Tips on how to pick a system and how to make it work hard for you.
A fully integrated electronic point of sale (EPOS) system can make an enormous difference to a jewellery retailer’s takings If Used to its full potential. Andrew Seymour courts a panel of industry experts to find out how jewellers can get the most from their technology.
In a climate where customer retention continues to assume added significance, retailers wanting to enhance efficiency and productivity have quickly come to realise the importance of maximising their technology assets.
And arguably no piece of kit holds greater sway over the smooth running of a retailer’s operations than an EPOS system.
As any jeweller who has ever made a serious investment in this area will be able to testify, an EPOS system is no longer just a mechanism for facilitating transactions, but a tool to capture customer data, automate tasks that have traditionally been done on paper, such as repairs, returns, deposits and staged payments and, most importantly, monitoring stock levels in-store and online.
And with the lines between store and online retailing already blurring, customers will soon demand a uniform level of service and response across all sales channels.
That change in expectation will create a challenge for many retailers in the coming years, although it does not alter the fact that when selecting an EPOS system, jewellery businesses must look for a solution which is flexible and suits their individual needs.
Further, any EPOS system worth its salt will be adaptable enough to support jewellers who amend their strategy or focus long after their initial investment.
Mike Burns, managing director of Norwich-based retail systems specialist Pursuit Software, says it is not unusual for jewellers to keep the same EPOS system for as long as 10 years, so they need to get their purchase criteria right from the outset.
“They have to consider the ease of use of the system and the benefits it is going to bring to areas like marketing and stockholding. Where our system has gone in and replaced other systems we have found customers who have reduced stock holding by 10% or 15%, which pays for the system,” he says.
Jewellers are also advised to pay as much attention to the company supplying the system or software, as the actual functionality of the product itself. If the system goes down or requires maintenance work, assurances are needed that there is sufficient customer service support in place.
“There is no point investing in an expensive system if you encounter a system problem on a busy Saturday in December and there is nobody available to give immediate assistance,” notes John Cooper, marketing manager at Orcus, a Derby-based EPOS and stock management specialist that has been operating for almost two decades.
He adds that jewellery retailers might also want to consider working with providers capable of creating bespoke applications, which could be something minor, such as a module that manages the text printed on a till receipt to a more comprehensive programme that assists with the way stock is transferred between branches. “There is nothing worse than having to fit the requirements of the business around a rigid system which can’t be added to,” insists Cooper.
Experts note that the needs of jewellers are distinguishable from other retail sectors, making it imperative for jewellers to invest in a system that plays to the strengths of their business.
Software house Clarity & Success specifically serves the jewellery and watch industry, counting renowned names such as Pandora, Thomas Sabo and Swarovski among its client base. Managing consultant John Russell says there are some key distinctions when it comes to the needs of the jewellery sector versus the retail channel in general, especially in terms of stock and customer data capture.
“A lot of jewellers are selling very high value product that needs to be individually recorded for insurance purposes, for example, because it is valuable. You are talking about jewellery that in some instances gets into hundreds of thousands of pounds.”
Russell describes Clarity & Success’ products as “all-embracing” — in other words they cater for all eventualities that a retail jeweller might face, from wishing to record the precise details of every item in stock to ensuring sales staff are automatically alerted to the specific discount that a loyal customer is granted when making a purchase.
One of its customers, Pandora, uses Clarity & Success’ software to provide management with a complete bird’s-eye view of how all its outlets are performing. “Pandora wanted a function whereby all the stores would report overnight to its head office in London and give them key performance indicators (KPIs) — and they have more than 400 KPIs to be able to select from,” he explains. “Consequently, Pandora can get whatever information they want out of the system — what is the best-selling product, what is the best sales person, what is the best shop — on a daily basis, right down to the profit per square metre of each store.”
Not all IT providers hold the view that jewellers are best served by companies that exclusively specialise in the sector. Ian Dukes, owner of IJS, which developed the EasyStock product line for the jewellery trade, suggests it wouldn’t harm jewellers to look outside of the sector for inspiration.
“There are some absolutely great products out there,” he says. “There is this view that you are a jeweller so you need a jewellery system. Really what you should be thinking is ‘I am a retailer, let’s go and have a look at retail systems and if I exhaust all the options and the only way I can solve it is through a jewellery system then I’ll take another look’.”
Dukes also advises jewellers to ask a few searching questions before they part with their money, in order to understand how their data is stored and what happens to it if the provider’s business ever goes bust.
Cooper at Orcus says the bespoke jewellery section of the market could have implications for the way that jewellers manage their EPOS system.
“Personalisation of products looks set to be a massive growth area over the next few years and jewellers need to position themselves to cater for this demand,” he explains. “The technology involved in personalising many kinds of product is now very affordable, and consumer expectations have been raised by the likes of Moonpig in the greetings card industry. A good EPOS system will easily be able to handle personalisation as part of the sales process.”
Another trend gathering pace is the level of integration between suppliers and retailers that EPOS technology now affords. Software companies like Pursuit are able to take information directly from the supplier and instantly share it with the retailer.
“Ti Sento, CL Edwards, Hirsh and Kit Heath are all suppliers now linking into EPOS as a way to promote new product ranges, pictures and information,” says Burns. “We have brought out something that is automated, so as soon as we get the new data from the supplier, we upload it on our secure website and anybody who has the licence to sell that product gets that information straight away: pricing, description, quantities and availability are all there on the till.”
Dukes at IJS cites mobile commerce as one of the key areas that will shape the future of the jewellery trade, both from a customer purchasing and in-store sales perspective.
“A lot of our development at the moment is to enable people to sell products using iPads and iPhones in the shop. That means traditional tills may not be the be-all and end-all. Our tills will work but you’ll have this added ability to walk around the store and sell via those devices.”
A well-utilised EPOS system will also be able to generate huge marketing value for a jewellery retailer, an area which experts agree is under-exploited.
For instance, not all jewellers are capturing customer details to make use of the marketing opportunities that could arise from knowing a customer’s purchase history or brand preference.
EPOS data can even provide retailers with an opportunity to analyse staffing levels and transaction patterns to ensure the shop floor is adequately staffed at certain peak hours. “It is a management tool,” says Russell at Clarity & Success. “We have customers who really like to use the statistical programme built into the system to look at their business, see what they are doing, how much money they are making and where they can improve their margins.”
Pursuit’s Burns says EPOS can deliver benefits in ways that most people might not immediately think of. “Take a staff member who sells an expensive diamond ring,” he says. “That news could potentially be emailed directly to the managing director or retail director and they may make a phone call to congratulate that staff member. It is not just about keeping up with the day-to-day sales and stock, it can be used as a motivator for the staff as well.”
Getting under the bonnet of an EPOS system might not be every jeweller’s cup of tea, but as online sales increase so will the number of savvy shoppers, and the role of technology in the retail environment will only grow.
FIVE TIPS TO PICK THE RIGHT EPOS SYSTEM
A robust EPOS system can save a retailer as much as 5% of its turnover annually, so picking the right retail management system is crucial. Retail IT, the licenced vendor in the UK for Retail PRO and YourCegid Retail, supplies point of sale software to a host of speciality retail sectors, including jewellery. It shared its top tips for getting it right with Professional Jeweller.
1) Choose the Software first
It’s tempting to look at hardware first — it’s the exciting, glamorous part of POS — and many brand-conscious retailers search for look and feel initially. This is important, but it is strongly suggested that you choose software first, and ensure that your system functions as planned and meets your requirements. Choosing hardware first can limit your software choices and functionality, and ultimately affect how well your system performs.
2) Buy from one source
While this isn’t a hard and fast rule, it is strongly suggested, and helps you keep greater control of the process. It also avoids hardware vendors blaming software vendors, and vice versa. This might cost slightly more upfront in some cases, but the reduction in stress and support costs means that the ongoing cost of ownership is typically lower regardless.
3) Focus on the big picture
Cost is always an important factor but it’s crucial to know how that makes sense in the greater scheme of things. Don’t forget about ongoing costs of ownership. Ask about things like costs of support, maintenance and upgrades; costs of setting up new terminals and stores; how long you will be offline if equipment goes faulty; and the time it takes to deal with upgrades and changes on average. Not all vendors are equally transparent — don’t be shy to investigate.
4) Don’t overlook important features that would boost your future profits
In addition to your present requirements, create a features wishlist. How easy would it be to implement those features later? Find two or three popular systems designed for you — and take notes during those demos. Prioritise features, and calculate approximately how much time and money these features will be likely to save you.
5) Always ask to be put in contact with existing customers similar to you
Whether or not you choose to speak to these customers is up to you, but ensure you get references from the vendor. Any reputable vendor will be glad to reinforce their reputation with solid references.
EPOS CONVERTS: GATWARD OF HITCHIN
Like many family jewellers, Gatward of Hitchin used to run its business the good old pen and paper way. But a few years back, the company made the decision to computerise its sales and stockholding activities in order to make operations more efficient. Gatward evaluated a number of different systems before opting for a solution from Pursuit Software, which fitted the bill with its stock and sales reporting.
Jim Hunter, director of Gatward — now in its seventh generation — says the current system has removed a lot of the pain it faced from extracting data manually.
“This particular system can tell you what stock is in and what stock is not in, and you can push a button if you have gone below a minimum stock level and it tells you what you’re down to. That is what is amazing about it — you don’t have to go physically looking around the shop to see what you are down on,” he says. Hunter insists the system has also simplified the process of modifying prices and printing out tickets, while he also praised the “stability” of the technology. “There are very few problems with it and they have great back-up servers,” he says. Gatward’s next technology project is likely to involve the introduction of iPads or tablet PCs to facilitate the sales process, and it is also considering the option of establishing a real-time connection between its website and stock control system, meaning an item would be removed from the site the moment it was sold.
This article was taken from the December issue of Professional Jeweller. To read a digital version of that issue click here.