Change isn’t coming – it’s already here. Our takeaways from the BMF Digital Forum




The regular forums held by the BMF are always an interesting opportunity to hear views and news from the wider industry and the technology forum on 18th May was a great example of this. With presenters from a range of backgrounds speaking on different subjects, a few key themes emerged which we wanted to share with you.


Sustainability is key


With NetZero 2050 targets set to stretch the industry’s collective ingenuity to the max, sustainability remains firmly in the spotlight. BMF CEO John Newcomb highlighted ConstructZero, the construction industry’s plan for reaching carbon emission targets, and urged all merchants, suppliers and service members to take action. It may be easy to look at materials like steel, concrete and bricks as “offenders,” but everyone has a role to play in reducing environmental impact and finding innovative new solutions to improve the way things are done.

The deadline for the next wave of business champions to apply is 14th June. Anyone interested in finding out more should email June.upton@bmf.org.uk


Forum chair Andy Scothern also pointed out the role that big banks play in funding fossil fuel extraction, and urged members to consider switching to banks which don’t support these industries as a practical and easy way to influence change.


Product data standardisation will benefit everyone


We have covered product data before (see our recent blog here) but it was highlighted by so many speakers at this latest forum that it is definitely worth mentioning again.


Firstly Dave Bate from ETIM UK spoke about the growing support for the standardised data format that ETIM provides, and shared the plans for working groups to add more and more product information as time goes on. If you are interested in becoming an ETIM Trailblazer, email dave.bate@bmf.org.uk.


Barry Thorn of Akeneo presented the importance of a good PIM for merchants to feed ERP systems and ensure strong product information on eCommerce platforms and websites. He urged merchants to consider high quality product data as “a key asset to help you unlock the value and potential of the digital journey.” Many brands have fallen by the wayside because they haven’t successfully taken advantage of the opportunities inherent in the digital landscape. If merchants are still using Excel for product information storage they are likely to be missing out on a much smoother and higher quality transfer capability for good quality product data. As he pointed out, “Without good product data, there is no digital transformation.”


And finally on this area Gary Bradshaw from Intact Software discussed the relationship between ERP systems and PIMs, and encouraged merchants to invest in good quality product information management systems to enable efficient internal processes and better ERP performance.


It’s important to recognise that your ERP system fuels a lot more than your eCommerce platform, and good quality product data and more efficient systems will facilitate much better in-branch service, quicker access to information for staff, and a far superior customer experience.


“Digital” doesn’t just mean online – how technology is helping in branch as well


The idea of digital underpinning offline operations segues neatly into another important subject covered by panellist Stewart Fraser, MD at Better Branches.


Better Branches helps merchants to optimise sales opportunities in branch through the use of technology. This involves detailed studies of customer behaviour and psychology to advise merchants on the optimum layout, display, signage and experience to enhance sales. Of course many of the principles translate to online as well, but it was interesting to see how new technologies are boosting traditional channel sales so significantly.


What it boils down to is removing barriers to purchase – making the right products easier to find at the right times, and essentially making it easier to do business. Using planogram software, wifi mapping, virtual reality walkthroughs, visual heatmaps and many other techniques, merchants can arrive at a vastly superior in-branch experience which appeals to all the senses and encourages purchase at more points throughout the customer journey.


And to underline the importance of getting this right, it’s worth nothing that typically, branches see a 40% uplift in basket value once this process has been done, and the exercise will usually pay for itself within 6-12 months, with uplift in sales continuing at a much higher level. Significant results can usually be seen within the first week. Such is the power of truly understanding your customers – and technology is an incredibly powerful tool to do exactly that.


Cloud technology drives efficiencies in all sorts of ways


Chris Fisher from fellow ERP provider ECI outlined many of the benefits and advantages of cloud technology in driving efficiencies across the business. In the last year cloud technology’s role in supporting flexible and remote working has become hugely apparent, but it offers many other advantages to customers as well. Agile, secure and always offering the latest version, cloud ERP is less disruptive and clunky than traditional, on-premise, server-based systems and they usually require less up front investment as well, effectively making them a lower risk proposition for merchants.


As well as extolling the virtues of cloud technologies and digital ERP, Chris Fisher was also adamant about the need for merchants to invest properly in good quality solutions. With eCommerce representing up to 30% of some merchants’ business and a valuable source of new branch customers too, it’s vital to invest in a good quality system that will continue to meet your needs over time and provide the service guarantee to give you complete peace of mind.


The final speaker, Darren House from Grant & Stone, backed up these points and illustrated the enormous impact that a good quality, well-supported digital strategy can have on merchant business. He spoke not only about the enormous opportunity for increasing reach and widening the customer base, but also about the scalable efficiencies made possible across the business by good quality ERP systems and processes.


Modern ERP can integrate very effectively with all manner of third party platforms, from PIM systems to eCommerce platforms and many other user-centric applications beside. It’s yet another reason for merchants to seek out modern architecture in their ERP system and ensure that they are investing in a system that can seamlessly and rapidly evolve to help them keep pace with market trends and customer expectations.


Technology is an enabler


The key message from forum chair Andy Scothern was that technology remains an enabling tool. He reminded the audience that change is not coming – it’s already here, and any merchant resisting digital transformation is going to get left behind. Technology provides the tools to make staff lives easier, customer experiences better and profitability increase in every area of the business.


Yes, a digital strategy takes time and significant investment, but the benefits of doing it properly and investing adequately far outweigh the drawbacks – and the dangers of doing nothing are all too apparent when looking at the number of businesses either struggling or failing altogether through lack of decisive action.


Choose the technology partners who can guide you through the rapidly evolving landscape of digital transformation, and ensure your business has the tools it needs to meet the shifting demands of a changing world.