By Jason Richelson
The next generation is growing up with a new baseline set of expectations about what the minimum standards of technology should be. Modern retailers have never known the excruciating anticipation of waiting for some incredibly basic report to load over a 56K bit connection. They are strangers to the hours of mind-numbing tedium spent surrounded by papers trying to get your books in order. There are a whole host of miserable experiences that the next generation of merchants will just never have to deal with. They too are entering the world of retail with a whole new set of expectations as to what the minimum standards should be.
That being said, here are five retail miseries that are now a thing of the past.
1. Man vs. Mother Nature
My disastrous old Windows POS system ran off a server kept in the basement. Prudence (and the insurance company) dictated that data from this server would backup at the end of each business day in case of fire or flood. This involved connecting a massive external hard-drive into the back of the computer and waiting whilst the data seemingly inched across the cable. It also involved carrying the hard-drive back home every day because, let’s face it, a backup is no use if it burns down in the same fire as the actual server.
How It Got Better: The cloud. With cloud-based servers data backup is automatic. Data is constantly synced and stored in the cloud, so Mother Nature can do her worst to the server, and crucial business data is always secure.
2. Man vs. Virus
Threat detected! Malware found! Critical vulnerabilities discovered! In the Land Before the iPad (LBtiP) the computer virus was a very real part of every retailer’s life. Thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours have been spent dealing with malfunctioning and infected PCs. And then, months were spent afterwards being a tyrant banning staff from using the computers to do anything other than ring up sales. Not exactly conducive to a fun working environment.
How It Got Better: The Mac and now the iPad have both proven themselves to be infinitely more robust in the face of hack attacks. So, now sales can be rung up in peace – and staff can play Angry Birds when things are quiet too.
3. Man vs. Data
The prohibitive expense of hardware meant most small businesses used only one machine for all the functions in the store. The same machine doubled as a POS unit and as a business computer to respond to email and run reports. In practice this meant running reports could only happen at the end of the business day. What’s more, even if there was an additional computer, someone still had to be physically located within the store and connected to the server to get access to the data. As a result, business decisions were often made on the fly and without consistent reference to real-time data.
How It Got Better: Cloud-based reporting has made it possible to access data anywhere. Something that was a complete headache previously is now as simple as opening an app and checking out real-time data on staffing, inventory, sales and more.
4. Man vs. Power
The power is out, you can’t take sales. The Internet is down, you can’t take sales. It’s a Tuesday, you can’t take sales. Considering the expense of the old Windows POS machines, they were often unreliable. After spending thousands of dollars on the machine itself, panic set in every time the power went out. And if the Internet went down for any reason, forget about taking any payments at all, hours were spent just trying to get someone on the phone.
How It Got Better: Mobile POS solutions rely on tablets that come with powerful, built-in batteries. Also, the top modern POS solutions allow for acceptance of payments even when Internet connectivity is down. The best part? The hardware to make this happen now costs about $500 instead of $5,000.
5. Man vs. Upgrade
I always thought that the great, cosmic joke of the old-fashioned POS system was that six months after you shelled out half of your life savings for some truck-sized Windows POS system, they would release hardware that was half the size and twice as fast – along with new software that contained lots of great new features. But it was too late to install that one, or you could but you’d have to pay for it all over again, including someone to install it. Then again to fix the viruses when it went wrong.
How It Got Better: The advent of the iPad has provided a touchscreen system that is getting better and better without raising the price point. What’s more, these updates get pushed out to the iPad from the App Store without ever having to do anything. The major POS providers now operate on a no-contract, monthly subscription model that means they are incentivized to constantly upgrade their service to remain competitive and retain their customers.
In short, there has never been a better time to be a retailer looking for technology.
Jason Richelson, Founder & CEO, ShopKeep POS