How Can Retailers Provide a Cohesive Brick-and-Mortar and Online Experience?

While cyber sales have started to overshadow window shopping, retailers cannot neglect their brick-and-mortar locations. As the e-commerce boom continues, retailers should focus on their competitive advantage—being able to provide superior customer service—to create a seamless brand to customer experience. By finding that leg-up to co-exist with online sales and mobile shopping, retailers can control the brand image that resonates with customers.

Let’s take a look at the most recent holiday shopping season, where sales account for between 20 and 40 percent of typical retailers’ total annual sales. Although one quarter of Americans surveyed said they never miss or usually visit at least one store on Black Friday, in-store sales were down by 3 percent, or $1.7 billion. However, the season wasn’t a total flop: online shoppers—a record breaking 66 million—were accountable for $1.2 billion in retail sales, up 15 percent over last year (National Retail Foundation).

Taking this consumer behavior into consideration, retailers are working to create a seamless experience when conducting business and serving customers, meaning:  streamlining where inventory can be searched, bought, returned and exchanged; brand planning and merchandising; and sales support and branding all under one roof: enter the omni-channel experience.

Consumers don’t see the walls that retailers are trying to break down as different channels; they only interpret the ease or enhancement retailers are making to benefit their shopping experience—and compare this experience to others that may be lacking these advancements. Retailers who were asked to assess the value of multi- vs. single-channel customers yielded conclusive feedback: consumers that connect with retailers via multiple selling channels are more profitable than ones who don’t.

It’s clear retailers recognize the need for a strong omni-channel offering, however those surveyed identified that not even a single operational process has been fully synchronized. So now that it’s established that merging the digital and physical selling worlds to create enterprise-wide visibility and exude one seamless customer experience is key, the question is: how?

People, processes and technology are all needed to break down these retail barriers and transform store-only models into a new-age brand experience. Agility is a key component to long term success in today’s retail landscape, and implementing new ideas and technology, while training employees to understand it all, can be difficult. Almost every function on the retail floor has some impact or dependency on technology in the data center. By adopting a centralized, command center approach under a single provider’s care, retailers can begin their transition into an omni-channel offering. Cost-effective service desk and support systems for various in-store technologies are able to support thousands of store locations worldwide and manage a wide range of vendors, and exponentially more products.

Employees can assist customers and provide a hands-on experience, while the command center can perform some of the following tasks to keep stores, inventory, planning and merchandising streamlined across all channels.

  • Consolidate in-store technology, such as POS systems and scanners; technology management; incident management and service all under a single provider’s support and care.

  • Proactively monitor in-store technology to keep availability high and mitigate potential breakdowns before they occur

  • Handle all administration, maintenance, system upgrades and patches

  • Available via a hotline for store employees to call if something goes wrong with an in-store system, such as a POS malfunction or a kiosk with a frozen screen

Over the past five years we’ve seen the number of retailers who operate in multiple channels double, so it’s apparent that mastering the omni-channel operation is not a luxury, but a necessity to survive in the retail industry. Upon initial implementation of a command center, we’ve seen the number of technological issues per store per month decrease by 50 percent. From an ongoing, monitoring standpoint, we’ve seen these issues reduced per store by at least an additional 15 percent—across thousands of stores within a chain.

As the adoption of a command center will help move your store forward with immediate fixes like POS malfunctions/upgrades and consolidated technology, a bigger picture solution will need to be applied in the future. By breaking the cycle of comparing online shopping vs. catalogue vs. in-store shopping, the brand’s channels will dissolve into a centralized seamless shopping experience.

Once a store can successfully operate as an omni-channel operation, phase two begins, which includes analyzing the aggregated data from these channels to create a 1:1 relationship with your customer. This means knowing your customers’ preferences, how they like to be communicated with, mobility options, how to promote sales or relevant purchases, payment preferences, and more.

First comes the omni-channel experience, and then comes leveraging big data to create a meaningful customer relationship. Despite technological advances, the bottom line is that brick-and-mortar retailers are here to stay, and now is the time for retailers to act. A command center has many benefits to a retailer as illustrated above, but technology is rapidly changing and retailers need to stay innovative to increase their competitiveness and ensure a smooth transition to omni-channel provider; otherwise they risk being left behind.

Creating Point of Sale Magic – How this POS company does it

There’s no doubt that walking into an Apple store is a magical experience.  And part of that magic is the pleasure of the speedy checkout.   In a conversation with Dax Dasilva, the Founder and CEO of LightSpeed, bringing the Apple magic to small business owners has been his mission for 9 years.

Headquartered in Canada, LightSpeed has offices in New York City, Olympia, WA, Ottawa, Santa Cruz and Sydney.  According to Dasilva, at the present time the company has over 150 employees.
There are two products – one is LightSpeed Pro, which is “Apple-based, on-premise and non-hosted”, and the LightSpeed cloud product, which is hosted. Both versions have an iPad app which puts real-time product and inventory information at the fingertips of employees on the showroom floor.

LightSpeed has installations in thirty countries, is processing over 6 billion dollars a year in transactions, and has been growing exponentially. The business was founded in 2005 when Dasilva, was working at a Apple Mac dealership in Montreal.

Their clients and prospects:
LightSpeed now has about 17,000 clients, up from 7,000 a year ago and some of their larger clients have 40 to 50 stores running on it. About 1,000 of the clients are running on the cloud version.  That’s an outstanding growth rate for a company that’s going on nine years old.  I asked about who the average client was.  Dasilva advised me that typically they upgrade clients from an older system like a Retail Pro or a Quickbooks, although some 40% of their clients are brand new stores.  The average LightSpeed retailer does about $400,000 to $500,000 in annual revenue.  The goal is to double the number of clients again this year. Clients also typically are brick-and-mortar first.

The optimal prospective retailer generally has high value inventory – a niche that contains about 1 million stores, according to their research.    I asked about competitors such as NCR Silver, Shopkeep and Revel and other cloud based companies;  he replied that their typical customers have very different needs and as each of these providers has different capabilities, their customers vary. They do not see them or directly compete with them all that often.

“Typically we have very little churn” said Dasilva,  “people rely on these tools day in and day out to manage and grow their businesses.”  “One of the things we’ve realized is that more is expected of the POS system than ever before.”  “Stores today have to be a destination unto themselves

As to the future,and the need for omni-channel capability; “The younger generation of business owners, the sons and daughters that are taking over, want ecommerce to be a part of their system by default – and they know they need to “Wow” the customer.”

Their regional resellers:
LightSpeed has 300+ trained and certified resellers.   These resellers offer a variety of services including workflow analysis, training, configuration, networking, support, upgrades, web customization and POS hardware.

Investors:
LightSpeed has received over $30 million dollars in funding, most notably in June 2012 from Accel Partners ($30 million)  and later received additional funding from  from local venture capital firm iNovia Capital.

The Apple platform – benefits

The Mac platform offers a number of advantages to retailers including a classy design and interface, something that Lightspeed has invested heavily in.  Many businesses are purchasing Macs because there are security advantages.     Virus written for the Windows PC out number viruses written for the Mac by an enormous factor and the recent hackings at Target and other retailers are raising awareness of the need for more security at the point of sale.

Other notable features of LightSpeed POS

Ecommerce:

Today’s retailers have the need to sell not only with a physical retail location, but also a web presence:    “Even the smaller retailers  have e-commerce on their minds.  They want to open their store AND their website on day one.”  said Dasilva.   To that end LS has built a strong e-commerce platform that makes it very easy to get products up and onto the website – the retailer only has to add photos.   “All sales, whether online or in-store, come back to the same system and inventory is being deducted in real-time, so business owners can do purchasing with confidence.”

Integration with other products:

The product integrates with Perkville  – a customer loyalty program that integrates with LightSpeed Cloud.  Perkville motivates customers to come back as well as tell their friends about your business. It automates retention, referrals and social media.

DirectMailManager.com –  this integration provides the ability to easily produce highly effective, targeted direct mail postcards, that are directly linked to LightSpeed Cloud customer data. Businesses can send 1 or 1000s of thank you and promotional postcards with a click of the mouse.  The add-on increases customer relationships with high quality, tangible postcards and tracks the results.

Pricing:
Both products are sold on a subscription basis, the entry level price is $79 for either product for one station, $134 for 2 stations and $229 for 4 stations.   E-commerce is an additional $49 per month.

How LightSpeed sees the future of point of sale:   
* A store where the front cash register is optional, where all the employees are empowered with mobile devices that allow them to easily manage selling, inventory lookups, and ringing up sales).
• Information on items, consumers, and other analytics are at hand.
• A fully informed consumer has a seamless online to in store transition.
• And a powerful cloud system for business intelligence and management help optimize the business.

According to Dasilva, LightSpeed will continue to evolve with the needs of retailers, but its mission remains the same: to provide the easiest way for serious retailers to build, manage and grow their business.

Best Practices For Today’s Retailer through Secure Mobile Technology

The retail industry has seen a dramatic increase in the use of mobile devices. In order to embrace the rapid evolution of mobility, retailers need to provide secure apps that allow store associates instant access to information and inventory. Retailers using mobile devices for check out and customer needs can process sales more quickly and decrease wait times, while remaining Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliant. Retailers can implement the below best practices to create a seamless customer experience and a pleasant work environment for all store associates.

Protect customer data
Retailers must meet the requirements of the PCI Data Security Standard, which ensures consumer data is kept secure. The standard includes requirements for security management, policies, procedures, network architecture, software design and other critical protective measures. Though PCI has not yet released formal requirements for accepting payments with consumer-grade mobile devices, mobile device management (MDM) providers, such as AirWatch, partner with leading sled hardware providers to ensure all mobile transactions are secure and meet PCI’s most recent mobile payment security recommendations. In May 2012, the PCI council released an “At a Glance” document called “Accepting Mobile Payments with a Smartphone or Tablet.” It is likely that the guidelines within this document lay the framework for future requirements.

“PCI requirements can be very specific,” says Karl Ma, director of IT Security for a major fashion company and an AirWatch customer. “For example, requiring a seven character password to log into a device – things like that are not natively supported by most devices, so AirWatch was a must for us. AirWatch provides the security to meet PCI compliance and a lot of other state regulated laws. AirWatch has basically come to our rescue and helped us overcome these barriers, that by default, we couldn’t do on our own. We wouldn’t know how to achieve these compliance requirements without AirWatch.”

Lock down unauthorized browsing on store devices
With a comprehensive enterprise mobility management (EMM) solution, retailers can combat mobile browsing threats by using a secure browser on devices, by whitelisting or blacklisting specific websites, or by setting devices to kiosk mode. With kiosk mode, retailers have the ability to display store websites, self-checkout, inventory management or customer shopping apps for an interactive customer shopping experience. The possibilities to personally interact with customers on in-store devices are endless, but so are risks associated with handing a device to a customer. Secure browsing applications allow retailers to configure customized settings to define and enforce secure browsing policies. Implementing kiosk mode capabilities for customer-facing devices allows each user to pick up a device, enter their own login credentials and upon leaving that device, have that secure information wiped and no longer available to the next user.

Minimize time customers spend in lines
Retailers can ensure faster checkout for customers by providing an omni-channel shopping experience. With an omni-channel shopping experience, customers can interact and engage across several channels and platforms (mobile, online, catalog) simultaneously. An example of providing an omni-channel shopping experience includes enabling the customer to purchase an item using the retailer’s app, providing in-store pick up and the ability to process a return via the retailer’s website. This convenience and flexibility enhances the customer experience, increases sales and decreases wait times. In order to truly provide an omni-channel shopping experience, all channels must be fused together to give the customer a seamless experience.

Maintain up-to-date inventory and product information
With mobile devices, store associates have the ability to securely access documents, product information and current store inventory. In order to securely access these documents, retailers must implement a content repository solution within their mobile deployment. Mobile devices enable store associates to access real-time information, such as multi-media files, planograms, training manuals, HR systems and more. The integration with content repositories also enables retailers to introduce marketing campaigns and promotions to ensure visual consistency and proper brand representation. Retailers using a content repository have fulfilled the store associates’ need for easy access to corporate content and the ability to collaborate with others while in the store. A content repository such as AirWatch Secure Content Locker, delivers anytime, anywhere access for end users with two-way synchronization across devices, along with sharing and editing capabilities. These features ensure the right content is to the right people, anytime and anywhere.

When it comes to adopting any new technology, the less time retailers spend worrying about the security on devices, the more they can focus on driving core business strategies and enhancing customer experience. Therefore, understanding the best mobile practices empowering today’s retailer becomes vital to the mobility strategy. With the right mobility tools and secure real-time access to data, store associates can become very effective and persuasive extensions of an organization’s multi-channel initiation when it matters most, assisting a browsing customer. The retailers who do this well are converting browsing customers into loyal brand ambassadors.