Retail Point of Sale (POS) solutions have come a long way from being bolt-on applications for cash registers. Today, the cash register as the cornerstone piece of retail technology has been replaced by PCs, tablets and mobile devices.
Retail software vendors offer integrated software programs and POS systems for “mom-and-pop” stores to large retail chains, and everything in between. Retail software applications handle any combination of checkout, inventory control, customer management, e-commerce sales, merchandising and distribution. These systems help retailers automate the point of sale, improve inventory tracking, and enable more effective management of customer data to grow profits and decrease store inefficiencies.
Continuously falling hardware and equipment costs, the emergence of mobile devices like iPads, and new cloud-based POS offerings have led to more choices than ever. This leaves buyers with a daunting challenge as they try to determine the best application for their needs. The goal of this buyer’s guide is to help retailers understand the market as they begin their research. What we’ll cover:
Retail Software Applications
For retail software buyers that manage a single store, the most important features to look for include point of sale management, inventory control, accounting management and customer relationship management. These software products are generally straightforward, helping retailers ring up customers, update inventory levels, present basic reports, and keep track of customers.
|Point of Sale (POS)||Helps sales clerks ring-up customers and process payments. Ensures cashiers charge the correct amount, adjusts inventory and prints receipts. Example vendors include Microsoft POS software, RetailPro, and Counterpoint.|
|Inventory Control||Automates the management of supply levels. Deducts inventory as sales are completed and provides alerts when inventory levels reach pre-defined thresholds. Also provides reports on inventory movement trends. Example vendors include Fishbowl Inventory, RetailSTAR and Comcash.|
|Retail Accounting||Centralizes accounting data and provides accurate details on business performance. Incorporates inventory figures as well as other expenses, such as payroll and rent. Example vendors include Epicor POS, Microsoft Dynamics GP and NetSuite.|
|Retail CRM||Stores customer information and purchase history. Enables retailers to track contact information, key dates such as birthdays and anniversaries, and preferred items to market to customers. Example vendors include Sage ACT!, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and NetSuite.|
In general, we recommend single store owners select solutions based on budget, business size and IT capabilities.
When it comes to managing a retail business, the most difficult jump for retailers comes when they transition from one storefront to two. This is also the case for technology purchases, and complexities continue to build as the number of storefronts increase. And while this traditionally meant adding new locations and real estate, additional storefronts today can be both physical and on the Web.
These retailers commonly need applications with advanced features or an enterprise application suite to help manage their business. As a simple rule, you should consider these options if you:
- Manage multiple stores;
- Maintain both an online store and a brick-and-mortar presence; and/or
- Manage warehousing, distribution and fulfillment (on your own or in conjunction with third parties).
Retail buyers evaluating more advanced applications generally have two options:
Retail Software Suites. Buyers evaluating these solutions are generally looking for one application suite to manage the entire retail operation. These systems are typically scalable with robust multi-location reporting, centralized pricing controls and potentially warehouse or transportation management. Ideal for retailers with either a large number of stores or very large stores.
Best-of-Breed Retail Applications. Buyers evaluating these solutions are generally looking for a stand alone application to manage one function within the retail operation, such as accounting, merchandising or warehouse management. They typically have made large investments in existing systems and are seeking best-of-breed solutions to complement them.
In addition to the core modules listed in the chart above, these application suites typically include merchandising, warehouse and transportation management, and business intelligence functionality. The breadth and complexity of the technology you select should depend on your business’ size, number of storefronts and number of stock-keeping units (SKUs). We’ve summarized the applications you will find in an enterprise retail software suite below.
|Merchandise Management||Enables buyers to create the optimal balance of SKUs. Provides analytical tools to plan merchandise based on sales histories, trends and forecasts. Example vendors include Jesta Vision, Celerant and Retail Anywhere.|
|Warehouse Management||Automates inventory control within the warehouse. Functions include picking, packing, pulling and labor management. Example vendors include HighJump, SphereWMS and Microsoft Dynamics AX.|
|Transportation Management||Helps organizations efficiently transport inventory from distribution centers to store locations and customers. Enables enterprises to plan shipments via air, land or sea with their own or via third-party fleets. Example vendors include FreightMaster, TMW Systems and JDA Software.|
|Business Intelligence||Allows retailers to make better decisions using both internal and external data. Larger retailers will often use BI tools to improve merchandising and marketing efforts. Retailers may invest in BI modules within existing enterprise suites or purchase stand alone BI tools. Example vendors include Profitbase, BI360, Panorama and TARGIT.|
4 Benefits of Adopting Retail Software
A properly-implemented system should help retailers increase sales, increase inventory turns, minimize unsold inventory and manage the company more efficiently. The primary benefits that can be realized by implementing new retail software include:
1. More Efficient Transactions at the Point of Sale
One of the most important functions of retail software is to improve the checkout process for both employees and customers. POS applications integrate with cash drawers, external displays, printers, barcode scanners, scales and credit card terminals to reduce customer wait times and create a log of both inventory movement and individual customer purchases.
Outdoor and sporting goods store Orvis selected the Epicor retail software solution to upgrade its outdated point of sale technology. With Epicor, Orvis was able to achieve a tenfold increase in processing speeds at the point of sale and a 30-second drop in average credit card transaction processing times. The software also helped Orvis build-out its database with customer ZIP codes and email addresses for future marketing opportunities.
2. Improved Inventory Control and Tracking
The goal for any retailer is to maintain proper inventory levels and never to run out of popular items. This is difficult when retailers aren’t sure how particular SKUs are performing. Inventory management functionality gives retailers this insight and helps them make sound inventory decisions.
After the Museum of New Mexico Foundation Shops (MNMFShops) implemented the WinRetail solution, MNMFShops was able to identify its most popular and slowest-moving items. MNMFShops re-prioritized its inventory around this analysis, and was able to reduce its bloated inventory of books by $25,000 in the process.
3. Centralized Customer Management
Customer relationship management (CRM) modules help retailers better serve customers through personalized interactions. These modules utilize databases that allow retailers to serve targeted email offers and regular promotions to customers, while measuring the impact of these programs. Additionally, contact management features help retailers provide a more personalized experience for both online and offline shoppers.
Guitar Center Pro invested in the NetSuite Retail CRM module to help improve its quoting process and better prioritize the assignments of its sales team. After replacing its existing applications and Excel spreadsheets, Guitar Center Pro was able to reduce its average time spent quoting from five hours to one hour per week, while achieving 12 percent annual growth in its stores.
4. Greater Ability to Cut Costs
Retail technology reduces the time spent manually entering data, freeing retailers to spend more time analyzing employee, inventory and business performance. Many solutions include custom report wizards, employee commission tracking and dashboards to quickly identify top sales performers and areas for business improvement.
South Korean supermarket Lotte Mart deployed JDA Software in a phased approach, starting in 2006. Since then, Lotte Mart has greatly improved its pricing strategy and planning at the store level. Improved insight into how individual outlets should markdown, order and display items is one reason Lotte Mart saw a 12 percent increase in sales and a 25 percent decrease in stock levels.
Speciality Retail Software Solutions
Retailers might want to consider software designed specifically for the unique needs of their business. For example, restaurant and food service business owners often require restaurant software to process orders, print tickets and analyze ingredient availability. Or, jewelers might need jewelry POS software to manage repairs and quotes, in addition to processing sales and inventory tracking.
Here are some other examples:
Software for Resale Stores. Unlike other retailers, consignment, pawn shop and resale store owners don’t own their inventories. In fact, the providers may later want their inventory back. These retailers need retail software solutions with inventory management and accounting functionality tailored to these store types.
Software for Cellular Phone Stores. These retailers need software with advanced CRM capabilities to know which phones and accessories customers have already purchased, and where they’re at within their contract periods. This information is greatly beneficial when it comes to upsells. Many of these systems also include domain-specific features, such as the ability to manage cellular data plans, phone activations, and commissions tracking for employees.
Software for Grocery Stores. For grocers, speed and accuracy are necessary at the point of sale to help move customers through the line quickly while maintaining accurate inventory counts. Integration with scales, barcode scanners and other hardware peripherals are crucial features in these systems. In addition, grocers should look for solutions that support their delicatessen, bakery and butcher departments.
Retail Software BuyerView | 2013
Over the years, we've spoken with thousands of retailers considering new point of sale software solutions. Our BuyerView research analyzes five key questions:
- Which sales tools are currently being used by retail software buyers?
- What types of retailers are looking for new retail software?
- What are the top reasons for purchasing new retail software?
- What are the top applications required by retail software buyers?
- Are retailers looking to buy Web-based solutions? How has this changed over the past four years?
For more details on this report, check out our BuyerView research here.
Retail Software Market Share
In January 2013, Boston Retail Partners (BRP) published its 14th Annual POS Benchmarking Survey. Respondents to the survey were generally larger speciality retailers: nearly 60 percent reporting above $1 billion in annual gross revenue, and 61 percent defined themselves as speciality retailers.
One of the interesting takeaways from the benchmarking report was the retail software market share among these retailers:
In its survey of some of the largest retailers in the world, BRP noted the shift from using proprietary, homegrown solutions at the point of sale to some of the more popular vendors, namely Epicor, SAP, MICROS, IBM (now Toshiba) and Retalix (now NCR).
You can download the full report at the Boston Retail Partners site here.
As you evaluate a new point of sales system, keep these trends in mind. How your vendor fits within these trends could have a big impact on their viability.
Industry Consolidation. Over the past few years, a number of major acquisitions have shaken up the market, particularly with the vendors that serve larger retailers. Radiant Systems’ CounterPoint POS was acquired by NCR back in July 2011. RedPrairie acquired Retalix in October 2011 (only to be acquired by JDA Software in December 2012). And Toshiba purchased IBM’s point-of-sale business in April 2012.
Mac vs. PC. A growing number of retailers are shifting from proprietary hardware solutions and personal computers to Apple products, like Mac computers and iPads. These retailers will need to ensure that the software they select--and the specific features they want, which are sometimes not available across platforms--run on Mac, iPad- or iPod-devices.
Mobile POS. As more and more retailers conduct sales at tradeshows, events and other temporary locations, mobile POS applications are becoming increasingly common. These systems enable users to process payments wirelessly and access inventory/sales data remotely. With the popularity of Apple's iPad, more vendors are developing iOS-optimized versions of their traditional applications.
Multi-channel integration. Retailers recognizing the tight margins of traditional “brick and mortar” retail are beginning to conduct more sales over the Web. Sales via eBay, Amazon and other websites are becoming increasingly common. Retailers considering venturing into multi-channel sales should be prepared to evaluate vendors’ integrated e-commerce options. Integrated e-commerce modules run the full range of functionality, from basic shopping cart integration to real-time integration of sales and supply data across channels.
“Intelligent” inventory management. Most retailers are quick to recognize that purchasing just the right amount and mix of inventory is key to maintaining profitability. As retailers find that experience and intuition don’t always lead to the best purchasing decisions, they turn to technology. More advanced applications such as merchandise management and open-to-buy are enabling users to make more intelligent, data-driven purchasing and inventory decisions. Many providers are trying to make these packages more affordable, putting them within reach of many smaller and mid-size companies.
Loyalty management. Retailers are quick to recognize the value of repeat business. As a result, retail POS systems are offering more and more functionality to help users generate more sales with existing and past customers. These integrated applications help retailers manage gift cards, rewards/frequent buyer programs, and email marketing campaigns. Features enabling targeted campaigns enable retailers to market directly to consumers based on past purchases or interests. Most retailers find that these targeted email campaigns are much more effective than general email blasts.
Tips for New Buyers
We commonly hear from buyers that are evaluating POS solutions for the first time and looking at POS reviews for the first time. Questions we commonly hear include:
- “Can I just download free point of sale software?”
- “Is free retail POS software reliable? Are there any dangers to using free POS software?”
- “Which vendor offers the best point of sale software for small business?”
From our perspective, it’s hard to label one solution as the best POS software solution for every retailer. We’ve reviewed the top POS systems for retail and found that regardless of system or buyer, there are a number of steps that can help make your point of sale software review process smoother:
Research the market first. Vendor websites are a good place to start your research and read up on retail point of sale system reviews. Understand that vendors often use phrases like “cashier software" and “cash register software” to describe their solutions, but these terms are synonymous with point of purchase software.
Prioritize your needs. While many solutions can meet your basic needs, you may need specific functionality in the new system. Do you need integrated e-commerce functionality? Is it vital that the vendor have experience supporting retail software for small business? Would you prefer to invest in open source POS software? Keep these priorities top-of-mind while reading through various POS system reviews.
Traditional vendors embrace the iPad. A shortlist should be compiled that lists the best retail point of sales systems that meet your priorities. Narrowing-down the best POS systems can effectively shorten the system search and ensure that you only evaluate systems that will be a good fit. That’s where we come in—we’re here to help put together the right shortlist.
Evaluate solutions based on demos. POS software reviews are a good place to start when evaluating systems, but the final step should be participating in solution demos. Here, you can test-drive the solution and find the best retail pos system for you.