The right fit

With retailers approaching 10 year anniversaries for their PoS systems, many are starting to look at whether what they have is still fit for purpose. There is a sense that EPoS software has become bloated with functionality crammed in to packages to meet retailers’ demands but now leaving them with systems that are more than they needed and so not fully utilised. Equally EPoS systems are now so intertwined that when an organisation does want to make a change to their systems or software, extracting one particular business area more often than not proves much more of a challenge than they would like it to be.

“It’s a bit like other desktop applications such as Microsoft Office,” says Craig Wood, director of product development at CTS Retail. “No-one comes close to using 100 per cent of it and the same is true with EPoS software.” But it is a consequence of today’s way of working. “The days of bespoke software have gone. People aren’t prepared to pay for that and want to buy something off-the-shelf but that does bring a lot of extra features and therefore a lot of redundant software,” says Wood.

Nigel Stephenson, marketing manager at K3 Retail & Business Solutions, believes retailers are starting to rebel. “There’s a growing resistance to solutions packed with extra features that a retailer feels over complicate, or slow down the sales process. Many of the features have been added because retailers have demanded them. Unfortunately, retailers have often forgotten to re-configure their PoS solution as new elements are added and internal processes evolve. This means EPoS can be seen as over complicated and ‘bloated’ with features. This increases the training overhead for new users, which in these cost conscious times are difficult for retailers to deploy,” he says.

Tony Hammond, product director at Torex, denies this is a problem, however. “If properly architected, discrete areas of functionality can be isolated and designed to be deployed independently, whilst still being able to interoperate with other parts of the system as and when required,” he says. He argues that retailers need the additional functionality to deal with change. “They are constantly evolving and systems must be designed to evolve with them. You can’t have too much functionality - so long as the system can be configured to activate/deactivate functionality as and when you need it but more precisely, “where” you need it.”

But whilst retailers may think they want simpler, more intuitive EPoS solutions, there’s actually increasing pressure on them to offer more services through the PoS rather than fewer, according to Stephenson. “The advent of reserve online and collect in-store opens up the opportunity for the switched on retailer to offer a whole new range of complimentary services through the PoS that leverages its investments across multiple sales channels. For example, should you be able to return purchases against online receipts? Do you apply the same rigour as you would for a store-based purchase? At K3 we are focusing on two strategies for dealing with these competing demands. Introducing points of service around the store to deal with some of these more complex processes, either in the form of a self-service kiosk, or a dedicated PoS where customers can be ‘guided’ through the process by trained staff or to focus on more innovative PoS solutions which guide staff through the more complex elements of a sales process using richer media and more structure to prompt actions. For example, the K3 netPOS uses a graphically rich GUI to guide staff and customers through the complexities of configuring and ordering furniture with their thousands of options while at the same time keeping the software ‘light’ enough to be deployed on a tablet that allows the customer and salesperson to sit on the sofa they’re ordering,” he says.

Leaner and meaner
Some speculate that the future may see the development of leaner, meaner EPoS systems that allow better integration to best-of-breed application. Many believe the skinnier PoS will come through cloud-based computing. “By deploying a cloud-based EPoS system retailers can gain greater control and also integration,” says Ian Tomlinson, CEO at Cybertill. “Cybertill is cloud-based and modular in its architecture. This has allowed us to offer a ‘slimmed down’ version of our main EPoS system specifically for independent retailers, by removing the functionality a multiple retailer requires, such as inter branch transfers, an internal messaging system and so forth. A key benefit of adding new functionality to cloud-based systems is that as the EPoS software is hosted, the upgrades can be done regularly. With local EPoS systems an annual upgrade can carry so many new features that it makes using the system challenging, and that is when the system can begin to feel bloated and unmanageable,” he says.

Huw Thomas, managing director at PMC, says that the challenge lies in finding the business case to revamp such systems and the risk involved in doing so. “The only option is for retailers to go a bit more ‘skinny’ but it’s whether anyone will be brave enough. The big inhibitor is how do you glue this together because the only way you can ever get a skinny PoS is to get to a good SOA architecture - a middleware layer that allows you to plug best-of- breed applications in. Given the economic conditions, people will sit on their hands. If capital investment is scarce at the moment how do you get approval for a multi-million pound investment for EPoS? Someone has to come up with something very new - either amazing functionality or cost-effectiveness or some way of taking away the complexities of integration,” says Thomas.

Torex’s Hammond believes we will see evolution. “Our latest versions and applications recognise the need for specialist functionality that can be shared between the various sales channels and applications. PoS functionality is not being pared down, but it is now being complemented by solutions, such as Torex Channel Hub that centralises business intelligence (BI) and business rules that can be shared between and unify all the channels to provide seamless cross channel processes,” he says. “In essence, good design will ensure that business logic, data and functionality does not have to be replicated in every channel, therefore to this extent PoS can be leaner and certainly meaner.”

PCI, internationalisation and customer order management are some prompts for change. At John Lewis the latter is the reason for the retailer upgrading its systems, using PCMS’ core Vision BeanStore product across 3,000 tills after the retailer’s existing EPoS system had supported the business for over 20 years. “It has been added to and heavily customised along the way to meet the demands of an expanding retail business. We are now replacing this legacy system with leading Java-based technology, which is more scalable and agile to meet ever growing business needs faster,” says Lesley Ballantyne, director operational development at John Lewis.

For the retailer this is about having an interface that other systems can easily plug in too. “Nowadays, EPoS systems are built to integrate in a better way and include multi-channel capabilities. In a multi-channel world selling systems need to fit seamlessly together. At John Lewis we are building a seamless user interface bringing together EPoS and order management to provide a customer centric view internally and externally - so a customer can, for example, place an order, make a payment and take delivery in a seamless way regardless of the selling channel,” says Ballantyne.

One driver that could prompt further growth, however, is the advent of true mobile commerce. “Over the next few years EPoS systems will improve how retailers serve customers,” says Ballantyne. “A key development will be mobile PoS and mobile payment giving the customer more control and convenience, all adding up to improving customer service.”

“A lot of people are now going over to mobile PoS and with that comes the need for leaner and sleeker EPoS applications,” says Tim Van den Branden, managing director at Partner Tech UK. “All the applications then become comparable to a point of information rather than just a mobile PoS,” he says. Again this is where cloud-based computing would work well.

Cybertill’s Tomlinson has the final word. “Standalone EPoS systems are redundant in today’s retail environment. The PoS has to integrate with e-commerce platforms and mail order operations. Cloud-based systems allow seamless links between all sales channels, as cloud-based systems have a central product database, one central client database and so forth shared across all channels.”

“As retailers change they need a system that can adapt, so having an EPoS system with additional functions is useful, but arguably of more importance is an EPoS system that has regular functionality updates as it is more flexible to retailers’ needs. As with all things in life, EPoS systems must continue to evolve and those that don’t will be forced out of the marketplace,” he concludes.

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