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How to buy a retail system in 2013: Part One
Retail systems are now lower in cost, easier to use and have more functionality than ever. As a tool, they can really improve profitability for a retailer. But the varied functions make finding the right one seem so difficult. Sadly, there is no Which? guide to EPoS, and trade organisations are reluctant to recommend any as they don't really understand them, so retailers are left alone to make the decision.
There's a lot to consider with an EPoS system, and with the risk of buying the wrong one, potential mutiny from staff and throwing thousands of pounds into the bin, the trusty old cash register starts to look quite appealing! This article looks at some tips on how to go about buying a modern retail system and improve the chances of getting it right first time.
It was more than 20 years ago when Martin Goodwin and Bob Henry created the first EPoS software that could run on Windows. Since then, EPoS systems have become cheaper, more user friendly, more functional and more reliable. Since 2005 we have seen the advent of multichannel retail systems. Evolved from EpoS, they not only look after store management, they also help retailers sell online and via other marketplace channels.
Whilst these changes are making systems more attractive, it's the shift in consumer behaviour that is the real driver - more and more people are buying online but does that necessarily mean that EPoS is the best move?
Most independents I talk to didn't go into business to sell to anonymous people online; they started with a passion to sell quality products whilst delivering a great service to local people. However, these days it's hard to avoid the internet because that's where customers are. Christmas saw a trend of giving tablet computers to friends and family, which has meant more people than ever can access the internet conveniently. Independent retailers are having to think about the best ways to adapt their businesses in this new world. The good news is that online selling can be rewarding as well, nice feedback from online customers is great - and can work wonders for your online reputation! It's also an opportunity to reach out to new people.
Depending on your business, a multichannel retail system can help manage the online and in-store parts of the business.
There appear to be few things as difficult or complex as buying an EPoS system. There are so many ways they can help your business, and with so many features it's easy to get overloaded with facts and figures.
When starting Intelligent Retail in 2004, I looked at other EPoS systems around then and couldn't believe how complex they all sounded. This isn't helped by well meaning, enthusiastic sales people demonstrating feature after feature, which all too easily cloud those aspects that you're most interested in! There are ways to help avoid the muddle. The following approach can help you to keep a clear head.
Five top tips
1. Choose an EPoS partner not a supplier
The number one priority is to find a partner you are comfortable with. This is not like buying a TV from Currys. It's not a one-off transaction, you are selecting an IT partner for your business. A good IT partner is there to help, not just on technical problems but also to help and advise on using the system.
Gaining an understanding of the company is important. Find out who your contact will be, try calling the helpline, how easily can you get through? Who will be your technology adviser, the person helping you move your business forward and offering you fresh ideas through technology?
You can't be an expert in everything. If technology isn't your thing then get a good partner that understands your business - it can become a valuable asset.
2. Be clear about what you want
The key to selecting the right system first time is to write down a prioritised list of what you want the EPoS to do for you. It's better to do this before you talk to any vendors so that you are not swayed early on. When you do start talking to vendors, have your list ready and make notes against each point. This will stop you forgetting who said what. It's so easy to lose track with so much information flying around. If, during the meetings, you hear of new ideas, make a note then add to your list later in priority order.
What is most important is that you start with your own list. You know your business better than anyone and your EPoS software should complement it, not reinvent it!
A few examples for your list might include; reduce stock holding, speed up customer transactions, run a loyalty scheme across shop and web, manage returns efficiently, create and manage a website to sell 10 per cent of stock, and track average sale value daily for each sales assistant. Try not to write down 'reports', try to think about what information you want in the reports and how you will use to help shape your business.
3. Software selection
In those supplier meetings, ask that they structure a demonstration around the needs on your list. This has a few advantages - firstly, it stops the sales person going off on a well-meaning but confusing tangent about the latest must-have features and secondly the discussion is on your terms and will help you understand the software better.
It's important that you feel comfortable very quickly with the software. If you need a manual to understand it, walk away. These days computer software should be very pleasant to look at and intuitive to use. Just with a quick overview you should be able to use the basic functions, particularly the till. Simplicity is vital.
Because EPoS looks after many of your shop processes, one size doesn't fit all. You should be able to find software that meets around 95 per cent of your needs (it's very rare for off-the-shelf software to fit 100 per cent). I suggest looking at systems that are used by retailers in your sector. This means the majority of functions should fit.
Unless you have very deep pockets and lots of time and patience, do not entertain getting a bespoke system made. Also, if the company says it will build new features for you, make sure the function is clearly described in writing and signed by a director. Software development is famously complex, expensive and largely underestimated! Most retailers will see enough benefits with a system that fits 95-99 per cent of their business requirments, but some will put off buying a system unless it's 100 per cent, which is likely to never happen.
Finally, check for all ongoing costs and how charges are made for enhancements if required at a later date.
Next time we look at tips on how to buy a system, as well as the top three pitfalls to buying!
David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail (www.intelligentretail.co.uk), providers of Multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on +44 (0)845 6800126 or email firstname.lastname@example.org