I was shopping at a small, independent retail store, kind of in a hurry -- but really, am I ever not in a hurry? -- when I went to pay and the unthinkable happened: the cash register’s receipt printer had run out of paper.
While I stood there and fidgeted impatiently, the store associate gingerly took apart the mechanism, delicately unwrapped a new roll and attempted (for what appeared to be the first time since she started working there) to put everything back into place. At one point she sort of chuckled in embarrassment.
“Isn’t this crazy,” she said, “that we’re still dealing with paper in this day and age?”
What’s crazier is that something so simple can bring friction to a moment where everyone should be happy: the buyer getting what they want and the merchant getting money.
This incident ran through my mind when I read through the summary of a study launched earlier this month from market research firm IDC exploring the evolution of POS systems in large apparel and soft lines retailers. IDC essentially wants to see whether, beyond the occasional paper problems, today’s POS systems are meeting the needs of an omni-channel shopping environment. This was the key quote from Robert Eastman, a research manager from IDC Retail Insights:
While the omni-channel commerce retail environment is changing rapidly, the POS continues to be the central nervous system for the store. To respond to the escalating expectations of consumers in this hypercompetitive industry, POS vendors must deliver technology that can support a differentiating, immersive customer experience.
I work with IDC occasionally and I have deep respect for its team, and I completely support the idea of giving retailers a guide on choosing the best possible POS system. At the same time, though, I can’t help but think that understanding the role of the POS as the central nervous system for the store might explain why some retailers have survived recent sector challenges, while others have not.
Though you can argue a POS system collects a lot of important data about customers that can later be fed across other parts of a retail organization, it is still fundamentally a tool for facilitating financial transactions. In the technology sector, we use the term POS so often we might occasionally forget it stands for “point of sale.”
What drives customer interest, loyalty and advocacy, however, can start at many touchpoints far from the final sale, or even upon approach of the checkout counter.
When retailers use data intelligently to create targeted and personalized marketing touchpoints, they show customers their interests and needs have been recognized.
When a merchant works to get to know customers deeply, whether during the in-store experience or even online, this is not an exercise in data mining, but a genuine effort to build a one-to-one relationship.
When retailers continue to use data -- not merely what was captured at the point of sale but across social media and other sources – they can keep the conversation going with follow up offers and outstanding customer service.
All these things may pass to and from the POS system, but they need to be part of a deliberate strategy that takes everything retailers have been told about becoming “customer centric” for years and making it real. It’s why the Financial Post recently described changes in Canadian retail as “transformation over turmoil.”
If we think of customers, rather than the POS, as the store’s central nervous system, everything changes. And lots more will need to change as Canadian retailers seek to move out of survival mode and back into growth mode in 2018.
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