Is your customer data a house of cards

| September 18, 2018

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Everything about your business starts with highly reliable data, consistently applied throughout the organization. Bad data quality can have a measurable impact on the business. When your internal clients don’t have access to the most current, correct data, it obstructs their view of the customer, making for awkward relationships, failed business initiatives, and compliance risk.

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Retail Search Group, a PrincetonOne Company

Nationwide engaged and contingent retail search delivered by retail experts. For the year 2016 Retail Search Group, a PrincetonOne Company, again as one of the premier Retail search firms worldwide.

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5 Shopify Alternatives in 2020-21 that Make Ecommerce Simple for Beginners

Article | October 16, 2020

In 2004, Tobias Lutke, Daniel Weinand, and Scott Luke established an online website to sell snowboards. They tried a bunch of online store builders but were not satisfied with the status quo. So, they decided to build a tool that could operate their website. Soon, they realized that the tool was more powerful than the website's business. And hence, Shopify was born. Eventually, Shopify became one of the largest eCommerce store builders in the world. By 2009, the company had $100 million in sales and decided to launch its own API as well as an app store. More than a decade later, Shopify is now supporting over 800,000 stores globally and is a $125 billion company. While the company has shown remarkable growth in its business, it would be ignorant to say the market's needs have been fulfilled by the Shopify platform. Shopify's eCommerce platform works for a lot of businesses, but that does not mean it will work for every business. Here is why Shopify is Not the Right Fit for Every Business: Shopify's growth over the years shows that the company has taken several steps to address the market's inherent needs. However, the presence of several other companies and the issues still faced by merchants show some significant gaps in Shopify's offerings: 1. Cost of Setting Up: Each price-point offers a fixed set of features and functionalities. If you want anything over and above that, you will have to buy the subsequent package. For instance – something as conventional as a Gift Card is not available in the $29 per month package; to get it activated, pay as much as $299 per month. 2. Cost of Operations: The additional functionalities and features cost extra in your package. Even basic features like transaction or credit card processing attract an additional fee. To add to that, you have to purchase the app to activate the feature from the Shopify app store. Even though some apps are free, the apps that offer maximum value tend to cost north of $39.99 per month. 3. Limited and Expensive Themes: The entire Shopify store has a total of 73 themes, with the prices going as high as $180 a theme. This means that as a merchant, even after paying the high price, you may end up with an eCommerce platform that hardly stands out from the crowd. In short, while Shopify was started with great intentions, the cost of using it has started outweighing the probable value it has to offer. This issue gets further highlighted when one starts looking at the Shopify alternatives. Best Alternatives of Shopify While Shopify suits the needs of a certain set of merchants, here are the alternatives that can suit the merchants looking for more tailored, affordable, or customizable solutions: 1. Quick eSelling Quick eSelling is one of the most affordable and easy to deploy ecommerce store builder among the Shopify alternatives. It can be deployed in under 10 minutes for the basic variant. Its free variant has some prolific features like a native Android app, responsive website, and a catalog that can support up to 1000 products. The free package requires a 5% transaction fee, which gets eliminated the moment you upgrade to a paid plan. All the paid plans have a fixed monthly fee and no setup costs. The list of standard features includes a wide set of functionalities like customizable web-store themes, SMS & Email marketing, comprehensive payment gateway integrations, detailed analytics reports, inventory management systems, social media plugins, discount coupon codes, and even live chat. The premium package which costs around 50% the price of the $299 Shopify package, comes with a dedicated account manager and enterprise-level integrations. Ideal for: Merchants who are seeking an affordable, easily usable, and quickly deployable solution. 2. WooCommerce WooCommerce is popularly considered one of the most preferred alternatives for Shopify. It is quite convenient for website owners as it is a plugin for WordPress. Unlike other tools in the list, WooCommerce is designed to make WordPress sites work as functional eCommerce platforms. And in that particular aspect, it does a great job. However, if you are not already using an established WordPress site with high traffic, running WooCommerce can become quite expensive. On average, a website owner has to spend as much as $1000 in setting up a WooCommerce store with a moderate degree of customization. Even if you are not customizing a lot, running a WooCommerce store can cost you as much as $150 in a month. This would cover your hosting, themes, shipping plugins, security, and SEO. You will pay additional 2.9% + $0.30 per transaction. Ideal for: Someone who has a successful WordPress website and now wants to convert it into an eCommerce store. 3. Yo!Kart: Yo!Kart is a popular self-hosted multi-vendor platform for building online marketplaces. Unlike Shopify, it is a standalone platform that comes with a lifetime license and rich ecommerce features. The platform is fully customizable and scalable. Yo!Kart packages start from $999 and every package comes with a 1-year free technical support, free installation, and full source code. There are no monthly or yearly recurring fees. Considering it is a comprehensive platform, you may need some technical training to understand the system. Ideal for: Business owners who want to start ecommerce websites like Amazon or ebay where multiple sellers are selling under the same roof. 4. PrestaShop PrestaShop runs on the basic premise that creating an online eCommerce store should be an affordable exercise for any merchant. That is the reason why it is available for free and comes without any additional monthly fees. Its features include eCommerce functionalities like CRM & Email Marketing, Inventory Management, Multi-Store Management, and SEO Management. You can get a basic eCommerce store running by paying the registration fee for the domain and the hosting fee dues. While this may seem like a great alternative, given the fact that it is practically free, there is one major caveat – you cannot deploy or personalize your PrestaShop eCommerce store unless you know how to code. The entire platform has been designed, keeping in mind people who can code at professional levels of proficiency. The cost of hiring a developer who can add features to your store or modify the theme can be very costly. In addition to this, some basic features like promotions & reviews management, data security, and mobile access are not available on the platform. Ideal for: The merchants who have access to programming talent and don't mind a basic eCommerce store. 5. Wix Wix became popular as an online website builder. It also offers interesting eCommerce functionalities. For as low as $35 a year, you can have the Business Basic package that comes with a free year of using the domain, analytics reports, and 20 GB of storage. If you want greater control of your eCommerce platform but are not a professional programmer and are not interested in hiring one, Wix can be a great alternative. Its most expensive package costs about $80 a year. It comes with features like email marketing, SEO management, inventory management, data security, and promotions management. The challenge is – most of the charges marketed by Wix are very affordable for the first year in operations. After a year, many of these features, like the domain, will become payable elements. This way as soon as the first year of your operations is over, your cost of running the eCommerce platform will dramatically go up. Ideal for: Merchants who want to have greater control of their website's design without the need for coding skills and those who want the first year of operations to be largely affordable. Conclusion: Shopify can work for you if you are seeking a limited set of features. However, for lesser price-points, the alternatives for Shopify offer great functionalities. Quick eSelling is good for cost-effective and rapidly deployable eCommerce websites that come loaded with native features. WooCommerce is a viable option if you have a WordPress site and want to convert it into an eCommerce store. Yo!Kart specializes in building multi-vendor marketplaces. PrestaShop can be handy and very budget-friendly if you have access to coding talent. And Wix is good if you want greater control over what your store looks like, without getting into the programming aspects.

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U.S. dairy farmers dump milk as pandemic upends food markets

Article | October 16, 2020

Despite strong demand for basic foods like dairy products amid the coronavirus pandemic, the milk supply chain has seen a host of disruptions that are preventing dairy farmers from getting their products to market. Mass closures of restaurants and schools have forced a sudden shift from those wholesale food-service markets to retail grocery stores, creating logistical and packaging nightmares for plants processing milk, butter and cheese. Trucking companies that haul dairy products are scrambling to get enough drivers as some who fear the virus have stopped working. And sales to major dairy export markets have dried up as the food-service sector largely shuts down globally.

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POS SOLUTIONS

What Is Point of Sale Software? A Checklist for Choosing the Best POS for Your Business

Article | October 16, 2020

Point-of-sale (POS) software is constantly evolving. Clunky cash registers alone can’t keep up. Brick-and-mortar retailers are adopting leaner systems that operate on mobile devices in favor of complicated setups that cost thousands of dollars. But it’s not just retail stores that are interested in POS systems—online store owners who sell at craft fairs, trade shows, and farmers markets are also in need of inexpensive and easy-to-use point-of-sale solutions. So, what exactly is point of sale software, how do you know if you need it, and how do you choose the right tool for your business? What is point-of-sale (POS) software? Point of sale software is what brick-and-mortar retailers use to conduct sales in person. It's sometimes a cash register, computer, or even a tablet where cashiers input products, tally the cost, and conduct the financial transaction. Most POS software will also communicate with inventory levels to keep everything in balance. A lot of big-box stores have wildly complex and expensive POS solutions, some of which were custom built for their needs. Independent retailers are moving away from these traditional POS systems and toward cloud-based point-of-sale solutions. Types of POS software There are two main types of POS software: on-premise and cloud-based. On-premise POS software requires you to be on location to use it. Terminals are the most common on-premise POS. Cloud-based POS software offers more flexibility, as you can use any connected, compatible device to access the dashboard. Cloud-based POS software is becoming more mainstream—the market was valued at around $1.29 billion for 2019, with an expected growth rate of more than 21.38% through 2026. A cloud-based POS allows you to conduct sales and check in on your business even when you’re not at the store. You access it directly from the internet, and it’s often compatible with most POS hardware (cash drawers, printers, etc.) and other tools in your tech stack. This is great if you’re a small business that sells in a store and online along with the occasional in-person event. When you use a cloud-based POS and link it to your Shopify store, your inventory automatically adjusts, helping you mitigate costly problems like stockouts. Cloud-based POS systems are also typically less expensive and more convenient than a tethered on-premise solution. There are other types of POS software that fall into one or both of the above categories: Mobile POS (mPOS): A mobile point-of-sale can move around inside or outside a store. Store owners can take transactions from a central point of purchase, like a traditional checkout counter or cash register, or wherever they need it to be. To take transactions on the go, retailers often use hardware like a tablet or smartphone to process transactions. Best for: Pop-up shops; increasing in-store conversion rate Tablets: A tablet POS can be both mobile and docked to a station. These POS systems run on Android tablets or iPads, acting as either the main POS or supplementing your central POS station. This is also a mPOS. Best for: Selling products with lots of details, features, and/or use cases; collecting lots of customer data at the point of purchase; self-serve options; pop-up shops and event sales Desktop: POS systems that run on a desktop computer are typically on-premise solutions docked to a checkout station. They’re bulky but often more powerful and reliable, depending on the hardware you choose. The main POS station in a permanent brick-and-mortar store; businesses that want to add mPOS in addition to their desktop setup Self-serve kiosks: Self-serve kiosks are common in food-based businesses, especially for quick-service restaurants and fast casual dining. This type of POS can drive a 15%–30% increase in average check size. They also work in retail environments. Best for: Food-based businesses; reducing lines and wait times; digitally savvy customers POS apps: Depending on the POS, there are a few point of sale apps to choose from. POS apps work with your hardware and other compatible devices to enable you to access your data and manage business operations. Best for: Businesses that want flexibility and customizability without needing lots of technical resources or budget Open-source POS: Open-source software allows companies to use their source code to build custom solutions with their platform. You can build your open-source POS system internally or with external collaborators. Best for: Enterprises with lots of technical resources; highly unique POS needs Multichannel POS: A multichannel POS can integrate with various commerce channels, an increasingly important capability. These channels include your own website, third-party online marketplaces, your store, pop-up shops, event sales, wholesale, social media, and more. Best for: Ecommerce merchants who do or plan to sell in-person; multichannel online brands Retail POS: A retail POS has features tailored to a brick-and-mortar business selling products. These features could include inventory management, forecasting, and multichannel selling. Best for: Pop-up shops; permanent brick-and-mortar stores in a traditional retail environment Restaurant POS: Restaurant POS systems are designed with food-based businesses in mind. Specific features might include menu planning and costing, ingredient-level tracking, dish customizations, and self-serve ordering. Best for: Food-based businesses (fast food, casual, quick-serve, sit-down, etc.) Components of a POS system There are other pieces of hardware that can complement your POS setup: Barcode scanner: In addition to scanning barcodes, you can also use some scanners to add discount codes. There are 1D barcode scanners that use the traditional bar code, and 2D barcode scanners that can read QR codes. Cash drawer: Unless you only process cashless payments, you’ll need somewhere to put the cash customers use to pay for your products. The cash drawer is a safe, secure place to organize bills. Credit and debit card reader: This piece of hardware can read debit and credit cards. There are several ways to read a card, including swipe, tap, and EMV chip. You need this for payment processing so you can receive the funds from the customer’s bank. Receipt printer: These aren’t always essential, especially if you use Shopify POS, because you can send email receipts, but a printer can connect to your POS and spit out receipts on the spot. Label printer: There are some instances where you’ll need to print a label—ship-from-store, for example. With a label printer as part of your POS setup, you can do that on the spot. Scale: If you sell products by weight, you’ll need a scale to be able to determine how much to charge customers. Some scales connect directly to your POS for a seamless checkout. What does a POS system do? Modern POS systems offer far more functionality than simply administering transactions. They can complete other business functions, as well as inform important business decisions, including: Managing inventory across all locations, both online and offline Providing sales metrics and reporting Managing customer data effectively Improving in-store sales Adapting to business needs with customizations Managing inventory across all locations, both online and offline Whether you have inventory at your storefront, pop-up shop, or warehouse, keeping accurate counts across the board is a tricky (and sometimes tedious) task. Inventory is one of your largest expenses as a retailer, and you need a simple way to manage it. That means having the right products in the right place at the right time—and a POS that helps you achieve that goal. A modern POS system should help retailers manage inventory anywhere you keep your products. Not only does this level of inventory management make tracking easier, but fulfilling orders is quicker when you know how much of a product is at a given location at any time. With a POS, you can easily monitor stock counts across all your stores, while keeping customers happy by avoiding stockouts and automatically ceasing sales of products when inventory runs out. Accurate stock counts streamline ordering from vendors so you always have inventory in stock wherever your products are selling best. Complete visibility of your inventory across all locations also makes it easier to move stock from one place to another (e.g., from warehouse to storefront) when you run low on a product. And it’s simpler to create purchase orders and accurately create your demand forecasts. Providing sales metrics and reporting A POS is useful for far more than processing transactions. You also can use crucial information from your point-of-sale solution to make data-informed decisions about your entire business. Modern POS systems make it painless to see analytics across every channel in your retail business, both individually and as part of your business as a whole. The ability to break down and filter sales data this way can often shed light on what’s working—and what isn’t. So, when you’re assessing a POS system, ensure you can easily track the following: Data for both in-store and online sales Sales broken down over time (number of sales by day, week, month, etc.) Sales per employee Sales per channel (across all stores and for each location) Staff activities broken down by employee Product reports (to see what’s selling and what’s still sitting on shelves) Number of orders (broken down by various stages of fulfillment) Easy, intuitive access to this kind of data can help you make better decisions and understand the overall health of your business. Managing customer data effectively A POS should also help you easily collect, track, and manage customer information. Access to these details can help you better understand your ideal customers and identify your most loyal shoppers. When evaluating your shortlist of POS contenders, make sure that your top choice helps you manage the following: Customer profiles. Collect contact details to build in-depth profiles of your customers to help you learn more about them and their shopping habits. Customer order histories. Quick access to a customer’s order history can help you effectively cross-sell and upsell by offering on-the-spot, tailored product recommendations based on past purchases. Customer loyalty programs. A POS should give you access to your loyalty program across all sales channels, whether someone buys online, in-store, or elsewhere. Improving in-store sales The traditional shopping experience has changed, and retailers have to meet the ever-evolving demands of customers in order to compete. But a POS system can help you keep up with a shifting industry. The right POS features can help you appeal to the empowered shopper and make more sales. For example, use your POS to stay in touch with customers and keep your products top of mind after they leave your store. Sales associates can email customers a list of items they were interested in but didn’t purchase while in-store, so, when they’re ready, the customer can buy those items via a feature like Shopify POS Email cart. Providing a variety of shipping options is another way you can serve your customers’ evolving needs. You can use a POS feature to ship a purchase to whatever address is most convenient for a shopper, whether it’s their home, their office, or another location—which can give you a competitive edge. A POS that offers flexible shipping alternatives can minimize the need for returns and exchanges and keep sales strong. That’s why the following pickup, purchase, and delivery options are quickly becoming table stakes: Buy online, pick up in-store. In-store pickup allows customers to buy online and collect their order from the retailer’s physical store or a third-party location. Thousands of stores are decreasing returns and selling more by letting customers check the size, color, and shape of their purchases before walking out—all while offering highly valued flexibility. Home delivery. After customers buy products in-store—especially heavy or large products, like furniture—they don’t necessarily want to lug it home with them. As an added convenience, offer home delivery. Or, if an item isn't available in-store, but is at another location, customers can buy in store and have the item shipped to their home. In-store returns/exchanges for items purchased online. Creating a hassle-free returns experience for customers can actually build loyalty. For example, if a customer wants to return a product they purchased online, they may want to make a return immediately rather than sending the product back via snail mail. Make it simple for them to visit your store to make the return.

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POS SOLUTIONS

Getting smart about payment terminals

Article | October 16, 2020

For many years, payment terminals have been a vital tool for businesses that complete their customer transactions in-store. The familiar hand-held devices have reliably taken card payments and offered simple additional services like mobile phone top-ups, cashback or electronic tipping solutions. However, with recent technical innovation, boosted by the urgency surrounding Covid-19, the humble payment terminal is shedding its hard exterior - no longer is it, as some would argue, simply a commoditised, hardware-based necessity. As many within the payments space have predicted, the payment terminal is truly becoming a digital enabler and vital pivot point of modernisation for any business that accepts electronic transactions. The Android Operating System leads the way Today, payment terminals come in many forms. Though the traditional, handheld counter-top devices remain, many businesses now use off-the-shelf smartphones or tablets enabled with SPOC and CPOC technology. Regardless of their physical form, truly modern payment terminals share a commonality – enhanced functionality which allows businesses to update and adapt quickly to changing performance, environments, and customer needs. The Android operating system has been at the centre of a latest wave of innovation, facilitating the rise of mobile payment devices - pushed hard by the likes of Visa - and supporting the budding versatilities presented by Open Banking and PSD2 initiatives. Combined, this new choice and flexibility has the potential to deliver significant advantages to businesses deploying Android point-of-sale (POS) solutions. These include integrated EPOS, strong authentication, and an array of alternative payment methods such as bank-to-bank payments, QR codes and even crypto currencies. It’s about more than being just Covid-ready Getting the timing right to make adjustments and improvements is now a focus for businesses across the UK as we start to emerge from Covid-19 restrictions and resume face-to-face interactions. The conventional payment terminal can play a central part in engineering the essential adjustments needed to create a Covid-safe environment – the new £100 contactless limit being the most obvious example. However, functionality provided by the latest payment terminals allows businesses to do more than just make their premises Covid-ready. For more commercial gains, payment terminals running on the Android OS allow for this same POS functionality but combine it with other essential business systems such as stock management, visual itemisation, and centralised booking systems. As well as providing greater visibility of a business’ health and finances, more information also means friction points such as wait times and queues in store can be better managed. More data about customer behaviour also makes the in-store experience more customisable, for example, businesses can use this data to identify their busiest periods, explore seasonal changes or test new product lines and structure their staff planning and stock levels accordingly. Coupled with more vital operational efficiencies, payment terminals can allow for a speed and flexibility of payments that can directly enhance the bottom line. As the pace in retail environments ramps up to match that of the pre-Covid days, meeting new customer expectations and new environmental changes will be critical in staying relevant. An ability to accept the latest types and methods of payment could actually play a part in helping a business survive through difficult economic times. Bolstering cash flow will also take on added importance as businesses rebuild. Payment terminals powered by better internet connections mean transactions are already faster, but internet speed alone is not enough. Today, terminals can be updated in ways that allow merchants to process those transactions faster still and get funds deposited into bank accounts in batches throughout the day, often completing within the hour. Payment terminals and Big Data With data becoming the bedrock of all modern businesses, it is the Android operating system’s ability to generate such an impressive wealth of data that adds to its compelling proposition. The value of Big Data and analytics to filter large volumes of information and uncover actionable insights is well known to the business world. Useable information can help leaders learn about their customers, make better decisions and, ultimately, produce more revenue. Customer data, for example, makes it possible for a business to learn about the buying behaviours of an individual customer or of defined customer segments. When a business knows the time of day (or night) their customers shop and what type of purchases they make, it becomes easier to plan when inventories are stocked and with what items. Android payment terminals can provide data in a way that offers easy visibility of key trends and which specific hours of the day produce the most sales, allowing businesses to investigate possible reasons and react accordingly. Such knowledge can then be used for a variety of purposes including the ability to upsell to future customers with greater success and the tactical arrangement of items in store. Crucially now, it will also enable businesses to maintain a Covid-safe environment by planning ahead for in-store activity and capacity limits. With hundreds of applications already available to download from the app store, it’s important that SMEs are able to use this scale of choice to their advantage rather than become overwhelmed or distracted by it. Indeed, by taking the time to explore the apps available, smaller businesses can find the tools which allow them to level the playing field by bringing their operational efficiencies in line with larger brands and by leveraging the solutions that allow them to compete on customer service.

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Spotlight

Retail Search Group, a PrincetonOne Company

Nationwide engaged and contingent retail search delivered by retail experts. For the year 2016 Retail Search Group, a PrincetonOne Company, again as one of the premier Retail search firms worldwide.

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