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Implementing EPoS: Part two

How to buy a retail system in 2013: Part two

Retail systems are now lower in cost, easier to use and have more functionally than ever before. As a tool, they can really improve profitability, but the rich and varied functions make finding the right one 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.

These days, even simple EPoS systems become your till, a stock management tool, and help with many processes in your shop. They are packed with ways to improve your productivity, improve your customers' experience and improve your profitability. The multichannel ones will also run your website. A good multichannel EPoS system should pay for itself within a year or two, a bad one can have a negative impact, not least on your enjoyment of the business.

Here in part two, we look at three tips for helping you choose the right system first time, as well as some potential pitfalls to watch out for.

Tip One. Hardware selection
The computer hardware consists of till computers with touch screens, barcode scanners, receipt printers and cash drawers. In addition, a handheld stock take unit that you can take around the store can be handy. The choice of hardware is much less important than software because it's the software that needs to fit your business practices.

When you do get to the point of looking at hardware, your decision really boils down to a consideration of cost versus durability. A retail environment is a much harsher place for a PC than an office. It's likely to have bags, wrap and products stuffed in and around it. There is also a lot more movement and it's likely to get knocked about.

Standard office PCs are lower in price and more powerful than specialist retail computers which tend to be more robust. They are built to be more durable and may have lockable cases designed to stop staff or customers touching switches and ports, which improves reliability. Retail systems have more ports on the back to connect the till paraphernalia like the chip and pin device, receipt printer and customer display screen.

So, whilst a standard PC will be lower cost up front, the retail systems can offer value for money over their lifetime.

Importantly, when it comes to the receipt printer and barcode scanner, don't buy cheap. The cost saving will be insignificant. In my experience, a few extra pounds spent on big brands like Epson is worth it for till reliability.

Tip Two. Which type of EPoS platform?
Another factor in choosing a system is deciding which platform is right for your business. The main choices are:
PC based systems: These systems hold all of the data on the local PC. It means the data is always there when needed, however, these systems do not update in 'real time' and so if you have stock in other locations or have a website linked up, it will probably be inaccurate. These tend to be lower cost systems.
Cloud based systems: These do everything via the internet. They are lightweight to install and can work pretty well on any old PC system. The software runs in a browser so it can be used from anywhere. However, the tills are reliant on the internet, so if the internet runs slowly at busy times, the tills will run slowly as well.
Combined systems: This is a combination of the above; the data sits on each PC so it's not reliant on the internet, yet it uses the internet for sharing information on stock levels, products, sales, etc. This keeps the tills reliable and provides real time data sharing.

Tip Three. Cash or lease
Payment options usually boil down to lease or cash up front. Many businesses lease computer equipment nowadays, which is an efficient way of paying and means that payments can be spread over the life of the agreement. Most leases allow you to purchase the equipment for a nominal sum at the end of the lease period. Simply put, you will be using the system for years, so why not pay for it over the period rather than all up front? If the interest payments put you off, it may be worth talking to your accountant as the tax advantages of leasing can sometimes offset the interest.

Three common mistakes when buying EPoS

1. Buying hardware first
The problem with this approach is that some software requires specific hardware. Even though it may work, it's generally better to stick with one set of equipment from one supplier, which has all been properly tested and used on other sites.

2. Developing a website first
If possible it's best not to develop a website before buying EPoS. Modern EPoS systems will integrate your store and website. There are huge benefits to doing this and it's usually cheaper to buy all in one. I have seen many retailers spend thousands on websites that can't be integrated with their other in-store systems.

3. Buying the cheapest hardware and software
Quality technology costs money and you'll get what you pay for. Buying cheap can mean unreliable hardware and software. Buy with the next two or three years in mind and purchase the best technology that fits the business. Expect to spend one-two per cent of your annual revenue on technology. Buying the right system should more than pay this back.

David Mackley MBA BSc is Managing Director of Intelligent Retail, providers of multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on T: +44 (0)845 680 0126 or dmackley@intelligentretail.co.uk

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