Many retail and fashion businesses face an all too familiar dilemma. They want to embrace digital transformation and stay competitive and retain customer loyalty. But, investing in technology is time consuming and expensive, and it is therefore crucial that it is approached in the right way. We outline below the key things for retailers and fashion brands to consider, when using technology to improve their business:
- "Off the shelf" vs. customised software: "off the shelf" simply means buying software that is ready made and available to lots of people (for example Microsoft Office). The advantages of an "off the shelf" solution is that it is typically cheaper, immediately available and may include free upgrades. However, there will be limits to what the software can do and it may not meet your desired purpose. The alternative is to engage a developer to build a customised solution. As your competitors will not have the same software, customised software may offer a competitive advantage. However, procuring customised software is expensive and it takes time to build. It may also be difficult to envisage the outputs, when taking the decision to invest.
- Building and maintaining customised software: if you choose to develop software that is customised to your business, you may consider agile software development. This method allows developers to incrementally build, test and accept or amend software in short cycles (known as "sprints") which provides the opportunity to see what works and what needs to change. The software development should follow a strategy, so that any changes to the software are made with a clear aim in mind. If you do plan to outsource development, we recommend ensuring that you have the capability to transfer and support the developed software internally so that you are not bound to your developer.
- Contractual protection: Any software development should be covered by a development agreement containing robust legal protections, including ownership of rights in the developed software and the developer's support obligations. Whilst agile software development cannot guarantee certain results, the developer should be working towards your desired aim. Depending on the complexity and importance of the software produced, consider acceptance testing and evaluation of the developed software by an independent consultant.
- Consider when to release your new software: implementing new software (whether off the shelf or customised) is a risk and we recommend not releasing software into your live environment during critical business periods, such as Black Friday or promotional sales periods.
As brands continue to use technology to improve customer experience and battle increasing competition, it can be tempting to make decisions around new technology quickly so as not to fall behind. The risks of failing to consider properly technology strategy and implementation can be costly in financial and reputational terms. Those that take a more considered approach are therefore likely to reap the benefits in the long run.