“As a service” may not be a term you’re familiar with, but it’s become one of the most common — and valuable — business service models today. It’s often associated with technology and the term “SaaS,” which means “software as a service.” Put simply, it’s a way of delivering software applications over the internet so that they are always accessible via the cloud instead of you having to install and maintain them on your own physical IT infrastructure.
This kind of service streamlines complexity, frees up valuable “space” and delivers only what you need, when you need it. That makes sense for retail business owners, especially when it comes to store and commerce technology. And considering how Amazon has trained customers to expect more personalization and the ability to shop when, where and how they want, it’s become imperative to keep up.
As the CEO of a retail technology firm with deep experience in the adult industry, I see this issue repeatedly. Here’s the thing. All the best tech widgets in the world are useless if you can’t make them work together to support your operational and customer service goals. Would you buy a Ferrari and leave it in the garage? Of course not. But to get it out and use it, you also need to know how to drive it or hire a driver.
Retail IT works the same way. Yes, you want to make the best IT investments you can, but you have to be able to connect and integrate it all or it won’t work the way you want it to. This is where outsourcing your retail technology becomes a great option. There’s a ton of upside, but three advantages in particular are worth calling out.
When you outsource your IT, you get the best team the industry has to offer.
Small-to-medium-size business owners have to do a lot with the staff they have, and brilliant and reliable IT talent is in short supply. You typically have an internal person who’s responsible for everything that runs your store and, in most cases, they’re great at some things but struggle with others. Unfortunately, this person wastes the majority of their time playing whack-a-mole with store-level issues, never getting time to focus on the important stuff.
When you outsource this function, you get an entire team that checks the boxes on every skill set you could possibly need. You’re not an IT company, you’re a retailer, so it frees you and your team up to focus on selling versus solving. No more worries about finding and keeping the right team of experts — you have a much larger team supporting you for a fraction of the cost.
You’re going to save money.
The most common approach to retail technology is “buy and build.” In this case, you have a tech team spending tons of time and effort scanning what’s out there, vetting everyone’s sales pitches, designing a plan, building, installing and managing everything, including whatever issues arise. You have to hope they make the right decisions and can manage the fallout if/when things go south. You’re stuck with it, basically at their mercy.
Outsourcing to an IT provider offers a couple of benefits here. First off, they aren’t married to any solution providers, hardware or software, and work across most of the usual suspects. Another key point is cost. The outsourcing model is a fixed monthly expense for a limited amount of time. You’ll be able to anticipate what your retail tech spend will be and measure and evaluate it accordingly. No risk of surprise costs because something didn’t work or needs to be rejiggered to function right. It’s just smarter expense management that ties directly to your return on investment.
You can crush your competition.
Mainstream retailers don’t have the advantage anymore. The smaller guys like you are the game changers. You’re smarter, nimbler and know the value of treating your customers better. However, they’re still coming fast and hard into our vertical. Sephora, Target and even drug stores like Walgreens are creeping into the pleasure products category. You have to stand apart to keep your edge, and that happens by creating a better experience for the people you’re servicing. The “as a service” retail technology model is ideal to get you there and keep you there.
People talk about unified commerce, but in our world we’re more about “elastic commerce.” That’s when your store, mobile and ecommerce in general all live on a lightweight, flexible and integrated platform that connects all your buying channels and stays centered on the customer. Elasticity means you can quickly pivot to offering new ways to serve them or deal with the unexpected — like COVID store closings — without breaking a sweat. It also makes mobile sites and checkout, customer relationship management and inventory management a breeze. Customers can tap into your business in a multitude of ways, and you can offer it all flexibly without a huge investment.
Rethink your retail IT to a managed service mentality.
Remember that your retail tech is not about what goes into it, but what comes out of it. You don’t buy a drill for the drill; you buy a drill because you want the hole! You need to invest in your tech for the end result, and the team behind it is everything.
Think about it: no one in their right mind would buy a Ferrari, try to figure out how to operate it and then take off for a lap around the Daytona track without an instructor. Outsourcing your IT gives you the resources you need to put your investments through their paces and come out ahead. The best part? It’s affordable. This model is available for a simple, monthly per-store cost. Think of it as the perfect vehicle for your business showing up with the most badass drivers available, but without the crazy cost of ownership.
A Look at the Benefits of Utilizing Retail Tech Services by Sean Quinn originally appeared in XBIZ