An Instant Loyalty Program For Small Merchants

What if you’re a small merchant, maybe a single store operation or a small chain, and you want to offer a loyalty program because, well, loyalty programs really work.   However, the challenges of a loyalty program for smaller companies are well documented, numerous and not so easy to overcome.

To execute a loyalty program effectively, a business owner has to design one and stick with it.  It has to last for years, because it may take customers that long to earn a reward, and they will be angry and disappointed if you abandon the program before they’ve had a chance to get a reward.

Second, a business owner has to invest in cards or building an app (very costly and time consuming).   Also, customers are already loaded with apps, and key tags, and membership cards. The last thing they want is yet another card to remember.

A third problem is training employees on the program and even when you give out cards (like a frequent buyer card), the business has to take an extra step of asking for and then logging customer information.   It can cause employee frustration and management headaches.

Well, this is where AppCard comes in to make life simple.  AppCard is a program that any merchant can implement without tears.

I tried AppCard a few months ago.  I didn’t quite get it at first.  It took a while to get my arms around the idea, but once I read through their website, watched the video and played with the app, it totally clicked.

It boils down to this: AppCard is perfect for small chains and solo merchants who want the power of a real loyalty program without all the hassle.

Once a merchant signs up with AppCard, his customers can join by downloading the app, which works on Apple, Android and the web.   By using AppCard, the merchant avoids the pain of hiring  programming to build his own app and maintain it or support it.

A merchant doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to print up and give away key tags or membership cards – which many of us take home and quickly forget about.    No, it is very simple.  Once customers put the app on their phone, they can use their phone number to check in at the store.

AppCard can work in conjunction with Epson’s OmniLink printer and automatically capture points earned/dollars spent by a customer.  No other interaction is needed.

Other benefits I saw: small merchant associations – like a “downtown” merchant association, (here in Sarasota we have St. Armands Circle – a collection of high end small stores) can band together to help promote the same loyalty program, thereby encouraging the user to participate even more frequently.

Rewards are easy to set and end-users can be targeted for promotion.   The company offers 90+ reports for analyzing consumer behavior.

A Digital receipts feature allows customers to have a receipt emailed directly to them instead getting eight or ten inches of thermal paper.   This is surely the next big thing in retail.  I find myself getting about 100 feet of receipts a month and it’s truly absurd.  A solution like AppCard can save vendors money and earn customer respect by being progressive and “green”.

A few other features I found attractive:
– Merchants can reward customers whether they pay by cash, credit or debit card
– The app can display a digital storefront for each merchant.
– It’s a source of leads because customers who carry the app can find other businesses who participate right in the app.
– Can be set up in less than 20 minutes.

AppCard has an impressive group of lead investors including:  Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, Jerry Yang (co founder of Yahoo), Peter Thiel (cofounder and former CEO of PayPal and Yair Goldfinger of ICQ.

Mobile Shopping Solution Streamlines Sales for Event Crowds

Retail stores rarely rely on just one sales channel to succeed. In fact, due to fierce competition from big box retailers and e-commerce giants, survival can depend on creating more sales channels. Whether it’s pop-up shops, a shop on wheels, or selling at events, these additional avenues can be crucial to a retailer’s revenue, but not without some hurdles. Out-of-store sales activities force a retailer to devise a plan when it comes to inventory, payments, and if they’re lucky, dealing with long lines.

Isha is an organization that hosts fifteen major events during the year, showcasing their unique yoga programs and selling yoga-related products during session breaks. With each event attracting nearly 1000 attendees, Isha Shoppe processes hundreds of orders in just minutes. That’s a good problem to have, but the sudden rush of shoppers can create long lines and frustrated customers. So Isha needed a solution to help streamline event sales and ensure their shoppers walk away happy.

Goals

Give shoppers an easier way to shop at events
Most of Isha Shoppe’s annual product sales come from selling at large scale events throughout the year. Isha ships products to the events, creating an on-site “warehouse” to fulfill orders, and sets up a showroom displaying one of every item available for attendees to purchase. During thirty-minute breaks between sessions, shoppers browse the display items and write down the product codes of items they’d like purchase on order forms. Isha staff use these forms to prepare orders for pick-up at the conclusion of the event.ShoppinPal Receipt

Isha Shoppe wanted a faster and easier way for shoppers to submit and staff to fulfill the orders.

Offer fast and secure checkout that decreases wait time
When the day’s events are winding down, attendees who have purchased items from Isha Shoppe stand in line to pay for and pick up their items. Even with multiple registers, long lines form. Isha must process hundreds of credit card transactions and give shoppers their merchandise.

Since session breaks and the windows to shop are brief, some customers want to take more time to shop at the end of the event. But because of the long wait times for picking up items ordered during session breaks earlier in the day, shoppers must get in line to pick up their items before leaving the event, with Isha Shoppe losing these end-of-day sales.

Isha wanted a solution to streamline the checkout process in order to cut down waiting time and capture lost sales.

Solution

Isha uses Vend POS for both its brick & mortar locations and its event sales, and it was important that the solution they chose worked with its existing POS setup.

Isha Shoppe chose ShoppinPal to help streamline both the ordering and checkout processes. ShoppinPal is a mobile commerce app that’s integrated with various POS systems and is designed to enhance the shopping experience inside brick & mortar stores, but can also be used for selling merchandise at events with in-app purchasing and e-receipt functionalities.

Results

Ordering made easy
The display items in Isha Shoppe’s showroom do not have barcodes, but instead have tags with unique product codes. Although ShoppinPal supports barcode scanning, Isha shoppers typed in a product code from an item’s tag to instantly display the product information for easy ordering.

This was important for Isha for a couple reasons: 1) Shoppers didn’t have to manually write down each product code and give it to the staff, which cut down the risk of shopper and staff errors. And 2) instead of processing credit card transactions at the end of the event, shoppers could instantly complete their purchase inside ShoppinPal by taking a picture of their credit card or paying with PayPal. All that was left to do was for the staff to hand over the items at the end of the day.

A streamlined pickup process
Before using ShoppinPal, Isha event attendees ended the day by standing in a long line waiting their turn to pay and pick up their items ordered during session breaks throughout the event. Customers that used ShoppinPal to order their items and pay by phone entered a fast-moving “Express Lane” to simply pick up their bag. Since the shoppers paid as they shopped, the Isha Shoppe staff was relieved of taking credit card payments at the counter, and instead just looked up the customer by name, order number, or event registration number in the point-of-sale system and gave the customer their items.

The last thing attendees want after relaxing sessions offered by Isha is a frustrating checkout experience to end their day. Skipping a long line to simply pick up their items helped mitigate the chance of unhappy customers.

“We use ShoppinPal to speed up the checkout process at events and it works great. It’s like providing our customers a self-checkout register as they are browsing,” said Raajiv Ravi of Isha Shoppe.

Point of Sale System for Farm & Feed Supply

Red Barn Feed & Supply Inc. serves Palm Beach County, located at the heart of a large equestrian area in Florida. Jerry and Betty Case established Red Barn in 1989, originally specializing in horse feed, hay and shavings. Now, as with many farm and feed stores across the nation, Red Barn has grown to provide anything a farmer or his animals might need. Red Barn sells feed, grooming, housing, and bedding products for practically any animal, including house pets, livestock, and exotic pets. They market a wide range of apparel for animal owners, including boots, jeans, shirts and accessories. Red Barn also provides fencing and lawn care products in their now 20,000 square foot retail space.

It is common for farming communities to rely heavily upon their local farm and feed store. For such a business, keeping up with the needs of the animal population and their owners is no easy task. A robust point of sale system suited to the needs of this niche business is central to success. When it comes to the day to day challenges that farm and feed stores face, there are some issues that any retailer must confront: controlling inventory, cash management, customer service, and payment processing. In addition to these common challenges, farm and feed stores like Red Barn have unique needs that require a special breed of POS.

Red Barn Feed & Supply recently upgraded their point of sale to POSexpress by POS Prophet Systems, a fully integrated suite that manages their POS, inventory control, customer management, gift and loyalty, accounts receivable and financial reporting. This case study will demonstrate the ways that POSexpress meets the common demands of retail, as well as the specialized demands of a farm and feed store.

There are five general ways that a farm and feed store such as Red Barn benefits from a well-designed POS system.

      1. Inventory Control

        For businesses such as Red Barn, tracking the thousands of unique products sold, without a POS system, would be time-consuming and tedious. The ability to bar code and scan bar coded items at the POS terminal streamlines the processes of checkout, shipment arrival, and physical inventory time. The reduction in error gives the store owner full control over those processes at all times.

      2. Speed of Service

        Attentive and efficient customer service is key. Especially during peak periods, getting customers through the checkout line quickly helps maintain the existing customer base and makes a good impression on new visitors. A POS system should provide enough speed and accuracy to produce transaction times of one to three seconds.

      3. Customer Accounts Receivable

        Many Farm and Feed stores like Red Barn extend special charging privileges to loyal customers and large farms. The ability to provide internal accounts receivable and invoicing allows for fast and efficient management of all accounts.

      4. Cash Controls

        A good POS system makes daily reconciliation a breeze. Integrated payment processing makes electronic payments error-free, and provides tools to reduce the risk of error for cash transactions. Security features are built in that promote the accountability of every operator and every transaction. Robust reports also help store owners quickly reconcile every till.

      5. Accuracy/Efficiency

        A well-designed point of sale system completely eliminates pricing errors. It also offers real time information so that purchasing and staffing decisions can be based on accurate POS data and intelligent analysis.

In addition to these benefits, farm and feed supply stores such as Red Barn also require their POS to include several unique capabilities.

      1. Integrate a hybrid merchant concept, that would support a mixture of scanned merchandise and services or weighed bulk material. The easy to use touch screen buttons and scale integration provided by POSexpress fulfilled this need.

      2. Include customer tracking for tax exemptions, accounts receivable, transaction retrieval, and tiered pricing based on volume, frequency of visit, etc.

      3. Sophisticated automation in the ordering process. As mentioned above, Red Barn’s inventory includes equipment, supplies, feed, seed, apparel, pet supplies, décor, etc. The ability to monitor and re-stock such a massive array of inventory is necessary for maximizing the ROI on that inventory.

      4. Provide internal communication capabilities. Similar to the way restaurants need to send orders to the back kitchen, a farm and feed store will often process orders at the front of the store (checkout station), while needing to fulfill that order from the back of the store (or the warehouse). POSexpress solves this problem by allowing remote printing to the warehouse, so Mr. Smith’s order of horse feed can be ready to load on his truck by the time he finishes paying.

      5. Strengthen external communication capabilities with email/SMS components, based on POS purchase history, to keep the client base informed and coming back to the store at the right time. Automated POS systems let feed store owners communicate with customers based on the topics and items in which they have already shown interest.

Red Barn’s owner, Beck Hyslop, is pleased with the new POS system. He says, “One thing I’ve noticed is that it is easier to find information, like if I need to find a specific sale, then the new system makes that a lot easier.”

When asked what the most significant difference was for him, he replied, “To me, the most important thing is customer service. With a POS System there is always someone there to help you out. You can call, and someone always answers. They will go in and look at the system with you and help you solve the problem.”

Starbucks Customers Bring POS Hardware to Retail

In a twist on BYOD , (Bring Your Own Device) for Point of Sale, customers have been bringing their own device to Starbucks for years now.   Since I use the app at least 15 times a month, and sometimes 30x a month, it seemed natural to discuss the other side of the retail counter for POS hardware.

The Starbucks app, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a combination of a loyalty program, payment technology, store locator, reward generator and a “stay real close to the customer” technology.

It works well and gives customers a free drink for every fifteen they buy.   To use it, customers simply open the app and tap “Pay”.  A 2D barcode appears.  I would have included a picture of mine, but some jokers would be running down to Starbucks this morning, opening their smartphones to this article, and charging their latte’s on my account.  Since I have the automatic refill option turned on, which charges my credit card and fills the Starbucks card whenever a low balance is reached, this could become quite expensive, so, you’ll have to download the free app to see what the barcode looks like.  You can get the app at the Google Play store of course, and the iPhone equivalent.

The app includes a store locator – which is fast and easy to use.

The Starbucks app can manage multiple cards by the way, so if you have given a card to your teenager, or significant other, you can keep tabs on the activity and refill when you get that urgent text (Dad, can you please refill my card) – not the worst way in the world to make sure you hear from your college kids occasionally.

Rewards!!

For every fifteen drinks I buy, I get a free one.  This is not an insignificant thing.  My usual drink is a “short Pike” – which is about $1.70 or so, and I try to keep the caffeine to a minimum.  But for my rewards drink, Starbucks lets me order almost any size, so I will usually save the freebie for a day when I’m out on a long bike ride and then order a large Valencia or other refreshing flavored drink that costs around $4.00.  I feel like I am getting a great deal.  (Kudos to Starbucks for a great program by the way.)

starbucks-rewards-point-of-sale-news

The only drawback to the program is that I don’t ever use cash anymore, and consequently don’t throw my change in the tip jar.  The employees, who turnover quite regularly, have said they don’t mind.  I hope that’s true.  Starbucks has made a big deal out of taking care of their vendors in other countries, I hope their “fair-trade” practices extend to offering a competitive salary and benefits (including a health care option or option to co-pay) in the United States as well.   Charity begins at home, some say.

Summarizing – Starbucks has a great program that keeps customers coming back.  Other retailers would do well do match this program and soon.  There is a limit to how many of these apps I am willing to carry in my smartphone – and actually use on a regular basis, and I would guess that number is around ten or less.  Right now I only use Starbucks – and keep a few loyalty cards in my car for those businesses that stamp or hole-punch them and mentally, I can only keep track of a few.  So the next few that come along are likely to get some of my mindshare.

Small retailers would do well to make sure that any point of sale system has an option to add a mobile loyalty program – including ones like App Card, that supports many small businesses at a time.

How Mobile POS Can Help Your Business

Portable transactions are becoming the wave of the future for many businesses and smartphone applications are following the trend like a dog chasing a hare.  Not all businesses feel they need a mobile POS application. They may assume that with a POS system in-store, it would not be of any benefit to them.  They may assume that only mobile retailers such as farmers markets, flea markets and the occasional street fair vendor would need a mobile POS.  But, in many cases, these assumptions are incorrect. Mobile POS systems can benefit all different types of businesses, whether it is a large department store that has been in business for many years or a small retailer just getting started.  If there’s a way to make customers happier, it’s worth looking into.

I took some time to experiment with some of the more popular apps available and found that some do it all, while others pale in comparison. I’m hesitant to name the apps that I found were difficult to use, slow in processing speed, and without much content. Therefore, I’ll start by focusing on two apps that I feel are more than “worth your time” to look into.

Krugism Development LLC has developed a mobile application for your smartphone called Registroid™  POS, which is free to download and utilize. They have also created an enhanced version, Registroid™ Pro.  The free version incorporates all basic functions of a full blown POS system into a portable convenience, designed to work with the Android OS and most tablets.  Registroid™ is set up to tender cash, checks, and with the free integrated system of Square, credit cards.

Two of the features I found most valuable with the free version are processing speed and usability.  It does not require you to log on to a web page to process a transaction, hence, immediate sale.  And, if you have knowledge of the basic cash register or POS system, you will find that the layout is easy to understand and quick to learn.

The keyboard, which is a touch keyboard assignment, can also be customized to fit your specific needs allowing you to easily add or delete certain buttons. For example, let’s say you run a business that does not allow returns and you want to make sure your employees don’t accidentally accept a return.  You can delete the “return” button from the system so returns are not an option.

Another great feature of the free version is the ability to run X and Z daily sales reports*, including shift totals, daily totals, shift history and daily history.  Furthermore, it offers you the ability to backup your database to your SD card (you never know when your cell phone might call it quits), enter specific tax percentages, use fractional quantities, and add GPS transaction history.

On the other hand, the Registroid™  Pro version, $39.99, turns the few inabilities into capabilities. With the pro version, you have the ability to email, text or print receipts (printing only available along with WiFi receipt printers), run enhanced reports, add unlimited departments, and utilize Google Analytics Ecommerce sales postings.  One last incredibly useful tool is the inventory maintenance button which allows you to not only scan your inventory bar codes, but also type in the product description, upload customized product pictures, and add specific item tax (four tax rate sections available). As a side note, both  the Registroid™  free version and the Registroid™  Pro version are not yet set up with features for large restaurants.

Square is another simple-to-use portable POS application designed to work with your Android, Ipod, Ipad or Itouch.  First introduced to the public in October, 2010, Square has had 250,000 downloads and a user rating of 4 ½ stars, proving that it can be a very beneficial addition to your business.

Square can be used alone or alongside Registroid™.  It is a free credit card/cash terminal application that also comes with a free credit card reader.  The benefits of this app are security, next-day payout, fast set-up and fast transactions, no merchant account required, transparent pricing without any setup or monthly fees, and acceptance of all major credit cards.  Square also features basic sales history reports along with the ability to accept tips. The only downfall that I found was that it does not offer funds verification.

Regardless of your in-store system or the lack thereof, the benefits of a mobile POS app can and will help improve customer satisfaction and overall profitability. This is the future of payment transactions and the days of posting “Cash Only” signs may forever be in our past.

*X and Z Reports: The X report is like running a subtotal, for comparing the amount of sales in the cash drawer to the amount registered on the system, before and after a shift. Running an X report allows you or your employee to recount monies, if necessary, to balance. The Z report closes the current batch and finalizes it, then opens it for the following shift.

How to Increase Sales With a Point-of-Sale System

As a business owner, the goal of any business is to increase its net income. There are two ways to address this: (1) Reduce operating costs, and/or (2) Increase sales. Traditionally, point of sale systems have concentrated on the first method by reducing operating costs.

By automating mundane tasks, POS systems have helped retailers reduce their overhead. Today, the next generation of point of sale software can further help retailers increase their net income by helping them increase sales too.

Next generation point of sale software offers additional features to aid retailers in increasing their sales volume and geographical reach. While retailers can still enjoy lower overhead costs, they can now take advantage of these new features to increase their sales through better customer service and new channels offered by the Internet. Increasing sales offers a dramatically higher return on investment to the retailer as the potential is virtually limitless.

Next generation POS systems offer some or all of the following features to help retailers increase their sales:

  1. Integrated eCommerce – a new storefront not limited by geography or time
  2. Auctions – new sales channel and marketing channel
  3. Sales Order & Telephone Order modules
  4. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) – improved customer service
  5. Integrated mass email – low cost promotions
  6. Club pricing – improves customer loyalty
  7. Revolving A/R (Accounts Receivable) – improves customer loyalty through credit
  8. Customer loyalty points reward programs
  9. Gift card sales and redemption built into the software
  10. Suggestive selling prompts for cashiers
  11. Receipt printers produce marketing messages
  12. New Signature Capture devices display marketing messages at the checkout line

At the end of the day, next generation point of sale systems allow retailers to increase their geographical reach and become more efficient marketers. A well implemented POS system results in reduced marketing expenditures and increased sales volume.

Mobile POS Enhances Marketing

Point of Sale (POS) systems do much more than track inventory and record financial transactions. They can also alert merchants to the personalities of their customers and help define a marketing direction. So much easier for all involved than the old “customer comment card” found at some establishments, mobile POS (MPOS) can capture data quickly, accurately and with little intervention into the consumer’s time. Sales associates can engage better with customers and the merchant benefits from a stronger client relationship and data that can help target marketing dollars.

An April 30, 2013 report from PYMTS provides an overview of the major players in the MPOS marketplace. While acknowledging that the MPOS sector in the retail market is expected to grow rapidly over the next five years, it will in all probability remain a small percentage of overall sales. According to the report, “MPOS will account for only about one tenth of one percent of all retail sales.”

A recent survey conducted by Constant Contact reports that 71 percent of small businesses using mobile technology now accept mobile payments and 52 percent use a mobile-/tablet-based MPOS system. However, many small businesses are not taking advantage of this technology, citing perceived customer disinterest, lack of time to learn the system, irrelevance to their business, and other issues.

MPOS remains relevant, however, because of the proliferation of mobile smart phones and tablets, allowing both consumers and merchants opportunities for easy transactions at points of sale. A recent Forrester Research report predicts that one billion consumers will have smart phones by 2016.

Javelin Strategy and Research also released a report in late April 2013 that projects up to $1.1 trillion in annual sales through mobile POS. Javelin’s report involved interviews with executives at 14 mobile POS providers, as well as data from a random survey of 6,651 consumers, identifying key trends and themes in the market. An area of weakness in MPOS that came to light in the survey was security. Javelin found that only 28 percent of consumers consider mobile credit card processing as secure, but this was counterbalanced by the level of convenience offered by mobile applications.

Most MPOS systems provide immediate access to inventory and price information, expediting sales transactions from anywhere in the store or even outside the store. In terms of marketing strategy, access to the customer’s purchase history and interests are tracked, allowing retailers to increase up-selling and cross-selling with positive impact on revenue.

MPOS is good for the merchant, as it captures purchasing behaviors without intrusion into consumer’s time or personal space. It helps speed customer interactions while providing a positive retail experience that goes beyond the traditional “loyalty program.” Information about the products purchased are stored and used to create personalized prompts a store clerk could access to cross-sell or up-sell merchandise. And the marketing team could use the information stored in the database to create campaigns which would send relevant marketing content directly the customer on their mobile phone or email based on customer behavior.

There are many POS software products on the market, so the decisions on which to choose should be based on the evaluation of specific business needs, options and budget. It should not be difficult to find a solution that’s easy to install and use at a reasonable cost for purchase and maintenance.