With point-of-sale systems becoming more intelligent, resellers can dig for selling opportunities in retail and hospitality segments.
A customer walks up to the cash counter, sails through the checkout, and, in a flash, buying information is categorised and stock information inventoried.
Welcome to the world of point-of-sale systems (POS) - PC-like devices that can link into a retailer's back-end infrastructure. They are the beginning of the end of for the standalone cash register.
Goodson product business development manager, John Gentile, said the retail and hospitality markets were lucrative, but incredibly competitive.
"To be competitive, partners need a good working knowledge of the business on a movement by movement basis," he said. "They can offer solutions to control stock and inventory, help retailers automate checkout sales and customer records, and develop systems that generate customer loyalty."
A distributor of POS hardware products, Sydney-based Goodson works with 1500 resellers across the country.
While the bottom end of the market could be something as simple as a hooking up a cash register replacement, a large implementation could include adding touchscreen interfaces, a retail PC, scanning hardware and a cash drawer customer display via an LCD screen, which is networked via the Internet. And many parts of the retail industry require a personal touch.
"Specialised solutions can go into market segments including general retailing, supermarkets, clubs, and hairdressers," Gentile said.
"VARs can offer the software, hardware and upgrade units. It could be a new thermal printer or a totally integrated system for a multi-lane or multi-franchise environment.
"The specialised computer can come in a variety of form factors and can be stylish to reflect store ethos."
IDC research manager for vertical markets, Phillip Allen, said VARs could take advantage of the end of the Y2K refresh cycle by helping retailers upgrade their POS systems.
"We are now seeing that the POS infrastructure for many retailers has had its day and needs a refresh," he said. "Many retailers aren't looking at doing anything radical or new, but want to upgrade the system and ensure they don't lose orders."
According to a recent Gartner survey sbout 90 per cent of retailers surveyed in the US market plan to invest in POS system upgrades during the next five years. Customer-friendly features, such as faster checkouts and more product information, are expected to drive upgrades.
Many retailers need to standardise hardware or software to a common platform; improve data extraction capability; reduce maintenance costs; increase capability to up- or cross-sell; replace obsolete systems; improve ease of use; increase staff productivity; and increase flexibility so more applications can be added later.
small is beautiful
Microsoft Business Solutions' lead product manager for retail management systems, Ross Dembecki, said retail was about 15 per cent of the overall business landscape in Australia.
"It is an important sector that cuts across the enterprise, mid-market and small business," he said. "It's relevant to all channel partners."
Dembecki estimated there were about 150,000 - 200,000 small to mid-size retailers in Australia.
Through its distribution deal with POS Partners, Microsoft has 50 authorised channel partners servicing the retail space.
"Many retailers might include scales for weighing items, have a barcode scanner, a thermal printer and a cash register with a second display," Dembecki said.
In addition to the usual tendering of cash, the system runs a database on customers, records foot traffic in stores, takes details on stock replenishment and offers up a Web presence.
"There is a move away from electronic cash registers to using PC-based technology, which is more reliable and less expensive," he said.
"Solutions can be customised to specific sub-verticals: a chemist has different needs than a shoe shop for example."
Local software integrator, Trilogy, has been peddling its specialised software products to the hospitality sector for 14 years.
"The solutions are ideal for restaurants, bars and hotels with a food and beverage section," Trilogy hospitality general manager, Emily Ballantyne, said. "This is a well developed and established market with many competitors, and it would be hard to enter from scratch. Resellers need to be able to focus on the integration of the hardware and the software, and link it to the back office."
Integration with supply chain management, enterprise resource planning and accounting applications was a goal for many retailers, she said.
Symbol systems engineering manager, Viv Paverd, said POS systems were a growing part of its business.
The company offered a range of POS solutions combining scanning, signature capture and payment device technology with applications from its partners.
He said retailers were now moving into a buying cycle.
"Retailers who are updating their current operating system want faster processors and require a lot more functionality," Paverd said.
"They are trying to increase productivity, reduce lines and increase the data capture."
The biggest opportunity for resellers was in bringing project management and integration skills to the table. "POS systems are mission-critical - retailers can't operate without them," Paverd said. "They are now fully integrated into the back office and offer front office functionality."
NCR vice-president, retail sales solutions, Con Vass, said resellers should think of POS as just one part of the equation. A review of an entire store's IT infrastructure and core retail business processes is essential given POS can only take them so far, he said.
Vass suggested the retail discussion should also investigate RFID, and self-checkout technology.
"Partners need to expand themselves to meet the market push towards mobility, self-service and the trend towards diagnostic tools to support the POS infrastructure," he said.