New research by reseller Elite Telecom and Swyx reveals that the retail sector is in danger of falling behind other industries as it fails to invest in unified communications (UC) technology.
The survey into retail communications commissioned by unified comms supplier Elite Telecom, in conjunction with UC manufacturer, Swyx and Retail Week, found that 68.9% of retail executives did not recognise or fully understand the advantages of the technology.
The results of the survey came just weeks after a global study by Ovum revealed over 80% of businesses are implementing some form of unified communications over the next two years. This is in contrast to the poll of retail businesses, ranging from 1 to over 1,000 employees that showed that only 34.9% would be willing to invest in UC features over the next two to three years. When asked what the biggest obstacle was to invest, 43.7% of retailers answered that understanding and knowledge of the technology was a key issue.
Elite Telecom CEO, Matt Newing, says of the results: “As an industry that is facing enormous pressure to adapt to increased competition, especially from digital and online channels, unified communications is an investment that many retailers cannot afford to miss out on.
Unified communications is all about the end user experience and helping to deliver smoother, streamlined services to customers both in store and online. Customers are more likely to return to businesses that have exceeded their expectations and offered them something different.”
The research also revealed that 39.3% of those that would consider deploying unified communications would be driven by the need to improve customer service. Other influencers included the need to reduce overheads (19.6%) and increase staff productivity (17.9%).
Newing continues, “Unified communications enhances the communication at every stage of the purchase cycle: Investing in UC allows retailers to optimise processes whilst improving quality in their user journey, offering loyalty to the customer to increase sales and profits.
Those businesses that are too slow to adapt to technology advances or to internet-led services will simply not be here in two to three years’ time.”
Ralf Ebbinghaus, CEO at unified communications vendor Swyx, who co-sponsored the research with Elite says, “Our technology is already helping some of the UK’s largest retailers to enhance their customer communications across multiple locations and channels. As the customer becomes more discerning, and more likely to shop around, retailers need to recognise that to maintain customer loyalty, they need to offer a more unified interaction that takes into account all the possible information available, wherever this is stored.
Software-based unified communications solutions such as Swyx are easy to deploy and can also be entirely integrated into a range of back office systems, so you have a complete picture when communicating with customers, whether on the phone, email, instant messaging or social media.
Introducing UC can also significantly cut overheads for retailers, especially those with several sites. They can take advantage of free calls between outlets using VoIP and can also centralise customer enquiries for multiple locations.”
Keeping up with trends and technology
The survey also highlighted upcoming trends within the retail sector, with 41% of respondents stating that social media and other multi-media channels will be the biggest trend to face the retail sector over the next 12 months.
A further 33% stated that mobility and fixed mobile convergence will have the biggest prominence throughout 2013. In spite of these findings, it seems that not many retailers realise that unified communications can help retailers to support multiple channels across both fixed and mobile networks.
This lack of knowledge and awareness was borne out in the research with 41.2% admitting to having never heard of unified communications. These figures indicate that there should be a greater emphasis on communicating the business benefits of UC to the retail sector.
Unified communications combines mobile devices with your office systems, and even your social media channels. This means that you have one intuitive interface for all your communications needs, across a variety of devices including desktops, smartphones and tablets.
Obstacles to UC
When asked what the biggest obstacle to unified communications is, 43.7% of retailers answered that understanding and knowledge of the platform stops them from investing.
Unified communications may seem complex, but Elite Telecom insists it’s easy to understand. Matt Newing continues; “Unified communications simplifies your communications tools and combines them into one single platform that is easy to manage. You do not have to be an IT manager to understand how it works, in fact, many clients can do away with internal IT departments altogether.”
As 37.5% of respondents stated that cost was also an obstacle for adopting the technology, Matt concludes: “UC is severely misunderstood in the marketplace as the solution is actually quicker to integrate than traditional hardware-based telephony solutions and can help retailers achieve a significant return on investment within a short time.”
Only a small percentage of retailers surveyed (13.4%) were already using unified communications within their operation.
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