Electronic Evolution

Whether it’€™s the ability of an iPhone to identify a song on the radio (allow the phone, equipped with the right application, to ‘€œlisten’€ to the song for five seconds and it will display the name of the song and the artist) or the ability of Google to solve math problems (just type the math problem into the search engine), the technology all around us continues to evolve, sometimes in dizzying ways.

The same is true for computer systems for even the smallest or most specialized retailers.

While the main reason for a retail computer system remains being able to track sales and inventory, computer technologies, such as touchscreens and handheld devices, continue to develop even as prices have dropped. And companies that develop systems for retailers continue to refine their capabilities.

So, when Maggie Fox, wine buyer and wine club director for Gary’€™s Wine & Marketplace, a three-store operation headquartered in Madison, NJ, wanted to make the management of her wine club business easier, she was able to work with the company, Innovative Computer Solutions (see buyers’€™ guide), whose system Gary’€™s Wine uses. The resulting new wine club management capabilities are now available to other users of Innovative’€™s Vision system for beverage retailers.

During peak seasons, such as the holidays, Gary’€™s Wine has as many as 400 wine club members, each of whom has joined at a specific level, from Vintner ($25 per month) to Premiere ($125 per month). The members at the different levels receive different wines, two a month. In addition, some opt to only get red wines, others only white. Some wine club members pay in advance; others prefer to be billed monthly.

The Vision system now tracks all the wine club members, when their membership started, when it ends, which level they are, how they want to be billed. Once Fox inputs the two wines for each club level that month, the system automatically charges each customer appropriately, adjusts the stores’€™ inventory levels to reflect the sale and prints out mailing labels (which also list which wines should be packed up and what the customer’€™s preferred shipping method is).

‘€œWe had looked at other wine club management software out there,’€ said Fox, ‘€œbut they were all separate systems and they were meant for wineries. Innovative did a really good job of targeting how we, as retailers, do it. And the fact that it is all integrated into one system is a big help to us.’€

Already, another retailer, Imbibe Wines & Spirits Merchant in Bakersfield, CA, has taken that wine-club capability and, working with Innovative, adapted it to use for renting out wine-storage space.

David and Tamara Dobbs are long-time beverage retailers. They bought Red Carpet Wine in Glendale, CA in 1988. But they recently moved to Bakersfield and opened Imbibe five months ago.

‘€œAfter 20 years in the business and after 20 years of leasing our space, we knew exactly what we wanted in our new store,’€ said Tamara Dobbs. ‘€œWe have an Enomatic system in our wine bar and we have 3,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage, 425 lockers, available for our customers to rent.’€

Though the wine storage has only been available to rent for two weeks and the Dobbs have yet to do any formal marketing of it, half of the lockers have already been taken.

‘€œWhen I asked Innovative about automating our locker rentals, they said, ‘€˜Why don’€™t we adapt our wine-of-the-month feature?’€™’€ said Dobbs. ‘€œAnd it really was a perfect fit.’€

Rather than different wine-club levels, Dobbs is dealing with different locker sizes. Just like Gary’€™s Wine, she is dealing with customers paying in different ways: monthly, quarterly and annually.

‘€œWhen you ask them if you can do something with their system, nine times out of ten, they’€™ve already been through it with someone else,’€ said Dobbs. ‘€œICS is so far ahead of what my needs are, I wish I were more cutting-edge.’€

When Taylor Senatore and Jennifer Frank opened California Wine Merchants, a store specializing in California wines, in New York City eight months ago, Senatore knew what he wanted from his computer system. He wanted one system to handle both the store and the company’€™s e-commerce business. ‘€œAnd I can’€™t reiterate it enough: I didn’€™t want to be doing any IT (information technology) work. I knew the hassles of that first hand and I am a firm believer that, unless that’€™s your core function, then you shouldn’€™t be doing it.’€ In other words, Senatore wants to focus on being a retailer, not on maintaining his computer system.

He and Frank decided to go with a system from CORESense (see buyers’€™ guide). The interesting thing about CORESense is that, rather than selling retailers software that then runs on hardware in the retailer’€™s stores and offices, CORESense is a ‘€œsoftware-as-a-service’€ or SaaS company. A retailer like California Wine Merchants accesses the software running its business from and transmits all its business activity to CORESense over the internet. ‘€œObviously, they have their POS terminal on their premises and that can run stand-alone if it needs to, but usually they are connected to us,’€ said Chris Martin, CORESense CEO.

What are the benefits of this? As Senatore points out, one big benefit is no maintenance duties on the retailer’€™s part. ‘€œCORESense always backs all our data up. I’€™m never going to lose data and I never have to back it up ‘€“ ever. I don’€™t have to do any of that. At the end of the day, I just turn off the computers and go home,’€ he said.

And because the CORESense system is being used by many other retailers, some of them quite large, California Wine Merchants gets to benefit from any of the improvements made to the system for other users. ‘€œIf one of the big guys requests something, it gets released to everyone. These capabilities trickle down,’€ said Senatore.

Are there any drawbacks? Senatore doesn’€™t see any. He doesn’€™t, for example, worry about the security of his data. ‘€œIf anything, it’€™s more secure with them, on their servers, than it would be on any server I could have in the store,’€ he said.

‘€œIt is more expensive, let’€™s be clear on that,’€ Senatore added. ‘€œYou are paying for the convenience and for all the bells and whistles, but it is absolutely worth the money. It is one of the best purchases I’€™ve ever made.’€

Another company, Cetech, recently launched a browser-based version of Spirits, its system for beverage alcohol retailers in New York State. But rather than being accessed via the worldwide web from Cetech’€™s servers, retailers can use this system on an intranet, a sort of private internet within the store. One computer in the store acts as the server and contains the software. All the other devices ‘€“ other computers, handhelds, POS terminals ‘€“ tap into the software using a browser. ‘€œIt opens up a lot of flexibility. You’€™re able to present the data many different ways on different devices,’€ said Charles Hayes, Cetech’€™s president. ‘€œAnd it’€™s a lot less maintenance. All a device needs is a browser. There’€™s not so much to set up on each device.’€

Whatever the developmental leaps technology makes, retailers say it is still important that it be simple to use. Gail Brophy, owner of Purdy’€™s Discount Wine & Liquors in Saratoga Springs, NY, is a long-time user of Cetech’€™s Spirits system. Over the years, her system has grown in its abilities. Brophy can now access the store’€™s system from her home, using a VPN, or ‘€œvirtual private network.’€ She added handheld devices to her system. But it remains easy for her to use. ‘€œA few months ago, some salespeople came in, trying to sell me on their system. And, OK, I thought, I’€™ll look,’€ she said. ‘€œTheir system did some sophisticated things, but it was way too complicated for us to use.’€

Building E-Commerce

Many beverage alcohol retailers are particularly interested in building their e-commerce business. ‘€œIt’€™s becoming apparent that web business is going to be a major growth area for us,’€ California Wine Merchants’€™ Senatore said.

Like other retailers, Senatore believes having his e-commerce business integrated with the system he uses to run his bricks & mortar store only makes sense. ‘€œWhen we looked at e-commerce systems, we saw that they weren’€™t integrated and I couldn’€™t figure out why you wouldn’€™t have that. Why should you have to figure out where your inventory is [between the two channels]? Why should you have to have two systems uploading information to each other?’€

Imbibe’€™s Dobbs is currently working on her store’€™s e-commerce systems. While her Vision system will handle, as one entity, the inventory management for both her store and her web business, she is working with a third-party vendor on handling the shopping cart on her website. She points out that, for a retailer, it is important that making purchases online for customers runs absolutely smoothly. ‘€œWhen people are shopping online, they just want it to be done: they don’€™t want to have to send an email, they don’€™t want to have to make a phone call, they just want to buy it.’€

In particular, if a customer buys something online, she says, she really wants to make sure she has that product in stock. That’€™s where having her inventory-management being handled by one system becomes important. ‘€œThe website won’€™t let a customer buy more than I actually have in stock,’€ she said.

Senatore agrees on the importance of this. ‘€œThis inventory integration was a major need of mine,’€ he said. ‘€œWith our system, if we don’€™t have it in stock, you can’€™t buy it and all the information is current. It doesn’€™t look good if someone tries to buy something from your website only to find out they can’€™t get it. It looks like you are trying to trick them.’€

Gary’€™s Wine is currently working on its website business. ‘€œRight now, we ring the sales up manually,’€ said Fox, ‘€œbut we’€™ll be working on that a few months down the road.’€ What intrigues Fox is the different ways customers use the website. ‘€œSome people want to do everything ‘€“ shopping, signing up for wine clubs ‘€“ online. Others, if we send them an email offer, will print it out and bring it to the store. They want to talk to someone,’€ she said. ‘€œOne guy read about a chenin blanc we had online, called to ask a question about it and then went back online to order it.’€

Twittering, Etc.

This affects how retailers use the internet to market themselves. Gary Zorchek, owner of Frederick Wine House in Frederick, MD, uses Twitter to alert customers to special offers. He currently has about 100 followers, ‘€œmostly younger people, but we are starting to get older folks,’€ he said. If he gets a special deal on a wine, ‘€œI’€™ll twitter it, ‘€˜We’€™ve got Ironberry for $9.99 a bottle, first come, first serve.’€™ It’€™s free marketing. I love it.’€

John Saccomanno, industry marketing director for NCR, sees using the newest internet and mobile marketing tools (such as sending a coupon, via texting, to cell phones) as the wave of the future. ‘€œYounger customers are ‘€˜digital natives,’€™’€ he explained. ‘€œThey don’€™t listen to radio, they don’€™t read newspapers or magazines and they don’€™t watch TV, at least not in real time. Mass media is not a very effective way to reach them. You have to figure out how best to connect with them.’€

Zorchek noticed that some of his customers, in an effort to keep track of what wine they bought and liked, were taking pictures of wine labels in the store with their cell phones, possibly using another iPhone application. (There is also a handy little device, the size of a key chain that people can use to scan the barcode of a bottle, and then download that information onto their computer at home. See Intelliscanner in the buyers’€™ guide.)

Zorchek is testing a capability, recently developed by Innovative Computer Solutions, that allows customers to go online and see what they’€™ve purchased from his store. Right now, he has 30 to 40 customers using it and he is planning to email all the customers in his database about it. Customers sign up to use a website called wineistasty.com, maintained by Innovative. Each night, Zorchek’€™s computer system sends the sale information from customers who have identified themselves as wineistasty users to the website. By the next day, these customers can log on and see all their purchases. They can add tasting notes and rank their purchases. Zorchek plans to get his wine distributors to give him descriptions of their products, as Word documents, that he can then add to his selection on wineistasty. Retailers have the option of allowing their wineistasty customers to share their tasting notes with each other. ‘€œThis is a great marketing tool for wine shops,’€ said Zorchek.

BevMo! Using Wine Kiosks

Retailers are finding other ways to use technology for marketing and for customer-service purposes. BevMo!, the 99-store operation based in Walnut Creek, CA, is testing the use of customer kiosks, equipped with Wine Market Assistant software (see buyers’€™ guide), in one of its stores. ‘€œEverybody loves the concept and we’€™re seeing pretty significant numbers when it comes to customers using it,’€ said Mark Ryan, BevMo’€™s director of marketing.

Any fears that customers wouldn’€™t know how to use the kiosks were dispelled within minutes of their installation. ‘€œWithin five minutes, a customer came by with a bottle and scanned it,’€ said Ryan. ‘€œI asked him how he knew it could do that. He said he’€™s seen similar things in enough stores, like Target, and he just figured it would.’€

BevMo employees are also using the kiosks. ‘€œSometimes a customer will ask a question ‘€“ where something is located or if we carry something ‘€“ and the employee will practically take them by the hand and bring them over to the kiosk,’€ said Ryan.

BevMo is also using the kiosks to allow customers to see their rewards from the chain’€™s customer loyalty program. For every $250’€™s worth of purchases they make, customers are given a 5 percent coupon to use on their next purchase. ‘€œPrior to the kiosks, we didn’€™t have a good way to deliver this to them,’€ said Ryan. ‘€œPeople would forget their coupons at home. Or if we gave it to them at the point-of-sale, they wouldn’€™t know they had it coming on that purchase.’€ Customers can also use the kiosks to sign up for the loyalty program.

In bad economic times, good customer service is more important than ever, says Saccomanno of NCR, which offers kiosks. In an uncertain economy, people start searching for the best deal, even as retailers’€™ sales drop. ‘€œBut even though they’€™re less loyal and are shop-hopping, customers still expect a certain level of service,’€ he said. ‘€œThe question is, how can you afford to do that with labor costs so high?’€ With a kiosk taking care of some of the simpler customer questions, Saccomanno points out, a retailer can redeploy a store’€™s employees more effectively.

Even as technology advances, the goal remains the same: to run a successful retail business. ‘€œWhile one person may prefer a kiosk and another may prefer to talk with a live person, our main concern is that we service that customer,’€ concluded BevMo’€™s Ryan.

2009 POS and Computer Systems Buyers’€™ Guide

AccuPOS

AccuPOS provides point-of-sale (POS), inventory-management and time-clock software for the retail and hospitality industries. The AccuPOS family of products is designed to be faster and easier than a cash register and to streamline the sales process. AccuPOS products, based on open standards, expand the capabilities of an existing accounting program and allow users to grow and change, without being locked into proprietary vendor products. AccuPOS products are integrated with the most widely used accounting packages, including QuickBooks, Peachtree Simply Accounting Line 50, and MAS 90/200. Founded in 1997, AccuPOS is headquartered in Los Angeles with regional offices throughout the U.S. as well as in Europe. For more information, visit www.accupos.com

ATLANTIC SYSTEMS, INC. (ASI)

Atlantic Systems, Inc. has offered POS computer systems for beverage alcohol retailers since 1980. The company provides complete systems including hardware, software, installation, training and long-term support. Spirits 2000 is a Windows-based software package that provides inventory and financial control for one store or a multi-store chain. High-speed integrated credit/debit card processing is done via the Internet. The system can identify a customer at the register using a bar-coded card or by entering the customer’€™s name or account number. Its Frequent Shopper Program can collect information on customer purchases and provide the retailer assistance in rewarding the best customers with incentives. Automated age verification and storage of results is available in most states. Targeted marketing can be done automatically by selectively filtering customer sales history and then contacting them via a mass email. Gift card processing can be done through the retailer’€™s credit card processor or internally in the system, which eliminates processing fees. A web interface is available for e-commerce along with an interface to an information kiosk for use by customers. Prices for the Spirits 2000 system start at about $10,000. For more information, call 732-280-6616, extension 127 or visit www.asi-nj.com.

BIG COMMERCE

Big Commerce, launched in 2003 by Interspire, a company that develops content-management, shopping-cart, knowledge-management and email-marketing software, is meant to allow even the smallest retailer to launch a retailing website. The company claims that a retailer can have an online store up and running in five minutes. The price per month for Big Commerce is based on sales volume and the amount of storage space and bandwidth used. Its monthly fees range from free for the smallest operations to $149.95 per month which allows a retailer to use 15 gigabytes of bandwidth and 1 gigabyte of storage. Interspire also offers Big Response, a hosted email-marketing program. For more information on Big Commerce, visit bigcommerce.com or call 888-699-8911. For information on Big Response, visit bigresponse.com or call 888-699-8910.

CAP SOFTWARE

CAP Software’€™s store-management system, SellWise, is currently being used by more than 100 wine and spirit retailers. The system provides POS, free integrated credit-card processing, inventory control, customer tracking, order/receive, tag and barcode printing and back office reporting. Newer features include optional video monitoring, for security purposes, touchscreen support, hot keys and customized reports. Prices for the software start at $995. For a demo, visit the company’€™s website, www.capretail.com, or call 800-826-5009.

CETECH

Spirits by Cetech was designed specifically for New York State wine and liquor retailers. It was first installed in a Buffalo, NY store in 1987. The latest release, Spirits 4.5, includes paperless options where reports can be created electronically and stored as PDF files. Cetech also offers browser-based application development for the intranet as well as the internet. For more information call 716-884-8780 or visit cetech.com.

CHOICEMASTER, LLC

ChoiceMaster can simplify staff training, build good will with customers and increase sales. With ChoiceMaster running on a touchscreen kiosk in the store, customers can find food pairings, recipes, party planning advice and more. ChoiceMaster can be linked to many POS systems, allowing price and inventory information to be updated automatically, and can be used in multi-store operations. For more information, visit www.ChoiceMaster.com, call 410-745-8137 or email jgreaves@choicemaster.com.

CORESense

CORESense, founded in 2000, offers a wine and spirits retailing version of its software-as-a-service (SaaS) or web-based product. Its system best fits retailers with at least $1 million in annual sales. The CORESense retail management system is meant to support all aspects of the retailer’€™s business, both its brick & mortar stores and its e-commerce business. It can also handle a business’€™s back office, merchandising and customer-management needs. For more information, visit www.CORESense.com or call 866-229-2804.

DALCOM CONSULTING

This technology-integration company specializes in providing turnkey systems, including installation and ongoing service, for mid-sized to large organizations in the retail industry with a focus on control state ABC Boards. Dalcom can provide point-of-sale (POS) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions, using products from IBM, NCR, HP, Microsoft and SAP. For more information, call 336-851-1802 or visit www.dalcom.com.

INFOTOUCH

This company offers two retail POS software packages: Store Keeper POS, meant to be an affordable system for single-store retailers, and Store Manager ES, for chain-store customers and retailers whose operations have custom requirements. Both systems use touch-screens, are easy to use, and are certified PCI-compliant by Visa. Both systems support age verification and multiple units of measure (buy beer by the case; sell cases, 6 packs, and singles with a single item). Call 800-678-8682 or visit www.infotouch.com.

INNOVATIVE COMPUTER SOLUTIONS (ICS)

ICS, an HP Business Partner, has provided solutions specifically for beverage alcohol retailers for over 25 years and has systems installed throughout the U.S. and the Carribean. The company’€™s VISION system, a scalable application for stores ranging from a single register to multiple locations, can run on Windows XP and 7, LINUX and MAC/OS. The POS module within VISION is designed to provide full register capability, including price look-ups, discounts, customer-special pricing, periodic sales and frequent-buyer or award points tracking. The Vision POS can be operated on a standard PC or a touch-screen system. A combination PDF/UPC scanner can identify under-age purchasers and add customers to a store’€™s mailing/emailing list. The back-office module provides inventory control, extensive reporting, sales analysis, purchase history, FIFO inventory level tracking, and physical inventory. Cashier accountability features allow a retailer to track all transactions down to the keystroke, both on the POS and in the back. VISION is turnkey and includes hardware, installation and training at the store location. Complete systems start at under $6,000, including hardware which can also be purchased separately. Call 732-223-0909 or visit www.winepos.com.

INTELLISCANNER CORPORATION

IntelliScanner offers the Wine Collector 300, a tiny, wireless barcode scanner that automatically organizes wine collections. Wine lovers can scan the barcodes of bottles of wine they are interested in, at a tasting, in a restaurant, at a friend’€™s house, or in a store. When they get home, they download the information onto their PC or Mac by simply plugging in the scanner to download, just like a digital camera, and the included wine management software will automatically provide and record the wine’€™s information, such as name, winery, varietal, country and region, by accessing IntelliScanner’€™s database via the internet. Wine Collector 300 starts at $199. For more information, visit www.intelliscanner.com or call 800-550-5470.

MERCHANT SOFTWARE CORP.

This company has specialized in point of sale software for liquor and beverage retailers for the past 14 years. Its LiquorPOS software is used in over 3,000 locations. The system comes pre-loaded with a database of 12,000 beer, wine, liquor and tobacco products to speed up a store’€™s installation. Its beverage retail specific abilities include driver’€™s license scanning for age-verification, inventory tracking of multi-pack products (such as beer sold by the case, bottle or six-pack) and the ability to handle keg and bottle deposits. The company also offers Go!POS, a wireless inventory scanner, for use with the system. For more information, call 1-800-565-6675 or visit www.merchantsoft.com.

MICROSOFT DYNAMICS

Microsoft Dynamics POS 2009 is a flexible, scalable store-management solution for midmarket companies and specialty retailers. The system features a customizable role-based user interface, meaning that the interface a certain type of employee or even an individual sees on the system can be customized. Microsoft Dynamics POS 2009 integrates with other enterprise resource planning (ERP) or financial management software, as well as with familiar Microsoft technologies, such as Microsoft SQL Server, the Windows operating system and Microsoft Office. New features include smart search, security-enhanced payment processing, a software development kit, real-time inventory management and flexible reporting tools. Microsoft Dynamics POS 2009 pricing starts at $1,390. For more information, call 888-477-7989 or visit www.microsoft.com/dynamics/pos.

NCR Corporation

NCR Corporation is a global technology company whose assisted- and self-service solutions and comprehensive support services address the needs of retail, financial, travel, healthcare, hospitality, entertainment, gaming and public sector organizations in more than 100 countries. For more information, call 866-431-7879, e-mail retail.contactus@ncr.com or visit www.ncr.com.

PROPHETLINE

Prophetline is a POS and retail management system for small- to mid-sized specialty retailers, including beverage retailers. Its systems include IP credit card processing, integrated web shopping and fully integrated accounting. It can handle operations ranging from one store to multiple sites with centralized purchasing, Prophetline is a four-time winner of the Microsoft Retail Application Developer of the Year Award. Call 800-875-6592 or visit www.prophetline.com.

RADIANT SYSTEMS

A leader in retail technology, Radiant Systems offers a fully integrated, end-to-end solution including its retail POS system, CounterPoint. Other components include integrated ecommerce, built-in gift cards, customer loyalty programs and payment solutions. Radiant Systems hardware, specifically designed for retailers, is available. For more information, visit www.counterpointpos.com or call 800-852-5852.

RETAIL ANYWHERE

Retail Anywhere is a developer of complete POS and retail management solutions for wine and liquor store retailers, for both single store and chain operations. The company has more than 25 years of experience. Call 1-800-257-2734 or visit www.retailanywhere.com for further information.

RETAIL PRO

This company offers POS, store operations, merchandising, planning, and business intelligence applications for specialty retailers. For more information, visit www.retailpro.com.

RITE (Retail Information Technology Enterprises)

This company is an award-winning provider of Microsoft Dynamics Retail Management System (RMS) and has tailored it to specifically meet the needs of beer/liquor/wine retailers, with clients in over 30 states. RITE has customized RMS to add functionality that addresses the special problems liquor retailers face on a regular basis, including the ability to integrate with their suppliers (invoicing and pricing), integrated age verification via drivers licenses, profit-margin monitoring, and web site integration. For information, visit http://www.rite.us or call toll-free 1-888-267-RITE.

SAGE SOFTWARE

Sage Software specializes in business-management software and services for small- and mid-sized businesses. Its latest release, Peachtree by Sage 2010, for small businesses, has new features including a customer management center, one-click transaction history information and business analytics capabilities, powered by iLumen. For more information, call 800-228-0068 or visit www.sagesoftware.com

SHOP TO COOK

This company provides interactive merchandising solutions for grocery and supermarkets. Its latest solutions feature 37-inch LCD high-definition screens, blending the advantages of digital signage with interactive kiosks. Depending on the software package chosen, the interactive devices provide wine-tasting notes, artisan-cheese information, meal-planning help, including recipes and shopping lists that can be printed, wine-pairing suggestions, and an item locator, which pinpoints where a desired product is in the store, plus an optional integrated price checker. An interactive weekly

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