In this interview, I catch up with Damon Harding – Partner in our Strategy & Leadership practice – who has been working with Integrated Retail, an innovative retail marketing technology company taking the pain out of ticketing for retailers.
Customer Experience is everything…
In a world of multi-channel, both online and bricks and mortar retailers have to go the extra mile to offer a fantastic customer experience across all their channels. With a smartphone in their pocket, customers are able to “showroom” and check out prices on their phone before making a purchase. Consumers expect to be offered the same great deals in a store as they do online, but traditional ticketing remains a hugely manual process and can represent a big challenge when it comes to being agile and responsive.
- 55% of online shoppers would prefer to buy from a merchant with a physical store presence over an online-only retailer. Source : Retail’s Main Event: Brick & Mortar vs. Online, RetailNext
- Two-thirds of customers have made a purchase in the last 6 months that involved multiple channels. 
- 84% believe that retailers should be doing more to integrate their online and offline channels. 
Damon, firstly, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do for DWG?
I help clients focus on their long-term, customer-orientated goals; to help them rapidly improve customer experience, efficiency and operational performance.
I have delivered large-scale integration and transformation programmes, but I also support businesses launch, scale and rationalise.
I started out in retail marketing, however, I worked in a variety of roles during my career for the Carphone Warehouse Group; building and scaling different parts of the group in the mobile and fixed-line telecoms sector. One of those businesses was TalkTalk. I was involved in the acquisition of businesses, such as AOL UK, OneTel & Tiscalli. This involved lots of integration work and bringing disparate businesses together, so the transformation work related to how you solve all those problems, to go into one strategic framework for the business.
Above all, it was about doing that in a customer-centric way. It is important to focus on the end-to-end customer experience; not just the front-end website, but also the back-end such as order processing, billing & payments and optimising them through a ‘digital-first’ journey.
I have come full-circle now with the work I have been doing for Integrated Retail – right back into the retail marketing space; retail shelf edge labels are where all of the marketing comes together, trying to persuade customers to make decisions while they are weighing up the products at the shelf edge.
Can you tell us in a nut-shell what is iRexM3?
Integrated Retail have developed iRexM3, a powerful Software as a Service (SAAS) solution which increases the speed and auditability of price changes, offering an integrated ticketing solution which manages paper and electronic price ticket and signage from a central hub.
It takes one data ingress from the Electronic Point of Sale system (EPOS) and configures that data so that it can be displayed on paper tickets that get printed out, or electronic self-edge labels or digital signage, or you can use it to create in-store catalogues with the latest pricing data.
The clever bit is that the software curates all the information about the products onto the price tickets – what it is, what it does, what it is compatible with. It is extremely complicated to organise and print out or display this data on multiple sized tickets, to retailers’ exacting specifications and iRexM3 takes care of all of this.
What are the benefits iRexM3 brings to retailers?
Retailers today are struggling with the transition to electronic shelf labels. Firstly because of the upfront capital cost – there is a significant investment to change from paper to electronic.
The other problem is that the electronic shelf edge labels (ESLs) are flat and only two colour, whilst traditional labels have the advantage of being in full colour, so by moving to electronic labels, the retailer loses some of the aesthetic. Some retailers use full-colour brand placement on tickets as a source of revenue and so the move to ESLs can threaten this revenue stream. Lastly, maintaining compliant pricing across multiple media channels is increasingly complex and costly.
The flip side of this is that online retailers such as Amazon are competing with these retailers – they are highly agile and are doing several price changes a day. So if you don’t have electronic shelf labels it is virtually impossible to do more than one price change a day, due to high cost, making sure they are compliant and having the people to physically go out and change them.
iRexM3 solves all these problems. It increases the speed of price change from days to minutes and reduces paper ticketing operational costs by up to two thirds.
It enables competition with online retailers, facilitates improved stock control for perishable goods and supports surge pricing and spot promotions.
How are iRex different from other solutions already out there?
At present, as far as I am aware, there is only one retailer in Europe who has gone 100% electronic – Media Markt. Many retailers are resisting going electronic even though there would be many benefits to their business because they don’t want to commit to doing a 100% roll-out.
If you bring a tool like iRexM3 in you can do both. You can try out electronic shelf labels using the electronic shelf label module, whilst continuing to use the paper tickets. It enables retailers to dip their toe into the water for some of their lines and build confidence, whilst maintaining a paper solution for the rest, and managing everything via one system which allows for shelf edge compliance back to the prices on the tills.
To my knowledge, iRexM3 is the only all-in-one solution which has been engineered from the ground up; to work with any medium to display via any channel from a single data source – and that is why it is different. All the data is run from the EPOS and other product systems, this creates a fully compliant solution to the tills because shelf and till are linked.
Other paper suppliers are offering electronic shelf edge solutions, but in reality, they are not unified solutions, rather, two systems stitched together as one, which can create even greater complexity for the retailer.
iRex also offers the ability to control all the signs around a store environment – both digital and printed, controlling the price displayed.
Another exciting emerging area is the partnerships they are developing with a number of suppliers who have developed full-colour electronic shelf edge strips. One of these suppliers is a major US supplier (Kroger). They have developed a high quality, back-projected (ie trolley safe) displays, so you can offer full-colour brand placement on the shelf edge – they are as good as a full-colour paper ticket. The iRex system is solving the issue of linking the display with compliant content. These shelf edge strips look amazing. iRex is currently in the process of getting all of these technologies integrated into iRexM3 to save retailers the bother of integrating themselves.
The advantage of this is that retailers are not tied into any ESL or shelf strip equipment manufacturer – they can try out different technologies and decide which ones work best for them before making significant investment decisions across the entire retail estate.
Damon, how have you been supporting iRexM3 with taking their proposition to market?
I have been supporting iRex in a number of different ways.
Firstly, because I have worked in a FTSE 250 business and worked as part of the executive team on the board, I understand how big businesses work and what the decision-making criteria is – in terms of returns on investment and mitigating risk. I have been able to bring this perspective to iRex when they are trying to sell their product to much bigger businesses.
Many small-scale businesses are highly skilled in what they do, but they don’t necessarily know how decision-making happens in big businesses; how their product will be viewed and discussed. So, I have been helping iRex create a plan to scale their business operationally, particularly through the eyes of a large retail customer. For example, what would the operations look like? What would the structure look like? How would it be managed?
Another important area I have been supporting is framing the case for investors – what would investors need to see – for example, profit and loss and ROI and creating that information pack.
Finally, there is general advice. I get a lot of calls to bounce ideas off me – so I am able to provide experienced advice and a different perspective. When you are right in the thick of trying to build the business, and you need to focus on getting your product to market this is really important.
I understand that 2017 was an exciting year for iRex – what were some of the highlights?
Yes, there is so much going on for them at the moment.
When iRex showcased at Tech Retail Week in September there was generally a lot of excitement from the people that saw it – because the product serves a particular need – and we met many retailers grappling with how they are going to address this need. We were able to demonstrate a solution where most of this thinking has already been done; which already addresses some of that need. iRex was demonstrating a live solution which would allow retailers to dip their toes into electronic shelf ticketing without having to abandon all of their historical paper tickets, or without having to manage two or more ticketing systems and all the headaches that would generate.
There was also a lot of interest in the emerging full-colour strips. Before, people were thinking, “they look great, but how would I manage that”? Now iRex is giving them a solution that feels that it is within reach.
What has been the response so far from retailers?
They are getting a significant amount of interest – which in itself can be a little problematic as the business needs to remain focused!
iRex is creating a concept store with Turkish Food Company, a UK based retailer with a few London based stores. This gives iRex the opportunity to demonstrate the product in a live retail environment, to test and create a good use case. This is a great step for the business. They should be live in late spring 2018.
They have also had a huge amount of interest from some major businesses wanting to partner with them. They are getting interest from screen and electronic shelf label manufacturers who want solutions for their premium screens. They are also talking to a couple of large consumer goods manufacturers in China and they are working with a large distributor in Europe who is interested in breaking into the ESL market, which could open up a new market.
A major distributor in the US is keen to support their smaller retail customers and they are considering iRexM3 as a potential solution because it is agile enough and cost-effective.
Finally, they are developing partnerships with Epsom and HP printers, who are both keen to get tickets onto their printers.
What’s on the horizon for them in 2018?
The remarkable thing about iRexM3 is that it is a product that has been developed debt free. It’s pretty much ready to sell. There is a known market who are interested in the product, and it works. This is a great testament to the ingenuity and dedication of the team who have made a lot of personal sacrifices to make this happen.
What they are now looking for is the investment needed to sell to the big retailers. They have a product that works, but it now needs to scale to take this effectively to market – the network it sits on and the operation needed to run it.
The ongoing talks we have had with the major distribution partners (in China, America and Europe) are very exciting, but all of these partners have specific requirements and we will need additional funding to do that work.
We are looking for the investment community to partner with us to get the product to market. This is very different to traditional stage A funding because they are not asking for funding to get the product live.
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