Pillars of support
1. Technology
Technological advancements can now ensure that the best service is available for consumers. Read on...

Back end support is imperative to ensure that the products reach the consumer in time. Find out why...

3. Visual merchandising
With the increasing competition, it is essential to catch the consumers eye. The do how...

n the entire process of retailing, the consumer, even though he is placed at the end of the distribution chain, plays the most important role. The manufacturer manufactures the product keeping in mind the interest of the consumer. From the manufacturer, the product reaches the wholesalers and distributors, and further it moves to the retailer. A retailer is, in fact, the final link in the distribution channel connecting the manufacturer to the consumer. The process of retailing starts from the producer of goods, affecting the transport, warehousing and financing of these goods till they reach the final consumer. It is at the retail store that the consumer actually gets the opportunity to choose the products and brands. As Mr Pawan Jain, chairman and managing director, Safexpress Private Limited opines, The flow of merchandise from a manufacture to a retailer or to the end user - the customer, involves a whole process of procurement, production, storage and distribution. It is a complex process and the conventional picture of a logistics chain tells only half the picture. The various spheres of the logistics process do not just overlap their relationship is an interdependent one. Changing markets and increasing competition call for new distribution structures and new stock management strategies, new products and transportation systems place new demands on warehousing and picking, etc.
Hence, it is the retailer who actually knows the specific needs of consumers and can accurately and successfully identify the changes in consumer demands and behaviour from time to time. Undoubtedly 'consumer satisfaction' is of great importance in retailing.

What is happening?
Understanding the consumer is the first step in creating products, and of course it is essential in developing relevant products. Consumers constantly strive to possess the best clothing, footwear, household items, accessories, car, dog, vacation and so on. As companies become more focussed on giving consumers something new, fresh and unique, they look to the past for reference.
Consumers can be categorised on the basis of their nature of adapting to prevailing trends in retail industry. On one hand, there are consumers who accept the new trend as soon as it hits the market whereas on the other hand there are consumers who restrict themselves from adopting the change.
Similarly, there are passive consumers to whom the latest trend does not make any difference. At the same time there are things that the consumers will want tomorrow, whether they know it today or not. Consumers desiring uniqueness are closely related to those seeking accessible luxury and authenticity in the products that they purchase. It is the cachet of being an early adopter, combined with the need to never be wearing the same outfit again and again. In a world of big box retailers, it is up to the entrepreneur to fill this need. Buying authentic products allows consumers to take control of their purchases.
The constantly advancing and emerging technologies undoubtedly have a dramatic effect on retail operations. Mr Nitin Kumar, managing director, Appulse Retail Software Solutions Pvt Ltd says, For retailers, there is a need to understand the customers buying behaviour, there is a need to know which products are selling and providing best margins and a need to maximise sales at all times while also competing with other retailers. Retailing involves an array of business processes, which need to be mastered, and thus any new technology, which can improve any part, is going to give direct results to retailers either on revenue or margins.
To satisfy the consumers, retail companies need to update themselves with the latest support system so that the manufactured products can reach the consumer in an appropriate manner and in time. Besides, it is also important that the consumer is presented with these products in a manner that he cannot resist buying the product. It is also important for a retailer to keep in mind that the consumer is the ultimate target for both product and earning performance. While investing in a product, a consumer expects a combination of quality, status, convenience, performance and utility. As retailers and brands seek to interact more closely with the end consumer, more real-time devices are being deployed to capture the consumers attention, compete for the sale and further to manage and settle the transaction.

Manufacturer retailer
A well-established fact is that price fuels retail marketing. While service levels can always be imitated and improved upon, price advantages cannot be matched as easily. Today, the economies of scale that large retailers benefit from, greatly affect the pricing of the products that they offer and can even affect the popularity of a brand to a great extent.
While, on the one hand, they may be able to create a huge market for a brand, they are also capable of ensuring that a new brand does not affect sales of an existing brand. However, manufacturers refuse to let this tremendous power of large retailers affect them and get the better of them by exploiting retail competition, essentially the prices that they offer, during negotiations. In fact, many manufacturers adopt a confidential internal policy of 'divide and rule' in a bid to ensure that the retailers do not get an upper hand. These manufacturers lay down a number of specifications regarding the other brands that a retailer can deal in. Fierce competition has also prevented international retailers from providing information regarding their new business and pricing strategies, publicity campaigns and customer-oriented services, to the manufacturers as sometimes this information is misused and is even provided to their competitors.
The development of retail trade has become a serious threat to manufacturers. Since many of these large retail chains also have an enormous number of product categories in which they have their own private labels, this phenomenon also poses a serious threat to the growth of the manufacturing sector in many product categories. Acquisitions and mergers in the retail sector on a global scale give an added impetus to the sector, making it more powerful than ever before. Further, the internet revolution too has made it possible for most of the large retail chains to explore markets in areas where they are not present physically.

Path to successful retailing
In the process of retailing there are certain elements of support like logistics, equipment, category management, inventory control, technology, visual merchandising, to name a few, that play very important role. In the absence of any of these elements the entire process of efficient retailing would be affected. As a result their importance cannot be undermined.

1. Technology
Retailing companies are multiplying the number of their outlets and are expanding in the national and international markets. Controlling operations at such a large scale has become an extremely challenging task and undoubtedly technology has a major role to play in the success or failure of a retailer. According to Mr Nitin Kumar, managing director, Appulse Retail Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, Technology implementation for optimising business processes to reduce costs, manage inventories, reduce shrinkage and manage margins is increasingly important for retailers. Today, the key to success is operational efficiency, lean supply chain and understanding customers buying behavior better and better.
The larger the retailer is, the greater would be his dependence on technology. The constantly advancing and emerging technologies thus have a dramatic effect on retail operations. Mr Ajay Bhutani, CEO, Bar Code India Ltd believes, The technology in retail is expected to get a further boast if the government decides to open retail for FDI since the multi national companies (MNC's) are already using these technologies abroad very extensively across the complete supply chain which also helps in opening up the other local market by setting up references.
Today large numbers of new techniques are in vogue as far as technological support in retailing is concerned.
Mr Kumar opines, The latest trends in technology range from RFID based tracking, CBT for training of retailer employees, biometrics based payment systems, customer and employee kiosks, electronic shelf labeling and price optimisation, to name a few.
Rapid technological advancement in almost all spheres of operation and with computers becoming the mainstay of most organisations, an effective and efficient enterprise/technology support system is the need of the hour in the retail sector. Companies are now providing customised Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions with integration of selective modules as per the requirement of the client. The accurate collection of large volumes of data and a proper methodology to store them so as to provide the management with important reports for decision-making, now play a critical role in retailing. Today even small retailers are using computers for their operations in order to make optimal use of the data that they possess. The latest trends emerging in technological support to retailing includes:
Accurate data on inventory: With proper technology support, almost all successful retailers around the world are able to accurately maintain and provide day end or even up to the minute data of all inventory that they have in each store. They can also provide proper data classification under respective heads and profitability levels to enable their buyers to make important merchandising decisions. These in turn enhance the functioning and profitability of stores.
Point-of-sale system: From pencil and paper calculations, till a little while back, billing in stores was done through electronic cash registers. Advanced technology has now enabled retailers to use the most sophisticated point-of-sale systems. Retailers all over the world have integrated their back office systems through a process in which computers are networked either within the same location or even with remote locations.
Electronic Data Interchange (EDI): Most large retailers prefer the integration of their networks with vendors' systems through a process called EDI. This is a system through which the retailer transmits data and other information to his vendors and vice-versa, relating to their inventory orders, payments and so on. EDI enables retailers to place online orders, obtain order status and to make payments to their vendors, while also helping vendors to provide invoices and intimate price changes, which ultimately greatly enhances the efficiency of both the retailer and the vendors. EDI helps in reducing costs, eliminating unnecessary time delays and in minimising the possibility of errors.
Bar coding: The technology by which a specific numerical code number is automatically transferred to black and white bar codes whose width and size identify each item code is what we called Bar coding. According Mr Bhutani, The bar code normally contains the product ID like item code, product code, etc. which is required to be entered into the computer system to update the data at the time of billing, receiving or dispatch. With barcode in place, the data is fed into the system automatically by scanning the barcode using bar code scanner instead of punching the same through keyboard.
Mr Bhutani opines, Barcoding coupled with mobile computing and WLAN (technologies) is also gaining ground at the back door operations like inventory and warehousing operations as the volumes as well as competition is growing which is forcing the use of technology to make the operations more cost effective.
These bar codes are scanned with the help of bar code scanners and the computer automatically reads the item codes. Says Mr Bhutani, Bar Code India Ltd provides IT solutions in the field of Automated Identification and Data Capture Systems using Bar Coding, RFID, Mobile Computing and Wireless Data Communication Systems to the various sectors like retail, manufacturing, service and healthcare, etc.
Electronic article surveillance: Department stores housing garments, shoes, watches and jewellery to name a few use advanced technology for security purposes. This is called electronic article surveillance. Retailers are provided with small electronic tags that must be removed or de-activated at the checkout counter before the item leaves the store.
Electronic shelf labels (ESL): Now a days, a number of retailers use electronic shelf labels instead of paper labels. The electronic labels are directly connected to the computer network and the system automatically changes the price on cash electronic label screen when the retailer feeds in the updated current price. This system is used only at the stores and not at the warehouses of the retailer and turns out to be very convenient for items that have frequently varying prices. Mr Kumar says, ESL is helping retailers world wide in implementing their promotions in an effective way, using ESLs retailers are able to provide customers a guarantee and comfort that customers can see prices and know that these prices are updated regularly.
Other advancements: According to Mr Jain, Although bar coding is developing as the most common means of identifying goods in warehousing and transportation, other emerging technologies one day could either supplement or supplant them.
One of these is the memory button, which contains an encapsulated microprocessor. Buttons are suitable for use in product identification and as portable databases in harsh environments. Even more promising as an alternative to bar codes are radio-frequency (RF) tags, which communicate data via radio waves to a reader typically connected to a host computer system.
Apart from these technological advancements many other highly advanced technological innovations are also being used in retailing. Innovations like kiosks have now become a trend. These capitalise on the fact that the consumers are hard pressed for time.

According to Mr Kumar, Kiosks are helping retailers implement an on demand customer experience of doing navigation and finding information in the store. With the help of employee kiosks retailers can improve response time for customers and increase productivity. A new trend of biometrics based payment systems is also helping retailers reduce payment frauds as more and more retailers and people start using it. Besides these there are self-billing systems, ATMs, satellite communication and the solar-powered trucks, which run without fuel that are revolutionising the retail sector.
At the same time, the investment required for implementing the latest technology might ac as a deterrent.
Says Mr Kumar, Small retailers need to look at their weak areas and see where impact of technology utilisation will be maximum for their growth strategy. If small retailers see that they need to compete with the larger retailers in a particular area, then they need to use technology accordingly to gain an advantage in that particular area.
Areas where small retailers can start gaining are using transaction and sales information capturing to start understanding trends and changing consumer demands.

2. Logistics
Logistics encompasses the entire process of flow of merchandise right from the point where merchandise is sourced to the point of its actual sale to the customers. In case of chain store retailers merchandising flows from the vendors to the distribution centre and then to the stores while in case of independent retailers merchandise flows directly from the vendors to the stores. Defining the role of logistics Mr Pawan Jain, Logistics is a very important part of retailing. It is one of the most powerful ways to offer greater and differentiated value to customers. Its role extends to inventory management, external infrastructure and regulations, technology, freight management etc. Logistics experts manage how and when to move resources to the places where they are needed. Commenting on the merchandise flow, Mr Jain says, Safexpress provides super hubs and hubs backed by state-of-the-art infrastructure at strategic locations all over the country covering over 3 million square feet of warehousing space. The company also offers the fastest transit through innovative direct routes unparalleled in the history of the express industry. The company has deployed more than 3,000 ISO 9002 all weatherproof containerised vehicles which have a cargo carriage capacity of 2.4 million cubic feet and a payload of 12000 tonnes, at any point in time.

Types of logistics
The various kinds of logistics are:
Steady flow of material: A steady flow of material through a network of transportation links and storage nodes.
Sequence of resources: Coordinates a sequence of resources to carry out some project.
In the first case systems are usually optimised for one of several goals: avoid shortages, minimise transportation cost, minimum time to obtain an object, or minimum total storage of objects. Logistic flow is particularly important in timely manufacturing in which great emphasis is placed on minimising inventory. Maintenance of distribution/warehouses is very important in retail store chain operations. Many times retail houses do not have enough space to store their goods. Manufacturers are increasingly resorting to express service providers to provide consolidated warehousing facilities. In the current system of differential sales taxes regimes across states, companies are forced to set up warehousing facilities in a number of states in an effort to avoid extra Central Sales Tax burden says Mr Jain.
A recent trend in large distribution chains is to assign these goals to individual stock items, rather than optimising the entire system for one goal. This is possible because the plans usually describe stock amounts to be stored at particular locations, and these vary depending on the strategy. Regarding distribution centers/warehouses Mr Jain says, Safexpress is expanding its warehousing capacity by almost 50 per cent to 3 million sq. feet. The company is looking at investing Rs 4 crores approx in expansion activities.
The company is also planning to develop the new warehouses into multi user facilities for accommodating more than one company in large warehousing complexes. The basic method of optimising a steady-state distribution system is to use a minimum spanning tree to characterise the transport network, and then place storage locations at the nodes, sized to handle the minimum, average, or maximum demand of items. Quite often, the demand is limited by the transportation capacity out of the node's storage location.
When the transportation out of a storage node exceeds its storage or incoming capacity, the storage is useful only to even out the amount of transportation per unit of time, to reduce peak loads on the transportation system. Project logistics experts discover the sequence in which a project will use particular resources. They then arrange to send the resources so that they will arrive when needed. Generally, these plans use critical path analysis.

3. Visual Merchandising
Today the department store's place is taken over by the specialty stores. Seeing something well displayed in a neat shop usually gives the customer a sense of confidence about the product. One generally feels that if the manufacturing company has convinced the storeowner to give it such a good display, it must be a good product. Merchandise should be presented in a way that helps to predispose the customer towards buying from the shop. The objectives of store presentation is to interest passers-by in the merchandise and to draw them into the shop, to focus customer's interest on goods that the store is currently trying to sell, to make it easy for the sales assistant to show and sell the products, to build the store's image and reputation. The role and importance of the window display varies according to the business. The basic role of the window display is to show a representative sample of items sold in the shop, to display promoted or seasonal items. Windows displays can be inspected even after the store is closed and customers can see the actual item. Now that the customer has been attracted to come into the shop, the effect of a good display continues to be important in catching his eye. Logical arrangements like similar products should be grouped together, within a merchandise range, some items should be put out prominently. Use display to attract attention and save space, make items accessible to customers. Items handled are items easily sold. Visual merchandising is crucial for triggering brand recall and only the use of innovative methods can stand out in a competitive crowd.

Shelf space and display
The competition for shelf space and display has intensified like never before. Retail space is limited and every marketer has to constantly find new ways of getting his products noticed. The store/retail outlet is the final meeting ground between the product and the customer where the sale is finally closed. From the manufacturer's point of view, managing the retailer well has thus become more important than ever since this would ensure that the retailer, in turn, enhances the customer's buying experience for their merchandise. Ensuring that your merchandise stands out over that of your competitors and adds more value to the product have become core elements for effective visual merchandising.

Return of visual
Retailers while expanding their retail outlets need to make some extra efforts to adopt a strategy that ensures that their stores look good and attract as many customers as they can.

Presentation of the
Today merchandising involves lot of glamour. Current trends are full of patterns, textures, exotic trims and unusual material combinations. The presentation of the products should be appealing to the customers. Therefore extra attention has to be paid to the packaging of the products, usage of colours and ensuring a uniform look across the store. Return of the mannequin: Not a trend is another emerging trend in visual merchandising. Mannequin can qualify the retailer's own style and communicate its fashion authority.

It is evident that retailing is no longer the simple business of buying and selling as most of us knew it till now. Rather, it has become far more complex. It is a business that demands constant innovation and upgradation in every aspect, may it be logistics, technology, visual display, category management or anything else. If you have to survive in this fiercely competitive retailing world you have to keep yourself updated with the latest happening in the retail sector. Through this article we have tried to present the latest emerging trends and techniques in retail support system, which is the need of the hour. It is a world of competition and whosoever will keep pace with the changing times and trends, is sure to succeed.

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