Vendors Focus on Retail

The retail industry is finally beginning to make serious investments in IT, as competition has forced companies to maximize efficiencies. Years of shying away from technology spending could create a boom for CRM vendors, analysts say.

"The retail sector has traditionally been very underinvested in IT, since their profit margins are razor thin," says Ron Hanscome, senior program director at META Group. "Retailers are finally realizing that they can not achieve competitive efficiencies without investing in technology to do things better."

Hanscome says that self-service technology solutions are key for the retail industry, as they allow store managers to do a lot more than they could before. "Store managers can now do tasks and make decisions that were usually executed by people much higher in the company," Hanscome says.

This week two vendors have announced new retail-focused products. SAP AG released its Web-based workforce management capability as part of the MySAP Retail suite, while Harte-Hanks Inc. revealed its Allink Retail CRM solution.

Allink is intended to aid retailers in capturing and managing customer data to increase customer loyalty, facilitate multichannel marketing, and provide cross-selling and upselling opportunities. SAP says its new solution provides Web-based workforce management capability for the retail industry allows retailers to automate their labor scheduling in a centralized environment and carry out statistical reporting, and provides an open architecture for integration with other systems.

Hanscome says Web-based solutions may be attractive to the retail industry, because they are usually less expensive than installed solutions. "Web-based solutions can open the door for vendors eyeing retailers, but they have to make sure their solutions allow for easy integration with a retailer's legacy systems," Hanscome says.

One plus for the retail industry is that user adoption will most likely not be a problem; most retail workers are younger and are more comfortable with new technologies than the workforces of other industries, Hanscome says. "The youngest generation of employees was raised on the Web," he says. "The onus is really on IT directors to make sure the technology integrates well and allows for true self-service, as I don't think there will be any adoption issues here."

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