Point of Sale: Using Technology to Streamline and Shape the Customer Experience

By Dharmajit Sarangi, Head-IT, Alshaya Co.

Point of Sale (PoS) systems are at the heart of modern retailing. A critical piece of the overall landscape, the PoS helps deliver the last mile checkout experience for the shoppers in store, while recording sales, stock and other information essential to the business. What are some of the important aspects to consider while designing, implementing and operating PoS solutions? This paper seeks to present critical considerations in perspective.

Three key aspects are to be considered while formulating your PoS strategy, and it’s supporting IT model:

1. Total Cost of Ownership

Should you build or should you buy? This is an often asked question. There are mature products available in the market to handle most requirements. Alternatively, open source technologies and products have made it feasible to design and build your own product to wrap around PoS hardware. Whether you build or buy will depend on the organizational priority and focus, available resource for software development, and the total cost of ownership (TCO) calculation. For e.g. a commercially available product may be able to meet key requirements, but could also need customizations to suit the business needs. These will cost both money and time, and will require ongoing support contracts with the product vendor. The biggest challenge I’ve seen in most PoS implementations is making such contracts work, given large number of clients with competing requirements that place huge demands on the stretched resources of the product vendor. Responsiveness and velocity will suffer in such cases. On the other hand, PoS product development programs can often be time consuming and expensive. If you go down this route therefore, it would be best to define your minimal viable product, develop and test on a pilot set of stores, and refine the product as you go along.

2. Robust operational characteristics

Once you roll out PoS, it’s critical to ensure it continues to operate correctly. Poor network connectivity, hardware and software failures at the tills, transactions not fully captured or integrated with head-office systems are some of the issues commonly faced. A robust solution will be safe and secure, with a decentralized architecture and a command and control feature to be able to do reconciliation and reporting of transactions. It should also provide remote management and diagnostics – for regular patching and software deployments, retrieval of transaction data, troubleshooting and diagnostics. Lastly, it should be self-correcting to the extent feasible, allowing it to be used by less tech savvy store staff in an intuitive and an easy to understand way. For e.g the “End of Day” routine is sometimes not executed in stores resulting in accounts staying open for days together, affecting the next day PoS operations as well. A feature to auto-initiate end-of-day on demand with the right checks and balances to account for 24X7 operating hours, or other business requirements will be useful to reduce follow-up with store staff to execute this operation manually.

3. A solution that will stay relevant tomorrow

Many retailers are faced with the challenge of their PoS being relevant to a single channel. In today’s digital world, the PoS should be able to present a unified view to the customer irrespective of which channel he comes from. This means that the same PoS could be leveraged to do online order fulfilment for “Click and Reserve” orders in a specified store, or be available to customers and staff on tablets or scan-as-you-go applications. Key to achieving this is modular design, using a Service Oriented Architecture based on re-usable services – Totalling, Check-out, and others that are wrapped up with a hybrid or responsive UI which will render correctly – on regular PoS, a tablet or a smartphone.

Point of Sale is critical to retailer operations, customer service and gaining deeper insight to products, customers and buying behaviour. Given this criticality, it is an imperative for strategic focus and priority that will drive the right outcomes in this area – customer experience, operational efficiency and business insight.

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