C-store retailers are more aware than ever of the advantages of epos, so why is it that some retailers still rely on outdated tills and time-consuming stock checks?
According to Torex UK sales manager John Lewis, there's nothing to be scared of when it comes to either taking the plunge or updating epos. In fact, Lewis believes retailers must invest in the latest technology in order to remain competitive.
"Retailers need to start looking beyond basic scanning tills and make use of a full stock control system," he says. "Investing in technology is all very well, but they need to ensure they're using systems to the full. By doing this they can increase their margins, cut down on wastage and significantly improve their bottom line."
Lewis explains that an increasing demand for fresh foods, which require greater monitoring and carry a higher risk of being written off as wastage, has made epos an increasingly essential business tool.
"Epos can help a lot with keeping track of fresh and chilled products," says Lewis. "It's an essential tool if retailers want to develop their businesses. Systems which are proving popular include integrated electronic top-up and Chip and PIN, which offers more speed and security. Both can provide a huge uplift in customer spend. We're also starting to look at electronic purse payment along the same lines as the Oyster card."
Lewis says that many retailers have spent thousands of pounds installing the most high-tech and modern equipment, only to ignore most of its functions.
"It's undeniable that a huge number of retailers are under-utilising their epos systems," he explains. "The function that is most frequently ignored is stock control."
As well as making life easier, however, having a modern epos system also makes a store look good. Lewis adds that shoppers like to see a modern epos system at work. "There are elements of professionalism which a modern epos system can provide," he says.
"Aesthetics are very important in the retail environment. Having a modern epos system creates a good environment and customers like the fact that everything looks new and efficient."
The importance of aesthetics is evident by the decision of many manufacturers, including Torex, to change the colour of its hardware from cream to dark grey.
Lewis adds: "We're also continually developing our c-store products. We update our software quarterly and retailers who retain their support contract will constantly have the best products on the market."
Rival provider YP Electronics is adamant the epos market place for
c-stores remains vibrant. Marketing manager Nick Howship explains: "The universal message to convenience retailers in the face of massive competition and threat from the big multiples is to use technology extensively to sustain and grow their business. For
c-stores, investment is the key to survival, and investment in an epos solution is the key to unlocking the full potential of any store."
Manufacturer NCR adds that the price of epos technology for small retailers has become increasingly competitive, while the equipment itself has become more sophisticated. The company recently launched the RealPOS 21 - a small- footprint touchscreen workstation with a variety of built-in systems including a fingerprint scanner for pay-by-touch.
NCR UK channel manager Bill Thompson recognises the c-store sector as being one of the fastest moving in the market. He, too, cites the increasing popularity of fresh food as a key reason for more retailers having recently installed or updated epos systems.
"There's a big demand for fresh food," he explains. "Convenience stores are also getting bigger with a lot more now around the 1,500-2,000sq ft size. All of these changes mean there is a greater need for retailers to use more sophisticated technology. The successful retailers are usually those who make the most of their systems."
Thompson is sure epos technology will continue to evolve, but warns against retailers standing still and waiting for the next best thing. "Just five years ago you wouldn't see the volume of epos equipment in c-stores that you do today," he explains. "Over the next decade we're going to see further aggressive changes. RFID will become more mainstream and will feed down from the multiples. I believe self-service will also play an ever-increasing role."
NCR worked with the Channel Islands Co-op in 2006 to install a number of self-service tills. By July 2006 a quarter of all transactions were going through NCRS FastLane self-checkout units in five of the group's stores.
Thompson says: "Self-service isn't a solution for every retailer, but a number have seen it help where there are labour shortages, or to free up some members of staff for other jobs around the store. It's another example of how technology can help retailers manage their stores."
Northern Ireland Spar retailer Henderson Retail has also opted to install self-scan tills at its Dundonald store. Bosses describe initial feedback from customers as extremely positive. Retail operations manager Mark McCammond explains: "Self-checkout is an exciting development. Our aim as a retailer is to make the shopping experience for our customers as convenient and hassle-free as possible, and we have developed this technology to further meet this goal. We look forward to rolling the new systems out across more stores."
Another area which has seen recent innovation is epos being linked to security. WatchNet EU has developed a DVR recorder which can search for footage associated with one particular product or category. WatchNet EU managing director Jonathan Darby says: "With our system, retailers are able to search all footage through their epos system. The system can search through three levels - cashier number, common data and transactions.
"Retailers can also monitor the system off-site with a password that allows them access to view over the web. The advantage is that they can pinpoint sales, keep track of products and cut down on the estimated 50% of shrinkage which is down to employees."
The possibilities associated with epos technology seem endless and retailers need to be accepting of new technologies when they arise. While viewing epos data on a mobile phone may not be everyone's cup of tea, for those willing to take the plunge and invest in the latest equipment
and software, the benefits are there for the taking.
Arjan Mehr, Londis, Bracknell
"I've got the Londis Laser system installed, but will soon be upgrading to Londis Manager, which can look at data in real time. We do automatic ordering every day and are able to keep a close eye on margins and which parts of the store are making money or not.
"An epos system is one of the best investments retailers can make if used properly. It's particularly valuable in the grocery market as margins can be quite low. People shouldn't be scared of it. You don't need to be any kind of expert to make good use of technology."