Simac builds the store of the future with customers

What does the store of the future look like? The answer to this question is different for every retailer. Simac thinks along with customers about developments in retail and technology and the way in which they can lay the foundation for the store of the future with targeted IT investments. Jonathan van Raaij, product marketing manager store at Simac IT NL: “Customers expect a proactive attitude from us. We are happy to fulfil this.”

Imagine walking through a store with your phone, scanning the surroundings, and the screen lights up when your favorite product comes into view. Or sitting on the couch with your VR glasses, virtually browsing through the same store, and then put the product in your virtual shopping cart. These are applications of AR and VR technology that are already possible, but still seem far away for many retailers.

"Or take the metaverse, a virtual universe where you can create a whole new store and thus a whole new sales channel. In games like Fortnite, it's already possible to buy virtual products that you can use in the game. I know families where the children prefer to spend their birthday money in such a virtual world than in the real world," says Jonathan.

Store of the future

The above future scenarios are part of Simac's long-term vision for the store of the future. Jonathan started a year ago at Simac IT NL as product marketing manager store with formulating that vision as one of his tasks. For this, he obviously used his own knowledge and experience as a consultant at Boer & Croon and chairman of the expert session Phygital Commerce of ShoppingTomorrow, but also the input from technology partners, market analysts and the experts from Simac itself. “In recent months, we have presented that vision to various retail customers of Simac. They reacted positively surprised. Often with the remark that they did not know that Simac thought along with customers about developments in retail to this extent.”}

That last part was exactly the intention. Simac is an IT partner with strong roots in retail and a very long track record when it comes to implementing, managing and maintaining IT solutions.

“When a retailer encounters a problem or wants to implement a new technology, we can integrate that solution into the existing landscape, roll it out and manage it. We receive a lot of appreciation for this from our retail customers. But what those same customers also want is a partner who proactively thinks along, points out future developments and indicates what they mean for the retailer's IT landscape. It is my job to make clear where we are already strong, but especially to tell about the services we are now developing to strengthen just that proactive approach. In addition, I also focus on further developing and improving our existing services and adding innovative, concrete solutions.”

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Store consultancy

Simac's retail portfolio consists of four parts: store consultancy, installation & roll-out, Simac Retail Support Services, and store technology refreshment. There is always room for improvement in each part. For example, Simac is working on expanding the self-service portal for Simac Retail Support Services, so that customers can use it to submit and track change requests. In addition, Simac is constantly working on a smarter approach to cause less disruption on the shop floor when installing & rolling out new technologies. “But the focus is also on the other two parts,” says Jonathan.

"Store technology refreshment arises from our services in the field of Simac Retail Support Services. We know what the customer's IT landscape looks like and what the developments in the market are. Based on that, we can advise the customer about future investments in the IT landscape. By further improving our services in this area, we can increasingly add value."

Simac aims to play a more significant role in the development of new IT roadmaps for stores concerning store consultancy. "No, we are not going to take the retailer's place. The retailer knows best how to reach and serve their customers and what their strategy should look like. However, at a certain point, this strategy needs to be translated into new store concepts, including the new technologies involved. This process is usually driven by the business, with the IT team only being engaged at the very end for execution and implementation. That's the moment when choices have often been made that are difficult to implement. Choices for technical solutions that may not be secure and future-proof. We would like to be involved earlier so that we can contribute to the shaping of those technical solutions. This ensures that you don’t invest in hundreds of PDAs that turn out to be unsuitable for new applications in three years. We want to excel in this area."

Employee Experience

Technological developments encompass more than just the network and checkout systems in the store. A secure network is increasingly seen as a kind of utility that must always function. Checkout systems including self-checkout tills remain crucial for facilitating transactions and generating revenue. But in addition, the employee and customer experience are demanding more and more attention. “It’s getting more difficult to find and retain store employees. The question is whether you have them restocking shelves or advising customers. Good tools can help make work more efficient and enjoyable, as more time is left to help customers. Think of PDAs with special apps for communication and task management, but also electronic shelf labels. The latest generation of shelf labels, for example, have lights that help with order picking on the shop floor. When an order picker walks through the store, the red lights show which products he should pick. So, he no longer wastes time looking for the right products. Moreover, it limits the nuisance to customers”, says Jonathan.

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We already know that technology helps to improve the customer experience. Think of screens that offer custom content, but also new payment solutions such as the SoftPOS applications that turn PDAs into mobile cash registers. “That customer experience does not have to be exuberant, but it must match your strategy as a retailer. Customers have a very different expectation when they walk into a discounter like Aldi or a department store like Bijenkorf”, explains Jonathan

In addition, we want to focus more on instore analytics. Our technology partners, such as Cisco, offer all kinds of hardware and software solutions with which we can collect a wealth of data. Data about the way customers move through the store, how they feel and behave, and which shelves they stop at. Analysis of that data provides retailers with new insights that can improve the employee and customer experience and increase their turnover.

Sustainability dashboard

The first concrete results of the new approach are already visible. Together with its partners, Simac is working on total solutions, in which the partners provide the technology and Simac provides the additional services. An example of this is Connectivity-as-a-Service, a service model where retailers can purchase connectivity in the form of a total package of network hardware and services.

Another example is the expansion of the Simac Remote Management Suite with a sustainability dashboard. “With this, we can measure and reduce energy consumption in the stores. Customers can take measures themselves based on the insights to reduce energy consumption, but it is much more efficient to have this done by Simac. Based on different parameters, we can disable certain systems, where of course we take into account opening hours and the time windows in which patches are installed and updates take place. In this way, we can make a contribution to the sustainability objectives with a relatively small effort and save thousands of euros on an annual basis.” Retailers can expect even more in the coming period.

“We are increasingly getting more technology in our stores, especially to support employees and improve customer experience,” says Jonathan. “That's why we advise mapping both the employee and customer journey. What challenges do they face? What needs arise during those journeys? And with which technologies could you fulfill those? Then look at which solutions best fit your strategy and your formula. And use that as a foundation to gradually develop towards the store of the future.”

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