IT in Retail

Retailers need technology to increase both back-office efficiencies and customer convenience. How well are they using it?

Moving away from its current MMS system is part of a two-stage deal with outsourcing vendor Xansa, says Threshers' Baxter. "Moving off the MMS system would allow us to further reduce the IT costs, but also as an integrated package it let us re-engineer some of our processes," he says. The current back-office system is configured to update prices on a batch basis, for example. A more integrated one could be configured with multiple price interfaces, and could implement differential pricing across stores (however, the firm would have to update its tills and ISDN network first).

Integration isn't the only back office challenge facing retailers at present. PCI-DSS, the security benchmark introduced by credit card vendors, has also proven difficult for some smaller retailers to support. The benchmarks laid out there are little more than basic in security terms, says Michael Owen, senior consultant for security firm IRM PLC. contents. "These merchants are ones who would have not even entertained the notion of bringing security staff in to examine their systems, and they are bringing some surprising problems," he said this summer, as the deadline for implementation ticked down. A recent survey by the Logic Group estimated that only 11% of companies accepting card payments complied with the standards.

Bricks-and-mortar retailers are pushing ahead with new technology investments, but in many cases, they still have to deliver improvements in both front and back-office systems in areas as basic as integration. With IT budgets relatively flat, this may take some time. Meanwhile, purely online retailers have an advantage, in that many of them will have started with green-field implementations, and will have fewer channels to tie together.

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