Impact of Latest Technologies on Retail performance

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Information Technology means "a term that encompasses all forms of technology utilized to create, store, capture, manipulate, communicate, exchange, present and use information in its various forms of business"(Ryssel et al.2004. p.198). Information technology is considered to be an essential source of competitive advantages for the company (Gil et al., 2008). The great opportunity and scope for productive application of latest technologies in the retailing sector today made the tremendous expansion in computing power and in data captured for decision making in various business operations of retailing like category management, inventory and supply chain management, customer segmentation, dynamic pricing, market basket analysis, lower personnel costs and retail sales forecasting (Vadlamani Ravi, Kalyan Raman, Murali K. Mantrala 2005). The important aspect of retailer's performance relates to technology.

Literature Review

The literature about retail technologies conclude that, it is widely felt that the key difference between the successful and not so successful retailers is primarily in the use of technology (Nithin Narayanan, 2008). Simultaneously, it will be technology that will help the organized retailer score over the unorganized retailer, giving both cost and services advantages. Retailing is a `technology-intensive' industry. Successful retailers today work closely with their vendors to predict consumer demand, shorten lead times, reduce inventory holding and thereby, save cost (Nithin Narayanan, 2008). Now mostly retailers have tried to build a competitive advantage through distribution and information systems in the retailing industry. Today, online systems link point-of-sales terminals to the main office where detailed analyses on sales by item, classification, stores or vendor are carried out online. Besides vendors, the focus of the retailing sector is to develop the link with the consumer. The relatively complicated information systems and underlying technologies are in the process of being established (Nithin Narayanan, 2008). Automatic selling has developed over the past many years from smaller retailers to larger ones, from single product to shoplike supply (Molinari, 1964). In the past the oldest known vending machine has already existing from 2,000 years ago in Egypt, operated as Automatic Shops (Molinari, 1964). Another technological tool used at that time was Push-button system which was known as Zirobot Zindel(1964). Organizations must respond to a rapidly changing environment. Such a change derives essentially from the evolution and changes in customer's needs, upcoming technological advances to satisfy those needs and the evolution in business management (Porter, 1997). Successful retailers are in the view that the business ability to build and defend a competitive position in the market depends to a great extent on the capacity to invest and use information technology (Weber and Kantamneni, 2002). Also Buxmann and Gebauer (1999) consider information technology to be an important factor for the organization's success. Some well known writers, warn about the risk of investing excessively in technology (Sethuraman and Parasuraman, 2005), mentioning that good technology is appropriate technology. On other hand practitioners tend to consider that more technology is always preferable to less technology because it is compulsory to measure the effects of IT solutions on perceived quality and consumer satisfaction (Plmer and Markus, 2000). Through use of IT tools, retailers get accurate estimates of market share and product sales, and they also used this information for allocation of shelf space and product inventory information to measure the productivity of their stores (Raymond R. Burke 2005). Through this, retailers started to track and analyze the shopping of individual shoppers and also analyze consumer's preferences and tailor marketing programs on a one-to-one basis (Berson et al., 2000). Technology also affects the time shopper spend in the store, how they move through the aisles, and how they allocate their attention and spending across the departments and categories and it has converted demand into purchase (Burke 2005). More benefits that can be gained from IT solutions by retailer are, lower personnel costs, time saving, accuracy, error reductions, improvements in inventory management, reliability (Ellram et al., 1999; Lowson, 2001), and also increased productivity through the mechanization of labour intensive tasks(Dadzie and Johnston, 1991). Customer view these like, information and communication technologies allow improvements in retailer services by saving shopping time through a wider assortment and one-stop shopping (Messenger and Narasimhan, 1997 ). IT solutions for retailers generate more efficiency improvements in the internal processes (Gil et al., 2008). So this progress will affect positively end consumer experience (Gurau, Weinstein and Ranchhod, 2002), higher perceived quality (Servera et al., 2006) and leading to higher satisfaction levels. These solutions allow the retailing organization to improve its internal business process and communications with suppliers and customers as well as to save management and communication costs (Observatorio, 2006). Here are some mostly used modern technologies in the world for improving retail industry operations.

RFID Technology in Retailing

Radio frequency identification (RFID) is an automated data-collection technology that enables equipment to read tags at a distance, without contact or direct line of sight (Want, 2004; Woods, Peterson, & Hirst, 2003). It is used for location based identification. RFID uses radio frequency (RF) waves to transfer data between a reader and an item that is to be identified, tracked, or located (Irwin Brown, John Russell, 2007). A typical RFID system comprises three components: an antenna, RFID tags (transponders) that are electronically programmed with unique information, and an RF module (reader) with a decoder (transceiver) (Woods et al, 2003). Examples of RFID applications include labelling of products for checkout at point of sale terminals, inventory tracking, and access control for security purposes (Want, 2004). Curtin, Kauffman, and Riggins (2007) identify four different locations across the value chain where RFID applications may be applied-B2B logistics, internal operations, B2C marketing and B2C after-sales service. Benefits include reduced labour costs, simplified business processes, improved inventory control, increased sales and reduced shrinkage (Fitzek, 2003). Retailers face the constant demand to have the right goods available at the right places in the right quantities (Schoblick, 2005). Incorporating RFID technology into existing supply chain operations can reduce the labour required to monitor goods movement and inventory flow (Schuman, 2004). RFID allows manufacturers and retailers to complement existing systems while gathering more information throughout a supply chain (Gordon Muller et al., 2008). Systems with the power to update the information that moves with an individual product provide complete supply chain visibility without the prohibitive labour costs and error rates a similar manual system would entail (Aguado, 2004). RFID also can act as a security guard at a gateway. As goods are moved from dock to truck to store, RFID can conduct automatic inventories and compare the goods with the manifest (Agarwal and Prasad, 1999). Goods flow becomes more complete, stock outs are reduced, overages are curtailed and accounting discrepancies are removed (Walker et al., 2002).

Personal shopping assistant (PSA)

The Personal shopping assistant(PSA) is a touch screen equipped with tablet PC and with attached keyboard along with built-in wireless connectivity to make it moveable easily. Shoppers affix the PSA on top of their shopping trolley and shop the store (Kirthi Kalyanam et al., 2008). It provides high quality personalized customer service through retail outlet. The PSA allows customers to obtain a shopping list from his PDA by revealing his identity with his customer card while in close proximity to the PSA, consumers with loyalty cards can receive it and can operate it by swapping a loyalty cards in it (Albers, Sonke, and Thorsten Litfin 2001). PSA helps the consumers on a shopping trip (Blattberg et al., 1989). It directs the consumers about location of product through navigation. Along with saving labour it also collects sales and marketing data such as promotion and price at the point of sale (Jakob Nielsen, 2001). Through this data management can improve promotional forecasting and deployment. And store associates use handled moveable devices to track inventory or conduct shelf audits (Kirthi Kalyanam et al., 2008). PSA provide contents such as product descriptions and high quality images (Marie Tahir, 2001). Most important benefit it provides at checkout, as the trolley is pre-scanned so actual checkout process can be very time-less. At checkout point, the PSA transfers the total details and amount of shopping to cash receiving system (Christopher, 2003).

The Intelligent Weighing Scale

The Intelligent Weighing Scale is a straightforward tool. Shoppers use the scale to weigh the products, obtain a price and bar-coded label (Kirthi Kalyanam et al., 2008). The scale also has printing and weighing technologies that are available in scales at checkouts. The scale has an attached camera with it that allocates the goods, this enables self-service by the shopper in a product category. As to a consumer's shopping trip, there is co-ordination between the PSA and the intelligent scales. Without the help of intelligent scale the shopping experience of PSA is not possible (Kirthi Kalyanam, Rajiv Lal, Gred Wolfram 2005). Both PSA and intelligent weighing scales collectively provides personalized self-service shopping trip. Its saves consumer's time and retailer's labour

Digital Advertising Displays

Digital signs consist of flat screen displays connected through LAN, but there is also potential to connect through wireless technologies. The digital signs also act as a "shelf talker". By using shelf talkers retailers can expand their private labels offerings, because it requires in store education and information (Mary Purk, 1994). As sign is not static, it can attract the considerable attention of shoppers. It is also enhanced by barcode reading capabilities. Through scanning a barcode the consumer can have an eye look at price or look up information on the product (Steven J, 1994). Interactive shelf talkers also allow retailer to effectively manage merchandize and communicate the specialized benefits like health ingredients or the value proposition of private labels (Blattberg and Neslin 1989).

Electronic Price Tags

It is the alternative for current paper price tags which are replaced manually and changed after every course of business (Rajiv Lal, 2005). Implementation of such a technology is totally in the hands of the retailer (Gred Wolfram, 2005). Benefits of this technology are, it has the ability to display the correct price and don't make any errors at the checkout counter in the favor of either consumer or the store (Kurt Thearling et al., 2000). It is help full to the cashier, as no body raise questions about verifications of price that is either not on the item or is under contention by the consumer. Most importantly, changing prices manually are very time taking and costly and this technology can lead to sufficient cost saving after the initial investment (Xavier Dreze, 2004). Electronic price tags help stores in price accuracy (Kirthi Kalyanam, Rajiv Lal, Gred Wolfram 2005).

Video Cameras

These are primarily used for security purposes and to prevent theft. Video cameras are used for recording consumer shopping activities for several hours a day within the store, and then manually coding shopper behaviour at a later time (Underhill, 1999). Through video observations, retailers can judge how much consumer spends time at various locations ("dwell time"), they can identify points where consumers will be most receptive to communication (Duce, Helen. 2003). Video recording can identify crowding conditions and bottlenecks in traffic flow that suggests the need to widen the aisles or relocation the product displays and it can be used to measure queue lengths and waiting times to solve the problems with customer service (Raymond R. Burke, 2007).

Online shopping

In online environments detailed and complete records of website usage behaviour allow thee retailers to search out the ways that shoppers take through a site and make assessment how shopper and marketing variables affects click through rates and purchase products of their choice (Montgomery, Li, Srinivasan, Liechty 2004).

Research Methodology

The research was to, 1.Identify the usage of technologies by retailers in Pakistan? a.Technologies in practice b.Number of practising years 2.Identify perceived effect of these technologies on retailer performance in-terms of lower personnel costs, reliability, accuracy, improved inventory management, improved retailer service, improved consumer loyalty, higher satisfaction levels, saving management costs, saving communication costs, to analyze consumer's preferences, to track inventory, conduct shelf audits, customer segmentation, competitive retail pricing, managing customer databases, customer relationship management, managing theft and obsolescence, advertising and saving shopping time? The questionnaire was designed with the help of supervisor, containing twenty variables for measuring performance of retailing. A 7-point Likert scale was used for each variable, anchored by Least Important at one end to Most Important at other end. Close ended interview questions were used to gather data. The target population for this research was Pakistani retailers from five cities, namely Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, Faislabad and Multan. These cities are more business oriented and could be covered with in a limited time for me. The sample size was limited to fifty retail organizations from these cities. The Pakistan retail industry is a large and diverse group containing fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), fashion retailers, consumer electronics, garments, pharmaceutical companies, and grocery stores. The study was targeted to all these parts of the retail industry. Once the surveyed questionnaires were complete and returned back, the quantitative data were analysed by using basic statistical tools such as................