Not too long ago, only the biggest regional and national retailers could afford to be computerized. Now, even the smallest retailers can hardly afford not to be.
City Beverage of Hyde Park in Cincinnati, OH, has been in business since the 1970s. A novel kind of store, it is literally a drive-through. Customers drive their cars right into City Beverage and have their purchases of beer, wine, soda, cigarettes and snacks loaded into their cars ‘ without ever getting out. ‘It’s the lazy shopper’s dream,’ explained Lynda Shawver, one of the owners.
But until two years ago, City Beverage staff worked hard to keep track of their inventory using a semi-programmable cash register. ‘We programmed a bunch of its keys,’ said Shawver, ‘but I knew we were spending way too much on inventory and I didn’t have a good grasp of what our best and worst sellers were.’
Shawver was afraid of the hassle and the expense of implementing a computerized system. She was also afraid that a computerized cash register would slow down their check-out, key in a store where customers are sitting in idling cars.
But she took the plunge, buying a system from Wasp Barcode in August of 2008.
Is it better? ‘It’s awesome,’ she said. ‘We track our cash and our inventory. It does everything. It’s amazing, actually.’
She found that she changed her inventory decisions dramatically, particularly in beer. ‘In beer, turnover should be weekly. We have eleven cooler doors, five of them devoted to imports and crafts. With the system, I can see, for example, that I bought a case of a beer (four six-packs) a month ago, but have only sold one, which is not good. I am amazed at how much I’ve changed our inventory since implementing the new system. It has definitely been more than worth it.’
Mitchell Culler also runs a small operation. His store, Liquor Discount Hut, is on the beach in Daytona Beach, FL. About six years ago, while visiting New York City, he walked into a busy liquor store that was using a computer and a scanner. ‘At the time, we had been using an old-timey register and I wasn’t really big on computers,’ he said.
But he was impressed enough to ask the name of the system ‘ it was from InfoTouch ‘ and when that company put him in touch with another Florida retailer using its product, he visited that business to check out the system further. He has been using it ever since.
‘Inventory was a huge selling point,’ he explained. Just not having to put a price tag on every bottle saves his staff about six hours a day, he estimates. Taking inventory is a lot faster as well. ‘And I can run daily reports, including of ‘clear sales’ and ‘voids’ to see if there are any discrepancies,’ he said. He has since integrated his InfoTouch system with his security cameras so sales transactions are matched up with images from the cameras, making it easier to detect employee theft.
‘It’s a really great system. Even now, it has a lot more functions than I need, frankly. It’s just better,’ he said.
On Cloud Nine
Indeed, for the smallest independent retailers, point-of-sale (POS) and store management systems have become so affordable, as technology has developed, that some systems are literally free. Such is the case for Stadium Liquors, a brand-new liquor store, across the street from Sun Life Stadium, in Miami Gardens, FL. It is running a system called Cashier Live, which costs it nothing other than the cost of generic hardware.
Cashier Live is one of the newest generation of computer systems known as web-based or software-as-a-service (SaaS) or cloud computing. Rather than software running on a store’s own computers, web-based systems are accessed over the internet. In a store, such as Stadium, the personal computer (PC) working as a register is actually accessing the POS system over the internet using a browser such as Internet Explorer.
Keir Reid, managing partner at Stadium Liquors, has years of experience managing stores and knew that having a POS system ‘was the way to go.’ But he was looking for a system that was easy to learn, so he could use it to its full advantage, and inexpensive for a new start-up. When he found Cashier Live online, he was impressed by its live, online help.
And then he saw that the system could be free. A retailer can try Cashier Live free for 30 days. If the retailer decides to use Cashier Live ‘ and he or she decides to use one of Cashier Live’s recommended partners for credit-card processing ‘ then the system remains free. (If a retailer doesn’t want to accept credit cards or wants to use a different processor, he or she can still use Cashier Live but for a fee.)
As Cashier Live explains on its website, its ‘innovative price model is derived in part from the wireless phone industry. With cell phones, carriers like AT&T and Verizon subsidize the cost of the phone in return for signing a wireless service contract. A first in the point of sale software industry, we have partnered with select credit card processing companies who have agreed to subsidize the cost of Cashier Live.’
Stadium’s Reid decided to use one of Cashier Live’s partners ‘ and his system is free.
‘The only negative: if our internet connection goes down, we’re screwed,’ he said. Cashier Live reports that it is ‘investigating how to support offline use of Cashier Live,’ but right now, if a store’s internet connection fails, its store system stops working. ‘I’m already prepared, though,’ said Reid, who has an old POS software system installed on his computers that he can switch to temporarily, to record his sales for the day or two that his internet connection might be down.
A brand-new cloud-computing POS system, this one developed by the owner of two wine shops and a gourmet-food store, has come up with a way around the internet-connection problem. Most of the ShopKeep.com system runs on the internet, but the system includes a piece of software, that a retailer downloads from the ShopKeep.com website, that resides on the computers running as registers in the retailer’s store. ‘That’s a big difference,’ said Jason Richelson, founder of ShopKeep.com and owner of the Greene Grape in New York City. ‘You can’t always depend on the internet. My servers might also go down. Intuit’s servers were down for 24 hours last month: if Intuit can’t keep their servers from going down, how can I think mine won’t at some point?’ But a ShopKeep.com register will keep running, recording sales, and will automatically sync back with the store’s system when internet access is restored.
Richelson developed his system because he had become frustrated with the computer-system management he, as a retailer, had to do. ‘I have three stores. Each store had its own server and its own database. If I wanted to check on a store’s sales ‘ one that I am never at physically ‘ I had to log in remotely, which was a pain. And meanwhile, I had to be worried about things like database size and database back-up and hardware,’ he said.
With cloud computing, Richelson argues, a store’s information is more safe, not less. He knows where of he speaks. Two years ago, while he was on vacation, two of his servers, in two of his stores, broke down on the same day.
In contrast, ShopKeep.com runs on Amazon’s web services platform ‘ ‘the best guys in the business are working to make sure the system stays up and safe at all times’ ‘ and is backed up automatically, in multiple locations in a process called ‘data mirroring,’ several times a day. ‘You are in much better shape than having all your information on a Dell server in your backroom,’ said Richelson.
There is a monthly subscription fee for ShopKeep.com, which starts at $49 per month for a basic, one-register system. The highest priced plan is $129 per month and includes a customer loyalty program and the ability to store credit-card information for repeat customers. (Actually, the credit-card information is not, itself, stored, so that the system is PCI compliant, but a retailer can process a transaction, from, for example, a customer who telephones in orders, without having to ask them for their credit-card information each time.) Each additional register run by ShopKeep.com after the first one costs an additional $49 per month.
Other liquor retailers continue to tweak their current systems to make their operations more efficient. For example, George Randall, owner of Randall’s Wines & Spirits, with stores in both Fairview Heights, IL and St. Louis, MO, has developed an add-on piece of software, which he will have available for purchase as a download on the internet for other retailers next year. This software, called ‘Stockboy,’ helps automate more of the ordering and receiving tasks a beverage alcohol retailer faces.
Randall’s software uses the information available electronically from wholesalers. (Some of his wholesalers can email their orders to him; others have the orders on their websites available for download.) His program matches their information with his purchase-order information. It highlights any differences, which can be checked manually. It can also be used to print out a receiving sheet, sorted into any order that works best, alphabetically by brand, for example, so that the person receiving the order can check off that everything has arrived as it should. Then, the software will automatically highlight products where the prices have changed, so that Randall and his managers can adjust their retail price based on what their cost was. Finally, the software will automatically print out shelf labels reflecting the new prices.
Randall says Stockboy will be reasonably priced at $20 to $30 per month, with long-term discounts. It will be compatible with Microsoft Retail Management POS and Access.
‘It now takes us about half an hour to receive hundreds of cases,’ said Randall. ‘It used to take us three or four hours. And I’d rather have my managers out on the floor making money.’
Another store-management system often used by beverage alcohol retailers, SellWise from CAP Software, has added the ability to integrate with a company called Fintech to better automate order payment.
Fintech itself provides electronic funds transfer (EFT) capabilities for the wholesalers and retailers of beverage alcohol. ‘In 1991, we went to each state and got approval for our system, that it was the same as COD (cash on delivery),’ explained Alexandra Sherwood, Fintech spokesperson. Rather than pay in cash or write a check, timing it so it arrives to the wholesaler within the time allowed by state law, retailers and wholesalers using Fintech have the payment handled electronically by Fintech. (There is a small fee per transaction.)
And when a retailer’s computer system is fully integrated with Fintech, as the newest version of CAP’s SellWise is, then the details of the retailer’s purchase can be uploaded automatically into the store’s system. ‘It’s kind of an obscure thing, it’s not customer-facing, but it streamlines things a bit, saves retailers a little money and time in their day to day operations,’ explained Will Atkinson, president of CAP Software.
One World Liquor in Fort Worth, TX uses the SellWise system. ‘It definitely keeps us organized,’ said Saurav Aryal, manager.
Improve Customer Service
And retailers continue to hone their systems to improve customer service. As Ed Wassmer, owner of Young’s Fine Wines & Spirits in Manhasset, NY, puts it, ‘Everyone at Young’s knows that we are in the relationship business, not the transaction business.’
Young’s is a long-time user of the Vision system from Innovative Computer Solutions, which is meant specifically for beverage alcohol retailers. Young’s has recently added several new features to its system.
With one, it can provide customers with tasting notes on the wines they just purchased. These notes can either be printed out at the point-of-sale or the customer can have them emailed to them. The email version is even better than the hard copy in Wassmer’s view. ‘That email can be easily sent to friends, they can post it to their Facebook page with a note, ‘I just had this great wine,’’ he said. And those tasting notes have the Young’s name and logo all over them.
Wassmer, who captures customer information in more than 75% of his transactions, through his customer-loyalty cards, figures the new tasting notes also increase customer loyalty. ‘I’ve seen it happen. People want to know about what they’re buying, they want bragging rights,’ he said. Some of his customers even go to competitive dinner parties, where every guest is required to bring a certain kind of wine at a certain price point, then the group votes on which was the best. ‘Customers come in and say, ‘You gotta help me win this,’’ Wassmer said.
Wassmer has also added the ability to print out coupons for customers, based on their purchase history, right at the register. (Doing this is not legal, for beverage alcohol retailers, in every state.) Wassmer uses this to feature related items the customer hasn’t yet purchased. ‘I like this idea because you can get people to try something that you know they’re going to like, get them to be a little more adventurous,’ he said. ‘They leave the store with a reason to come back.’ And Wassmer believes that a coupon handed to the customer by the cashier is more likely to be used than one they receive in the mail.
Wassmer has also been able to set his customer-loyalty program, called Young’s Cost Cutter Card, so that his customers can automatically donate the points they accumulate to a local charity, the Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer. Young’s matches the amount donated by its customers through their points. This program raises thousands of dollars a year for the charity.
According to Tony Pitale, owner of Innovative Computer Solutions, the two biggest requests his company gets from its beverage retail customers is, ‘one, to get customer data available in more ways and, two, to have more and different ways to discount.’
Stephan Abrams, a partner at The Liquor Store/The Wine Loft in Jackson, WY, feels that way. For example, during a sale, Abrams, who also uses the Vision system, would like to see what else customers are buying, in addition to the products on sale. He would like to be able to see if customers come in only when there are sales. He’d like to be able to sort his customers by zip code, in reports showing how frequently they shop and what and how much they buy.
‘Innovative isn’t doing anything wrong,’ said Abrams. ‘It’s just that there’s no perfect computer system and there’s never going to be. And you have to prioritize: how much will it cost me to have this information? You can’t sink all your resources into your computer system.’
Not that that isn’t sometimes tempting.
Like other retailers, Abrams keeps adding technology to his store, as he can afford to, and is always on the look-out for ways to improve his operations. He has, for instance, started using QR (Quick Response) codes on the product displays in his store. These are square-shaped barcodes that can be read by cell phones equipped with the right application. The barcodes can be set to automatically open a website using the phone’s internet browser. ‘I can send you to an online coupon or to a review or a recipe, things that are difficult to display on signage,’ said Abrams.
When it comes to computer systems (or anything else), ‘don’t we, as Americans, always want more?’ quipped Abrams. We do and, luckily, technology keeps advancing, getting better, faster, more nuanced and even cheaper.
2010 POS and Computer Systems Buyers’ Guide
AccuPOS provides award-winning point-of-sale (POS), inventory-management and time-clock software for the retail and restaurant industries. The AccuPOS family of products is designed to be faster and easier than a cash register and to streamline the sales process while significantly simplifying the backend. AccuPOS products, based on open standards, expand the capabilities of an existing accounting program and allow users to grow and change over time, without being locked into proprietary vendor products. Specializing in end-to-end integration, AccuPOS allows a business to view and manage sales and inventory details within the most widely used accounting packages: QuickBooks, Peachtree, Simply Accounting by Sage, BusinessWorks, Line 50 by Sage, Sage MAS 90/200. Bundled POS solutions are available via fully supported hardware partnerships. AccuPOS also offers a wide range of discount Merchant and Gift Card Services through its simple and fast onscreen interface. AccuPOS is headquartered in Los Angeles, CA with regional offices in 13 countries. For more information, visit www.accupos.com.
ATLANTIC SYSTEM 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 customer loyalty. 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. Spirits 2000 can integrate with security camera systems to overlay text that displays the sale information on images at the time the sale is rung up. Spirits 2000 also includes tasting notes for products that the user can input and print out. Prices for the Spirits 2000 system start at about $8,500. For more information, call 732-280-6616, extension 127 or visit www.asi-nj.com.
BigCommerce, launched in 2009, combines two systems into one: it’s an e-commerce platform and a marketing platform. BigCommerce is an all-in-one offering which includes web hosting, a domain name, an enterprise-grade e-commerce platform and dozens of built-in marketing tools (including the ability to list products on eBay, sell on Facebook and create Google AdWords campaigns for all products in your store. BigCommerce merchants enjoy higher conversion rates and more traffic to their stores. For more information on BigCommerce, visit http://bigcommerce.com or call 888-699-8911.
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, Fintech integration, and back office reporting. Additional features include optional video monitoring for security purposes, touchscreen support, hot keys and customized reports. Prices for the software start at $1100. For a demo, visit the company’s website, www.capretail.com, or call 800-826-5009.
Cashier Live is a web-based point-of-sale system meant for independent retailers. The company offers a 30-day free trial. Its system remains free if the retailer signs up for a merchant account with one of the credit-card-processing companies Cashier Live partners with. Alternatively, retailers can pay a subscription to use the system. For more information, visit cashierlive.com or call 877-312-1750.
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 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. New this year is a digital signage version of ChoiceMaster which has more impact on shoppers and allows for advertising to play in your store. For more information, visit www.ChoiceMaster.com, call 410-745-8137 or email email@example.com.
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.
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.
Financial Information Technologies, Inc. (Fintech), founded in 1991, provides eCommerce solutions to buyers and sellers of regulated goods and services, such as beer, wine and spirits, including invoice exchange and financial settlement. For more information, visit www.fintech.net.
First Data, a global leader in electronic commerce and payment processing, processes more than 30 billion transactions a year and serves more than 5.3 million merchant locations. It offers a range of point-of-sale terminals as well as complete point-of-sale systems, including its First Data Retail Solution, meant for small to mid-sized retailers. For more information, visit www.firstdata.com.
This company offers two retail POS software packages: Store Keeper POS, a very 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, automatic case discounts, and multiple units of measure (buy beer by the case; sell cases, 6 packs, and singles with a single item). Call (877) 849-6615 or visit http://infotouchliquorstore.com/ to see a video demonstration.
INNOVATIVE COMPUTER SOLUTIONS (ICS)
ICS has provided solutions specifically for beverage alcohol retailers for over 30 years and has systems installed throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. 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 (and history), periodic sales and frequent-buyer or award points tracking. Tasting notes and coupons can also be generated from the register. The Vision POS can be operated on a standard PC or a touch-screen system. A 2-D scanner can identify under-age purchasers and add customers to a store’s mailing/special pricing 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 office. 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 http://www.winepos.com; www.winepos.com.
IntelliScanner offers the Wine Collector mini, 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 mini starts at $279. 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 15 years and has just released a new version, Version 5.2, of its LiquorPOS system. This new version is fully PCI/PA-DSS-compliant, conforming to the latest credit-card encryption and security mandates that just went into effect in July. Other new features include full touch-screen capability, enhanced receipts with custom graphics and the ability to receive updates to the software automatically via the internet. LiquorPOS software is currently used in over 3,000 locations. The system comes pre-loaded with a database of 15,000 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 AX for Retail is a new end-to-end offering designed for midsize specialty retailers. The solution offers retailers a deep level of integration across point of sale, store management, supply chain, merchandising and financials to address business productivity while enhancing customer service in a single solution. Customers will receive out of the box integration to a purpose-built point of sale ‘ fully connecting back-office data to the retail store ‘ which is unique in the industry. Through a single, end-to-end Microsoft-provided solution, retailers can lower the total cost of ownership, reduce complexity and improve the accuracy of information, all of which is vital in today’s evolving retail environment. Microsoft Dynamics AX for Retail is available in 16 countries, including the U.S., with additional countries to follow. For more information, call 888-477-7989 Option #1 or visit www.microsoft.com/dynamics/en/us/products/ax-retail.aspx.
NCR Corporation (NYSE: NCR) is a global technology company leading how the world connects, interacts and transacts with business. NCR’s 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. NCR (www.ncr.com) is headquartered in Duluth, Georgia. For more information, call 866-431-7879, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.ncr.com.