“Clicks & mortar,” “B2B,” electronic receipts, automatic reordering: Are you up-to-speed on what retail computer systems can do for you now?

0900guCalvert Woodley, a retail operation in Washington, DC, replaced its 17-year-old computer system last year, but only because of the Y2K scare. “If there hadn’t been the possibility of the system failing, we wouldn’t have replaced it. We weren’t unhappy with it,” said


Michael Sands, son of one of Calvert Woodley’s two owners.

But that might have been because they didn’t know what they were missing. “Now, we see how fast our new system is and realize how slow the old equipment was,” Sands explained. “It used to take the system 5, 10, 15 minutes to process a report and then it would start printing. Now, even our longest reports come out, ‘Bam! Bam!'”0900gu1


Bob Starr, wine consultant at Calvert-Woodley in Washington, D.C., uses the store’s new computer system, which replaced a 17-year-old system last year. PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN TROHA

Calvert Woodley’s new system, from Innovative Computer Solutions (ICS), also helps them to maintain their website, which the store has with The ICS system in the store interfaces with the computer systems at WineAccess, allowing the store’s inventory and pricing information to be automatically uploaded to the Calvert Woodley website, keeping the information web-shoppers see current.

IBM spokesperson Alan Outlaw sees technology playing an increasingly important role in keeping retail operations of all types competitive in their markets. Simply put, the most advanced computer systems give retailers more information and, armed with that information, those retailers can provide better customer service than the other guy.

And sometimes, it’s not even information. Outlaw cited one retailer who hooked a digital camera up to an unused monitor at his checkout. The novelty of seeing themselves on the screen kept customers in the store longer.

In February, IBM introduced a family of point-of-sale terminals designed to allow a computer system’s internet-based capabilities, such as a centralized database of the operation’s inventory, to be easily accessed from the check-out. What does this mean for customer service?

“A consumer walks in and asks about a specific wine. Is it something we carry? Is it in stock? If not, how long will it take for us to get it? The store employee can obtain all that information right at the sales counter,” Outlaw said.

Clickety Click

“Internet.” It is, far and away, the most-used buzzword for retail computer systems. A computer system with internet capabilities can mean three things to a retailer: (1) the ability to have and maintain a website and handle that website’s sales; (2) having tools that make ordering on-line via a business-to-business (B2B) service even easier; and (3) using internet-based technology for faster, easier communications, whether between the stores in a chain or between a store and its credit-card processor.

Right now, when it comes to the internet, the lion’s share of retailer interest is focused on stores having websites through which they can communicate, and where laws allow, sell to consumers. According to a recent survey done by Innovative Computer Solutions (ICS), a company that specializes in systems for liquor retailers, 15% to 20% of the liquor retailers questioned already have websites.

“Of course, the bricks-and-mortar business is still the biggest for us,” said Gary Fisch, owner of Gary’s Wine Marketplace, which has two stores in Madison and Livingston, NJ. “However, the internet is growing and we want to be in on it.”

And why not? “The internet gives small retailers an edge — it makes them appear bigger than they are,” said Maureen Mascaro, operations manager for Sales Management Systems (SMS), a company that offers retail management software to small and mid-sized retailers. “It allows them to market their products and services to areas outside their local surroundings. In other words, a website allows these companies to do more with less.”

Like many retailers, Sands says he isn’t sure at this point how much more his website will be able to do. As the laws now stand, Calvert Woodley can’t ship outside of the District of Columbia. On the other hand, the store routinely receives e-mails from people around the country who are looking for certain wines. In other words, consumer interest exists in the event that direct-shipping laws change.

And there have been multiple challenges to the laws that prohibit retailers from shipping alcohol to customers in different states. In both Indiana and Texas, federal judges have overturned state laws prohibiting consumers from ordering alcoholic beverages from out-of-state, though in both cases, the states have filed appeals. Other lawsuits challenging state bans have been filed in Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia and, most recently, New York State.

Meanwhile, internet companies, such as, which provides retailers with their own websites, and and, which work with wholesalers and retailers to ensure that the deliveries of wine ordered through their sites are legal, are finding various ways to comply with direct-shipping laws while still allowing consumers to shop for beverage alcohol on the internet.6809POS06

Michael Sands, son of one of Calvert-Woodley’s owners, is amazed at how slow the store’s old computer system was in comparison to the new one.

It is for these reasons that ICS’s Tony Pitale encourages his clients to research their internet options now even as the laws are being debated. “After all,” he said, “the e-commerce train is ready to leave the station whether you’re onboard or not.”

When it comes to having a website, retailers should be concerned about two aspects of their retail computer systems: (1) how easy is it to download current inventory and pricing information from their computers to their website; and (2) can their present systems help them handle their web sales?

“The first thing retailers need in a website is an e-commerce catalog that works, with current prices, including sales prices, and it can’t take a lot to keep up,” said Jim Weinrott, ceo of “The only way to do that is to have a web system that is integrated with their p-o-s system.” has worked with several computer companies — Atlantic, Cam Commerce, CIS, Ensign and ICS — to provide that integration. “Eight or nine of our retailers have even bought new computer systems in order to use WineAccess,” Weinrott reported.

The second thing retailers need to be able to do is handle the sales from their websites. “And that is a completely different animal [from store sales],” said CIS president Alan Chancer. For instance, an order’s delivery information and status has to be tracked. Several companies — CIS, Ensign, GSI, ICS, ProphetLine and SMS among them — offer such features in packages sometimes referred to as “clicks & mortar.”

Several business-to-business (or B2B) internet companies have sprung up in the beverage alcohol market. These brand-new companies, the largest of which are, and, are designed to allow retailers to do their ordering on-line. And rather than order from each distributor separately, these sites allow retailers to create one order and will then send the different parts of that order to the appropriate wholesalers.

To further streamline the process, these B2B services are working with computer companies. BevAccess is partnering with Atlantic Systems and BevTrade is partnering with ICS, for example, so that the order information suggested by the store’s computer system can be automatically entered into the retailer’s “shopping cart” on the B2B website. The ICS/BevTrade connection even allows retailers to print out shelf-talkers about the products they’ve just ordered.

According to’s vice president of communications, Jim Price, that company is also working with computer companies to provide more automatic features. Price said that eventually not only would an eSkye retailer be able to have purchase information downloaded to the eSkye site automatically, but would be able to review and send this order using a handheld device with internet capabilities, such as a cell phone or Palm Pilot.

Fast Talking

Internet-based technology can do more for a retail operation than straightforward buying and selling. For example, by using frame-relay communication technology, ABC Fine Wines & Spirits, the 152-store chain headquartered in Orlando, FL, can maintain continuous communications between all of its stores and offices. This allows ABC employees to do things such as find out if any of the other stores have the product a customer just requested.

It also gives headquarters greater control over the chain’s inventory. When a store’s employees receive an order, for example, and key it into their computers, that information is immediately reported back to the main office. That’s one reason why ABC’s shrinkage levels, according to one of their computer companies, is 0.5% versus the average retail shrink of 4.0% to 5.0%.

And ABC uses its high-speed communications technology to speed up its credit-card processing. While getting credit-card approval used to take 9 to 12 seconds and, if there were a problem, up to a full minute, it now takes 3 seconds, reported Jim Dekle, ABC’s director of information systems.

The same technology allowed ABC to begin accepting debit cards. According to Bruce Hicks, president of RTC Group, one of the technology companies ABC works with, this has allowed ABC to save a tremendous amount of money on transaction costs: $250,000 last year, by his estimate.martini and internet copy

New capabilities to handle debit card transactions allowed Orlando, FL-based ABC Fine Wines & Spirits to save $250,000 last year.

Many consumers have bank cards that can be processed as either a credit card or a debit card. In both cases, however, these cards are taking the money for the purchase directly out of the cardholder’s bank account. And, of course, most consumers have both bank, or debit, cards and credits cards in their wallets.

A retailer who cannot process debit-card transactions must either take a credit card or process a debit card as a credit card, if he can. There is a important difference between debit and credit cards, however. The charge for a credit-card transaction is a percentage, usually 1.8%, of the total sale. The charge for a debit-card transaction, on the other hand, is a generally lower, flat rate, usually 20. per transaction. And according to Hicks, that’s where ABC saved that $250,000.

ABC is generally regarded as being at the forefront of computerization in the beverage alcohol industry and even in retailing in general. The company has been computerized for 30 years and Dekle has a staff of about 20 people in his information-systems department.

At one time, the entire computer system at ABC had been written internally. Now, half of the programs the company uses are ones it has created itself and it uses others, everything from time-keeping programs to keep track of employee hours to programs that track warehouse activity, from about a half-dozen computer companies.

Still, ABC continues to improve its systems. In July, the company automated its employee commissions reporting, for example. And while Dekle reports that some of ABC’s mainstay products are on “automatic replenishment,” meaning that the company’s computer system automatically reorders them, he looks forward to the day when every item ABC carries is automatically reordered.

Meanwhile, computer companies continue to add more features to their systems. One of the latest: electronic receipts, receipts that are sent to the customer by e-mail, meant to help businesspeople, who need to be able to track and report their expenses. Other companies tout their systems’ ability to use touchscreens at the point-of-sale or to handle customer loyalty programs or to show advertisements or even websites on p-o-s monitors when the terminals are not in use.

The bottom line? Computer systems are evolving faster than ever — and that’s good news to the retailer who wants to go full speed ahead . *

computer systems buyers’ guide

AIM Systems

AIM provides PC point-of-sale (p-o-s) software. Its PC/Register system is currently being used by both liquor retailers and the on-site shops run by several California wineries. It also offers Visual Merchandiser, software to run on an chain’s central computer, which automatically gathers and exchanges data between stores and headquarters, and manages inventory and purchases for the entire chain. The prices for a complete p-o-s system, including hardware, range from $5,000 to $10,000 per lane. Call 1-800-25PCREG (800-257-2734) or visit

Atlantic Systems, Inc. (ASI)

ASI has offered computer systems designed specifically for liquor stores since 1980. Spirits 2000 is a Windows-based software package. The company provides a complete system, including hardware, software, installation, training and support. Spirits 2000 multi-store processing allows a retailer to control all stores in a chain from a central location. Call 732-280-6616, Ext. 27 or visit the company’s website at

Beverage Marketing Technologies

This company offers retailers the use of NCR customer kiosks loaded with information about wine, spirits and beer. The touchscreen kiosks, for example, can dispense party planning suggestions, wine/food pairings and drink and food recipes. They are also equipped with scanners and card readers, enabling price look-up and the use of customer loyalty programs. Because the kiosk is tied into the store’s p-o-s system, it gives customers buying suggestions based on what the retailer currently has in stock and also displays the store’s prices. The cost of the system is paid by suppliers. Call 800-242-6579 or visit the company’s website at

Cam Commerce

Formerly known as Cam Data, this 18-year-old company offers a PC-based system meant for small- to medium-sized operations, including chains of up to 40 stores. The company can provide all the hardware and software for a system as well as installation and support services. Prices start at approximately $15,000 for a single-register system with scanning. Call 1-800-726-3282 or visit

Cap Automation

This company, in business since 1978, offers general retail p-o-s software, called SellWise for Windows, currently being used by over 100 beverage alcohol retailers. It manages the front counter (p-o-s and order entry) and back office management operations including reporting, ordering, receiving, tag (bar code) printing, inventory maintenance, etc. Call 800-826-5009 or go to


Introduced in 1987, Cetech’s original system, called Spirits, was designed specifically for New York State liquor retailers. The company has since introduced an expanded system, Spirits Plus, which can be used in other states. Both products offer inventory management, cost analysis and point of sale transactions and can run on several platforms, including Windows and Linux. Prices for the software start at $1,995 for a single-user operation and at $995 (per user) for a multi-user operation. For more information, call 716-634-4575 or e-mail

Creative Information
Systems (CIS)

This regional company provides systems for liquor retailers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Its Windows-based software offers features including customer-relationship management, a multi-store/group buying version and order-entry capabilities for managing phone and web transactions. The price range for a two-register system, including hardware, software, installation and one year of support, is $1,500 to $2,500. Call 718-204-0939 or visit

Datasym, Inc.

Datasym offers hardware and software products for small to medium operations, including chains. Its retail systems, which use terminals rather than PCs at the point-of-sale, are currently installed in over 120,000 applications, including almost 200 beverage alcohol stores throughout North America. Prices range from under $1,500 for a single p-o-s terminal to $5,000 for a fully integrated system including back office and inventory software. Call 800-265-9930 or go to

Ensign Systems Inc.

This company’s p-o-s system, called POS-IM, is available in Mac or Windows versions and is meant for small to mid-sized retailers. The price for a system, including hardware, software, training and support, ranges from $6,000 to $18,000. Call 800-409-7678 or go to

Gemmar Systems International (GSI)

Focusing on the mid-range market, GSI’s suite of products can handle all aspects of retail, including e-commerce. It also offers structured training, implementation, consulting, support and full professional services. Call 770-291-2046 or visit its website at


In February, IBM introduced a new line of web-enabled p-o-s terminals, the SurePOS 700 Series. Designed to help connect a retail operation’s website, store and catalogue operations to improve customer service, the terminals are also the first to feature a USB interface, allowing the terminals to be used with a wide variety of scanners, printers and other peripherals. The price of a fully configured model starts at $3,500 to $4,000. Call 800-871-9240 or visit

Innovative Computer Solutions (ICS)

This 20-year-old company sells Control Plus, a computer system designed specifically for beverage alcohol retailers. The ICS system is currently running in operations in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Available in versions that run under Windows or Unix as well as one that runs on Alpha Micros computers, it can operate in single stores or in chains and can handle up to 14 checkout stations per store. New options include website capabilities and an informational kiosk. Prices for Control Plus, including both hardware and software, start at $9,500 for a set-up including one register and a scanner. Forty hours of on-site training are included. Call 732-223-0909 or go to

Intellilink Services, Inc.

This company’s software for beverage alcohol stores, called Easy1, runs under Windows NT and offers retailers the option of using touchscreen terminals at the point-of-sale. Its terminals can also be set to play in-store advertisements, which include both visuals and audio. Prices for the point-of-sale system, including both hardware, with a 15-inch touchscreen, and software, start at $3,995. For $500 more, retailers can add a store-management system, including inventory control and ordering functions. A system to link the stores in a chain is also available. The company offers two free guides to help retailers assess their computer needs and can interact with retailers and provide them with a proposal to fit their needs on-line. Call 256-430-0077 or visit


NCR introduced the first mechanical cash registers in 1884 and the first bar-code scanners in 1974, and is still a leading provider of retail technology solutions. Some of its latest products include a self-checkout system, a wireless electronic shelf-label system, Web-enabled kiosks and signature verification terminals. Call 937-445-5000 or visit the company’s website at


ProphetLine, which produces software for small- to medium-sized specialty retailers, has been named a Retail Application Developer of the Year by Microsoft three times in a row. Its point-of-sale system, the ProphetLine System Manager, is priced starting at $1,995 for a single user with one lane and at $2,495 for a multi-user version. Its newest products allow retailers to handle both website and store business and can use touchscreens at the point-of-sale. Access the company’s website at or call 800-875-6592.

RTC Group

This company produces systems for larger operations, with at least $15 to $20 million in annual gross revenue. Prices for its software are typically approximately $2,000 to $2,500 per store. Call 770-425-0401 or visit the company’s website at

Sales Management Systems (SMS)

QuickSell 2000, a system for small to mid-sized retailers, has won several awards and is currently being used in thousands of installations. SMS also offers QuickSell Headquarters, retail management software for multi-store operations, which enables retailers to manage the inventory for the entire chain. This year, the company’s newest product, QuickSell Commerce, a
p-o-s system that can also handle a retailer’s website business, won two awards from Microsoft. Call 800-322-3052 or visit the company’s website at

Symbol Technologies

This company specializes in wireless and hand-held computer technology for retail operations, including a system in which customers scan their own purchases while they shop, using a handheld device. Called the “Portable Shopping System,” this relatively new approach to retail shopping allows customers to keep a tally of their purchases as they proceed and to leave the store without having to have their items rung up by a cashier. They simply pay for their purchases and exit. In addition, the store is able to gather a lot of marketable information about that consumer in the process, which the retailer can later use to specifically merchandise to that consumer. Call 800-722-6234 or 516-738-5200 or visit the company’s website at


Currently, some large retailers, mostly supermarkets, are toying with the idea of self-check-out lanes, point-of-sale stations where no cashier is needed. These systems, one of which is available from NCR, allow customers to scan, pay for and bag their purchases by themselves.

But another company, International Automated Systems (IAS), based in American Fork, UT, has taken this idea a step further. IAS has opened its own supermarket, called U-Check, where all the p-o-s lanes are self-cashiering and where another IAS product manages the store. “It automatically orders, tracks sales, figures profit, just what a department head would do,” said Neldon Johnson, IAS’s president and CEO.

Meanwhile, it can handle age-restricted products, such as alcohol and tobacco, because it requires shoppers to allow their fingerprints to be read to verify their identity.

The U-Check store, in Salem, UT, has 12 lanes. “But aside from stockers, it has only two employees, one of them the manager,” explained Johnson. IAS plans to open more U-Checks and has recently reached an agreement with a company called Schematics Inc., based in Pittsburgh, to open 10 more U-Checks in the eastern United States.

Because the U-Check model reduces labor costs by as much as 85%, Johnson says that it can enable retailers to open stores in smaller markets.


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