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Why embracing cloud-based communication applications can give retailers a boost – 8x8

28 Aug 2019
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Article by 8x8 Asia Pacific vice president Brendan Maree

Have you commenced migrating your communication applications to the cloud yet?

If not, it’s likely you’re thinking about it.

As challenging economic conditions and subdued consumer spending contrive to keep the Australian retail sector in the doldrums, finding ways to cut costs and improve productivity has never been more important.

It’s a matter of ‘do or die’ for scores of businesses which are only a few sales away from bankruptcy.

In 2018, insolvency firm SV Partners estimated around 1500 local retailers were teetering on the brink, including 260 businesses with turnover greater than $10 million a year.

A recent survey of global telecoms providers by Broadcom found more than half of the organisations they service were expected to have adopted cloud communications by 2020.

In Australia, it’s a trend that’s been gathering pace for several years.

In 2015, Telsyte predicted the Australian market for cloud communications would exceed $650 million by 2020, as businesses swapped inhouse Private Branch Exchange (PBX) equipment for softphones, cloud and mobile apps.

The perception that communications should be viewed as a productivity platform, rather than a cost centre, was helping drive uptake, according to Telsyte.

Here are five reasons cloud communication applications are good for Australian retailers (and even better for the bottom line).

Spend less, do more

For decades, the PBX phone system was the communications backbone in the average retail chain.

It’s technology that’s generally robust, reliable – and basic.

Voice mail and call forwarding represented the extent of the ‘bells and whistles’, with advanced features such as mobile apps and auto attendant capabilities out of reach for the majority.

Move to the cloud and it’s a very different story.

The model affords retailers of modest dimensions access to advanced features, such as remote access, which can have a significant impact on productivity.

Making the switch means spending less and getting more: a compelling value proposition for merchants looking to reduce operational costs and improve the squeeze on margins.

Maintenance-free communication

Not having to purchase and maintain infrastructure is one of the cloud computing model’s key selling points.

Retailers can ditch the in-house data centre, with its high upfront and ongoing costs, in favour of a subscription-based set-up with monthly fees that can be treated as operational expenses.

The merits of a pay-as-you-go model have been demonstrated by many of the digital-first retailers, which are doing brisk business in the face of gloomy market conditions – think the likes of Showpo, Spell & the Gypsy et al.

Typically, these agile operators have eschewed in-house platforms and customised software and opted to base their businesses on third party solutions hosted in the cloud which can be rolled out and enhanced quickly and economically.

The same premise applies when it comes to PBX equipment versus cloud communication applications.

The PBX server, with its attendant maintenance expenses, is replaced by a consistent monthly fee for service, with upgrades and maintenance included in the package.

It’s a vastly simpler way of doing things which can free IT staff up to work on value-adding business initiatives, rather than having to troubleshoot the phones.

Stronger relationships with the supply chain

In many retail organisations, communication with suppliers and distributors was a siloed affair historically.

Key members of management communicated with them primarily via mobile telephone and, more often than not, took the substance of the relationship with them when they moved on.

Cloud communication solutions allow retailers to take control of these relationships and ensure they’re nurtured and maintained, for the benefit of the business.

They can provide improved visibility of communications inside and outside the enterprise; making it possible for replacement employees to slip seamlessly into the role when their predecessors leave or are reassigned.

Scaling to suit

Successful retailers are rarely static in size.

More often than not, they’re in growth mode, expanding their ranges, inking deals with new suppliers and growing their distribution networks.

They need infrastructure and facilities which can scale and that’s just what traditional on-premises telecoms systems can’t do.

Their capacity is finite and retailers which anticipate future growth are required to invest in excess capacity upfront or face the expensive and disruptive prospect of replacing relatively new systems when they outgrow them.

This issue disappears when retailers invest in cloud communications solutions.

They only pay for the capacity they need, and systems can be altered and expanded with ease – some providers even offer self-service models to speed the process.

Unified communications across the enterprise

Back in the day, communication came in two forms – the phone call and the written word. It’s much more complex in 2019, with video conferencing, SMS and group messaging thrown into the mix.

Migrating to the cloud allows retailers to draw these disparate channels together to create a unified communications experience which delivers significant value.

One way this value can be realised is through the use of analytics software to consolidate shared knowledge about customers which can be exploited to enhance the customer experience and boost sales.

Time to act

What was a pioneering move a few short years ago has fast become unremarkable, as Australian companies collectively adopt cloud computing and communication applications across the enterprise.

For retailers, the business benefits of doing so are manifest while the savings generated may give lacklustre bottom lines a much-needed boost.