Surfing the 6th Wave

Most of us will have been happy this past week to see rising pressure from Elon Musk and others to the UN to  ensure that we never make Terminator a reality by weaponising artificial intelligence. Personally, If Microsoft’s Twitter bot has had any impact I think we should keep it away from the internet too!

Have no doubt, robots are already here. In 1996, Deep Blue was able to beat a grandmaster chess champion by thinking further ahead than could be possible from a human. Just last year, Google’s Alpha Go beat the world champion at Go. The reason behind the 20 year gap comes down to Moore’s law and a little bit of science fiction.

 

Moore’s Law

In 1965, Gordon Moore predicted that computing power would continue to increase two-fold roughly every two years. Since that point it has proven its accuracy. A clear example can be found in memory cards which have rapidly progressed from Kilobytes to Gigabytes over the last 20 years.

In chess, there can be an average of 35 possible moves per turn, in Go this increases to around 250. This means in contrast, thinking 5 moves ahead would take over 18,000 times more processing power for Go than for Chess. At 20 moves, this increases to nearly 120 Quadrillion times. This meant that to have any kind of foresight would take massive amounts of computational power, but even with Moore’s law, the same Brute-force method used for chess would be unattainable in Go for decades.

 

A little bit of Sci-Fi

Aside from exponential computing power, we have also started to use that computing power to develop machine learning algorithms. By setting objectives for programs, we are essentially able to write programs that write themselves. For Alpha Go, this meant playing itself to narrow down it’s options to the most appropriate moves in each situation – in effect, it programmed itself with the required experience to beat grandmasters.

This is just one example, Google has been training their machine learning algorithms to deal with a range of scenarios based on set parameters. This objective rather than hard-coded approach to robotics means that the applications are limitless. Combine this with the development of neural networks and soon we will be looking at robots which can identify their environments and act accordingly, acting in an office as self-driving cars do on the road.

 

Robotics

In terms of real world applications, Boston Dynamics is as close as they come. Their quadrupedal robots have proven themselves durable enough to work in the field capable of overcoming both rough terrain and a swift boot to the side. More recent developments are capable of lifting and jumping unaided while balancing on two wheels.

Other developments within robotics have seen robots which can work as a hive-mind to solve problems, spider-bots which can learn to walk again after having limbs disabled and robots which can demonstrate “hand-eye” co-ordination superior to humans.

 

What’s Next?

Broad technological developments in this manner have always generated a wave of innovation across the board. The economist Nikolai Kondratieff recognised similar trends with the inventions of hydro power, steam and then electricity.

Schumpeter later discovered that these innovation shifts were actually increasing in frequency. Arguably as each wave precipitated the development of the next through increases in idea transmission and resources.

Industrial revolutions have always displaced labour as soon it has become economical to do so. Windmills replaced human power; looms replaced human dexterity; cars replaced Horses; electronics displaced elevator operators and vast swathes of clerical staff have been made redundant by data processing software.

This next development then, the start of technology capable of making rational judgement, surely spells the end for work as we know it. As with all technologies, the more it is used, the better it is funded, the greater the growth and the more applications will open up. As more variables can be understood, quantified and compensated for, artificial intelligence and its infinite simulations of logic may yet prove to surpass our own abilities.

How long then until a machine is capable of picking and packing an order in a warehouse scenario? How far are we really from completely automated marketing, which knows more about our habits and preferences than would be economical for a salesperson to know? How far are we from a machine that can supervise other machines?

 

Conclusions

It is certain that the next few decades will foresee drastic shifts in how we work. The allocation not just of resources but of human labour will surely pose the next big questions for economists of the future. It is likely that social skills will prove the last hurdle for machine learning as we emerge from the uncanny valley; until then, it can’t hurt to know how likely you are to be replaced in the next 20 years.

What

In the world of the bland, the one I.P. is king

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Industry today is a far cry away from the days of Henry Ford’s famous quote “You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black”. Consumerism has developed to the point where every niche is catered for, every permutation explored and every conceivable service delivered.

Through the introduction of e-commerce, any product developed anywhere has the potential for a worldwide audience. The result for some of our old brick and mortar institutions has been devastating. Woolworths, Blockbuster and HMV all suffered cataclysmic failures because their respective markets evolved around them. But what does that say of the competitors that are left?

At the dawn of trading, commerce depended on what Aristotle called a coincidence of wants. For the efficient allocation of resources, there was a degree of chance that the leatherworker required grains as the farmer required shoes. Even once banknotes were introduced as a low-weight commodity surrogate, inefficiencies were still harboured as the perceived credit risk of the banks would impact their trading value.

Today, we have no such issues, and as of 2018, even card payment fees are to be removed. Truly, we are entering a period of legitimately free trade, at least on our own shores. This means less inefficiency throughout the market mechanism, which is driving us further towards exponential growth.

If not then on convenience and pricing, where do businesses now compete? How is value added to a service to effectively differentiate one provider from the next? To put it simply, there are two paths to follow: Novelty or Nostalgia.

Novelty for years has been achieved through technological advances. Elon Musk has made waves in backing for Tesla, Space X and the Hyperloop. Kickstarter.com has shown us that even unknown and inexperienced entrepreneurs can encourage punters to part with their hard-earned cash on the promise of a new idea.

Nostalgia is arguably much more selectively available. While many UK caravan parks and smaller attractions benefit from the annual family trip, this pales in comparison to the huge draw of intellectual property from the likes of Disney, Universal Studios and Legoland.

Effect of IP on Merch 2016

Source: James Kennard & Natalia Bakhlina, IAAPA,  September 2016 

Whilst TV and film are excellent mediums for storytelling and building emotional connections, there are missing steps between viewership and merchandise sales. As any NLP practitioner will say, there must be a change to a kinesthetic mindset before a customer is willing to make a purchase.

According to a report by PWC, one of the latest trends for the attractions sector is the forging of partnerships with intellectual property owners. Peppa Pig, Sonic the Hedgehog, Angry Birds and Thomas the Tank Engine all appear in theme parks across the UK, with Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animations currently negotiating IP agreements in Kent.

By reinforcing the immersive worlds of the IP developers, attractions are able to embolden their own offerings through emotional resonance – leading to gains in trust, perceived value and market penetration. For the IP owners, this is a great way to see their creations come to life, to reinforce their own fan-base and to make  the next step towards merchandise sales.

It’s no coincidence of wants that in the last decade Disney has bought both Star Wars and Marvel, while Netflix has produced Marvel TV shows and another Star Trek reboot. Nor is it any wonder why Angry Birds, who have arguably mastered the microtransaction have branched out into theme parks, film and TV for further exposure. Keen to gain renown, Halifax has even eschewed its own star Howard Brown in favour of Hanna Barbera classics Top Cat and The Flintstones; while Howard Brown himself recently starred in a cameo for Hotels.com.

We’re certainly entering strange times in terms of intellectual property, and it seems unlikely that Skeletor and He-Man will be the last classic characters to be reemployed in vastly different roles to which they are accustomed. Collaboration these days is every bit as important as technological advancement. To return to Henry Ford, “If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”.

Top Summer Tips for Visitor Attractions!

With summer coming up, visitor attractions are going to be extremely busy. Schools are out, students have graduated and families will be taking a well deserved break. But with all this chaos, how can you keep your customers happy at this busy time of the year?

Check out Merlinsoft’s top tips for summer!

Visitor Data
Being able to capture your customers’ data when they visit is an integral part of keeping customers happy. It will not only help your business to grow but having the ability to analyse areas where more attention is needed makes it easier. It is necessary to keep in contact with your customers, especially existing customers. You can recover email addresses so that you can send in offers, promotions, upcoming events and much more. Keeping in regular contact with your customers is important and can help to increase numbers. Being able to gather data from your tickets and memberships means you can create happy customers and improve your business.

Online
Nowadays, people prefer to book online. They like to be able to order in advance so as to not have to wait in long queues. If you are able to give your customers this option it means that again, your customers are happier and it also means that you are increasing your secondary spend. More money can then be pumped around your attraction for the well being of your customers. Online gives more options to your customers, and that’s giving them what they want. Options. You are able to retrieve data from this as well, and see how your online sales match up to your in-house ones. Give your customers an incentive to book online, it may be that it is 10% cheaper, or they receive an extra feature within the attraction.

Mobile
Being able to queue bust is an important factor when it comes to visitor attractions. You want to make sure your customers are not always waiting in lines to get in and out. Having mobile options will help this. Being able to use tablets and phones to scan and redeem tickets means cutting down time. Customers are more than happy to use their mobile phones for tickets or print off their e-tickets which are sent to them directly when they book online. This saves time on printing and makes it easier to separate queues and cut down. Using tablets means that your employees can walk around helping your customers when they arrive and being able to use the system at the same time. It’s convenient.

Marketing
Marketing is an essential part in making sure your customers are returning time and time again. It can be done in several ways, but being subtle about it can be difficult. You don’t want to be hounding your customers so that they get annoyed. Having the options to be able to promote events on the bottom of receipts, on the back of tickets and an extra parts in emails. This is something they may not think they see consciously but in reality it is there when they think about events and dates. It also acts as a reminder and helps to cut down marketing emails everyday, and many people choose to opt out of this option.

Kiosks
Kiosks provide a quick and easy way for customers to buy tickets without the need for queueing too long. Visitors are able to purchase their own tickets without the need of a member of staff, which is very useful at busy periods. Not only this, but it comes with fully integrated ticket printing facilities and a chip and pin for instant payments. Having this option, provides more staff to be in other busy areas and offers ease of convenience to your customers when they like to pay on the day.

 
Merlinsoft Ltd are able to help you provide all of the above to your customers and more. Merlin is constantly evolving and provides an integrated solution for online ticketing and venue management. Call us for more information on 01226 294413 or email sales@merlinsoft.co.uk

Cyber Security

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On Friday, 12th May 2017 a global cyber-attack hit 150 countries including the UK. 47 NHS organisations were affected in England and 13 in Scotland, creating widespread chaos and confusion.

This recent event has made people question their own cyber security measures and whether they are able to prevent such attacks. It is useful to take precautions when storing important data on your systems, no matter how small or big.

Below are some simple and easy tips you can do to protect your machines from any future viruses.

Update

Every piece of software you use will have some security issues, it’s inevitable. Windows, Chrome, Firefox, Adobe, Internet Explorer and so on. A lot of these operating systems and programs have automatic updates which is recommended you leave these on. From a security perspective, keeping your computer up-to-date will keep it safe from online threats. I understand that updates can be very annoying, however, for the sake of protecting your data I think it is a worthy compromise.

Antivirus and Anti-Malware

It doesn’t matter which one you have, you must use it regardless. Windows Defender, which is a built in firewall for Windows is a perfect, free and simple program to use. Anti-Malware programs can help to assist with the antivirus and are also recommended. When set up properly, these firewalls protect your computer files from being scanned.

Passwords

You need to make sure you are using strong passwords. This is vital, people nowadays use the same passwords for everything, which makes it very easy for anyone to hack into your systems and get a hold of your data. You need to have a separate password for everything, you also need to make sure your password isn’t obvious. A good password will have a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. This doesn’t just go for accounts etc. this means passwords to your laptop, computer and phone. Last but not least, always change your passwords on a regular basis.

Emails

Be well aware of phishing emails, even from people you know. They may have a virus themselves. Never click on a link in an email, if you want to investigate further, copy and paste the link into notepad and examine the address. If the email states that it is “google.com” however the actual link address says “google.clickme.com”. This is suspicious, and you should not open it.

Downloads and Pop-Ups

Any programs or software you download must be done from a well-known, trustworthy site. For example, if you need to download Adobe Flash, go to the official Adobe website and download it from there. Do not click on any other advertisements or banners saying that they can be downloaded. Always stick to those that are secure. The same goes for pop-ups; do not click on any that request you to download any programs you think you may already have. You might get a pop-up from a website asking you to update google chrome, do not click on this. Double check on your google chrome browser settings for updates, and update it from there.

Back-Up

You should be backing up your data on a regular basis. Monthly back-ups are a good idea, even if it means doing this on an external hard drive or USB. It is easier to retrieve the data if lost or stolen. Keep this back-up of data separate from your computer or laptop, just in case anything is taken. You may already know this, but you must never leave your laptop/phone/tablet unattended in public. It is so easy for someone to get a hold of it. At most, they have your expensive laptop (if you have followed all the protocols above they shouldn’t be able to hack your password). Although, if you leave it logged on, you have literally given the public access to your private, personal data. Please BE AWARE.

How much do you know about Merlinsoft?

You may know us as a company that provides products and services, but how much do you really know about what we do, what we can do and who we are.

Did you know?

Merlinsoft is a family run business whose core values stem from respecting one another. We work in a warm and friendly environment which means that the work we do can be done comfortably and efficiently. We value our employees just as much as our customers.

Did you know?

Merlinsoft is built up of over 30 years of retail experience! We have teams of retail professionals who are dedicated to enhancing Merlin®. Our Sales Director has written a formal publication (‘You don’t get many drugs for a cauliflower’) which covers all aspects of a retail business and how to thrive and survive in an ever changing industry. You can buy this here: http://merlinsoft.merlintickets.co.uk/product/YOUDONTGETMANY

Did you know?

Merlinsoft Ltd produced the very first EPOS touch screen retail terminal in 1995 which could be wall mounted. This product won international acclaim as well as awards from Barnsley Chamber of Commerce and the Millennium Awards programme for Innovation.

Did you know?

Merlinsoft is international! We have customers in Oman and Spain. Being able to branch out into a wider market has helped us to expand our company immensely.

Did you know?

We update the software on a regular basis for our customers so that there are more functions and features available. Customer requests helps us to move forward within the competitive market and we have come a long way since the original Merlin®.

Did you know?

We at Merlinsoft have been creating step-by-step user guides to help our customers become comfortable in using the software. We want to make sure that our customers are getting the most out of their system. We even take on requests! If you feel like you need a guide on a certain aspect of Merlin®, please do tell us.

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Merlinsoft Newsletters!

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Starting in February 2017, we have launched a monthly newsletter for all our customers. Packed with updates, events, tips and exclusives. These newsletters will inform our customers on our activities, help you to understand the software better and also gain as much support as you can.

Our newsletter will be informing you of the newest upgrades to our software, what’s in the new releases and what we are working on for the future. Subscribing to our mailing list will enable you to receive these monthly updates and access all the information required.

We’ll also be introducing our new webinars; aimed at giving free, informative and interactive discussions to our Merlin customers to ensure you get the most from your EPOS, Back Office, Online and Charity system. Each Webinar will be on a specific topic or theme and can be registered in advance using our own ticketing platform.

In addition to this, we have been busy creating online user guides and videos to help you get the most out of your system. these are located here https://merlinsoft.zendesk.com/hc/en-us and we’ll be adding more regularly. If you have any requests then let us know and we’ll create a guide for you.

In the newsletter we’ll be listing all our next major events including the Business Showcase at the Doncaster Racecourse on the 16th February 2017 and the Museum and Heritage Exhibition in London on the 17th and 18th May 2017. Both exhibitions involve great networking opportunities, exposure and means to showcase the company. If you’d like to book a time slot with us to have some personal one on one time and a run through of the Merlin system then book here: http://merlinsoft.merlintickets.co.uk/

We’ll also be showcasing our customers each month. If you have any news, special events or just want a bit of free promo, then let us know and e-mail us with some copy and any images you’d like to use and we’ll publish you on our blog and in our newsletter. Email neelam@merlinsoft.co.uk to be featured.

7 Key Impacts of Brexit on the Retail Sector

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On Friday, 24th June 2016 the U.K. had voted for Britain to exit the European Union and in many ways this was met with great disbelief. The impact of this decision created uncertainty amongst everyone within and outside of the U.K. Since the vote, there has been many plans about where this will lead us and what the government should do.

One of the main areas that will be affected by Brexit is the Retail industry. It not only depends on consumers from within the country but also many more from outside. So, how has it affected this sector?

Below is a list of 7 key impacts that all retail companies will be facing in the near future.

  1. Fragile Consumer Confidence

    After the vote, political uncertainty resulted in the dampening of consumer confidence. Consumer confidence is considered the 1“driver of the retail sector’s fortunes” and that the “psychology of the consumer is critical”. Without the consumer, there is no business. It’s as simple as that.

  1. Business Plans

    This sense of uncertainty also leads to the fact that companies are unable to make concrete business plans for the future. They are reliant on the government to sort issues before they can take any sort of action.

  1. Import Costs

    A lot of retailers tend to buy most of their goods overseas, paying in dollars and thus resulting in a higher risk. These retailers will be severely impacted by increased import costs due to the devaluation of the pound.

  1. Exchange Rates

    Due to the costs of goods purchased overseas rising, this means that there will be less favourable exchange rates. This then creates the decision whereby retailers must either increase their prices to consumers to create a more competitive environment or absorb the loss into margins. This is increasingly difficult for those smaller retailers.

  1. Labour Supply

    Due to the restraining of migration, the retail sector would be short on supply of labour. Even though the retail sector does not depend upon cheap labour, it does however look for specialists in the European market. These restrictions would result in a limited supply of the talent pool.

  1. Positive Opportunities

    There are a few positives to come out of this; most of which come from consumers. One of these is that consumers will always continue to shop, there is a need for it. The exit of the European Union may encourage consumers of the importance of provenance. Furthermore, there will be an increase in demand of online international customers who seek and take advantage of the weak pound.

The UK exit was “…slow to emerge and probably less dramatic than we have been led to believe in the heat of the Project Fear..” (Martin Hayward)

1 Martin Hayward – Hayward Strategy and Futures

Merlinsoft’s Top Ten Retail Selling Tips

2017-01-18

Sales is an essential part of businesses, even more so within retail companies. It involves a lot of face-to-face communication between clients/customers and salespeople. Being able to provide customers with their recommendations and or needs is crucial for salespeople. Listening to the customer is imperative especially in retail environments where complex solutions are involved. Below, Merlinsoft has written ten top tips for being able to sell successfully within the retail sector.

Top Ten:

  1. Appearance is key.

    Taking care in how you look to your customers is important. Customers notice this; they remember how you present yourself and this shows you in a positive light. You’re more likely to look like a distinguished salesperson if you dress the part.

  1. You are providing a service.

    You are there to serve. Do not forget this. You are not doing the customer a favour, do not act above them. Without them, you would not have a business or job. Show them some respect too. You’re more likely to gain it back too, and you never know if you don’t sell anything there and then you may do later. They’ll remember the ‘nice’ salesperson.

  2. Don’t always go for the easy sell.

    If you keep selling the products/services that are easy you won’t be able to ever sell anything else. It’s easy to sell something that’s on offer; it will practically sell itself. Don’t waste your time on it.

  1. Human interaction.

    It may seem like a given, but making a friend in your customer is no bad thing. Build a rapport with them, it doesn’t even have to be to do with what you’re selling. You never know they may need you for a service or have connections that do. Either way, you’ve gained a friend that may help you in the future. The idea is not to alienate or intimidate the customer.

  1. Be Honest.

    People already have a perception of salespeople being dishonest, due to the competitive nature of the job. Not only this, customers are clever enough to know if you are being dishonest with them; do not underestimate them. If you are honest, they will feel like they can trust you and therefore more like to buy.

  1. Maximise sales.

    Once the customer has agreed on an item, it is not considered bad nature to add-on, up-sell or cross-sell. The idea is to be honest again, and to sell items that provide value. If you can understand what the customer wants; you can gear to selling them something that will make them feel better about their purchase. Something they may never have known about.

  1. Go the Extra Mile.

    Be persistent without being pushy. Make sure you are diligent on your pre-sale and follow-up. Making small, consistent and personalised contact will go a long way and this is something that customers will appreciate.

  1. Read your customers.

    It Is important, when making the sale, that you can pay attention to the customer’s behaviour. Being able to make adjustments in your technique based on the personality type of the customer is a quality that salespeople must have.

  1. Don’t Act Desperate.

    Don’t throw a million and one offers on the table that the customer has no interest or need in. You are selling them something that should make their lives better and this should reflect in your attitude also.

  1. Challenge their perceptions.

    Learn your product well. A customer may not be fond of your product from a previous supplier or due to lack of technology. However, you can change their opinion by telling them about the product which was updated and may suit their needs better than before. It’s up to the salesperson to challenge the perceptions of the customers.

Top Ten Ways to Improve your Working Environment

Every year people talk about new beginnings, resolutions and ways to better themselves. This year, as company, we have taken on board this idea and moved to a new office. To celebrate our expansion we have written our top 10 tips for creating a better working environment.

Merlinsoft’s Top Ten:

  1. Every employee has a say

Being able to communicate freely and openly with both your colleagues and managers is an important aspect in any company.

  1. No ideas are stupid ideas

All ideas and suggestions are welcome.

  1. Regular meetings

Having regular meetings helps to improve things on a business front as well as sorting internal matters.

  1. Regular breaks

Having regular breaks helps to boost energy and focus. Never sit at the desk all day.

  1. Social events

Social events outside of work are important, helps to bring down barriers at work.

  1. Open-door policy

Managers who have an open-door policy encourage friendly communication and also ensure transparency between managers and workers.

  1. Natural lighting

Having windows and natural light in the office directly contributes to the amount of energy and sleep employees get. This is important.

  1. Office clean and attractive

Having a clean and attractive office helps to motivate employees as well as helping them to take pride in their work.

  1. Healthy competitions

Having internal competitions makes it fun for employees, especially if they get rewards. Increasing morale is a major factor in businesses.

  1. Attending further educational courses

Being able to attend courses whilst working gives the employee an opportunity to improve and it shows them management encourages this.

Santa’s Little Helper

2016-12-05Tis’ the season to be jolly! Christmas is a celebration for most, being around friends and family celebrating in different ways. But what do we dread the most about Christmas? Shopping! It can be frustrating trying to get through hundreds of other shoppers, thinking about those picky gifts to get and balancing several bags between two hands. But do you ever think about retailers and what they must have to go through to make sure their customers are happy at this busy time of year? Making sure they have items in store, making sure everything is working right, keeping a smile on their face, keeping in time with deliveries etc. It’s a lot of hard work and it can be even harder if retailers do not have the right systems in place. Retailers need to be prepared weeks in advanced, maybe months.

A vital part of a retailers business is the management of stock. Every retailer knows the importance of this and they spend weeks making sure everything is up to date and ready for the festive season but even then shoppers are unpredictable. They can still run out of items and need more stock as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this becomes difficult when customers become disappointed which is something retailers hope to never experience.

So how can retailers keep up with the madness that is Christmas? Retail technology!

Retailers need a fully integrated and adaptable EPOS system in order to manage their business efficiently and effectively. These systems provide ample opportunities to grow and manage.

The system allows retailers to cut queues and waiting times, and therefore speed up transactions. The system can have permissions whereby only specific functions can be available to certain employees; this prevents the risks of human error especially during busy times. The system also allows you to keep an accurate track of sales and stock and therefore have access to extensive reports which is useful in the long run.

The stock management is easier as the system notifies you when the stock is low and can produce an automatic re-order from your preferred supplier. Being able to manage everything from one system and database is a major advantage when it comes to running the business successfully. In addition to this, having an integrated website will improve and further increase sales and demand. Many companies have online catalogues and or have the ability to sell items online which is possible using a capable EPOS system.

This is also the same with visitor attractions at Christmas too, even Santa can’t see every child in a day (apart from Christmas day of course) and although tickets aren’t stock items, they are usually stock restricted. The best way to manage the flood of visitors would be to set and stagger times throughout the day. Then 2000 visitors aren’t going to demand to see Santa at the same time and all complain that the queues are too long. Set intervals every half hour and ease the flow of visitors, also allowing online pre-booking then you know exactly who and what to expect on the day.

MerlinSoft Ltd can provide all of the above and more. Its system is designed to withstand busy periods and make old complex methods effortless. Merlin is constantly evolving with our in house developers able to meet demands for new developments as our customers need them. We’re not just a provider of retail and attraction software, we’re a partner and work with you to ensure it’s the software you need.