Electronic point of sale (EPOS) is a big investment for a garden centre owner to make and it is easy to put off, but that is a false economy say experts in the technology, which enables an efficient recording of the sale of goods or services to the customer.
Corby & Fellas marketing director Chris Corby says while 2012 has been a struggle, new technology and the cost-saving benefits of electronic sales monitoring will benefit centres. "Business has been harder but once the downturn is gone people will stop putting off decisions. Garden centre owners are giving the right signs to say they want to change their systems but are concerned about making capital expenditure. We're trying to ease the burden by spreading the cost over time with monthly or quarterly payments."
Corby adds that most centres see the advantages of an EPOS system now, with a few exceptions such as Squire's and Klondyke. Changes in the market involve centres looking for systems upgrades or providers who give better service. Hillier operations manager Mark Pitman introduced the system four years ago after the chain had deliberated for several years.
Corby says the main developments are on the e-commerce side, with people wanting to use smartphones. Customers are keen to buy online but garden centres do not need to be like Amazon "and sell to all and sundry", he advises, but should simply offer another buying avenue for existing customers who expect them to have a web presence. Customers like the idea of click and collect and typically they may visit a centre, look, think, visit the website, order and collect or arrange delivery.
The Corby & Fellas overarching Win Retail software includes a function to incorporate this, with the WinECom module including that function. WinRetail handles discount and multi-buy offers, while the Purchase Order Matrix application makes that spreadsheet task easier.
Corby explains that contactless payment - "wave and pay" debit cards - is moving up a notch and is now available from EPOS companies. The more advanced version of chip and pin involves waving your card "like a magic wand" near the reader for transactions under £20 and can help cut queues, particularly at cafes. The threshold is designed to cut fraud and was recently upped from £15. Corby says he understands security fears but points out that thieves are unlikely to buy a coffee and muffin with stolen cards.
He adds that accurately counting how many shoppers enter a store through MxAnalytics software collects valuable behavioural data, creating heat maps of frequently-used areas of stores meaning that owners can plan to avoid any potential bottlenecks.
Open Retail Solutions representative Russell Wilkins says the garden centre industry is moving into tablets instead of stocktaking guns, meaning that staff are more mobile and managers can be on the shop floor rather than in the office. He explains that it depends on the business which is taking up the technology. "Some people more forward thinking," he adds.
The company recently installed systems at Pople Garden Centres-run New Leaf garden centre and Dunstall Hall garden centre to increase till flow and speed up the time credit cards take. G7 joint managing director Neil Biltcliffe says some of the latest developments include:
Mobile tablet technology Increasingly being used for personal shopping, giving staff access to product information and creating up-selling opportunities as well as being able to take payment without the need to queue at a checkout.
Digital signage Used to attract and inform customers. Especially useful in coffee shops and can be updated instantly with new sales messages.
Kiosks Provide self-service options for checkouts, issuing tickets and interactive information points. These can also be used by customers for web access for online ordering.
Integrated closed-circuit television Linked directly to your EPOS system to detect employee fraud. These systems can be programmed to record operator actions such as returns, voids and no-sale transactions.
Some of the barriers to installing an EPOS system include:
Cost EPOS can be perceived as a cost to the business and not an investment, which it should be. A good EPOS system properly installed with good training will be an asset to the business providing instant information about sales and margins, helping to ensure effective purchasing, managing stock holding and being able to manage customer loyalty, offers and promotions. It is all about being informed and proactive, not reactive.
Number of products This is seen as a barrier when setting up a system. Garden centres can typically have anything from 20,000 to 70,000 products, meaning a lot of work to set up and maintain. Most EPOS systems these days will have tools that allow for bulk importing and maintenance of data provided directly by suppliers.
Biltcliffe says: "Even the smallest corner shop has EPOS these days, yet some of our biggest independents (including groups) still use ordinary tills. There must be a lot manual work going on to manage these businesses."
Davidson Richards works with 39 UK and Ireland garden centres. Managing director Richard Goodley says the remit for centres is evolving more towards lifestyle destinations than suppliers of practical equipment. "But customers don't just want a greater range of products," he adds. "The bargain-hunting consumer wants a greater range of channels to browse, buy and discuss."
This means online, in-store, via their mobile device or over the phone - "and they expect the same quality of experience across every channel and promotions and deals need to link up".
He continues: "On top of all this, all the traditional benefits of EPOS are very much needed by garden centre retailers, particularly as their product set grows to cover lifestyle and leisure products as well as gardening products and plants. They need to be able to manage products, customers, pricing, suppliers, stores and loyalty. The simple till at the door is not enough."
Davidson Richards has developed OpSuite, a cloud-based system where retailers just pay a subscription. A 10-site retailer system with 10 tills across the estate costs from £1,000 a month. Retailers can keep their own in-house solutions. "We designed OpSuite so that it can be integrated with existing distribution, finance, e-commerce and ERP solutions, meaning no new capital expenditure," says Goodley.
EposPartners says the Cervello EPOS solution could give retailers help with temporary "pop-up" Christmas shops without having to invest vast amounts upfront. Managing director Scott Storey says Cervello, a "cost per transaction" suite of EPOS software, could enable smaller retailers to take advantage of pop-up locations without worrying about having to buy additional licenses for tills.
Cervello-Lite, a basic entry-level version of the full Cervello solution, was launched earlier this year and has been selected by Casio to appear preloaded on its new VX100 Android Terminal.
Contactless payment on the increase
At the recent HTA Garden Futures conference, Inma Anglada from VISA Europe and James McDonald from Barclaycard provided an overview of the fast-moving area of contactless payment.
Currently, contactless payment is most widely accepted in burger chains and coffee shops, although an increasing number of other retail outlets are set to join and there is no doubt that it will become the norm in the not-too-distant future.
At the moment, transactions of £20 or under can be made and customers do not even have to take their card out of their wallet. Payment technology is also being developed for the phone and the whole notion of a digital wallet is not far from reality.