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Retail Hardware

Technology and innovation seem to be the only saviours for the highly competitive Indian retail industry as it now faces up to global competition. By Varun Aggarwal

The Indian organised retail segment is seeing companies like Globus, Pantaloon and Reliance gearing up to fend off the challenge of foreign players who are poised to enter the Indian market. However, it is not going to be that easy for Indian retailers to handle the competition. Indian companies need a sound infrastructure something that foreign companies already possess. Today, a shopper needs much more than just a wide range of products. He needs convenience and quick cash-out all at a competitive price. Technology plays an important role in overcoming such hurdles. Cost savings through technology can help garner a competitive price for a retail vendor.

At the point of sale

Instead of a PC or cash register, a growing number of Point of Sale (POS) solutions take advantage of a colour touch screen at the sales counter. Many POS systems connect to in-store computers that, in turn, link to computers at the company’s headquarters. With well-designed software, touch screens can provide a simple, easy-to-use mechanism for cashiers to handle just about any transaction—reducing training time while improving productivity and customer service. Touch screens are popular in the hospitality and convenience store industries and are rapidly gaining acceptance in other retail markets.

Some businesses choose to combine other options with a touch screen POS. For example, full motion video and integrated stereo speakers (or optional headphones) provide a multi-media platform that allows these workstations to do double duty as Web- or computer-based training during non-business hours. Add a swivel base and your associates will be able to use a workstation to review services or products with customers.

Cisco retail solutions have four modules, each designed to meet specific needs in the retail environment:
Store Connectivity Increases operating efficiency across stores using wide-area networks (WANs) and virtual private networks (VPNs) to access corporate and store information, including radio-frequency identification (RFID)-based inventory management and standard retail applications
Store Mobility Uses wireless technologies at the point of sale for faster checkout and real-time product information, in the store to improve operations, and throughout the supply chain to reduce costs
IP Communications Reduces retail costs through converging data and voice systems, providing instant communication throughout stores and with enterprise applications and resources
The Store as a Medium Supports employee training and productivity and maximizes customer satisfaction with in-store broadcasting, multichannel shopping, and digital signage, as well as revenue-boosting smart technologies and information kiosks

Bar code scanners enable you to collect detailed data regarding products that your customers purchase—information that is useful for inventory management, merchandising and marketing decisions. Successful retailers use this information in data warehousing applications to fine-tune store assortments and help assure that consumers find the products that they want on the shelves, when they shop.

A quality scanner that reads bar codes on the first try will speed checkout and lead to cashiers who are more comfortable and less frustrated. A pleasant cashier will transfer this positive energy to customers.

On the customer side of the counter, most POS workstations are available with a choice of customer displays, ranging from simple one- or two-line read-outs to full colour screens that display Web-based colour graphics. The latter devices allow your customers to learn more about your store, merchandise, or special promotions while they view details of their transaction.

Electronic payment peripherals enable you to readily and efficiently handle credit and debit card transactions. Among these are terminals that not only process electronic payment but also capture signatures electronically. A signature capture terminal incorporates a credit/debit card reader, provides means to enter a PIN number, and includes a display for other customer input (e.g. for market surveys) and graphics-based advertising.

Retail POS printers, especially thermal printers, deliver fast, quiet printing of receipts and paper forms at the point of service. A quality thermal printer can have a positive impact on store productivity through intelligent design and operator-friendly features. Because of their speed, thermal printers can produce a record of most transactions in a fraction of a second. This makes it possible to add information and graphics, such as a company’s logo, to the customer receipt, or to print multiple receipts for credit authorisation or for coupons, rebate offers or gift receipts, without adding to the transaction time.

Gateway anti-virus Detects and eliminates viruses, worms and spyware in real time. It scans incoming and outgoing email attachments, FTP, and HTTP traffic.
Firewall It inspects content in network packets to ensure that unauthorised traffic does not pass into or out of the intranet. With adequate performance, a firewall can be deployed in-line for real-time protection.
Intrusion Detection and Prevention Stops attacks at network perimeter by analyzing traffic for worms, viruses and other hazards. Analysis techniques include behaviour-based learning and heuristics in addition to signatures defining known hazards.
VPN Enables secure communications tunnels across the public Internet between computing devices. With adequate performance, a VPN can authenticate users, encrypt data and manage sessions.
Anti-spam It stops junk e-mail in its tracks.
Traffic Shaping Optimises or guarantees network performance with packet classification, queue disciplines, policies, congestion management, quality of service, and fairness techniques. It improves latency, service availability and bandwidth utilisation for cost efficient, high performance networking.
Web-based Content Filtering It processes Web content to block inappropriate material and malicious scripts from Java Applet, Cookies and ActiveX scripts entering the intranet.

Networking and Security

With standalone networking systems, retailers run the risk of not getting information quickly enough. Problems such lack of visibility into inventory, weaker relationships with partners, poor forecasting, lost sales opportunities, or inconsistent customer service can materialise. Globus understood this and implemented VPN. According to Meheriar Patel, DGM & Head IT, Globus stores Pvt Limited, “We are using LAN and WAN setup connected by MPLS, VPN. All our stores are connected through RF VPN.”

Many retailers lack instant lines of communication between workers, customers, managers, vendor partners, and stores. This shortage of real-time information exchange often compromises service, inventory, policy changes, and management decision making. A solution that maximises responsiveness by offering full networking of data, voice, and video communications is essential. This can include mobile communications, providing information access to workers at every level, from stockroom to store to executive offices.

Retailers still often rely on older processes that increase operational costs and lower productivity, such as outdated point-of-sale systems and technologies, ineffective employee-management and training practices, or outdated inventory-management and partner policies. The hurdles can be overcome using products from vendors such as Cisco that improve store operations and productivity with offerings in mobile and telephony communications, collaborative technologies, in-store broadcasting and training, and integration with inventory-management and supply-chain applications.

Many retailers have set up data centres. Raymond has a data centre at Thane at its HO. According to Anil Arora, Sr. Manager, IT, Raymond Limited, “The stores are not interconnected but they are connected through a bulletin board which is a collaboration Web site, where the stores exchange information.” The company also has a DR site to ensure business continuity. This site is also located at the HO.

Though security solutions such as IP surveillance and automation remain a pipedream, most retailers take other measures to ensure a secure network. For instance, Globus uses a SonicWALL 4060 UTM box, which works as a firewall, content filter device, gateway antivirus, IPSec VPN appliance, spam filter, Intrusion prevention system, antispyware etc. Pantaloon on the other hand chose to deploy Fortinet’s FG500A after an intensive evaluation process. “The device allows unified capabilities and is easy to manage and monitor. It is used at the perimeter,” said Vishak Raman, Country Manager India, Fortinet.

RFID for inventory control

In the retail industry, RFID assists in inventory control. All stocked items in a retail outlet sport an inexpensive read-only tag that stores the product code and its description, including the manufacturer, brand, batch number, expiry date and price. The shelves, exit gates and warehouses are fitted with a small antenna that senses the RFID tag and reads the information on it to update the inventory system in real-time. The benefits of such a system are that it provides for total asset visibility, full inventory history with tracking and reduced inventory-stocking levels that facilitate just-in-time deliveries. It also ensures better process control for products in the facility, reduced shelf space and lead-time that shorten across docking time, higher-level security, fewer errors and better visibility of goods.

In warehouses and container depots, pallets and containers are marked with read-write RFID chips that contain details of origin, destination and other material details. Entry and exit gates, vehicles and cranes are fitted with an antenna that senses the RFID tags and records and updates the system to check for any deviation in the schedule. With precise tracking of the location of pallets and containers within the warehouse, it is easy to pinpoint unscheduled movements. The system also considerably helps reduce costs and time for check in and check out.

While Globus has already begun testing RFID, Madura Garments has implemented the technology at its newly opened retail store, Planet Fashion in Bangalore. RFID tags help automate dispatches from one factory and inventory at the warehouse. Pantaloon Retail (India) has piloted an RFID project at one its warehouses in Tarapur using a thousand RFID tags. The company is starting by implementing the technology at its warehouse. It has selected a few lines of apparel, primarily shirts and trousers, for the RFID pilot. The RFID application developed by Wipro Infotech fits to the overall solution in line with Pantaloon’s business processes and IT landscape (from the factory outward to the warehouse inward and from the warehouse outward) in order to capture real-time data. The application integrates with Oracle database 10g and middleware along with an implementation of the RFID hardware. It integrates with the existing IT infrastructure, the in-house developed Retail Enterprise Manager. The primary objectives are a smoother product lifecycle and item-level tagging for identification. The pilot was also an opportunity to do a feasibility study regarding additional uses for RFID.

Other technologies

An interesting technology deployed at HyperCITY is the I-Scan (Symbol Technologies-New York) that allows the customer to scan merchandise as they pick products off-the-shelf, thus saving them significant amount of shopping time. Once he finishes shopping, the customer can hand the device over to the customer service desk and cash-out quickly.

The I-Scan hardware supports applications such as inventory scanning, price check, self-check, self-check-out PoS and warehousing receiving.

IP surveillance is picking up steam. With IP cameras going for as low as Rs 7,000, the technology is ripe for deployment. CIOs can use it to monitor remote locations over a LAN or the Internet. R Mall uses D-Link’s IP surveillance cameras. D-Link has two more advanced IP based Video Surveillance Cameras from their SecuriCam range, the DCS-6620 and DCS-6620G (Wireless) with 10X Optical Zoom. The cameras feature dual Codec support, a 10X optical zoom lens, built-in microphone and low-light sensitivity for nighttime surveillance.