The Future of Retail: what’s the viability of staff-less sports betting offices?

G3 discusses the practical solutions and technology needed to drive a staff-less environment with our CPO, Yiannis Gangas.

There has been increasing talk of staff-less betting shops being the future of retail gaming. In a staff-less environment, the retail environment would become less of a social space for punters. What would the added advantage be to a customer in a staff-less retail environment that they do not currently enjoy and have access to online?

We live in an increasingly digitised world and our daily lives contain more interactivity with technology than ever before. Shopping, for instance, is all about ‘grab-and-go’ automated payments, with technology replacing cashiers. If giant retailers like Amazon get their way, there will be more to follow.

There’s no reason our industry won’t follow suit. We’re already seeing technology filter down, with self-service betting terminals providing the most visible example. How we display pictures and data is another thing that has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. Moving from there to a completely staff-less environment is a quantum leap, but I’m sure small-scale trials as well as a less-staff environment as an intermediate step are not far away.

Social interaction is a hugely important part of the experience for many however, whether that is with other customers and their friends, or with members of staff, many of whom work in the same shop for years at a time. For many it is one of the biggest draws. We shouldn’t lose sight of the human emotions around betting and the excitement it generates.

It is cheaper and easier for operators to remain online than to adapt for the high street. What is the advantage for operators in maintaining a retail presence?

A retail presence has a number of advantages that are not available online. Social interaction and a trusted service all motivate customers to keep coming back, creating a strong sense of brand loyalty. I see no reason why that will change any time soon. We also have to appreciate that there are a generation of betting shop customers who have very little interest in placing a bet online and find it far easier or more intuitive to use their local shop.

For many people betting shops are also part of the social fabric of their lives and a gathering point for their community. If you want to ensure you stay popular with a significant portion of your customer demographic, keeping the retail channel in place would certainly be a good start.

When it comes to today’s digital-first world, there are plenty of tools offering a wealth of untapped opportunities for operators. This is especially the case when it comes to marketing and promotional outreach for today’s digitally connected customer, making the bricks-and-mortar channel ideal for encouraging impulsive buys. Some of the savvier operators out there already know this and are focusing heavily on delivering omni-channel experiences that allow them to benefit from the best of both worlds. 

Is it safe for people to bet in a staff-less environment? Without people physically being in the shop, what solutions are there to prevent problem gambling, underage gambling and alcohol-influenced betting?

On a small-scale, with a targeted presence, a staff-less environment could be safe, convenient and enjoyable betting experience. However, as a blanket operation across all retail locations, the lack of in-store staff when it comes to expertise and problem solving cannot be replaced. It should be a ‘horses for courses’ solution.

The social and sentimental value associated with the presence of a friendly member of staff isn’t something you find on a spreadsheet or computer instruction manual and I’m definitely not an advocate of such radical change. Technology is changing the face of retail and today’s betting experience needs a combination of both tech and the human touch. I predict an intermediate less-staff store may very likely become the future as per the likes of IBM, Intel and Mastercard. The future of retail gaming is all about omni-channel and delivering a bespoke service to suit each betting environment.

How will operators be able to display the latest odds and schedule promotions in a staff-less retail environment?

Mobile apps along with centralised management systems will have a key part to play here. They’ve been the main driver behind the staff-less concept that we’re seeing take place in other sectors, such as with Amazon and Ali Express. The automation that is part and parcel of that process can also be adopted in the world of betting and gaming. Everything from powerful content management systems (CMS) to next-gen self-service betting terminals (SSBTs) are all designed to offer a digitised experience that presents the latest content, odds, data and betting promotions.

Our CONNECT platform has been designed with this in mind. As a one-stop-shop for data and picture content management and publishing, apart from powering our betting channels, it also manages all content delivery to the shops’ screens, the players’ mobile betting apps as well as the SSBTs. Not only does it allow our partners to keep their players updated with the very latest betting information, but it also ensures they are constantly engaged with top-quality, action packed content.  Alongside, our modern FLAVOR suite of SSBTs provide a fully digitised and completely cashless retail experience, giving operators the complete toolset required for building the retail environment of the future.

Gaming is becoming increasingly cashless. How will retailers adapt if over the counter (OTC) transactions are no longer a viable option? Is this a positive thing for the industry?

Retail betting brings in a fantastically diverse spectrum of customers, and if operators are to compete for people’s leisure spend during these challenging times on the high street, they must offer a wide choice to cater to different demographics while staying lean.

Customers will want to use the technology available to place their bets more easily. This technology is available in other retail experiences they enjoy, so it makes sense our industry should endorse it where appropriate too. What is clear, however, is that tech-savvy customers want to be able to use the variety of the new payment methods available to them wherever they are making their transactions, and as providers we need to ensure they are there for them, whatever their preference. We have developed our FLAVOR suite of SSBTs with this in mind, unlocking a cashless world full of opportunities, bundled with both card and mobile payment options.

However, while gaming may be becoming increasingly cashless, I also believe there will always be a place for cash in the in-shop environment. Our research tells us that at the moment the majority of customers like to feel the cash in their hand and collect their payout after a well-earned win on the horses, dogs or virtual games. Whether that is still the case in few years’ time remains to be seen. What is important for now is to recognise that customers want their user experience to be as simple and convenient as possible, and we must provide customers with that choice. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

A quarter of UK betting shops have been slated for closure following restrictions cutting the maximum stake of FOBTs from £100 per spin to £2. What is the future for betting terminals?

The retail industry needs to adapt to keep its dominant position, and there are many ways it can, both by meeting the evolving demands of the next demographic and by reducing the cost of operation. A new generation of customer wants their user experience to be as interactive, exciting and frictionless as possible, and it’s the industry’s job to deliver.

If retail operators can capture that demand and bring the best of digital into the retail space, the fallout from FOBTs will quickly become a thing of the past. A new breed of self-service solutions is now live, such as our FLAVOR terminals, offering the potential to remodel the retail customer journey as we know it. Unlike any other SSBT offerings on the market our self-service terminals are compact, cashless and convenient, not only for the customer but for the operator, too. With no need to invest in or find space for large cabinets, it offers the opportunity to create the digitised in-shop experience the modern customer craves, servicing a far broader demographic in betting shops.

Exciting live action is also an essential proponent of the retail offering and our live betting channels meet that demand. Customers thrive on live sports and racing, and the better the quality of data and content you provide, the more engaged they will be. This blends the speed and efficiency of futuristic betting devices with the thrill of top-quality action and a cashless betting environment, providing customers with a genuine digitised retail journey.

Innovative new technology has flooded the retail sector, particularly mobile-first solutions. How have operators reacted?

For operators, it’s all about omni-channel. Delivering a digitised betting experience, especially when it comes to mobile in-store, is a great way of targeting customers both old and new. Those who have capitalised on this early are already reaping the rewards. Bridging the best of offline and online has proven to be an excellent asset for enhancing overall brand awareness and customer loyalty. We expect to see plenty more getting in on the action soon enough.

However, operators should be warned, innovation for innovation’s sake should be handled with care. Omni-channel is not a silver bullet when it comes to retail’s re-vitalisation, and no matter what alternative you offer, many demographics will already be happy with their preferred gaming channel. Whether that be for online, in-shop or in the digitised middle ground, operators need to get the basics of delivering the customer UX right first.

How will the gap between the retail betting and payments experience be bridged? How do you keep players engaged in such an environment?

Modern consumers want a seamless retail experience personalised to them. Hand in hand with that is the need for a fast and convenient transactional experience. Today’s customers consider betting to be time-critical, whether that be for in-play or a myriad of other betting options. The payments experience needs to be in line with this, and third-party payment providers (such as digital wallets) will have a key part to play in this increasing need for fast delivery. Our SSBTs are specifically targeting that need, utilising the latest in cashless and mobile payment solutions while also providing data and picture content to our partners, all customised to the need of the local audiences.

In my view, cracking the need for speed as part of this digitised, in-store convenience is set to be a major part of retail’s re-vitalisation. Payments technology such as digital wallets will reduce the ‘clunky’ element of extra steps in the betting process. Not only will it give players the freedom to spend more time lining up their bets, but it will also ensure that players receive their winnings fast, which means they can then place another bet.

What is your vision for the retail gaming market in 2020 and beyond?

I believe the retail gaming market has an exciting future. For the first time in the industry, we’re able to provide a one-of-a-kind digitised retail experience thanks to advances in technology. It is already proving to be a real hit. At Vermantia, we believe that blending the speed and efficiency of futuristic devices with the thrill of top-quality content in a cashless betting environment is the key to the future of retail betting. From bespoke betting channels bundled with action-packed live sports and racing content, to the next generation of self-service betting solutions, operators will be able to attract a far broader range of customers to their shops than ever before. We’re looking forward to helping them deliver that and more.



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