Technology Trends That Can Level the Playing Field

Writing an article about technology can be quite challenging as the pace of change in today’s tech world is difficult to fathom. By the time many of us feel we are on top of things, we encounter a whole new series of apps and devices that we “must try”. In many cases, technological developments can save us time and money but other times we seem to get bogged down in attempting to grasp it all.

Doug Cofiell blog image

Doug Cofiell CEO Ivystone Group LLC

Three short years ago I wrote an article about prioritizing technology in your business. The major topics in that article included the importance of your website, the permanence of social media and rise of tablets as a business tool. While the adoption of tablets in our industry has been slower than expected these three areas have certainly increased in importance in most businesses. More trends continue to emerge and there are countless developments that can be highlighted.

In an attempt to summarize some of the broader ideas without going into exhaustive detail I’ve highlighted three areas that are important to understand when making decisions about your business. These are not new trends but they will drive business decision making for many years.

  1. The Continued Rise of Mobile. Whether it is the proliferation of smartphones, tablets and “phablets” (those huge phones we are seeing out there) or the emerging Wearables market; the world is becoming more mobile. With WiFi networks readily available and costs falling there is no slowing down this trend. According to a recent study by Millennial Media and comScore, the ratio of mobile devices to people on earth is nearly 1:1.  Mobile is changing the way we work, shop and interact. We are no longer tied to a desk but we are more connected than ever; putting in more hours as our devices allow constant connectivity. With the computing power of today’s smartphone being greater than the computing power that ran the Apollo Space Missions, expect commerce to continue to be transformed as applications get more sophisticated.
  1. Shifting to the The Cloud is certainly an overused term but the shift to this type of computing does have profound effects on business. Because programming is centralized and can be accessed on any device it fosters the mobile culture and provides scalability to smaller organizations. The easiest way to think of the cloud is as a big shared service where you can pay as you go rather than making big infrastructure investments. Most of us use cloud based services everyday whether its photo sharing or music streaming. This trend will continue to grow in importance as businesses attempt to become more flexible and innovative
  1. Use of Big Data or more accurately Smart Data. Another term that is getting tossed around quite a bit and is relevant to most decision makers. As the cost of storing data continues to drop towards zero, companies are using these big databases to analyze patterns and customer trends. The implications of this are not completely downstream yet but all this data will help us understand our customers better and allow us to reach the audience we truly want to reach.

You can find many different cases of where companies use large quantities of data to make decisions. Here’s an example of smart data use on the product development side from Techtarget.com. Express Scripts, which processes pharmaceutical claims, realized that those who most need to take their medications were also those most likely to forget to take their medications. So they created a new product: Beeping medicine caps and automated phone calls reminding patients it’s time to take the next dose.

These three trends fit together with our mobile lifestyle being enhanced by the power of cloud based applications providing data that enhances the user experience. As each area grows in importance, they become more intertwined. The best part for an industry like ours that is made up of small businesses is that these trends all level the playing field; allowing small companies access to the same programs as larger competitors. Businesses can look and feel much bigger than they are by taking advantage of services that are readily available in the cloud on their mobile devices.

Lastly, a note of caution about technology in general. Back in the early 1900’s Gertrude Stein said “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense”. I am afraid of what she’d say in today’s world given that the amount of information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Technology is transforming the way we do business but it is important to maintain the core tenets of what makes you successful. If we remember to disconnect every once in a while maybe we can keep our common sense!

 

Doug Cofiell is CEO of Ivystone Group LLC, a professional sales agency providing wholesale gift, home and fashion accessories to retailers across the United States. Selling to independent retailers, large national chains and designers under two distinct brands; Ivystone and Simblist Group.

Got Thieves? Customer Service is Key

JoyceWashnik_Giftbeat

By Joyce Washnik, Editor, Giftbeat

How would you feel if one of your longtime customers, someone you knew by name and were even affiliated with through your local chamber of commerce, turned out to be a thief?

It happened to a New York retailer, who says the woman stole from her for 10 years before she figured it out. Now the customer’s picture is posted on the store’s back door so employees see it every day. “We never ‘caught’ her, but  she never came in last season, so she must know we’re onto her,” she says.

Dealing with theft is an ongoing challenge for retailers, but it’s especially hard to catch when carried out by your store’s “best” or most frequent customers. Or by the well-dressed woman who chats with everyone and compliments your merchandise, only to drop items in her purse when your back is turned.                  Woman Shoplifting

A number of our retailers have installed camera systems to stay on top of would-be thieves, especially as their inventory has shifted to more desirable categories such as jewelry and apparel. Others have moved expensive items to protected cases, or even installed alarm gates.

But experts say you already have what you need to make thieves less likely to frequent your store: customer service. “Customer service is the first weapon in the anti-shoplifting arsenal,” says Bill Bregar of Loss Prevention Systems. “Shoplifters hate attention! To do what they do, they must have privacy, even for a few seconds. Customer service negates their ability to steal.”

Here, retailers offer additional ways to thwart thieves:

  • Cite local ownership. A Louisiana retailer confronted a shoplifter last year and asked, “Why do you hate my kids?” The customer looked stunned when the retailer explained to her that the jewelry and shirts in her purse were how she paid for her children’s education, food, clothing and house note. The thief drove off with the stolen items, but the next morning, they were all in a bag at the store door. Now, the retailer plans to post a large family portrait in each location so customers see who is behind the business.
  • “Can we hold those for you?” A South Carolina respondent doesn’t hesitate to approach someone who appears to be a shoplifter (or has stolen before) and say, “Would you like me to hold that at the counter for you?” It sends the message that you’re watching them.
  • Telltale signs. If a person is wearing a coat on a hot day, a New York retailer says to watch out: He or she could be a shoplifter. She also trains sales associates to look for other red flags, such as big purses/totes or trips back to the car for a “forgotten” item.

If you have discovered creative and effective ways to thwart retail theft, send us your story, we would appreciate hearing about and learning from your experiences.

Note: For more than 20 years, Giftbeat has been the “bible” for independent gift retailers who want to make smarter product selections, slash costs and increase profits. Each issue includes in-depth articles covering business news and trends; ideas and inspiration from your retail peers; “what’s hot” gift sales data; and interviews with industry experts. Best of all, Giftbeat brings you the expertise of successful retailers from across the country to help you get — and stay — ahead in today’s competitive marketplace. Visit Giftbeat to download your free sample issue. In addition, sign up today for editor Joyce Washnik’s free Top Tips & Picks alerts.

Prioritizing Technology in the Gift & Home Industry

Happy New Year!

 

Between the time I was asked by Giftbeat to write an  article on technology and the publication of this newsletter, we all experienced the passing of a cultural and technological icon nearly without compare: Steve Jobs left us on October 5, 2011, and in his wake there were thousands of articles measuring his impact on the world, comparing him to the likes of Edison, Einstein and Ford. If we needed a statement about the importance of technology in our world, we need look no further than how the shadow of Jobs’ accomplishments took over the worldwide consciousness.

Are we even able to picture the world without iPhones, iPods and iPads? The question is rhetorical, but the point is there is no reason to imagine it and no reason to go back; technology always moves forward, leaving outdated methodologies in its wake at the same time that it enhances our lives. In an industry woefully behind the times, we all need to come to the realization that our world has changed forever.

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So the question becomes: Where do we go from here? If we know we need to adapt, how do we start? Simply saying “I have an active website” or “I provide my entire sales team with computers and scanners” is not enough; it is a baseline in today’s market.

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The solution begins with honest assessment of your companies’ status when compared to business in general — it doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, vendor or sales organization. Here are a few questions to consider in your assessment:

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  • Are you taking advantage of current technologies related to your business?
  • Who owns your technology projects and how are they prioritized?
  • Do you consider future technologies when deciding the direction of your company?
  • Do you budget for technology?

If you can quickly and effectively answer these questions, you are certainly ahead of the curve. But chances are that you had difficulty responding to at least one of these thoughts. Quite frankly, I had difficulty with all four when they were posed at various times over the past year.

 

So in a world where information is no longer scarce, what adjustments have to be made? At the core, everyone needs to leverage the interactive world to communicate one’s message. The individual becomes much more important and can make a far greater impact. Independent stores can compete with the chains; small vendors can look big and individual salespeople or small groups can reach a larger audience.

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The following technology-related concepts, if implemented correctly into your business, will have an immediate impact:

  1. Tablets are a game changer on the sales side. The interactive sales process is completely different when using this type of device vs. a traditional laptop and/or a static catalog. We have just begun to see the effects of tablet technology on our business and the world at large. At the moment, the iPad is dominating this arena, but look for a huge number of competitors to flood in quickly. Viewing tablets and mobile computing as the pervasive technology standard should be your focus.
  2. Social media is not going away. In a world continually connected and in need of content 24/7, there will always be the need to interact through this medium. Regardless of who the dominant players are long term, the idea of “socialization” across technology platforms will only get stronger. A business Facebook page, LinkedIn profile and active Twitter account are the minimum acceptable standards right now.
  3. Your website is your home and most important address, so it needs to be treated as such. Get advice, tweak and consistently change your pages, measure your results through analytics and make sure you fully optimize to maximize results. Make it part of your daily review and make sure someone “owns it.”

It is quite common to get locked into a pattern of considering only what is currently in front of you, but we all need to work on looking forward. This is never more important than when we are assessing technology. Schedule time to consider some changes to how you look at this area of your business — it will be time well spent.

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Reprinted with permission of Giftbeat, copyright 2011, www.giftbeat.com

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