Connecting the dots: The rise of the app economy for business

There is a huge disruption coming in retail over the next few years in the form of mobile technology; and this isn’t just about using mobile to engage consumers.

Cloud-based technologies are breaking down traditional barriers and changing the way retailers do business. Separate systems for different areas of a business – like accounting, operations, online and in-store - are no longer adequate. The future is all about connectivity.

We’ve seen a tidal wave of new developments in retail recently, for example the increase in online shopping, click and collect, and customers demanding instant and easy access to products, mean that the siloed approach simply isn’t the best way to run a business anymore.

It’s important to remember that customers don’t see a difference between a brand’s online presence and their physical store. They expect the same level of service, the same brand feel, and the same shopping experience across every channel. So it’s important that every touchpoint, from sales to inventory tracking, loyalty programs and promotions, are completely in sync.

The growing app ecosystem

Achieving this kind of connectivity is becoming far easier, due to the rise of new cloud-based business applications. Just like the consumer apps we all use, such as for personal banking or (let’s be honest here) Candy Crush, these business apps can be easily downloaded from an app store onto an iPad or mobile device.

In this way, retailers can essentially build their own bespoke enterprise systems: from business management, to loyalty, finance, payments and analytics. They can pick and choose from a community of affordable, world-class business apps that integrate seamlessly with each other.

Soon, we can expect to see more and more retailers running their business entirely on apps. Mobile is becoming such an important part of the business landscape that Apple is ramping up its work in this space. Vend is working closely with Apple and a select number of other mobile app developers, like Xero for accounting and Deputy for employee scheduling, to fully integrate business tools on the iPad. These apps are creating complementary cloud and mobile software for retailers as part of a world-leading app ecosystem.

Uptake by local retailers

Independent retailers and pop-up shops, which aren’t held back by legacy systems, are already using this app ecosystem to better manage their business. For example, cooking supplies retailer Borough Kitchen has gone without a traditional till from day one, using a cloud based POS system integrated with accounting and ecommerce to run its Southwark and Hampstead stores.

“We use our POS system with our accounting software to pull in our received orders, track our payables and pay our suppliers on time. With the cloud, everything is easily scalable, intuitive and backed with great support. Unlike traditional software, we see frequent updates and constant improvements that make it easier for us to manage our business,” says David Caldana, Co-Founder of Borough Kitchen.

“Using the app on an iPad is so flexible and easy to use. Setting up our new outlet with the software took a few minutes and all of our products were immediately available so we could start ordering new stock. We set up everything ourselves on the day before we opened. Within our shops, at peak times, and in particular at Christmas time, we can add a new till instantly by switching on another iPad. That just wouldn’t work with a traditional till system.”

Personalising the customer experience

With these new technologies, retailers will spend far less time on tasks which historically would have been done manually, such as balancing the books at the end of each week, or organising holiday schedules and staff rosters. But one of the biggest benefits of mobile technology is the way it enables a more personalised and seamless customer experience.

For example, linking a POS app with a specialist loyalty app means retailers can collate customer information and offer targeted rewards and perks to them directly via their smartphone. Or, integrating a store’s sales system with their online shop ensures that all inventory and customer data is synced across both channels.

This prevents ‘double-sells’, where the last of a product is accidentally sold to two customers at once, and means all product and customer details can be easily managed from one central location.

To retail, and beyond

The speed at which cloud-based systems can be implemented will also be transformative, not just for retail but for many other industries. Setting up a new IT system is traditionally very time-consuming, and expensive - at least a few days for an expert to fully implement (not to mention the weeks of consultation beforehand).

Now, with a few clicks of a button it can literally take around 10 minutes to set-up a business app and start selling. Cloud-based systems are also, by their nature, scaleable. They can grow with a business, without the need for costly hardware upgrades.

As these groups of connected, cloud-based systems are rapidly implemented by businesses, we will see a wave of revitalised IT systems across many other industries - from manufacturing, to transport, to finance.

Faster, better, more transparent and personal services will become the norm in all parts of our lives. There’s never been a more exciting time to be in tech, and the best is yet to come.

John Coulston, VP of Sales EMEA at Vend

Image credit: Shutterstock/Oleksiy Mark