Communications and Technology
From stocking shelves and delivering goods to marketing and advertising, digital tools including point-of-sale (POS) systems, contactless credit cards and a broad range of retail management software are changing the internal and customer-facing aspects of retail.
One of the most effective technological tools improving the efficiency and profitability of retail operations is an integrated point-of-sale (POS) system. Besides increasing the level of operational control, a POS set-up can heighten efficiency at the checkout counter, improve staff productivity, track inventory minute by minute, and help with financial reporting and customer relationship management (CRM) tools.
Specific functions often include printing receipts and coupons, obtaining customer information, calculating various discounts, scheduling work hours and serving as store-to-headquarters email terminals. A basic configuration typically consists of a computer, monitor, cash drawer, receipt printer, and keyboard or scanner.
Self-service POS systems are a popular alternative to traditional cash wrap payment counters. While the required investment is perhaps better suited for larger retail chains, a growing number of consumers are willing to scan and bag their own purchases if doing so seems faster than waiting for a clerk to ring them out.
Another effective use of retail technology is the self-service price verification terminal. By allowing consumers to scan their own items to see the current price, retailers can reduce the costs and time associated with relying on employees to look up or verify prices for customers.
The ability to get the consumer in and out in a timely fashion speaks volumes about an operation's efficiency. Mobile POS devices can definitely improve transaction speed and efficiency by allowing employees to check out customers directly on the sales floor.
In addition, mobile POS systems let employees conduct general retail tasks like shelf price auditing, inventory tracking, checkout, real-time advertising and product information collection. With all of these capabilities at the user's fingertips, workers spend less time hunting for answers, and consumers spend less time waiting for a response.
Similarly, "line-busting" mobile POS devices can be deployed during busy periods to reduce the amount of time customers are waiting to pay for transactions. Some systems allow transactions to be completed while the customer is still in line, while others scan the customer's merchandise and produces a single bar-coded receipt for payment at the cash wrap counter.
Mobile POS devices may also include voice communications functionality to help sales staff speak with colleagues. Voice communications are often used for checking inventory, price checks and addressing other common customer service issues.
Popular retail POS software suites and devices are offered by a number of leading technology vendors, including Microsoft, SAP, Kronos, JDA, Vend and others.
Business owners who decide POS is the way to go should gather sufficient information early on to avoid major issues later. The system you're considering should interface with your current accounting software, for example.
The right POS system will allow pricing adjustments, employee tracking, inventory changes and report compilation with relative ease. Ideally, it should work well for existing credit and gift card set-ups. A reputable vendor will be glad to arrange a demonstration to help you make your decision.
Experts suggest the following guidelines:
- Don't sign on the dotted line until you've done your homework. Talk with colleagues who have installed systems and find out what has worked for them. Refer to the Internet for information about POS systems to build a foundation of technical knowledge before you meet with a vendor. Check trade magazines, local newspapers and online publications for the best deals. Finally, consult with several vendors before you finally purchase your POS system.
- Get bang for your buck. Typically, vendors rather than manufacturers sell POS equipment. On the high end, services will include installation, programming and ongoing support.
- Confirm a back-up plan. Though most POS systems are solid, crashes do happen. For this reason, you want to know you can rely on swift, competent service. Vendors should be able to describe their service policies, turnaround time, repair staff qualifications, crisis management strategies (24-hour hotlines or online assistance, for example) and availability of loaner equipment.
- Go over guarantees and warranties carefully. Return and repair policies can vary widely, and some are more generous than others.
Scanning for Logistics Success
Radio frequency identification (RFID) and electronic product code (EPC) tags offer a number of logistical and operational benefits to retailers. By allowing retailers, distributors and manufacturers to track inventory and products more efficiently, RFID helps all participants in the supply chain reduce costs and improve satisfaction. In fact, a large number of the world's major retailers now require RFID tagging.
Much like bar codes, RFID tags identify items, but because they operate on radio waves, do not demand close proximity to scanners.
Wireless RFID scanners, for instance, help production workers identify and manage inventory as soon as it comes off the loading truck. Knowing what's on hand and where it's stored is critical for retailers.
In addition to identifying products to improve inventory management and distribution, RFID provides a valuable safeguard against counterfeit merchandise by allowing retailers to track items directly from the manufacturer. RFID provides a digital chain of custody to help ensure that an unscrupulous distributor is not substituting genuine products for counterfeit or gray market substitutes.
At the individual store level, RFID can also provide a number of potential benefits:
- Product control - Because RFID allows product tracking in any store area, inventory managers can maintain an ongoing record of supplies, thus avoiding overstock and shortages. With a handheld wireless terminal, employees can transmit information back to a central location.
- Quick response - Store personnel can locate RFID-tagged items in seconds. This level of product accessibility allows staff to provide fast answers to customer questions about price, availability and location of goods. Time spent in the checkout line can improve, as well, by reducing the amount of time spent on "price checks" for untagged items.
- Customer service and satisfaction - RFID technology allows retailers to reward loyal shoppers based on their purchasing trends.
Contactless credit cards, a variety of RFID technology, can also improve security by recognizing a payment card that is waved in front of a receiver. A "beep" signals that the transaction has been approved. Besides being convenient and efficient, contactless cards hold encryption software to prevent data theft and duplication.