The IT crowd

Technology has changed the way that every one of us lives our lives, and the retail environment is no exception.

Independent retailers used to be notoriously resistent to epos and internet usage, while in contrast the big chains pushed ahead with their data-driven growth agenda.

Some independents, of course, still resist, but their number is dwindling. And many of the new generation moving into retailing for the first time do so on the back of university educations and a thorough awareness of technology.

I'm not here to make a case about whether you should or shouldn't have epos, but I don't know a single retailer who introduced epos but then went back to the way things used to be. Maybe it's a bit like retail sat nav; you no longer know where you are without it.

The internet is another phenomenon that has the potential to transform retail. Not only is it a useful source of information, it also allows for new ways of doing business, both with your suppliers and your customers.

But what about the local, friendly touch? Doesn't technology undermine this?

Not necessarily. Done well, technology can help local stores be more local, not less. I was reading recently about Facebook Deals, a new scheme whereby shoppers can claim benefits such as money off their purchases or a free coffee by logging onto Facebook on their mobile phone and showing the device to the store staff. And symbol groups are increasingly looking at home shopping and loyalty card solutions, which are necessarily underpinned by solid technology.

All of these developments are potentially great for independent stores, making it easier for consumers to shop locally without having to drive to the multiples. So are you in with the IT crowd? If not, maybe it's time to start thinking that way.

A small window of hope

The Scottish government's decision to delay the October 1 implementation of the tobacco display ban is a welcome drop of common sense in an ocean of nonsense.

Provoked as it was by legal delays rather than a legislative change of heart, it's nothing to get too excited about at this stage, but it is potentially significant as it might trigger the other national assemblies and the UK government to follow suit.

It also gives the trade another focus for its lobbying activity. So say it loud at every opportunity you get: the tobacco display ban is expensive nonsense all cost and no benefit. And if politicians need more time to think it through, a UK-wide delay will be the most sensible thing.