Best practice in hardware maintenance

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Derek Hutchinson, sales and marketing manager at Vista Retail Support, outlines how retailers should maintain their tills and keep them running smoothly to ensure customer service is maintained at all times.

UK retail market is having a difficult time with decrease in sales, as Internet sales growth continues, High Street retailers have a fight on their hands to maintain market share.

Figures released by the BRC for July 2008 revealed that UK retail sales values decreased by 0.9% like-for-like, compared with the previous July, when they had risen only 1.2%, hit by very wet weather, a trend that repeated itself in August of this year. Sales were also lower than a year ago in four of the previous five months, the worst since summer 2005.

In this climate, store technology has a greater role than ever to play. In the cash-rich time-poor society we live in, when shoppers are faced with long queues it may result in them taking their business elsewhere. Retailers are competing more than ever for the consumer pound there is no excuse for a broken till preventing a sale.

Counting the cost

Many retailers cannot continually afford to upgrade their till systems and many organisations will have to put off scheduled hardware replacements for a year or more. It is essential therefore to work with a third party maintenance provider that can extend the life of existing hardware to enable the retailer to sweat their assets without losing quality and availability.

Retailers should look to work with a third party expert to review store equipment and infrastructure. By undertaking process analysis it allows a business to minimise any unscheduled distribution, while optimising performance and productivity.

EPOS peripherals and cables often need replacing as they are more exposed to customer interference and deterioration. Many retailers are often frustrated when they speak to their service providers about trying to resolve such issues. Weve worked with a high street retailer and tailored its cables for its peripherals to the correct lengths required; something the retailer had been unsuccessfully trying to get the manufacturer to do.

Businesses should also consider proactive hardware maintenance analysis which will also help cover any ongoing issues caused within the store environment, which are often not covered under warranty for new equipment. Many service companies would report this as a chargeable call citing it as the customers fault. The provider should also be able to produce reports each month on the number of call outs, the type of call out, time spent etc. This will allow the retailer to assess how the hardware is performing, how stores compare and ensure that the provider met the agreed SLAs.

Retailers should collaborate and consult with a company independent from its hardware manufacturer for a call reduction strategy. A full system assessment will make sure the estate is more resilient and reliable.

Aging technology needs a regular check-up. Retailers must consider a preventative maintenance programme to ensure any problems can be detected, contained and ultimately resolved before they become a major business problem. One of our clients undergoes a health check with their in-store hardware. This keeps their call levels down as well as keeping the hardware in the best possible condition.

IT refurbishment allows retailers to confidently delay the purchase of new equipment. Home furnishings retailer Dunelm Mill required a partner to refurbish and refit its legacy equipment, to suit their new equipment through the installation. If any of the legacy equipment was near end of life it was recommended to be replace to leave Dunelm with an estate where all the equipment was refreshed, maintainable and also in the best conditions to meet the term of its SLAs and successfully saved them money.

Its important that retailers discuss requirements, in detail and in advance, to control their maintenance and long term costs. For example, the cheapest deal up front can often cost more in the long run. The maintenance provider should be able to advise a business on when to replace or hold off and refurbish instead. Retailers need to choose relevant cover focusing on peak periods in the year. This is achieved by using mixed service delivery models and flexible service level agreements.

Many providers may be happy to simply keep fixing the equipment, whilst not offering consultation. Retailers should be advised on best practice in handling technology. A simple refresher course for staff about using their respective EPOS system can help to decrease EPoS failure coursed be carelessness or poor training. For example, ensure papers are not placed next to a PC to allow the fan does not vent properly and not cause the system to overheat.

While manufacturers will feel their systems offer complete reliability, our statistics show that no matter the age, make or model, up to 30% of retailers IT systems suffers unexpected failures. Manufacture testing doesnt necessarily take into account the install environment, training of the handler and the exposure of equipment during use. Therefore retailers need to ensure that they work with a third party maintainer to service their estate.

Loss of service not only presents a missed opportunity to capture important customer information for use in marketing campaigns, but more importantly it will affect the bottom line. By leaving the maintenance to the experts, retailers can get on with their job of selling to customers in an already difficult market.

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