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FEATURE: Pointers to a sale

FEATURE: Pointers to a sale

If you haven't considered the point-of-sale (POS) market as part of your territory, it's time you did. If you're already in the game, you know that small business is big business and what a lot of small business is involved in is selling real goods to real customers over the counter. ARN's Ian Yates takes a peek at the dos and don'ts . . .

You already know that the major retail chains have had POS systems for some time now. Scanning has been around for nearly 10 years at places like Coles and Franklins. They can no longer operate without it. Some of those large stores don't even place orders any more -- their POS systems tell the warehouse when they've run out of Sorbent -- the first thing the store manager knows about the out-of-stock situation is the truck in the loading dock with 10 pallets of toilet paper.

Back in the land of real people, there are literally thousands of small retailers who have yet to embrace POS as a business solution and there aren't enough people in the business of providing solutions to satisfy the demand, according to our research. The first time I had a go at installing a POS system was about five years ago, and the choices then were between a monster system from the big-end of town or a dinky do-it-yourself approach. You needed a barcode scanner but the choice was in-counter a la Woolworths or a gadget the size of a pen that worked some of the time.

Things have changed. You will find that the in-counter scanners are now affordable and there is a wide range of hand-held or stand-mounted scanners that work every time and don't cause setup problems. Although scanners read barcodes, your software doesn't need to have the foggiest idea about what a barcode is, since the scanner turns the magic stripes into letters and numbers that every PC can understand. It's the same thing with printers. You will find hundreds of programs that know how to make almost any printer produce stripes from a feed of product codes.

Which solutions suit?

Now, should you be selling one of the many accounting packages that offer a POS module or should you go for a dedicated POS package? This depends on the number of customers your client deals with. The only way to be sure is to try one out or go and see it in action, but I've found that POS add-ons usually don't respond fast enough in a busy retail shop.

Customers expect that a POS-equipped store will have faster service at the counter. If instead, they have to wait for an accounting package to post to 30 ledgers before you can scan each item, they are not going to be happy. And the people in the queue behind them will be even less happy.

Most of the dedicated POS packages have plenty of hooks into the well-known accounting products that let you transfer the day's sales figures after the store closes, when there aren't any impatient customers around. But if the store is selling big ticket items that move fairly slowly out the door, the add-on to your accounting package can work well, saving money and time since the process is integrated. Customers seem to be happy to wait 10 minutes for an invoice when they're paying a few thousand for the product. A nice big detailed invoice will be easier to file and find when they need service.

Speed at the store counter comes into play when recommending an invoice printer as well. Fast moving shops need small fast printers. You'll find market resistance to A4-sized invoices from your greengrocer. And size does matter. Retail stores like to display their goods on the counter, not yours. Recommend an invoice printer that doesn't take up much room, spits out receipts quickly and doesn't need a rocket scientist to change the paper roll.

When it comes to recommending a PC for your new POS lead, take a good look at purpose-built units. Even if you think your own line in PCs is just the best thing in town, it may not be so good when you slap it on a retail counter.

Even if you are convinced that your existing line of PCs is right for this job, investigate the range of POS-specific keyboards.

Having a keyboard that has most of the very common things that are done at the shop counter, activated by its own function key, can be a boon to a busy retailer. This can be as simple as a separate function key to open the cash drawer or more complicated with a row of keys to fast-sell the most common items. A newsagency will die a horrible death if it has to scan every copy of the Australian instead of pressing a function key.

What do you want?

So now you are thinking about saying yes to the local grocer who asked you for help with a POS system, and maybe you're even thinking about going around to see that grocer and offer your services. Before you do, you need to understand why a small business should go for POS and what it can expect to get out of it.

If the retailer thinks that the POS system will save them some staff, tell them to forget it. You have to be a lot bigger than a small store before you can use POS as a way of reducing floor staff. Economies of scale don't apply to a three-person shop the way they do to the forty staff in a supermarket. However, there are plenty of money-making and money-saving reasons for a small retailer to move into POS.

The first saving in time and money, is never having to pick up a price gun again. The bane of most small stores is having to pick up every item and put a price on it. With a POS system, they put one price sticker on the front of the shelf, and just park the items there. The scanner does the rest. Before they can begin to enjoy this benefit, they'll have to scan every item they sell so that it's known to the POS system. This is where you can assist. Offer your services to help get the inventory scanned in, and offer to work cheap.

And then there's . . .

The next thing to point out to a potential POS client, is that they don't know what is in their shop. To prove the point, pick something off the shelf, ask the owner how many they have, how much they paid for it, when was the last time they sold one and who bought it.

With a POS system working properly, a small business need only place orders for things that are selling, can have run-out sales on things that don't move, and can issue loyalty cards to regular customers that gives them an automatic discount on certain lines in the store. That sort of personal attention can reap rewards.

POS also means that the store owner can tell at a glance if they made any money or whether they should just give up. And good POS systems will tell the owner by the hour how much business has been done, allowing them to roster staff for busy times and perhaps stay open a few hours later without spending extra money.

Take the time to investigate the POS opportunities in your area. You may find there is a real pointer to the future in point-of-sale.

Barcode basics

Almost every item you see on the supermarket shelf -- from soup to nuts -- has a barcode on its packaging. Perhaps you've wondered exactly what the lines and numbers actually represent.

Every item in a barcode has a special meaning. There are two popular types of barcodes used: UPC-E and UPC-A. UPC-E barcodes (which are also known as "reduced code") are made up of eight characters and UPC-A barcodes have 12 characters.

Typically, you'll find UPC-E barcodes on small items, like chocolate bars and small cans, where there isn't enough room to print a longer code. Any UPC-E barcode can be enlarged to a UPC-A equivalent barcode.

For both types of barcodes, the first character is always the number system character. This character indicates what class of barcode comes next. Number system characters 0, 6 and 7 are reserved for general merchandise, 2 is used for random weight items, 3 indicates that the item is used for health care, 4 is used for in-store merchandise and 5 is reserved for manufacturer coupons.

The five digits that follow are the manufacturer's number. Each manufacturer has a unique number assigned to them by the Uniform Code Council, which must appear on all of the manufacturer's products. It's up to the manufacturer to make sure that duplicate item numbers aren't used throughout their products. The last digit in the bar- code is the check character. This character is a modulo ten check number which helps protect the integrity of the barcode. It's up to the manufacturer to ensure that every UPC barcode printed on every product has a valid check digit. This helps make sure that when your customer buys dog food they don't get charged for tuna fish.

What's a barcode scanner?

Barcode scanners (or readers) can be held in your hand or placed on the counter. Since they read the barcode labels that come from product manufacturers, they save time and improve accuracy at the cash register. Barcode scanners also facilitate the addition of new products to your inventory. When the barcode label is scanned, the item's stock number can be automatically entered into the PC. That's a lot quicker than typing in the data manually. Since scanners are not subject to human error as weary employees may be, you are assured of correct data input.

Barcode scanners are connected to the PC by an RS-232C serial interface or a keyboard wedge. There are many different types of barcode systems. Which type is necessary is determined by what the scanner will be used for.

When a barcode scanner is in use, it "reads" the barcode information as a reflection of emitted light. An image of the lit barcode is received by the scanner since the spaces between the bars reflect more light than the bars themselves. This image is converted into a digital electrical signal based on the layout of the bars and spaces in the code. The encoded signal is then sent to your computerised point-of-sale system in ASCII format, which is a common data format understood by your computer.

A self-decoded scanner has built-in electronics for decoding. This means you don't need an external decoder. Self-decoded scanners come in different interfaces, such as RS-232 or key- board interface. An undecoded scanner doesn't have this feature, so you need an external decoder such as a wedge reader.

Types of scanners

Barcode slot reader: a bar- code slot reader is used mostly for identification (ID) purposes. It is connected to a wedge or an RS-232C interface and provides fast, accurate readings of bar- codes on cards, ID badges and other similar items.

Wand: wands or pen-style bar- code readers are excellent for items with small labels. The light at the point of the pen is passed over the barcode with a sweeping hand motion. This style of device is relatively inexpensive; however it is only effective when the items you're scanning are clean, dry and flat. For example, stationery stores may mostly carry these types of items, but convenience stores would not.

Hand-held scanner: hand-held scanners can read bar codes from a slight distance, making them ideal for odd-sized packaging. This type of scanner is used widely in hard goods retail environments, since the products aren't typically smooth or clean.

Projection scanner: a projection scanner allows for hand-free, high-speed scanning operations. The scanner is mounted on a pole and the barcode label is passed through the light beam at which point it is scanned. Projection scanners are used where counter space is at a premium, such as speciality, convenience or liquor stores.

In-counter scanner: an in-counter scanner is mounted in the counter where the purchase transaction takes place. The clerk drags the product over the scanner. This type of scanner is typically used in supermarkets, discount stores and department stores and is ideal for items that are heavy or unwieldy.

When the laser light is directed to a collection of moving and still mirrors, a scanning pattern is generated.

This pattern leaves the upper window, producing a mesh of laser light which captures the bar- code when an item is passed through it. The scan pattern is dense enough to guarantee that many scan lines will pass over the barcode. This results in a high-quality signal that the scanner can then accept and decipher.

General ACR

QuickSell 2000 is a fully integrated point-of-sale and business management software system running under Windows for Workgroups and Windows 95. Built for the most demanding of retail needs, it can enhance the efficiency of any retail business while providing important data for cash and inven-tory management. It offers breakthrough features that make it dramatically easier to set up, manage, and process sales transactions for any retail business.

QuickSell 2000 is a fast, dependable, easy-to-use, yet extremely powerful, POS system for the Windows environment. It is designed to run on any IBM AT, PS/2, or 100 per cent compatible computer, and can be operated on a single machine or as part of a local area network. QuickSell 2000 provides great flexibility for configuring POS systems using industry standard devices.

It supports multiple POS devices connected to the serial ports, the parallel port, or the keyboard input on the PC. It is compatible with the leading Windows-based accounting software packages such as Peachtree Accounting, QuickBooks, and MYOB.

The QuickSell 2000 POS program handles all sales transactions. Sales and returns are entered at the point-of-sale using one simple screen, which looks like a typical sales ticket. Items are scanned or keyed-in and displayed instantly. QuickSell 2000 handles layaways and on-account transactions as simply as cash sales. It provides complete invoice histories for full reporting, allows multi-tendering and online credit card authorisation, and accepts foreign currencies, split payments, and food stamps.

Pricing for QuickSell 2000 may be obtained on application.

General ACR

Tel (02) 9809 6666Fax (02) 9809 1189

www.genacr.com.au

IBM

More than a cash register, the IBM SureOne is also a powerful personal computer. It can run thousands of off-the-shelf and custom applications, making it a cash register, an inventory control system, a bookkeeper, and virtually anything else you want it to be, all rolled into one.

The SureOne puts a computer keyboard, credit card reader, receipt printer, and monitor in one compact unit. A journal take-up spool; a two-line, 20-character customer display; and cash drawer are also available. All have been tested and proven to work together seamlessly in a retail environment.

The SureOne can also expand to meet the needs of your business. With eight communications ports, you can add scanners, pole displays, or other options.

You can even network two or more SureOnes together to share pricing, sales, inventory and other important data with the use of a built-in network port.

SureOne is distributed by Unique Micro Design, which may be contacted for pricing.

Tel (03) 9764 8166Fax (03) 9764 8177

www.ibm.com.au

IPL

Having gained the Australian distributorship for the Ithaca Peripherals range of point-of-sale printers, IPL has released its first product in the range, the Model 82 thermal printer.

"The retail industries are well aware that thermal printers are fast," commented IPL group marketing manager, Jeremy de Silva. "But the Ithaca Model 82 can be claimed as being in a class of its own. Twice the speed of any opposition, it delivers 32 lines or 10cm per second with full function versatility and can also create bold graphics, multiple languages, print logos and change type direction -- all at the same blinding speed.

"And along with that speed, the Model 82 delivers the highest MTBF in the industry, is reloaded by simply dropping in a new paper roll, and has been designed to take all the hard knocks and wear and tear of a busy store environment.

"The speed of the model will allow faster service for customers at check-out counters and for kitchen printing applications. And that speed is maintained through font changes and printing of complex graphics and logos -- even when printing in reverse or inverted type modes," he said.

The Model 82 has a very compact (152 x 216mm) footprint and is only 142mm high. In that small package, it contains the full print mechanism including 128KB of Flash and 128KB of RAM. All stored information, including logos, character sets and their attributes are maintained even when the printer is powered down.

For information and pricing, contact Jeremy de Silva at:

IPL

Tel (02) 9698 8211Fax (02) 9318 2665


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