Leader: Retailers can't afford to ignore IT

IT glitches and supply chain mishaps only alienate customers

IT glitches and supply chain mishaps only alienate customers

The retail sector was hit by yet another tale of IT woe this week, after a major upgrade of electrical retailer Comet's ecommerce website resulted in bungled orders for hundreds of online shoppers.

The store played it down as a "minor" technical glitch and rescued itself somewhat by saying the problem was resolved quickly and that it is contacting all the affected customers. But we have to ask why major high-street retailers are still messing up on basics like this.

Upgrading and testing retail websites is hardly rocket science yet Comet is not alone. Earlier this year DIY store Screwfix also made a hash of its ecommerce operations. Screwfix's creative solution to only being able to fulfil a certain number of orders per day was to simply put a 'closed' sign up on the website once it had reached that number.

After the online store closed customers were not only prevented from buying anything but were also unable to browse the site's catalogue. The fact this is taking place in the ultra-competitive world of online retail where customers can desert you for a rival at the click of a mouse makes the situation even more dire.

Retail IT problems aren't just limited to the web either. Over the past year the empty shelves at Sainsbury's and incomplete orders at MFI have served as perfect illustrations of how not to approach supply chain projects.

Of course it would be unfair to tar the whole retail sector with this brush. There are good practices from the likes of Amazon to Tesco, for instance. The lesson to be learnt is that good IT has been placed at the very core of these businesses - and, frankly, it shows.

With the threat of a high-street recession hanging over retailers' heads, the ability to exploit technology to get ahead of rivals is going to be key - and there certainly isn't going to be room for alienating customers due to poor IT practice and unsightly glitches.