FINANCE

Birks Group Q1 loss grows

BY Dan Berthiaume

Montreal – Birks Group Inc., which operates 47 luxury jewelry stores in Canada, Florida and Georgia, reported a growing net loss in first quarter 2015 despite improvements in net and same-store sales. Net loss totaled $8.63 million, up from $5.8 million the same period a year earlier.

Although net sales rose 7% to $301.64 million from $281.16 million, increases in cost of sales, selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses, restructuring, debt extinguishment and asset impairment helped expand net loss. Same-store sales increased 16%.

“The company has realized several key achievements during fiscal 2015,” said Jean-Christophe Bedos, president and CEO. “Same-store sales increase of 16%, successful implementation of a significant portion of our operational restructuring plan that will help drive efficiencies within our organization, and the successful renegotiation of our credit facilities with strong financial partners. As a result, we believe we are poised for significant improvements in bottom line results for 2016 and beyond.”

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NCR: Restaurants say technology impacts revenue

BY Dan Berthiaume

Duluth, Ga. – A majority of restaurant owners and managers believe that technology has a direct impact on increased revenue.

According to the 2015 NCR Restaurant Technology Pulse, 67% of respondents say technology helps drive revenue growth and 35% of restaurants are more dependent on tech tools compared to a year ago.

While the majority of respondents are experiencing a positive impact on profits, only 31% of respondents have an internal employee who can manage technology for their business. Furthermore, a majority of respondents (83%) ranked costs to maintain or upgrade technology as one of the biggest obstacles that keep them from upgrading to new technologies. More than half (53%) also stated they lack the staff to manage IT upgrades.

Despite challenges, technology still plays a significant role for restaurant owners and management. Sixty-two percent of respondents view technology as “important” or “very important” to their businesses. When looking at which solutions they relied on most, mobile POS systems outranked mobile apps:

• Cash registers (91%)
• Wi-Fi (74%)
• Mobile point-of-sale (60%)
• Accounting software (58%)
• Inventory management (54%)
• Time clock software (53%)
• Voice and broadband services (52%)
• Mobile apps (42%)

Eighty-nine percent of respondents attributed cash registers and credit card readers to boosting productivity at their business. Eighty-four percent said Wi-Fi improves efficiency, and 78% said the same about mobile POS solutions.

Additionally, more restaurants are going online as a way to connect with current and potential customers. Almost 70% of the surveyed restaurants have accounts on social media, and 63% have traditional websites.

Only 17% of the respondents still lack an online presence. At the same time, 81% of respondents do not offer their menu items through mobile takeout apps like GrubHub and Eat24.

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Tech Guest Viewpoint: Join the ‘Voice Revival’ at Retail

For decades, buying and installing phone systems in retail stores has remained a mundane experience. Times have changed.

Retail business and IT leaders have historically spent little time on integrating “voice” into their overall business strategies, since there was no true robust way of doing so. Retailers bought phone systems based on basic features, and mainly price, similar to the way they might buy fixtures or racks. Older voice technology lacked the ability to drive ROI to reduce in-store costs, drive sales, and radically improve customer service. As a result, the “voice channel” received minimal attention or investment.

Conversely, retailers have greatly invested in improving Web and POS toolsets in order to radically improve customer service, lower costs, and sharpen competitiveness. Yet, all the while, for most retailers, the use of voice technology continued to languish. The last few years, however, have seen resurgence among innovative retailers in utilizing the voice channel for meeting key business goals: driving sales, enhancing in-store customer service, and reducing operational costs.

For retailers with older legacy communications technology, and given today’s changing retail environment with the advent of the connected shopper, the gap is only widening. Conventional thinking would suggest that with the advent of the Web, phone calls into stores would be diminishing. But just the opposite is true.

Even as retailers are being pressured to reduce in-store staff (to maintain margins), voice calls into stores are actually increasing — and, more importantly, these calls are often made by qualified and motivated shoppers. Innovative retailers know that to maximize sales and provide enhanced customer experiences, these calls must be handled effectively and intelligently, and at minimal cost.

How many retailers with legacy communications technology can empirically account for how their individual stores (and the individual departments within each store) are actually handling these customer calls? The reality is, virtually none of them. Most are operating blind, with zero visibility, reporting, analytics, or measurement.

This results in a monumental performance gap for retailers desiring to provide differentiated in-store service levels. With today’s sophisticated POS technology, retailers can validate how many sweaters they sold in a given store last Tuesday between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., right down to size and color. But could they quantify how many shoppers called that store, were left on hold in the shoe department, and hung up (perhaps to call another retailer) before getting the information they wanted?

Handling inbound calls better through next generation communications technology is critical. But in reality, that’s still just playing defense. Truly innovative retailers are going on the offensive in order to further differentiate service and boost sales. What does that look like in real terms?

Equipping store associates with mobile communications solutions (iOS, Android), for example, that allow them to handle inbound/outbound voice calls, texts, pages, instant messages, and generally show presence on-the-go.

Spreading inexpensive iOS or Android devices about the store offers shoppers the ability to request service with the push of a button, or perhaps even start a voice call with an in-store associate, or even a call center, substantially improving the in-store customer experience. Legacy communications technology simply cannot do this.

Retailers spend millions on ads on Google and other search engines to help drive sales. But when customers respond and, for example, call into the shoe department at a local store, why do they hear music on hold or an unrelated ad for a mattress? The modern retailer uses next-generation communications technology to deliver targeted “voice ads” and messages to callers on hold at said shoe department.

The more innovative modern retailer, in fact, is working to charge vendors for “pay-to-play.” Say a vendor like Prada wishes to be the on-hold message for the shoe department chain-wide. Prada may agree to pay the retailer each time the message is played.

Prada wins by gaining “impressions” that can drive increased sales of Prada shoes, as does the retailer. Both the retailer and the vendor can then also leverage measurable analytics that can help validate the ad’s ability to move product, cementing the value proposition. Again, legacy communications technology simply cannot do this.

From a cost standpoint, retail business leaders should also be asking their IT departments if they still have voice connections to the local telephone company from every store. Most retailers still do.

Modern retailers are eliminating 40%-70% of their monthly telecommunications costs by centralizing all of those circuits. Why cut in-store staff to meet operating expense goals, when you could cut your spend with the phone company by 40%-70%? Again, this can’t be done with legacy voice communications technology.


Dick Anderson is executive VP of Vertical Communications.

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