By Ian Goldman
You’re probably familiar with Moore’s Law, the axiom that predicts the exponential growth of technology by noting that computing power more or less doubles every two years. This affects all facets of life in a multitude of ways, but for retailers, the largest impacts it has is on the technology that drives operations: retail management systems.
Not only have we passed the critical mass where it makes sense for any retailer, no matter how small, to ditch manual cash registers and “dumb brick” credit card processing hardware in favor of fully functional POS solutions, those that have long histories with POS systems must regularly reevaluate them to determine if they are still meeting every business need.
Whether upgrading to a brand new platform, updating an existing one, or playing catch-up and implementing your first POS system, evaluating the options can be daunting. With so many competing platforms, how do you know which one is right for you? Taking inventory of your business needs and considering the capabilities of each solution will get you a long way toward making the right decision.
An upgrade may be the best way to go
Updating an existing platform is certainly the simplest solution for outdated technology. That makes it the logical place to start -- if a simple update provides the functionality you need, why go through all the trouble of shopping around and going through an implementation that can be expensive and time consuming? If a quality vendor was selected for the initial system, chances are good that an available update will address any business need with few to no associated headaches.
But in the real world, this isn’t always the case. An update may not have been developed yet, or even worse, the platform has been completely abandoned by the developer. When that happens, the only choice becomes selecting a new platform.
It probably goes without saying that the vendor who left you hanging should be left out of consideration, but take to heart the lesson that you just learned: Selecting a POS vendor that provides frequent updates is always preferable to one that doesn’t. As tempting as it may be to be penny wise but pound foolish, understand that the useful life of any POS iteration rarely exceeds three years. Think ahead to what you’ll be faced with then.
Evaluating features: to thine own self be true
At first glance, all POS solutions are pretty much the same. They all handle cash and credit transactions out of the box, they all accept returns, and they can all handle pricing changes; but feature lists go much deeper, especially for omnichannel functionality. The trick is knowing what capabilities will help sales and service versus those that will sit dormant despite the fact that you paid for them. This requires a detailed and honest look at how you conduct business and where you see the future.
For example, inventory reporting between sales channels is important for any retailer engaged in e-commerce, but do you need catalog integration with third parties like Amazon and eBay? If you do, they are well worth the price of admission; but if you don’t, you can save by not worrying about them. But the monkey wrench is, could you possibly need them next year or the year after? The best approach is to not exclude anything that could realistically become necessary as you grow and the ecosystem evolves.
Existing IT resources and infrastructure also play heavily into the POS buying decision. Retailers that are lean and not tied to a particular operating system often benefit from web based clients while those with internal IT teams may prefer systems that operate on open databases. Determining what your technology needs will look like after 3-5 years of steady growth and what customizations you will expect from a vendor help align with the best partner who is equipped to service your needs in the long term.
Shine your crystal ball and prepare for the future
It can be tough to know where the coming years will take any business, or even the retail industry at large. However, there are several eventualities that can be accurately forecast. For example, it was known more than a year ago that all retailers who accept credit cards would have to be EMV compliant by this October; so it has made sense for some time now to ensure that a selected POS solution met the standard -- or, at least, would by the deadline.
We can similarly engage in some forecasting for the coming years. More consumers than ever are completing purchases using mobile devices, and that trend is only accelerating. Therefore, even retailers that have not yet launched into m-commerce should know that they will likely need to optimize for this channel in the near future. RFID technology is also becoming more cost effective, and many retailers are continuing experimentation with it or trying it for the first time.
No matter what new innovation or trend comes into play in the future, don’t let your retail management platform be the limiting factor to growth. Since the past is the best predictor of the future, look for a vendor with a rich history of proactive updates that support the newest approaches to retail. Also, seek a provider that actively partners with clients to ensure their needs are met swiftly, developing updates and modules quickly to serve the evolving consumer market.
In the technology enabled world of retail, the right POS solution can be the difference between pouncing on opportunities as they evolve or watching helplessly as your competitors do.
Ian Goldman, President and CEO of Celerant Technology, is an expert software engineer and entrepreneurial enthusiast with an extensive knowledge of Point of Sale systems, CRM, and inventory management.
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