September 6, 2017

Point-of-sale technology for retail is advancing at a faster pace than ever. And you realize it’s not going to slow down, right? That’s not how technology works, especially when there is a lot of demand for it.

And if the research of a UK-based company called Zynstra is accurate, retailers want the technology badly—even if they’re a little nervous about how they would manage it.

According to a study released earlier this year, here are the most in-demand point-of-sale related technologies among retailers:

• Mobile payment capabilities (65 percent said they want this)
• Self-checkout technology (49 percent)
• Scan as you shop (44 percent)
• Click and collect (41 percent)
• In-store customer analytics (37 percent)

In a press release announcing the results, Zynstra CEO Nick East said retailers perceive a gap between the technology they’d like to deploy and their readiness to do so effectively.

“In the retail branch IT space, technology is playing an ever-more important role in helping businesses meet both current and future demand, not only from an operational point of view, but also in enhancing the customer experience,” East said. “However, as the research points out, the application of this technology or the readiness to adopt it can be a challenge. This resonates 100 percent with our experience working with customers, all of whom are challenged to deliver a better user experience whilst reducing the operational costs of remotely managing a highly distributed branch IT environment.”

The concern isn’t really about the cost of acquiring the technology. The high-end stuff is pricey (anything good is), but it’s certainly not out of reach for a successful retailer looking for tools to improve overall results.

The issue is what happens next.

Few would resist the benefits of technology if it could be magically deployed with all complications somehow nipped in the bud. Imagine it if you can:

• The system installs itself.
• The new technology instantly integrates with your existing systems, without you or your employees having to make any adjustments or do anything differently.
• No one has to learn anything!
• The transition imposes no new costs whatsoever.
• At no time do you look like an idiot for buying this system only to discover you don’t understand half its functions.

Now that’s dream technology right there. Too bad nothing like that exists.

It’s understandable that retailers would be cautious about implementing technology that improves processes tremendously under the best of circumstances but that also have the potential to disrupt a comfortable status quo in ways that could—at least in theory—turn into management nightmares.

Retail is a business with thin margins and little margin for error—not that you need me to tell you that—and an alleged upgrade that leads to confusion and mistakes could leave you wishing you had stuck with the old tried and true system, even if it was manual, slow and unsophisticated.

So is there a way to realize the advantages of technologies like those listed above without the potential headaches that often come with them?

Er, probably not without any headaches. But that shouldn’t be the standard. The standard should be that you have the ability to anticipate and effectively manage the wrinkles so you can get to the benefits in reasonably short order.

And you can absolutely do that. Here are some approaches that will make it possible:

1. Before you decide to implement a new system, fi nd out about some other retailers’ experiences. Th ere is no one way you have to do this. You can read online reviews. You can talk directly to other retailers you’ve gotten to know in the industry. You can even ask the developer for tips on what to expect. A lot of them are surprisingly open about it because they want you to be satisfi ed. What you’re trying to fi nd out is whether other users experienced
unanticipated glitches or costs and how they dealt with them. Th at way you’re ready when it happens to you.

2. Build in enough transition time. Assume you’ll need more time than you’ve been told to get to full implementation. Run tests. Have your employees work with it in a test setting and see what they handle well and don’t handle well.

3. Look into having someone help you with implementation on a contract basis. It’s not always a good expenditure, but you have to weigh it against the costs you’ll incur if you find yourself and your team hopelessly lost—and your customers frustrated. If you really believe the new technology will make you more profitable, then consider it part of the investment. Be careful, though, about letting any consultant jack up your costs by expanding the scope of the engagement beyond what you really need. If it seems like that’s all they really want to do, stop right there and send them on their way.

4. Accept going in that there will be some glitches. Th is is not to say you shouldn’t do everything possible to head them off . Of course you should. I’m talking about your mental preparation for what could happen. If you’ve got it in your head that the world will end without a 100 percent smooth implementation, you might as well get some alligators in stock and stick your head in one of their mouths. Steel yourself for the inevitable hiccup and be prepared to lead your team through it. Th at’s why you get the big bucks.

5. Be smart about when you do it. Th ere is probably no “good time” to make a big change, but come on. You’re a retailer. Th e six weeks before Christmas is probably not the time to make the change. You know your business, so if there’s a least bad time, you know when it comes.

If you look at the entire history of your business, I’m sure you’ll see that there have been many changes along the way. Probably some of them happened to you and all you could do was react. Technology upgrades can be your choice, and you can make the decision to prepare and manage the process. If you don’t, there’s going to come a point when people wonder why you’re still using systems that are decades out of date.

Now that’s a problem you could have prevented. You might as well do it now.

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