A look at Integrated Retail Systems

Oct 01, 2006 9:30 PM  By

As a major component of the multichannel world, retail operations are a prime candidate for integration with the direct (contact center and e-commerce) aspects of your operations. And yet for many so-called multichannel merchants, retail remains the odd man out.

Why? Because while many direct commerce order management systems provide a fully integrated e-commerce module or have a full array of application programming interfaces (APIs) to support Web integration, these same systems often treat retail operations as an afterthought, providing cash-drawer functions for a warehouse store but not much more.

And much there is, starting with multiple point-of-sale (POS) cash-register management in multiple store locations, each with its own inventory to manage and replenish, either from a consolidated inventory serving all channels or from its own dedicated inventory allotment. Handheld devices on the floor need to provide inventory tracking and counting functions as well.

And then you have headquarters functions to manage, including pricing strategies, assortment planning, promotions, and reporting. Topping it all off are general retail management issues such as staff management, accounting, commissions, and perhaps promotions management functions.

In short, what’s needed is a full-scale retail management suite. And while not every order management systems vendor has one, several do. We’ll take a look at a few of those systems here.

APROPOS

Apropos Retail Systems (www.aproposretail.com), which has always put its specialty- and chain-store retail functionality ahead of direct commerce management, is now part of CRS Retail Systems, a provider of retail software for POS, store operations, and retail analytics. The CRS RetailSuite includes POS and back-office modules, cross-channel stock locator and order manager, sales audit, customer relationship managment (CRM), labor management, loss prevention, and other applications.

Apropos’s fully integrated suite of operational software systems for both direct merchants and retailers adds merchandising, inventory allocation, data warehousing, e-commerce, and order fulfillment to CRS’s core applications.

This retail functionality is built around Apropos’s merchandising module, which supports many models of purchasing and distribution including cross-dock and drop-ship. It also integrates with allocation and replenishment modules to get the right stock to the right stores at the right time — and at the right price, with its price-management module. From purchase order to allocation to receipt to ticketing to shipment, Apropos leverages the work of the merchandisers throughout an organization. There is also a sales-audit function to track every detail of each transaction, and a reporting and analysis platform on an SQL/server database.

A closed-loop solution automates the allocation process, linking Apropos purchasing, receiving, and transfer modules with the Apropos retail data warehouse, making sure that completed allocations are immediately and automatically available at the distribution center and reducing the time needed to make and enact allocation decisions.

Apropos’s “transfers plus” module helps buyers and inventory managers make better decisions on when and where to transfer merchandise within the retail organization. It is a visual tool with drag-and-drop functionality that makes the process of moving inventory quick and easy, automatically creating and sending electronic transfer requests to every store based on sales and on-hand and in-transit data directly from the consolidated Apropos multichannel enterprise inventory and sales database.

Apropos’s POSX system can also send messages to each sales associate. Tasks can be assigned, and overdue reminders delivered; congratulatory messages for outstanding productivity can be suggested to executives and delivered to associates. POSX screen savers can even deliver real-time interactive news to the stores about their own performance. On-screen indicators tell associates whether customers are members of the loyalty program, how frequently they shop, and how they rate on a relative customer scale.

A customer loyalty management application offers a flexible points-based system to reward shoppers on frequency or on sales volume. You can even provide incentives for use of certain payment types, such as your private-label credit card, or you can offer greater rewards for full-price merchandise or promotional items.

The system handles customer communications as well. You can send, via e-mail, letter, or postcard, birthday, thank-you, “miss you,” and “tell a friend” notes, all personalized with your own graphics and all stored within the Apropos customer loyalty system.

Apropos also includes modules for open-to-buy planning and tracking. A loss-prevention module enables you to instantly spot problems at the company, region, store, and individual level. Having picked up on a potential problem, the module can then inform you about the nature and ramifications of the problem: for example, too many voids of cash transactions at store 25. In situations where you must intervene, you’ll have all the information you need, in one place, to back up your position.

COMMERCIALWARE

CommercialWare (www.commercialware.com), a division of Datavantage Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Micros Systems, is no stranger to retail. For the past 10 years CommercialWare has acquired and integrated major retail components to its suite of direct commerce applications, including CWStore, CWLocate, CWCollaborate, CWValueCard, and CWAnalytics.

CWStore includes

  • StorePOS functions for point of sale, transaction processing, returns, quotes, customer tracking, bar-code scanning, and cash management;

  • StoreBackOffice for store operations, receiving, requisitions, transfers, physical counts, staff management, commissions, time and attendance, and workflow management;

  • StoreMobile for conducting product inquiries, receiving, transfers, and physical counts with wireless handheld devices;

  • StoreHQ for vendor management, purchasing, price management, SKU management, promotion scheduling, and reporting.

CWLocate addresses the loss of sales due to merchandise being unavailable at a particular location or within a certain channel or to a lack of readily available information about when and how the goods can be delivered. The component seeks to eliminate store-to-store telephone searches for product at the point of service, which are time-consuming and inefficient. Instead, CWLocate lets retailers immediately identify and view inventory availability across all sales channels and distribution centers. The same program serves the contact center and e-commerce application as well.

CWCollaborate provides an interactive Web-based environment that enables retailers and their supply chain partners to share the purchasing, customer, shipping, and delivery information needed to support drop-shipping and other third-party fulfillment of customer orders.

CWValueCard supports loyalty-card management in all channels for real-time assignment, activation, and management of client-branded stored-value and gift cards. CWValueCard tracks all activity performed against individual cards across all channels, acting as the central repository for all such transactions. This enables retailers to provide consumers with an instantly redeemable card for use via catalog, Web, and retail.

CWAnalytics includes a powerful multipurpose online analytical processing (OLAP) cube to enable business managers using an analysis product such as Microsoft’s Data Analyzer to easily view information on every possible measure and dimension of customer and inventory activity, then refine specific segments for further analysis. CWAnalytics works seamlessly in the background to periodically extract cross-channel transactional data from CWDirect and CWStore and deposit them into CWAnalytics to keep information current for ongoing analysis.

Datavantage acquired CommercialWare less than a year ago. Datavantage provides specialty retailers with POS and analytical applications, with some users having more than 10,000 registers in place. The CWStore users tend to have a total of fewer than 50 cash registers to manage.

The two brands are on course to facilitate integration of their solution suites, with several joint customers already. When the two companies’ application suites are merged, the result will rely on components from each. For instance, the Datavantage CRM application will house the retail master file and populate it to the POS; for the inventory locator and gift-card management, CommercialWare’s applications will be used.

The two sales teams are beginning to coordinate and work together as well. Europe, Asia, and South America are already covered by Micros, and eventually both Datavantage and CommercialWare will be serving specialty retailers on a truly global basis too.

DATA MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES

MACH2K (www.mach2k.com) from Data Management Associates has a retail POS module that manages back-office functions such as inventory purchase and transfer as well as staff and sales management reports. Using Mach2K enables you to conduct the following function from the register:

  • bar-code scanning;

  • multistore POS management;

  • backordering from warehouse;

  • all-store inventory check and transfer management;

  • gift-certificate generation;

  • store-to-store credit management;

  • store order for home delivery.

There are a variety of reports, including

  • multiple management reports by register, clerk, item, group, etc.;

  • daily cash drawer;

  • daily sales drawer cash validation/balancing;

  • dates and pricing for sales items.

ECOMETRY

In recent years Ecometry (www.ecometry.com) has taken major steps to enable a full multichannel approach by supplementing its direct commerce Ecometry Commerce Suite with Blue Martini for the Web and the Nextor POS module for retail.

In addition to serving as an integral component of the Ecometry Commerce Suite, Nextor can be implemented as a feature-rich stand-alone system, in conjunction with third-party back-office systems or with Ecometry’s Blue Martini applications.

Key features and benefits of Nextor include

  • adherence to industry technology standards (open N-tier architecture design, 100% Java application, J2EE-compliance, JMS, XML, and DB independence) to provide you with ultimate control over your POS operations;

  • ease of integration. Nextor has the highest compliance rating with ARTS data model, IXRetail support, and UPOS support.

  • high configurability, with the CDK tool (configuration design kit) providing fast, flexible configurability to meet your special requirements;

  • an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), which results in a shorter learning curve for store associates and a faster throughput of transactions;

  • an advanced POS transaction set with rules-based pricing that provides virtually unlimited sales promotion capabilities and improved data integrity in ringing of sales;

  • real-time connectivity to Ecometry’s cross-channel customer-centric solution for sharing of customer/product information, which provides simplified enterprise management;

  • advanced selling technology — with integration to a CRM database for customer “anywhere” history, you can increase sales using automated, complex suggestive-selling, such as via messages at POS;

  • support for wireless hardware and both touch and nontouch screens, centralized credit-card authorization, integration of gift cards, gift receipts, loyalty cards, and debit cards.

With these functionalities, Nextor enables sales associates to make sales for products in the store, from other stores in your chain, and in multichannel environments for products that exist in your distribution center.

ISLAND PACIFIC

Island Pacific (islandpacific.com), a leading retail solutions provider, purchased the Synaro direct commerce system from Page Digital a year ago, giving it a full suite of multichannel applications.

With Island Pacific’s suite of products you can handle merchandising and inventory management, store operations, POS, customer management/CRM, and loss prevention, in addition to Synaro’s contact center and Web commerce functions.

Island Pacific’s RetailPro system also handles layaways, returns, gift registries, kiosks, and staff management, all with multicurrency, multilanguage, and global tax handling capabilities. More than 55,000 stores run the system in nearly 75 countries and 18 languages.

JUNCTION SOLUTIONS

Junction Solutions (www.junctionsolutions.com) offers JunctionISS, a browser-based, touch-optional, GUI point-of-sale and back-office suite of standards-based solutions using XML/XSLT Web technologies. JunctionISS incorporates Windows .NET, ARTS, and IXRetail standards as well.

JunctionMCR (MultiChannelRetail) integrates with the JunctionISS retail solution for in-store operations, managing a rich set of checkout and retail management functions to roll up data, provide control, and manage the cross-enterprise supply chain. JunctionISS is not limited to running on a traditional POS device; you can also deploy it on self-service kiosks, mobile devices, and the Web.

With JunctionISS, associates can work with a customizable POS screen that lets them check prices, availability, and stock location instantly. They can access complete customer information; handle multiple tenders and partial payments at checkout; and quickly create and process returns, backorders, sales quotes, work orders, and layaways. Automated processes make it easy to balance multiple tenders efficiently and accurately.

NATURAL SOLUTIONS

Natural Solutions (www.naturalsol.com) has supplemented its NaturalOrder, NaturalWeb, NaturalFinancials, and NaturalAnalytics modules with NaturalRetail using the Microsoft Retail Management System. NaturalRetail expedites checkouts and back-office tasks and is scalable to hundreds of registers or locations.

Major components of NaturalRetail include

  • stock checking;

  • payment processing (multitenders, credit cards, coupons, gift vouchers, foreign currencies, and government stamps);

  • layaways;

  • work orders;

  • the ability to allow sales associates to serve others while keeping a stalled transaction “on hold.”

PROFITCENTER SOFTWARE (PCS)

The Profitability Software Suite from PCS (www.profitcenter.com) includes a POS module that can be fully integrated to the company’s full suite of solutions, run as a stand-alone system, or be integrated to other back-office applications.

Features include

  • rapid, efficient checkouts;

  • easy-to-learn intuitive screens;

  • detailed customer information and financial data;

  • customer sales history across multiple channels;

  • real-time access to all inventories and warehouses;

  • bar-code scanning for fast product inquiries and sales;

  • automatic inventory replenishments;

  • processing of all major credit cards;

  • unlimited pricing contracts;

  • security settings for roles or individual users.

Which soloution will work better for you? That depends on how demanding your requirements are. But at least all of these systems offer the essential functionality to manage the retail component of your multichannel business.


Ernie Schell is director of Marketing Systems Analysis, a Ventnor, NJ-based consulting firm.