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Retail POS needs real-time data for a better customer experience

Natalie Kouzeleas Profile picture for user Natalie Kouzeleas July 31, 2020
Retail innovation depends on real-time data from core systems at the point of sale. Neptune Software's Natalie Kouzeleas explains how a cloud POS helps retailers move fast

Contactless POS hands wearing gloves against COVID-19 © Lili Topa - shutterstock
(© Lili Topa - shutterstock)

Accurate, complete data that's available when and where you need it is the life blood of a modern retailer. But does your Point of Sale (POS) system measure up to this? Traditional POS systems are designed to push sales data up to HQ from the store in hourly or daily ‘batches'. That's fine for general business intelligence to inform top-level decision-making, but is very far from adequate for today's digitally-driven retailer. Especially in these days when rolling out new omni-channel capabilities such as click-and-collect can mean the difference between being open for business and not trading at all.

Serving today's digital consumers means that the POS doesn't just send data back to the business. Increasingly it needs to receive and make use of that data, for example to enable click-and-collect, operate loyalty schemes or deliver CRM insights to store associates. Many POS systems try to replicate all of that data and back-end functionality locally, but you don't need lots of bells and whistles here. You just need a POS that's fast and effective at processing customer orders, whilst connecting in real-time to a master data view of that transactional data in your back-end systems.

Then if you want to open a new store quickly, it won't be the deployment and delivery of your POS that slows you down. If you want your employees to be mobile, to be able to serve customers and process a transaction from a tablet on the shop-floor, all you need is a network connection over WIFI or 4G.

Furniture retailer Bohus adopts a cloud-based POS

It was the need for this level of flexibility that last year led Bohus, Norway's largest furniture retailer, to replace an aging POS system with a cloud-based alternative. As CIO Krister Mossige explains:

If you are looking for new digital capabilities they aren't likely to come from an all-encompassing POS system. We realized we already had the data and logic across our existing applications - we just needed a better way to connect it to our stores in order to innovate.

The key to this connectivity is to create APIs that extract the data and logic from the underlying applications, such as ERP, warehousing and CRM, and combine it with the real-time data from the cloud-based POS. Clearly there needs to be a master data view, but replicating data locally for the POS, or trying to make the POS a master data store, invites unnecessary complexity. What matters more is the ability to get this data to where it's valuable in a ‘publish and subscribe' approach. With the cloud this is incredibly simple to achieve using APIs and it means your business can take real-time, even automated, decisions.

In the case of Bohus, Neptune Software's Digital Experience (DX) platform provided the low-code, agile development tooling to quickly create API-based integration between the back-end systems and a cloud-based POS from retail specialist EINR.

One of the first initiatives was to give in-store sales staff the ability to see and amend sales orders from the back-end system simply by accessing the POS from anywhere, on any device. They are now able to instantly access the entire the customer journey on their mobile devices, from product look-up to delivery and payment. Roll-out was fast - ten stores transitioned to the new system in a single week - and after decommissioning its legacy POS system, Bohus is seeing savings of 720,000 Norwegian Kroner ($77,000) each month across all 60 of its stores.

The various systems continually exchange the data they require in the background in order to deliver the front-end innovation the retailer needs. This approach can even power complex business innovation such as ‘click and collect', which requires data and logic from inventory, ordering, delivery scheduling, loyalty, CRM and many more applications. By approaching your architecture in this way it's possible to vastly simplify your development set-up. As Sindre Stabell, Senior Partner at EINR puts it:

POS has traditionally relied on its own siloed data that's disconnected from the web and other channels. If you take that on-premise path, with different data views, you will always be playing catch-up. There's very little opportunity to deliver truly cross-channel consistency and innovation.

Combining a cloud POS with low-code API connections

Here are some examples of how other customers have benefited from this combination of a ‘thin' cloud POS and low-code API connections:

  • One of our customers came under direct attack by a competitor opening stores in nearby locations and purposely undercutting on price, while rapidly varying those prices by product. Our retailer was able to respond from the head-office by adjusting prices in the ERP master and immediately reflecting that change across its store footprint at POS, online channels and even on the shelf with electronic labels

  • We've worked with a retailer that has established real-time alerts using an algorithm for on-shelf product availability. Now, when a shelf is empty, staff are prompted to restock and re-ordering happens automatically

  • The trick to achieving this is real-time exchange and availability of data between channels, which isn't realistic with a legacy on-premise POS operating on a batch data load. Creating data tunnels with APIs is the only feasible way to ensure the master data is continually updated and made available when and where it is needed in real-time to secure business agility

  • Insight gathered from browsing history and digital interactions should inform in-store service and sales, but this depends on real-time data updates. We worked with one retailer to enhance its product look-up and enable staff to arrange on the spot to have a product shipped to a customer's home. This sounds simple but we needed to implement connections through upwards of 30 APIs to sub-systems to make it happen. This just wasn't possible with the previous POS.

We think a POS should stick to its knitting - scan the product, take the money and deliver the right messages. This leaves a path open to innovate with API-driven digital capabilities and deliver high-performance results much more quickly and cost effectively. By simplifying their application architectures, retailers can gain the agility to experiment with new digital-led processes, while leveraging the technology investments they have already made.

Read more about our approach to retail POS integration and how Bohus made use of the technology in our cloud ePOS white paper. Explore how we integrate fragmented back-end and third-party systems to deliver a unified user experience.

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