One result of this retail technology revolt are smart store kiosks, which today do a lot more than display electronic brochures. As the technology has become much more portable, these stand-alone machines—loaded with tons of hard-disk space and RAM and no Internet connection in sight—are allowing store management to gather much of their own information, which they may never get around to sharing with corporate IT.
This is a trend that seemed to get its start in the car-dealer segment, with its tradition of dealers switching to another carmaker and therefore making corporate hesitant to share too much information. But it now seems to be creeping into more traditional retail segments, and consultants watching the trend see it as the logical result of store manager frustration.
Whats the nature of this frustration? The store managers have been asked to support and administer quite a few corporate-dictated CRM (customer relationship management) programs. And yet, they complain, they see little usable information delivered back to the stores, and what does come back is often little, late and not addressing the questions the store managers—as opposed to IT executives at headquarters—want answered.
Store managers "are being asked to do a lot of things at the store level, such as signing customers up for loyalty programs and performing updates to keep the data clean," said Catharine Harding, vice president of retail at sales optimization software firm Blue Martini Software. "They are feeling a lot of frustration that they dont get to see the benefits."
Tom Byrnes, director for marketing for interactive retail at kiosk-maker Planar Systems, agreed. "It is getting very difficult for people in the front lines [store management] to be able to access the kind of data they need to improve the customer experience," he said.
Harding said a small part of the blame can be directed at the very origins of the typical CRM system, which was never designed to be used in the way many retail operations are now using them. They were designed to analyze things like how a quarter of a million ad mailings are doing and whether the campaign response rate could be improved somehow. Store managers, on the other hand, are more focused on things like identifying their stores top customers and their preferences.
A larger chunk of the blame for this disconnect can be given to IT procedures and methodologies, although not necessarily to the senior IT executives themselves, Harding said. "I recently talked with two store managers, who told me what they have to go through to get reports" that are store-relevant, she said. "It was an arcane system to request and to join certain kinds of data."