Accomplish more on the floor with mobile POS solutions

Technology is no longer just a means to an end – it’s become incredibly personal. Today, people regard their mobile devices less as tools and more as extensions of themselves; they identify with them, express themselves through them, and use them to form deeper relationships. So it stands to reason that new, mobile Point of Sale (POS) technologies hold significant power to make connections – and make sales – on the store floor.  

Is it really necessary for retailers to have more than a Point of Sale device or access to inventory? It is, because many of your competitors have already discovered how emerging in-store technologies, especially a new generation of mobile tools, can improve customer experiences in- and out-of-store. Mobile POS devices are no longer just a tool for micro-merchants to accept card payments. Increasingly, large U.S. and global retailers are equipping associates with smartphones and tablets that let them respond to customer needs from the sales floor.

The 2014 National Retail Federation Big Show validated that the in-store customer experience should be a huge priority for retailers. Specifically, the volume turned up on discussions around technology’s power to help with this, a departure from recent years where the focus has been more on solutions for inventory and supply chain management. Experts at the event said that the current focus on in-store technologies is driven by two major retail realities:

  • Retailers who in recent years have heavily invested in back-end supply chain technologies are now ready to direct resources toward customer-facing operations.
  • Fierce competition from online channels that offer vast product selections and free shipping is compelling brick-and-mortars to ramp up their customer service processes. Offline stores are realizing that they must do everything possible to improve the variables that can make or break the in-store experience, including register wait times, access to product information, and higher-touch personalized service.
  • Line-busting. During busy periods, associates can reduce the average time spent in a checkout line by processing transactions on a mobile POS device, while customers are standing in queue.
  • Flexible sales environments. For special promotional events, such as sidewalk sales or warehouse clearances, as well as “pop-up” stores, mobile POS eliminates the time, cost and complexity of having to set up conventional registers or move bulky merchandise.
  • Incomparable service. Mobility empowers associates to stay with a customer as the individual moves through the store, supporting the entire shopping experience, from merchandise requests through payment.
  • Inventory lookup. Associates on the floor can answer customer queries about pricing and product availability across the enterprise. They can also do physical inventory counts and cycle counts on fast-moving products.

How does mobile POS trump traditional POS?
Historically, POS equipment has provided value to retailers, but this technology has had limits. With traditional POS, retail associates are tied to fixed locations in the store. Associates are equipped to complete transactions but their ability to assist customers with their purchasing decisions is stifled. Today, mobile devices are omni-present and people have become very comfortable using them to find information and communicate on-the-go, so much so, that retailers using them to enable store associates to better service customers on the sales floor should come as no surprise.

With recent advances in wireless technology, portable handheld POS systems are providing smart retailers with improved ways to serve customers, improve the shopping experience, and streamline inventory and back office functions. The key differentiator from legacy POS systems is the ability for associates using a mobile POS device to truly connect with customers at the most pivotal point – before they arrive at the counter to pay.

Mobile POS can be used in ways that contribute to a consistent brand experience across all customer touch points. This allows a retailer to offer an omni-channel experience without having to sacrifice the brand message based on the channel the customer is trying to shop. Prior to mobile POS tools, retail associates weren’t given the tools that empowered them to fully respond to the full range of customer needs, desires and questions, while still on the floor. Now they are with mobile-enabled capabilities and benefits like:

In addition to these customer-facing advantages, mobile POS solutions deliver operational benefits to retailers. For example, a wireless POS can generate additional savings by cutting hardware costs and, without the need for as much landlocked POS space, can open up valuable floor space to make room for more product promotions and smoother traffic flow. And because mobile POS operates on the network like any other POS system and connects directly into back office applications, associates have access to data for business intelligence, supply chain analytics, work flow processes, shipping and receiving, and inventory management, without compromising the time they spend on the floor serving the customers’ needs.

A retail revolution
Stores that have reduced their traditional POS systems in favor of mobile POS are already realizing greater customer satisfaction, something that makes perfect sense considering our increasingly mobile way of life. Customers are empowered by the information they have access to through their mobile devices and are accustomed to being communicated with in a near real-time manner. Missing out on mobile POS could mean missing out on significant opportunities: to streamline the shopping experience, make the sale, and most importantly, engage with customers in the relevant and convenient manner they’ve come to expect. It is important to remember, however, that the increase in use of mobile POS does not mean that we will see traditional POS systems entirely phased out. There are other aspects to consider, some of them social, and many people are still most comfortable when they have a counter to go pay at. There also needs to be a station to store bags and other items, so wrap desks will never disappear completely. This is an opportunity for retailers to reduce the number of service desks and increase mobility using mPOS, while ensuring that it integrates seamlessly with your traditional POS system.

Mobile POS/Scanner is now Visa Ready

Infinite Peripherals, Inc. (IPC), the leading developer of mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) devices, has been approved by the Visa Ready  Program, which indicates that the company’s popular Linea Pro 5 and Infinea Tab 4 mobile peripherals meet Visa’s requirements for a reliable, convenient and secure mPOS experience.

The Linea Pro 5 and Infinea Tab 4 equip the Apple® iPhone, iPod touch® or iPad with
an encrypted MSR, barcode scanner and Bluetooth® chip for use with custom software for mPOS and other merchant operations. The first mobile Secure Card Read (SCR) iOS solutions to have earned PCI PTS 3.1 SRED approval, the Linea Pro 5 and Infinea Tab 4 can be valuable parts of a merchant’s compliance with the PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

“Infinite Peripherals is aligned with Visa’s rigorous security requirements, and our mPOS devices are fully tested and approved with PCI PTS 3.1 SRED,” said Jennifer Brown, strategic relationship and program manager at IPC. “Security is a primary focus for IPC, and the Visa Ready Program is an important way to differentiate our hardware solutions.”

Payment security is paramount, and merchants using IPC’s Linea Pro5 and Infinea Tab 4 can be assured that transactions are reliable and compliant with Visa’s security requirements.

Promoting Electronic Payments

Introduced in 2013, the Visa Ready Program enables hardware manufacturers and mobile application software developers to ensure that their devices or applications are compatible with Visa’s requirements to initiate or accept Visa payments. Furthermore, the program is a framework for collaboration with Visa, along with guidance and best practices to access the power of the Visa network.

About Infinite Peripherals

Since 1993, Infinite Peripherals, Inc. (IPC) has been fueling mobility with cutting-edge mobile peripheral devices, receipt printers, mechanisms and receipt printer-related components. Numerous major retailers in the United States are moving to mobile POS with IPC’s Linea Pro and Infinea Tab, helping to transform shopping, drive traffic and increase customer conversion rates. Anticipating trends and pre-empting solutions for a constantly evolving business landscape, IPC enhances operations in retail and other industries, including healthcare, hospitality, transportation, warehouse and logistics, entertainment and security.

How Retailers Should Use QR Codes To Engage Catalog Shoppers

The ink needed to print a QR code on a major retailer’s catalog might weigh only a fraction of an ounce, but when used right, it’s worth its weight in gold. Too bad the majority of catalogs seem to be squandering the opportunity by under utilizing the code or worse, not including any at all. In a world where an integrated multi-channel approach is a must-have for any retailer to survive, the stakes of leveraging every opportunity for interaction are higher than ever.

QR:  The Bridge to the Modern World

Involvement devices have come a long way from the time of Ed McMahon’s Publisher’s Clearinghouse mailings, where you would peel off a label and stick it onto another page before dropping it back in the mail with visions of Ed showing up at your doorstep some day soon.

Today, print’s best involvement device is the QR code. It works as a portal or bridge into the mobile online world where the cataloger’s brand lives and breathes in real time. Even better, it can lead the customer from the catalog page to the checkout button on their smartphone within minutes.

The printed catalog delivers rich colors and a personal, tactile experience still not attainable through any mobile device. In many ways, though, it is a vestige of a bygone era. And an expensive one at that. Catalogers know this. Even the U.S. Postal Service (also a vestige of a bygone era) knows this. That’s why the USPS is running a postage discount promotion for the second year in a row this summer to encourage the use of QR codes by direct mailers.

So, let’s take a quick look at the way a few catalogers are using QR codes. With hundreds of catalogers mailing version after version to their lists, this is a very small, somewhat random sample, indeed. However, the three we’re looking at already show how varied the use of QR codes can be—and what that might imply for their results.

Delia’s

By appealing to fashion-hungry American teens via retail stores, web, and catalog, Delia’s sold over $220 million in 2011. In the single catalog we looked at, Delia’s had a QR code on its back cover. When scanned, the code points to Delia’s Facebook page. That’s certainly one way to build involvement with the Delia’s brand, but it may not be the best. Delia’s has an Apple app with full e-commerce capabilities, so Delia’s could be missing out on the opportunity to help the customer cut to the chase and get straight to their virtual shopping bag. Still, at least they’re using the code.

Anthropologie

Some say that Anthropologie’s marketing strategy is more about selling a lifestyle than selling products. Perhaps that explains why making it easy for customers to move toward actually buying something doesn’t seem like such a big priority in their catalog. They did not include a QR code anywhere. The closest they came was one line next to the address:  “For store information, go to www.anthropologie.com.” Their 800 number—they do take phone orders—is printed only once, in tiny type, so having no QR code seems to fit in with their attempts to play hard to get. Marketing critique aside, by not using a QR code on their catalog, they are missing the opportunity to draw customers into closer involvement with their brand, whether or not they intend to make an immediate sale.

King Schools

Unless you’re a pilot in training or know one fairly well, you have probably never heard of King Schools. They offer more than 90 flight training courses, plus all sorts of accessories for pilots-in-training. They have no retail stores, but that’s all the more reason to mention them here–retailers can learn a lot from King Schools about how to use QR codes in their catalogs.

In the one catalog we reviewed, King used a QR code on the front cover and the back cover. Now, the iPad shows enormous potential for use in general and commercial aviation, so King is smart to use their QR codes to point customers directly toward their mobile apps and offerings. In fact, King Schools uses QR codes on the “Take Courses on Your iPad” landing page itself.

In most cases it seems counterintuitive to display a QR code on a website for people to scan. After all, they’re already there. It’s a smart use of codes in this case, for two reasons. First, the codes lead the customer directly to the Apple app store, so it actually makes sense to scan the codes even though the customer is already on their website. The customer is now just a few clicks away from buying and installing the app. Second, there is one QR code for their app store in general, and then there are unique codes for individual apps.

Best Practices

With these few examples in mind, it’s time to look at best practices for using QR codes in catalogs, which can be a two-sided equation. There is the technical aspect and the branding/selling aspect. As far as the technical side goes, customers need to use their smartphone to scan the code successfully, and the destination on the other end must be optimized for mobile access. Sometimes the hardest part is organizing the resources required to execute the back end side of things, especially if the goal is to make an immediate sale.

The main thing to consider is that QR codes work as a bridge, and that bridge is a smartphone, iPad, or some other tablet with all their usual constraints (screen size, internet connection, quality of camera, QR reader app, user proficiency, etc.). Also, don’t assume that everyone has a QR reader or even knows what a QR code is. Especially in catalogs, where customers have been seeing postal service bar codes for years, people may assume that the pixelated square thing is just something else for the USPS to lose money on. Instead, including a brief call to action to scan the QR code should do the trick.

Technicalities

The content in a QR code tops out at 4,296 alphanumeric characters, but catalogers only need a fraction of that to get the customer to where they want them. However, even when the character count is down to a few dozen, size does matter, because QR codes with more data embedded in them are more complex visually. This means that even smartphones with the latest and greatest optics will have trouble reading densely populated codes.

Make sure the QR code is big enough. Even the simplest codes will frustrate the scanning process if they are too small or if there isn’t enough white space around them. Maybe a QR code isn’t the most photogenic thing in the world, so it’s a good challenge for catalog art directors to incorporate it into the design without shrinking it into oblivion.

Crossing the Bridge

Getting customers to scan the QR code is only half the battle. Now you need to make sure they feel it was worth their while to scan. It’s all about the next steps in your customer relationship. If you have an Apple or Android app, then that’s where to send people if you know that you can convert sales successfully on mobile devices. Sending them to your Facebook fan page is an option, too, but not a big win if a majority of your customers are already fans.

Special promotions, optimized for mobile access, will certainly earn your QR its keep. If your goal is to inspire a trip to one of your stores, then do what Brookstone does and send customers to a Google map with all store locations within a hundred miles. It’s also possible to send scanners to a dedicated page—again, optimized for mobile—where you give them a number of options:  Facebook, shop, app, etc.

More sophisticated catalogers will want to use personalized QR codes. Today, even local printers are likely to have the means to print unique QR codes for each recipient in a mailing. This creates the ability to track scans back to the individual, a marketer’s dream when it comes to one-to-one marketing relationships.

Innovation can get you traction within the social media realm, and that’s money in the bank. Whether you’re a major catalog player or using QR for something completely different, always consider getting the marketing and PR people involved to leverage any novelty aspects of the application.

The benefits pile up quickly to those catalogers who take the time to get smart about QR codes. For example, online fulfillment costs much less than traditional phone orders. Thick catalog “books” can be thinned down a bit if QR codes succeed in pulling customers from the page and onto their site or apps, cutting postal costs for the millions of mailings every year. And, even if the cataloger doesn’t go to the extreme of printing unique QR codes, the branding value of offering that connection from the old-style printed piece to the dynamic world of interactive mobile technology makes it well worth the effort.

A Tablet-Based POS App for Restaurants: Ambur

In 2009, a team of former restaurant owners and workers set out to create a point of sale system for the hospitality industry that would be easier and more cost effective than any other available. Two years later, the Ambur point of sale iPad app was introduced to the market.  It can be used with any Apple touch device, which increases flexibility and availability in a busy restaurant setting. It’s customizable—from creating a menu to meet your unique needs, to customizing receipts and payment options. The following features could make a nice solution for your mobile hospitality needs:

– Set up the customizable point of sale system according to your needs.

– Receive free updates and free support.

– Customize your reports with important details.

– Save and store your sales data on your mobile device, with free backup on Dropbox.

– View, print, email, or export reports.

– Organize your menu to meet your specific requirements.

– Set permissions for individual users.

– Store customer contact information.

– Keep reservation data in one place with the easy reservation system.

– Accept cards on any device with compatible card readers.

The team continues to adapt and update the POS app to meet the growing challenges of an increasingly mobile hospitality industry. Here is their story:

“Before the iPad was released in April 2010, few people realized all the different applications it would serve in just a few short years. iPads are currently being used in hospitals, restaurants, air travel, retail, and various other industries. In 2010, the point of sale (POS) market was still dominated by a handful of large companies, some worth billions of dollars. These companies had a stronghold on the market and yet were unable to solve many pain points for restaurateurs. The systems provided by these companies did not adapt to the needs of specific restaraunts, remained hard to use, and were expensive.

The iPad was the perfect tool to disrupt the market. Going into the iPad POS market, we knew what we were up against. The incumbents had a twenty-five year head start, strong reseller networks, and recognizable brands. We knew competition would be tough, but we also understood that restaurant owners needed an easy-to-use mobile POS system at an affordable price. That’s exactly what we set out to create!

Having years of experience in the restaurant industry, we realized that a large number of features do not necessarily make a better product. A POS system may be packed with dozens of features, butthey don’t provide much benefit to the user if they are difficult to access. Every feature built into our app serves a specific purpose and is easily accessible. As we grow and add more features, we make great efforts to make sure that we keep Ambur easy to use, so we don’t end up like the systems we want to replace. Another great advantage of an iPad point of sale system is the mobility. Wait staff can carry around iPads, iPad minis, iPods, or iPhones and access the POS system no matter where they are in the restaurant.

From the start, we knew we had a great product and getting it into the hands of restaurateurs would allow us to prove it. We decided to base our sales on a completely transparent model. Restaurateurs can download a limited version for free from the App Store and evaluate it at their own pace. In the evaluation stage, our sales agents can answer any questions the customer may have. We work closely with the customer to make sure that this is a good fit for their business. This model has served us well; since our customers are already familiar with Ambur before they purchase, they know it is the right solution for them. Newer POS companies have similar models, and we think it is a great trend. With the point of sale being the heart of a restaurant, the staff need to be fully comfortable with it.

Apple’s App Store has allowed us to reach customers in thirty countries! Such a big reach does have it’s own challenges. One challenge that we encounter every day is to make sure that we are able to support not only the software but all the corresponding hardware remotely. Extensive documentation, understanding customer’s needs, and great customer service allow us to be one of the most highly rated POS systems in the App Store.

From talking with thousands of restaurateurs, we came to understand that the most important aspect when choosing a POS system is the owner understanding the needs of their business. There are a lot of POS solutions on the market, and not all of them are a good fit for every business. Once a restaurant owner has outlined their needs, they should ask specific questions and make sure that the POS system can perform as needed. Restaurateurs should be wary of companies that don’t offer free trials or a 100 percent money back guarantee on their solution.”

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.

QikServe integrates with MICROS ordering and payment app ready for mass adoption

Mobile technology company QikServe today announced that its mobile ordering app is now available through the hosted MICROS Commerce Platform™ (MCP) from MICROS, a leading provider of information technology solutions for the hospitality and retail industries.

Customers using MICROS for point-of-sale can now extend their system to include QikServe’s mobile ordering and payment service, providing an end-to-end mobile solution from customer order through to fulfillment and back-end systems. This means that hospitality businesses can now provide customers with the choice to order and pay for food and drink through their smartphones seamlessly through their existing POS system.

Integration with POS systems has been identified as a key hurdle to widespread adoption of mobile ordering solutions, which typically require businesses to use additional hardware, such as tablets or wireless printers.

“We are pleased to be able to provide our customers with QikServe mobile ordering functionality. With QikServe, hospitality operators can offer their customers more choice in how they order and pay for their purchases,” said Tim Brown, SVP eCommerce at MICROS.

“The integration between QikServe and MICROS is another step forward in bringing mobile ordering and payment technology to the masses,” said Ronnie Forbes, CEO, QikServe.

About MICROS Systems, Inc.
MICROS Systems, Inc. provides leading enterprise-wide applications, services and hardware for the hospitality and retail industries. Serving an extensive portfolio of clients worldwide, MICROS solutions are utilized in hotels, casinos, table and quick service restaurants, retail, leisure and entertainment, fuel and convenience, cruise, and travel operations in more than 180 countries, and on all seven continents. MICROS combines its industry knowledge and expertise to provide cloud-based, mobile and on premise solutions that allow its clients to streamline operations and successfully engage their customers.

MICROS applications include point of sale, property management, central systems, business intelligence, eCommerce, loyalty, CRM, loss prevention, distributed order management, labor management, inventory management, and merchandise planning solutions. MICROS services include hosting and SaaS, platform implementation and integration, strategic business consulting, interactive marketing, design services including creative and user experience, and managed services.

About QikServe
Mobile technology specialist, QikServe was founded in 2011 by a team of mobile self-service experts. The company’s goal is to radically change and improve the ordering experience for customers by providing a mass adoption self-serve system. As a business QikServe is dedicated to providing integrated solutions and driving engagement and loyalty through the consumer device. The QikServe system has been deployed across the UK and United States in restaurants, bars, hotels, sports stadiums, airports and tradeshows.

VeriFone Releases Revolutionary Portable Payment Terminal VX 690

Bluetooth, 3G and Wi-Fi communications enable merchants to accept all types of payments in any environment with a sleek handheld terminal

VeriFone Systems, Inc. announced the VX 690—its first handheld EMV-capable payment terminal featuring Bluetooth, 3G radio and Wi-Fi connectivity for fast transactions and flexible payment capabilities.  The terminal’s size, design and multiple connection capabilities meets merchants’mobile point of sale (mPOS) demands—especially in North America, Australia and parts of Asia—where 3G connectivity is increasingly required for payment device acceptance.

“It is no secret that merchants increasingly want a user experience that parallels that of a consumer electronics device,” said Bill Nelson, executive vice president of Global Product Management for VeriFone. “The VX 690 achieves this goal while providing 3G connectivity that is critical in many markets where 2G networks are transitioning to 3G. The user experience of the terminal combined with its robustness, flexibility, and technical communication capabilities will not only enable payments today—it will enable commerce tomorrow.”

Enhanced Communication Flexibility

The VX 690’s Bluetooth, 3G radio and Wi-Fi combination provides fast, wireless payment convenience as well as fewer dropped transactions in virtually every type of merchant environment. Dual SIM functionality enables the terminal to quickly connect to different networks to keep transactions moving, while built-in GPS allows merchants to track the location of every transaction, providing greater visibility into operations and inventory across multiple stores.

The terminal is PCI PTS 3.0 compliant and features built-in security protection that includes end-to-end encryption to protect data at every point of the transaction.

Simple, Consumer Electronic Style Design

The VX 690’s simple, handheld design is similar to consumer technologies and easily fits on countertops and in users’ hands. Its built-in functionality includes:

  • 3.5″ capacitive touch display that allows merchants to enable commerce with marketing messages via video streaming and audio capabilities
  • Single micro-USB connector for added convenience and functionality
  • EMV capability for supporting PIN, Signature, and no Cardholder Verification Method (CVM)
  • NFC capability to support contactless and mobile wallet transactions
  • Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) support
  • Peripheral capability for potential future expansion, including biometric scanner/barcode reader

“Virtually all consumers use portable technologies providing enormous capabilities in their day-to-day lives. Using these technologies has become second nature, not only because of their practicality, but because they present advanced functionality in a brilliant, yet simple package that is easy to use,” said Nelson. “The VX 690’s purpose-driven design merges advanced, secure mPOS capabilities with the type of sleek and simplistic form factor that is familiar to consumers and can help merchants improve the customer experience.”

The VX 690 from VeriFone is expected to be available in late 2014.

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.

Five Ways to Protect Point of Sale Stations and Networks From Cybercrime

It’s easy to use the latest POS security breach as a reason for business owners to ensure their POS systems are protected from cyber-criminals, but the fact is that these kinds of breaches have been occurring for a long time – even as far back as the incredible T.J. Maxx data theft of 2005.

As these kinds of breaches are still occurring, it’s always a good time to remind merchants who rely on POS systems to conduct business that protecting hardware and software from hackers and other cyber-criminals is vital in the effort to protect their business and customers’ data from falling into the wrong hands.

Two Areas of Vulnerability: Hardware and Software

There are two main ways that criminals steal consumer and business data – one is by affixing a physical device or “skimmer” to POS hardware devices in order to capture card data. The other way is by using malware to gain access to POS networks and get credit and debit card data as it passes through.

Cybercrime Prevention for Your Networks and POS Stations

While there is no “perfect solution” to your POS security, there are plenty of best practices that can be used to increase the security of your networks and the data that flows through them. These best practices include:

Maintaining the Most Up-to-date POS Software:

POS software updates often include important security patches that, if not installed, can leave your POS system vulnerable to malware and other attacks that could put your data at risk. Downloading and installing updates in a timely manner will keep POS networks and hardware far more protected than choosing to do updates quarterly or on some other schedule.

Installing a Firewalls and Anti-virus Software to Protect POS Networks:

POS systems are at constant risk of compromise at the hands of hackers, viruses, spyware and other malware that’s been designed to infiltrate and compromise POS systems. Using a firewall and anti-virus software does not guarantee complete protection, but should nonetheless be used as part of an overall protection system that keeps your POS hardware and network secure.

Creating strong passwords and changing them often:

Unfortunately, POS system installers are prone to using default passwords upon initial setup of online payment processing systems for merchants and not changing the passwords to something more secure. Using the default password makes life easy for the installers, but these passwords are fairly easy for criminals to obtain. Using complex, computer-generated passwords and unique account names are highly recommended. It’s also advisable to change passwords on a regular basis.

Denying Internet Access from POS Stations and Terminals:

When you restrict POS computers and terminals from accessing the Internet, you protect them from exposure and potential security threats such as viruses and other malware. POS systems should be connected only for necessary POS activities and should not be used for any general Internet usage. One click on a malware- infected site by an employee on a POS device could be disastrous for a business.

Disabling all Remote Access:

While it’s convenient to allows users such as IT personnel and administrators to remotely access a system without being physically in front of the terminal, cyber-criminals have ways of exploiting remote-access connections on POS systems to access data on these networks. To prevent access to these networks and data, disable remote access to your POS networks.

Doing these five things doesn’t ensure absolute security. However, these five steps will ensure that you are far less likely to suffer an attack at the hands of a cyber-criminal. Aside from these technical precautions, merchants should also be educating their employees about proper use of POS systems and signs that security has been breached.