impossible. Instead, it’s about readying for whatever those changes may be, said Yaskowich.

 

It’s less about having a very clear picture of what the world looks like in, say, 15 years—the only constant that we know of will be change.
 
—Marty Yaskowich, Chief Operating Officer, iQmetrix
Marty-quote
 

Within the telecom retail sector, future-thinking wireless carriers and authorized retailers are asking themselves the following questions.

About their organization and systems:

  • What type of retail disruption could my organization face over the coming years?

  • What will be the impact of this disruption in the telecom space?

  • How can we increase our readiness for change?

  • Are we building processes and implementing technologies with flexibility and adaptability in mind?

About their store associates and managers:

  • How might future local, national, and global disruptions affect our retail workforce?

  • What can we do to ensure we maximize staff efficiency, productivity, and engagement?

About their retail operations and customers:

  • How might customer behavior patterns further evolve in the face of future global events?

  • What retail experiences will our customers expect in such an event?

  • What other purchasing methods and channels could see an explosion in use?

  • How might our supply chain be affected in future, and what can we do to mitigate risks?

  • How can we make our retail offerings as adaptable and agile as possible?

Individual telecom retail operations might face different or additional risks, based on factors such as geographic location, supply chain, customer demographics and socioeconomics, and more. When taking those factors into account, further questions must be asked and answered. However, for most enterprises, the principles of business resilience remain the same.

Elements of Business Resilience

Elements of Business Resilience

In a webinar titled Building Business Resilience in the New Age of Retail, Paul English, Interim EMEA CEO and Global Consulting Principal at London-based Ogilvy Consulting, identified the retailers who came out on top in the pandemic, and why.

English said that the reasons for the huge successes seen by retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and more, could be broken down into six factors:

  1. They understood the importance of digital and started their digital transformation early. They were already doing well.

  2. They’ve learned from the best across categories that are leading in customer experience.

  3. They put the brand promise at the core of their evolution NOT technology.

  4. They understood the importance of data and leveraged the right technology to deliver relevant omnichannel experiences

  5. Innovation was broad. They didn’t just digitize processes and experiences, they digitalized their entire traditional business model.

  6. Digital transformation was led from the C-suite.

For all retailers, including those in the telco space, it is essential to complete the digital transformation and have a robust technology stack in place to create the business resilience and adaptability needed to cope with future events. For telecom retailers, that means implementing range of retail management solutions that work as a holistic, end-to-end solution.

For example:

  • a retail point-of-sale system would be nothing without a payment solution;

  • a retail management system requires robust data and analytics features;

  • retail stores using all the above cannot be effectively staffed without advance workforce management solutions;

  • telecom retail sales, both in-store and online, cannot work without inventory management systems; and

  • all of the above is nothing without a technology solution that weaves all those elements together, with impeccable data security and zero breaches.

 

Technologies for Retail Business Resilience

Going back to English’s fourth point about how winning retailers leverage the right technology, it is crucial for telecom retailers to have a complete, end-to-end solution in place. A solution that not only solves for basic operational efficiencies—such as an effective and integrated point of sale, a comprehensive retail management system, a robust inventory management solution, and so on—but also one that delivers a unified customer experience, seamlessly and effortlessly. This kind of software enables the retailer to both create the ideal customer experience and generate the customer loyalty needed to be resilient in future crises, and also free themselves up to adapt in whatever way is necessary.

 
As retailers, we need technology that can scale with us, no matter what the world is going to throw at us when any situation happens. We need to be able to pivot quickly to serve our customer in whatever unique way may arise
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
Stacy-quote
 

These essential technology solutions include:

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operational systems such as retail management, point of sale, and payments that are robust and futureproof;

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inventory management solutions to support the supply chain;

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omnichannel and channel management solutions that create a unified customer experience across all retail channels;

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intelligent, comprehensive data and analytical insights to identify and respond to consumer trends; and

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the ability to adapt this technology stack using features such as plug-and-play modules, open APIs, and custom solutions for any eventuality.

 

RMS, POS, and Payment Solutions

RMS, POS, and Payment Solutions

Business resilience in retail has to start with the fundamentals of operational efficiency: an effective point of sale system, an integrated retail management system, and streamlined payment solutions. Failure to have these basics in place in a seamless system means retail operators’ time and energy is spent in areas that should be automated and self-operational. In turn, this prevents retailers from being able to take their customer experience to the next level, making it impossible to succeed against the competition in regular times, let alone thrive in a crisis.

Solving telecom retail’s payments and reconciliation issues is a key part of a strong retail management system—especially in situations like the recent pandemic, according to Hamer.

She said, “In the telecom retail space there’s so much money movement behind the scenes. The carrier owes the dealer this, the dealer owes the carrier that, the franchisee owes the franchisor…The amount of effort and money that goes into generating those payments, and reconciling those payments, is insane. And in the wireless retail sector, historically it has been quite archaic. Now with our payment solutions, we can start moving money automatically and instantaneously, which is a huge deal for business resilience.”

 
Having immediate cash flow is so important in a crisis—you don’t have the luxury of waiting 60 to 90 days for a payment.
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
Stacy-quote
 
Inventory and Supply Chain Management

Effective inventory management is all about having it right: the product, the timing, and the pricing need to be aligned to be able to achieve success. Whether a retail store or e-commerce website needs a full inventory and supply chain management system or individual, integrated processes and systems, it needs a robust solution that will help the retailer maintain a competitive advantage.

Hamer said, “Having the right inventory based on what’s happening at the exact moment is absolutely fundamental. Even without a pandemic or other crisis happening, having out of date inventory or not enough inventory is crippling to business. But this is often something the retailer feels they have no control over. What is important is to pick an inventory management system that is really smart on the supply chain side, and can integrate to the relevant third parties. That means it’s figuring out the ordering, the reverse logistics, the costing, and the financials. Your system has to be on top of the movement of any inventory.”

Omnichannel and Channel Management Solutions

If the pandemic taught the retail sector anything, it is that customers will keep buying, but they want to get their products in the way that is safest and most convenient to them. This has been evident in the explosion of omnichannel solutions that support e-commerce purchases, buy online pick-up in-store features, and curbside pickup. Features such as online queue management and store appointment scheduling have also rocketed in popularity.

Looking forward to unknown consumer trends, what we can be sure of is that retailers must continue to iterate how they reach customers where they are. Sometimes that will be in a store, sometimes online, often a combination of both.

Hamer said, “It will be a question of whether stores truly become more fulfillment centers for online purchases. And then, how do you take your retail offering to the customer, wherever they are? Maybe there’s another pandemic- or climate-related lockdown and the customer is in a remote location, or they’re at the office, or stuck at home. Are we even going to have the luxury of a physical location? How can we serve our customers when they don’t have access to a store?”

Whether serving customers in-store or through e-commerce, what is already increasingly essential is a unified brand experience for the customer, creating a seamless shopping journey that will keep those customers coming back. Telecom brands of all kindswhether carriers, manufacturers, accessory brands, or retailerswill need to align through effective channel management. Channel management is a solution that creates a single source of truth for a brand’s products or rate plans, such as promotion, marketing, and pricing, no matter where it is being sold.

Hamer explained, “Channel management will make carriers and retailers resilient to business disruption, because it means that every retail channel will serve the customer the exact same way. That means the customer wants to do something, and the technologies are automatically making sure that customer can do the exact same thing, no matter what store they walk into or whether they are online.”

 

Brand channel management means the technology, the associate’s training, the product knowledge, all these factors are not the barrier to serving a customer. In turn, the retailer can focus their energy on how to make that service really phenomenal.
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
 Stacy-quote

 

Data and Analytics

Data and Analytics

No longer a case of standard sales and revenue reporting, today’s intelligent data processing and analytics are much smarter studies of consumer trends, product movement, employee statistics, and much more. This kind of deep dive into customer behavior can help predict future trends—especially now that we have a pandemic to benchmark against—and help retailers prepare themselves for what may be next. Furthermore, the increased expectation of customer personalization, especially in the e-commerce space, has made the harvesting and application of consumer data a must-have.

 

We’re not talking about your average, run-of-the-mill sales reporting—we’ve been there, done that—but instead really getting into the details around trends within your employee base, trends within your regions, your stores, your customers.
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
 Stacy-quote

 

There has been a historical lack of customer data gathering in telecom retail that has prevented the sector from meeting today’s expectations of personalization, said Hamer. “You’ll never get to be able to offer personalization if you don’t have a foundation of data to work off, and it just goes backwards from there. If you’re not offering personalization yet but want to offer it someday, your data needs to improve today.”

Adaptable Retail Technology

Adaptable Retail Technology

Fundamentally, if business resilience is all about adaptability, then the technology implemented also must be adaptable. What won’t work is to update operations and systems to modern standards and hope there’s no further change. Change is guaranteed, and all we can do is continue to learn and evolve with it. Even if that means completely disrupting our own industry with radical new iterations of solutions that bear very little resemblance to those of today.

Yaskowich said, “Just as an example, let’s imagine a world where in retail it’s all mobile payments, the customer is never interacting with any devices in store from a payment perspective. Well, we have our Pay Anywhere solution now, but how does that change our payments solutions, and our POS systems, or the hardware? If you reverse-engineer all of that then it’s is a game changer. If you start thinking about some of these kinds of possible scenarios, you have to ask: what if we wiped it clean and went back to the drawing board? What if we knocked down all the pillars that we have built on, all the siloes that exist in the wireless retail sector, and started from scratch? The industry may need to be that agile, that creative in order to face the future.”

Going back to English’s presentation about the winning retailers in the pandemic, Hamer agreed, “It was the retailers and the technologies who got really, really creative in what they could do who shone through the pandemic. And now in 2021, their businesses are 20% higher in some cases compared with 2019—they’re having the best year they’ve had in years.”

 

Those winners are the retailers who are creative with their outreach and customer relationship management programs. Those who are asking, if we can’t bring a customer to us how do we take ourselves to the customer, what’s our strategy?
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
 Stacy-quote
 

Hamer added that retailers who have gone mobile with their payments and POS systems are a step ahead in this area. She said, “These retailers are thinking about where they can be to meet the customer. As things open up, they’re going to be to attending mobile events, they want to be at every fair, arenas, malls, and street corners with pop-up stores, so they were planning for the future by already going mobile.”

Above all, telecom retailers need to be able to sell anywhere, so that their customers can buy anywhere. In-store, online, at pop-up stores, in wireless kiosks, at mobile trucks, and anywhere else. Only then will future retail operations be resilient enough to meet the customer wherever they are, no matter what is going on in the world.  

Welcoming the Unknown

Welcoming The Unknown

Ultimately, the types of end-to-end technology solutions discussed above, working in perfect harmony, can create a seamlessly connected customer experience that will keep retail operations running smoothly, no matter what the state of the world.

 

A lot of our clients, especially the larger enterprise clients, are realizing than when it comes to being resilient in the face of an unknown future, technology can’t be what holds them back.
 
—Stacy Hamer, Vice President of Client Experiences, iQmetrix
Stacy-quote

 

As for those unforeseeable risks: bring them on. As a telecom retail industry—and for iQmetrix, as a solutions provider—we were able to adapt and even thrive during the last major world crisis. There’s no reason to think we’re not all ready to take on the next one. And the next.

Here’s to the next normal.

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About iQmetrix

iQmetrix’s intelligent retail management software is designed to power the telecom industry. Our solutions are built around enabling telecom retailers to deliver a buy-anywhere strategy through multi-channel inventory management and digital retail solutions; make data-driven decisions using powerful reporting; and unify storefronts and digital channels for a consistent customer experience, in-store, online, and anywhere else. For more than 20 years, we’ve been passionate about helping the leading brands in telecom grow by providing excellent software, services, and industry expertise that enables them to adapt and thrive. Currently powering over 20,000 retail locations, iQmetrix is a privately held software as a service (SaaS) company with offices in Canada and the U.S.