This article was originally published in the Autumn 2018 issue of The Record.
Gone are the days when a retailer’s POS system was simply a cash register in a physical store. Now that most retailers sell products via physical stores, online websites and mobile apps, it’s essential for them to deliver the same seamless, personalised and connected shopping experience to customers across all channels. To do this, many have integrated omnichannel functions into their POS systems so they can not only facilitate payments, but also capture customer preference data, support inventory management, execute automatic promotions and much more. Hence, POS systems are now considered the lynchpin of a seamless omnichannel shopping experience.
“Today’s POS systems are much more powerful than the cash registers of the past and they now play a critical role in overall retail operations,” says Vic Miles, director of Retail Technology Strategy at Microsoft. “The newest and most advanced POS systems act as primary channels for capturing valuable data from billions of dollars’ worth of customer transactions. They provide retailers with astounding levels of actionable insights that can be used to deliver personalised omnichannel shopping experiences, empower staff to work more productively and drive sales growth.”
Many retailers are turning to platforms like Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Retail, which offers a Modern POS module to enable retailers to use PCs, tablets, and phones to process sales transactions and customer orders, as well as to manage daily operations and inventory.
“Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Retail uses Microsoft’s cloud-based enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management suites to deliver end-to-end integration of all sales-related processes,” says Miles. “It consolidates merchandising, fulfilment, POS and promotions operations into a single platform, allowing retailers to gain a full overview of customers’ individual journeys and personalise each point of contact to drive loyalty.”
Microsoft Dynamics 365 for retail also offers a cloud-based POS system that can be accessed via mobile devices to give store associates access to the systems, data and real-time insights they need to provide a fast and personalised service to customers on the shop floor. Associates can greet customers personally, answer their queries, recommend relevant products from the virtual ‘endless aisle’ based on insights from their customer profile, and rapidly process orders and transactions via multiple payment methods.
“Customers are satisfied because they can choose items that aren’t physically in the store, arrange delivery or collection, and complete payments quickly – all without standing in a long queue at a traditional cash register,” says Miles. “Meanwhile, mobile POS allows store associates to remain productive because they have all the information they need in one system to upsell products, deliver tailored discounts and otherwise save sales that would have potentially been lost due to excessive queues at the cash register.”
Retailers can take mobile POS a step further by linking their customer-facing apps with internet of things (IoT) sensors or beacons located around their stores. Retailers can use the beacons to send customers wayfinding directions to their desired products, contextual information about items they pick up, product recommendations and tailored discounts. Similarly, beacons can be used to alert store associates to customers who need assistance or shelves that need restocking.
“Many aspects of retail operations can be enhanced by implementing IoT-enabled sensors throughout a store and connecting them to the POS and other back-end systems,” says Miles. “IoT is now a cornerstone of IT innovation in the retail sector, connecting various technologies to provide retailers with an incredible amount of capabilities that improve customer experience and empower store associates to become more productive and drive sales.”
Another powerful IoT-related innovation are radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, which carry unique product numbers.
“RFID technology has significant potential beyond simply tracking items in warehouses and stores when it is connected to a POS system,” says Miles. “When a customer purchases a product using a credit, debit or loyalty card, this data links with the product’s RFID tag data and provides rich information about their in-store movements. This enables retailers to build a 360-degree overview of each customer’s preferences, past interactions and transactions so they can personalise marketing, promotional offers and future interactions to drive loyalty and sales.”
Combining POS and RFID systems also enables retailers to automatically reconcile their inventory after every transaction.
“Being able to track an item’s movements around a store or warehouse in real time is already impressive, but it becomes even more so when retailers use this information to ensure they keep their stores stocked with the items their customers want the most, when they want them,” remarks Miles. “They can also use the data to identify busy sales periods and increase the efficiency of their teams, deploying them to the right place at the right time to minimise the risk of the dreaded empty shelf when items are selling fast.”
Information from POS systems can also be vital for retailers when it comes to tracking trends in store traffic volume, sales of specific products and the way customers move around the store to help them to plan staffing and design optimal store layouts.
“Modern POS systems do more than just enable retailers to expedite checkout processes and minimise waiting times for customers – they give retailers the capacity to achieve heights of operational efficiency and sales confidence that they could previously only have dreamed of,” says Miles. “When retailers offer customers a connected and personalised shopping journey that enables them to discover new products and purchase items in a way that is most convenient to them, they’ll keep coming back.”
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