Optimising data

The benefits of EPoS could soon include pooled industry data as well as better stock replenishment, Matthew Appleby reports.

Electronic point of sale: technology enables efficient recording of sale of goods or services to centres’ customers - image: Corby & Fellas
Electronic point of sale: technology enables efficient recording of sale of goods or services to centres’ customers - image: Corby & Fellas

A long-awaited pool of electronic point-of-sale (EPoS) data is being discussed by retail systems developer Corby & Fellas and the HTA as EPoS technology, which enables an efficient recording of the sale of goods or services to the customer, comes of age in garden retail. Corby & Fellas marketing director Chris Corby says he and the HTA hope to launch a data service in 2014 "after we get a better view of what its members are looking for".

The idea is for members to provide information to the HTA in an anonymous form "in areas so you can see patterns forming on prices and commodities", Corby explained. Haskins, for instance, has plant data down to the detail. "The HTA wants that data to spread among members so everyone can see sales trends. It will be easy for us to collect from our own system and then we need to get it from others to put into a big HTA pot of EPoS data. If you join the party and have an EPoS system, you'll be able to contribute and benefit from the HTA system."

Corby points out that when garden centres consider EPoS, off-putting factors are cost, complexity and time spent on set-up. "You have to make it dead easy to get the ball rolling," he says.

"In conjunction with HTA, we've worked out that our systems are probably too complex for smaller garden centres, so we're trying to come up with a lighter simplified version. A small garden centre won't have any IT expertise and we need to address that problem."

"Data take on is another thing - keying the data in when starting from scratch with no system and the onerous task of getting all data in - so we'll get together with suppliers to provide them with spreadsheets to allow them to populate their files with data from the suppliers."

Key trends

Other big trends for EPoS currently being explored by garden centres include contactless wave-and-pay systems. Over the next year, more and more outlets are expected to replace keying-in PIN numbers with consoles. They work well in garden centre cafes because they encourage customers to spend more, under a £20 transaction maximum.

Meanwhile Scandanavia's leading garden centre chain Plantasjen has introduced a new allocation and replenishment system from Relex Solutions expected to both increase sales and reduce stock value across the group.

Plantasjen, which has 106 stores across the region, turning over around £380m annually, launched an overhaul of its store operations, pricing and supply chain in 2010, choosing Relex as its partner. Despite its size, the garden group's replenishment and forecasting operation had barely changed since the chain launched.

Each store was responsible for ordering across 6,000 products and most seasonal products were delivered to stores ahead of season. With continuous products, stores did the replenishment ordering according to need. The system consisted of little more than Excel spreadsheets. Sales and stock data were thoroughly inadequate and it was impossible to make accurate demand forecasts.

Plantasjen supply chain director Hakan Akerstrom says: "We did our allocation calculation based on our best guesses. Our business is highly seasonal, weather-dependent and goods are very varied. We place some orders nine months before the season and others in season, so we need a flexible supply chain for some products and a very cost-efficient supply chain for others."

The aim was to centralise control over stock flows, combine pre-season allocation to stores with replenishment during the season and distribution and reallocation before season's end.

In the summer of 2010, Relex ran a pre-study demonstrating the benefits of a push-pull model for seasonal goods. Pre-season allocation is calibrated for each store from its prior sales data and combined with reactive reordering based on actual sales and end-of-season reallocation to stores with the best chance of selling any remaining stock.

The study also highlighted how automating the replenishment of year-round items frees up staff time, reduces inventory levels, improves availability and takes better advantage of free deliveries.

KEY CHALLENGES

- Highly seasonal business with sales peaks and troughs.

- Diverse range of product lines varying in value, origin and shelf life.

- To achieve outstanding turnover of perishable stock.

- Complex supply-chain operation from warehousing to cross-loading hubs.

- Lack of reliable data on stock.

Goals

- Centralise control over stock flows, preand in-season ordering.

- Improve supply-chain decision making with better data and forecasting.

- Improve availability and increase sales.

- Lower risk of overstock, dead stock and need for sales.

- Centralise replenishment, freeing sales staff to focus on customers.

- Increase efficiency in stores' product allocations.

Results

- Indoor pots sales up three per cent, soil and compost up six per cent, occasional cushions up seven per cent.

- Startand end-of-season allocation and stock clearance much improved.

- Ability to react during the season when forecast will not be met.

- Less time spent on routine purchasing tasks.

- Semi-automated support for year-round products.

Plantasjen anticipated overall sales increase of three-to-four per cent and inventory value reduction of 25 per cent.

EPOS CASE STUDY: HIGHFIELD GARDEN WORLD

At Highfield Garden World in Gloucestershire, a £2.5m expansion led the family business to introduce an EPoS system. With the centre about to unveil the results of the redevelopment, it was decided to introduce the new system in two phases.

The refurbishment was prompted by the decision to expand Highfield's food offering. The new 260-cover restaurant was chosen for the first phase of the EPoS system, provided by Davidson Richards. Once in place and up to speed, the Highfield team plans to roll it out across the rest of the business.

Director Tim Greenway says: "The system promises to give us much greater clarity over exactly what our customers are buying, what with and when. That in turn will help us fine-tune our stock levels as well as tailor our merchandising, displays and offers."

EPoS system benefits

- End-of-day reports will be quick to produce and staff-specific thanks to a personalised code system.

- The margin for human error will be reduced by the automatic relaying of total sale information from the till to the card-processing terminal, ready for the customer to key in a PIN number to confirm the sale.

Greenway adds: "In due course, we'll be introducing bounce-back vouchers. We will be able to programme the system to prompt the till to print out tailored vouchers when specific items are sold, so a customer buying garden furniture could get a money-off barbecue voucher, or someone buying a Christmas tree could be incentivised to come back and buy decorations from our Christmas shop or reminded to book onto our Christmas wreath-making course. The options are endless and we are excited about how this functionality can help our business and our customer offering grow."

Multi-buy offers will also be saved onto the system. If, for example, a customer arrives at a till with two items that quality for a three-for-two offer, the till will prompt the cashier to suggest they find a third item to give the customer the full benefit of the offer.

Highfield's new EPoS system will link directly to the back office and allow multiple user access, so that changes can be made quickly and easily, with the least possible disruption to the business. As the system is cloud-based, authorised users will be able to access it anywhere, anytime as well - allowing decision makers to ensure that stock levels are kept in line with demand on the shop floor without being on site.

G7 SWAN: BACK-OFFICE MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

Chris Marsden-Jones, business development manager

Q: Why do you think that EPoS systems are of benefit to garden centre managers?

A: The landscape for garden centre retailers has become increasingly demanding. Consumers no longer only expect to buy from you across multiple channels, they also expect to be recognised, receive the same service, collect and redeem loyalty points, be offered the same pricing structure and be tempted by the same promotions regardless of the touchpoint that they may have used.

The growing use of smartphones and tablets means these consumer expectations are moving ahead of the multi-channel capabilities of many retailers. Technology has given customers the tools needed for competitive and well-researched retail transactions.

Garden centre retailers need to respond to customers appropriately in these different channels or they will fail to be relevant and convenient to the modern consumer. The implications of this will be profound.

In order to succeed within the multi-channel environment, you need to promote and entice customer contact across all touchpoints. In order to do this, you need to have:

- Your product data stored and maintained in one place.

- A clear understanding of your actual stock positions at all times.

- A system that recognises your customers in every channel.

- The ability to run detailed cross-channel reports and analysis.

The technology to do this is maturing all the time and may not be as expensive to acquire or difficult to setup as imagined, which will allow the smaller destination retailer to benefit in the same way as the bigger high street brand retailers.

A true multi-channel management system will help you to present your retail brand, products, pricing, promotions, service and delivery proposition consistently in the different channels - online and offline - used by today's consumers.

The end game for the modern garden centre retailer is to develop their multi-channel capability so as to fully realise the value of the investment they have made having a physical store and knowledgeable staff. In order to do this, garden centre retailers need to invest in systems that offer "best of breed" applications that can be readily integrated for running their back-office functions, in-store systems and e-commerce operations.

Q: Are there any new products or products you would like to share?

A: Working together with Swan Retail and Iconography, G7 Swan has launched Retail Fusion - an integrated system that provides management of retail activities and customer expectations across all channels. The system offers increased sales, higher margins and lower cost of ownership. The G7 Extreme Retail System is ideal for single site retailers and is comprised of the Back Office with one or more EPoS units running G7 POS and with the ability for web integration.


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