If customer service boiled down to three rules, they might be: Make it quick; make it easy; and make certain it’s available.
Gross oversimplification? Perhaps, but these elements are the cornerstones of the customer experience for everyone from one-store operators to multi-unit and multi-format chains that need to track inventory and customer purchasing patterns while streamlining and speeding up point-of-sale operations.
“Our server room was a black hole,” says Sara Himmanen, county manager for Patricia Group OY, a Helsinki, Finland-based chain of 15 women’s apparel stores. “It required a lot of money to maintain, and normal operating speed was never maintained.”
A similar issue was evident at Trend Addictions, a clothing and home fashions boutique in Wellsville, N.Y., a small community two hours south of Buffalo. The situation was exacerbated when the economy headed south — but not for the usual reasons, according to owner Megan Huber.
“This county was hit hard economically,” she says, “but when the economy goes down in a small town, people start to shop to make themselves feel better. My business went up.”
The problem was that too much was being done at the cash register and everything slowed down. “I was physically doing everything at the register, including going through wholesale numbers at the end of the day and taking the sold items out of spreadsheets for inventory purposes,” Huber says. “It was a very manual operation.”
Then the store began receiving huge shipments of Vera Bradley merchandise. “The first thing that crossed my mind was that I would never be able to handle the inventory manually — and I’d get months behind if I tried,” she says, noting that the 2,200-sq.-ft. store carries about 5,000 SKUs.
“I really wanted to do everything through an iPad, but I couldn’t find an app that would enable me to use it a both as a cash register and inventory tracker.”
Automatic inventory keeping
The solution came with the launch of ERPLY, a multi-function organizational program designed to streamline operations by eliminating the paperwork that has become the bane of every retailer.
“All I have to do now is update everything in the system as it comes in,” Huber says. “The time it’s saved at the register is amazing. It keeps an inventory of what customers have purchased so they no longer need to have the receipt. I can simply pull it up for them.
“I’m also able to track gift certificates and merchandise credits through my iPad,” she says.
The system proved effective from the first day Huber began stocking the Vera Bradley summer line. “The night before I hadn’t gotten all my inventory in yet, and someone from ERPLY stayed on the phone with me helping me put in everything and fix the tax rates.”
One drawback: “There is no thermal printer for the iPad yet. But on the plus side, I can e-mail customers their receipts from the iPad,” she says. “I just tell them I’ve gone eco-friendly … they actually like it better since they don’t have to stuff their wallets with receipts.
“It’s turned into a great marketing tool for me and I don’t need an operating system at the register,” Huber says.
Himmanen also cites vastly improved POS operations, albeit from a different perspective. “POS operations were slow and inventory management was inaccurate,” she says, noting that this became a bigger problem as the company added stores in three countries during a one-month period. “We went searching for software that would be easy and fast to implement — especially because we were doing business in countries with different tax rates and EDI support. ERPLY’s pointofsale.net easily fulfills these requirements,” she says.
From office to POS
Inventory and POS support are just as important for retailers that operate outside the traditional four walls. This was the case with Eagle Anime, a convention-based online store specializing in Japanese anime merchandise.
The company maintains an e-commerce site, as well as a presence on Amazon.com and eBay. Online sales only account for about 20 percent of Eagle Anime’s sales, however; the balance comes primarily from convention sales.
After using a client/server POS system that proved difficult when it came to tracking inventory, owner Joel Smeby began working with ERPLY in January 2010. “Most of our sales are done on the road, but most of the ordering is done at our office,” he says. “We were having difficulty getting purchase orders into the system for the next convention. We also had trouble accessing reports on what had been sold, sales velocity per item and other sales metrics until the POS computer returned to the office.”
Eagle Anime required a system that could be updated from the office and have those updates appear in real time at the POS. “Basically, I made a list of must-haves, wants and not neededs,” Smeby says. “It was the ERPLY system that fit us and the challenges that face a merchant when back-end operations are separated from the front end.”
The latter is particularly important since Eagle attends 25 to 30 conventions annually. “I like being able to compare convention sales year to year,” he says. “Also, our sales team may be traveling for extended periods on convention trips. But in the back office I can access inventory reports, decide what needs to be re-ordered, create a PO and have the product shipped to the next convention site for the team to set up.”
The system also enables Smeby to set the default sales tax rate depending on where the event is being held. “In this way, the convention team only has to set up the display, pop open the computer and they’re ready to make sales,” he says.
The set-up at conventions usually consists of two terminals. One touchscreen PC runs Firefox and operates as the main checkout; there is also a UPC scanner that integrates with the ERPLY system. ”We have some high-volume items, and ERPLY has programmable ‘hot item’ buttons that you can set for these,” Smeby says.
“When these items are sold, we can simply click the button and the sale is recorded. Once items are entered you can easily see totals or apply discounts.”
The second computer is a tablet that runs Android. “The ‘floater’ person on our team who is out interacting with customers at conventions carries this around and can ring up sales directly using the ERPLY app,” he says. “The software is well thought out and the customer service is exceptional. And it saves me money because it’s a month-to-month service.
“The service cost is more than our maintenance fee on the previous system,” Smeby says, “but there are constant updates and they listen to my concerns and help to resolve them.