This article first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of The Record.
In the last five weeks of each year, Hickory Farms opens and closes around 500 retail stores across the US and Canada to meet demand for customers wanting to buy food gifts for the holiday season. The company generates 90% of its annual revenue in this short period, putting a strain on its 65 full-time staff, more than 4,000 seasonal employees, and its multiple sales and order fulfilment channels.
To enable it to scale up quickly and accommodate this annual dramatic upsurge in business, Hickory Farms recently replaced four disparate legacy business systems with an enterprise resource planning system built on the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Operations on Microsoft Azure platform. Now that all mail order, online, wholesale and in-store operations are integrated on a single platform, Hickory Farms has a 360-degree overview of its catalogue, mail, online and in-store sales channels. It has also improved inventory management, order fulfilment, merchandising and forecasting. Perhaps most importantly, Hickory Farms has also boosted sales by installing hundreds of new connected POS systems in its stores to enable customers place online orders via the digital kiosks.
Hickory Farms is just one of many retail companies worldwide that has replaced its legacy systems with an end-to-end POS system that meets the demands of modern consumers.
“In the past, consumers started and finished their entire shopping journey in the physical store, so traditional POS solutions are built on legacy-based systems that centre around fixed cash registers at a checkout counter,” says Brendan O’Meara, managing director of Worldwide Retail at Microsoft. “Today, consumers use online sites, social media and perhaps even chatbots to research, evaluate and choose the products they want long before they ever enter a physical store to buy them – or they simply order them online or via a mobile app. They’re effectively on a perpetual shopping journey.”
Now that customers can shop online, via mobile apps and in physical stores, retailers can no longer operate a traditional standalone POS system that simply runs at in-store cash registers, says O’Meara.
“Modern POS systems must support multiple payment methods and the omnichannel system that connects retailers’ digital and physical channels – and they must be available on mobile devices,” he explains. “This allows store managers and sales associates to instantly access customer and inventory data, so they can greet shoppers personally, answer queries, recommend products and complete orders or transactions anywhere on the shop floor. In addition, POS systems should connect to consumer-facing mobile apps so customers can access product information, navigate stores, request help, or even pay without having to queue.”
O’Meara recommends retailers move from their legacy-based POS systems to a modern cloud-enabled POS solution. However, this requires a major architectural change, which is where solutions from Microsoft Dynamics and partners like Store Works, Orckestra, Episerver, NCR Corporation and SKIP can help. They are developing the cloud platforms, core capabilities and mobile apps retailers need to put real-time data in the hands of both store assistants and shoppers. Central to these solutions is the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
“Microsoft Azure delivers the services that power an omnichannel experience across all customer channels, while providing in-store employees with a 360-degree view of customers and a near-real-time view of inventory, sales and other in-store and online data,” O’Meara says. “We can implement a hybrid Microsoft Azure-based POS system, where most business functionalities reside in the cloud, but key POS components are also localised on the mobile devices and cash registers in a physical store. This means staff can still process transactions if the network goes down, rather than having to close their store.”
All of this is backed by enterprise-grade security of Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system. “Windows 10 provides the highest possible level of security, so retailers can rest assured that their core data and systems are safeguarded,” comments O’Meara. “The operating system also provides the ideal platform for rapidly developing and deploying consumer- and employee-facing mobile apps that run consistently on any form factor.”
Before modernising their POS system, O’Meara advises retailers to take a customer-centric view of the shopping experience to ensure they are providing consumers with the ability to research, buy and receive products via their preferred channels.
“Retail is competitive and success rides on providing more than just the basics – it centres on delivering a friction-free, end-to-end shopping experience that delights the customer with relevant and personal engagement,” says O’Meara. “Once retailers implement a modern cloud-enabled POS system that connects and unifies their digital and physical channels, they can take advantage of capabilities such as in-store digital kiosks, interactive screens in fitting rooms, and beacons that connect with consumer-facing mobile apps to deliver wayfinding services and personalised offers. By doing this, they can create enjoyable shopping experiences that keep them top of mind whenever and wherever customers start their shopping journey.”
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