Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Changes at the Store

We're upgrading our entire point-of-sale (POS) operation with new store fixtures and a Mac based point of sale machine three weeks from today. The fixtures will replace our 9-year old counter and register stand. The counter is gouged, permanently stained with super glue, and irreparably grungy. The register "stand," stands only because it has no room to fall over. Perhaps it needs a new name, like Register Lean.

The register stand was designed for a cash register, not fifty pounds of point of sale machinery with a rats nest of cables. One shelf is held on with duct tape and the whole thing was made unstable on day one by boring holes through it. The new fixtures are "professional grade" from my favorite fixture company, Newood. They cost about four times more than the last batch of fixtures, but everything from Newood looks new many year later, compared to bargain fixtures that start to wear out after a couple years (along with collapsing on customers and other horrors).

New counter and register stand by Newood

The new point of sale system is Lightspeed, a Mac based system you may have encountered at the Apple store. Lightspeed is one of the few systems as robust as our current Microsoft Retail Dynamics system, but without the irritation of Windows-based computing and with a few improvements. Retail Dynamics has grown stagnant over the years, with little to no improvements or added features, allowing companies like Lightspeed to step up with new innovations.

Lightspeed especially shines in mobile POS, meaning when it's busy, staff can grab an iPad and help people in line, or sell a game or event voucher right from the sales floor. If you've seen the store lately, you know iPads are everywhere, in a variety of roles, so it's hardly new technology for us. 

Lightspeed also excels in the area of "ease of use."  Special orders and back orders are easier, for example. Customers can choose to have their receipts emailed to them, and once in the system, it happens every time they use their credit card. The interface is stunning and just a bit easier to use. Finally, there's a very nice E-commerce module that might finally allow us to have a web presence, if we can come up with a viable model.

What are we losing? Our Paladin Club customer loyalty program is very specific to our old POS system, so that won't be moving forward. I announced we would be moving away from that program three years ago, but we grandfathered in everyone who had a card. Now there's actually a technical reason to let it go. Everyone who has a card will retain their points and will have their points rounded up or down for redemption. There's no need to run out and use your points, but you just won't be accruing new ones as of mid-August.

Will we have another club program? Perhaps something, but I believe these programs are really, really bad for the business. The amount of money given away is tremendous, and even by grandfathering in customers, the costs remain high. Plus, with so many new customers, we have a two-tiered system of sorts, which isn't really fair. You can go back to my three year old post for a fuller discussion of this.

Why the big change? Point of sale companies want a better revenue source, as a company like Microsoft hasn't seen a dime for us in over five years. They now have mandatory maintenance programs and ours was long out of date. When asked to pay up, my response was thanks, but I'm fine. That worked out alright until our POS consultants stopped supporting Retail Dynamics.

The new consultants wouldn't talk to us until we were current on maintenance, which would have cost thousands of dollars. That opened the door to exploration, and with my personal switch to Apple products, it made sense to consider a Mac based POS. This was important to do now because our system is creaky and without a support contact, a POS failure could put us down for days, with a business system that makes money measured by the hour. As a former IT guy (really no such thing, like being a former Marine), having such a critical system without support was not acceptable.

On the whole, with better special ordering, back ordering, crowd management, and the future potential of an online store, I think this is better for not only the business, but for customers.

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