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The Biggest Challenges Brick & Mortar Businesses Face and How to Deal with Them

Austin Chegini
2 Nov 2020

Ask any passerby on the street where they think the future of retail is heading, and they’ll almost certainly start talking about how online shopping is slowly but surely putting an end to the traditional brick-and-mortar storefront.

But, if you ask that same person how they prefer to shop, chances are they’d side with the brick-and-mortar option. In fact, a whopping 85% of consumers prefer to shop at physical stores over their online alternatives.

There's no doubt that it's a lot tougher to run a successful brick and mortar business than it was a decade ago. A lot has changed! While each corner of the market has been affected differently by the explosion of technological possibilities, one factor looms large everywhere.

E-commerce is here to stay.

In Q2 of 2018, close to ten percent of all retail sales in the US were made online. And that percentage has never stopped growing. Retail e-commerce sales reached 16.8% in Q2 of 2020. As e-commerce occupies an ever bigger slice of that pie, brick and mortar businesses are facing some pretty significant threats to staying profitable and viable.

One of the most critical though is where the rubber hits the road—the point of sale (POS) system. There's a lot going on in that moment when a customer is ready to part with their hard-earned cash.

Some tough challenges need to be met, including:

  • Finding a way to beat online convenience.
  • Upgrading outdated sales hardware.
  • Embracing time-saving technologies.
  • Reducing analysis paralysis.
  • Accessing top-quality support.

Let's take a look at each of these problems and how brick and mortar businesses can overcome them.

Finding a Way to Beat Online Convenience

Let's face it, buying stuff online is always going to be more convenient than jumping in a car and driving to a venue to get what you want. People like to stay at home.

The thing is, brick and mortar businesses do not have to beat e-commerce at its own game. All a store has to do is find ways to make the trek worthwhile for the consumer.

Retail point of sale software can open up some powerful options for brick and mortar businesses to compete, in particular by manufacturing a more satisfying customer experience.

For example, look at how these systems can support customer loyalty programs.

A cloud-based POS solution allows retailers to keep track of sales data across all retail outlets. Coupled with sales analytics it becomes possible to build a sophisticated approach to rewarding customer loyalty. And that has many benefits, including:

  • Marketing promotions
  • Personalised customer service
  • Timely discounts
  • Customer intel

It also opens up some excellent possibilities for building up a human connection with customers.

Retail point of sale software and hardware can also be set up to be completely mobile. This allows cashiers to provide front-of-house service, walking the floor to answer questions, talk about products, or just generally be a friendly face to the business. Improved customer interaction then leads to one of the most powerful resources a brick and mortar business can tap into — word of mouth endorsements.

We know that 55% of online shoppers will tell family and friends when they’re not happy with a company or product, so it’s vital that brick and mortar enterprises make word of mouth work in their favour. This is so much easier to achieve when you can apply a human face to the business.

It Can Be Done

Brick and mortar businesses can successfully beat out online convenience if they leverage a strong point of sale solution to play to their strengths. Done right, a brick and mortar business can:

  • Reward brand loyalty among customers
  • Demonstrate value-add by providing on-point product advice
  • Build a sense of trustworthiness and brand integrity
  • Show customers that a business isn't just a faceless entity. It's made up of people

The bottom line: The right POS technology unlocks that unique human element—and this plays to brick and mortar retail’s strength.

Upgrading Outdated Sales Hardware

There’s a solidity to brick and mortar retail which can be an asset but sometimes it can also be a liability.

Outdated sales hardware limits your options and creates a bunch of bottle-necks, but it isn't necessarily all that easy to just jump on board with a new solution. Sure it costs money, but it also takes time and can cause disruption if not managed right.

So there's this vicious cycle! On the one hand, a brick and mortar business needs a better product if it's going to compete with the streamlined, analytics-driven setup of an online store. On the other hand, to get to that point there's the fear that technological transition will (even if only temporarily) reduce competitiveness.

It's Not As Dire As It Seems

This whole problem of when and how to upgrade is busted wide open with the right retail POS solution and implementation.

Let's look at your standard Epos Now implementation. Here, you're not just getting a technology upgrade. All crucial sales data (product SKUs, customer loyalty data and payment information to name the big three) are transferred seamlessly to this new technology.

Sales staff and managers are able to transition out of their old point of sale system to a new one without a single field of data needing to be needlessly re-entered. Of course this saves time, but just as importantly it:

  • Saves money
  • Protects a business's data assets
  • Minimises frustration (from the cashier right up to the sales manager level)

Epos Now’s retail system is a strong example of a product built to give brick and mortar retail a fighting chance to move to point of sale systems which can compete with e-commerce platforms. It achieves this technological witchcraft by offering a point of sale system that isn’t just hardware agnostic, but which can also seamlessly work with a businesses’ existing customer relationship management platforms and payment gateway.

These kinds of heavily adaptable solutions mean that transitioning away from existing technology and infrastructure needn’t be an all-or-nothing exercise. More importantly, they provide a feasible solution to beating the infrastructural inertia problem.

Embracing Time-Saving Technologies

While this might be easy to overlook at first because it isn't about the customer's experience, cloud-based point of sale software frees up a huge amount of time at the management level.

Stocktaking can happen not just on a store-by-store basis, but across a whole chain of stores in real-time. Also, because your inventory and sales data all securely reside in the cloud, you can gain an immediate picture of what's selling and where.

You end up not just with an easier stocktaking process, but one which gives you a more granular and useful picture.

Profit margin calculations become far less time-intensive to produce, thanks to automated analytics. Instead of having to manually decide which analyses to run, you can look at profits in as many ways as you like, all without once having to fire up a formula-filled spreadsheet.

Even staff Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) can be generated automatically. All the business intelligence you could need on staff performance, training priorities and sales turnaround time can be viewed in real-time on a single dashboard.

All these vital ingredients of efficient business practice can happen more easily when they’re backed up with solid analytics and automation. But stepping away from managing point of sales processes, there's the one vital ingredient to any solid point of sales solution: the customer experience.

The average time a consumer expects to wait from the moment of product selection to the completion of the purchase is as little as five minutes. To make a sale, that line to the cashier has to move!

However, when it comes to brick and mortar retail, the customer journey is filled with time-inefficiencies. Some of these time-consuming processes are an inevitable (and in some cases completely desirable!) part of doing face-to-face business. Others, not so much.

The human connection between a customer and salesperson is an obvious time-consuming element most businesses actively don’t want to be rid of. After all, building these kinds of relationships with your brand is an area in which physical retail has a natural comparative advantage over e-commerce.

Maybe it's a tad corny, but a brick and mortar business is strongest when its customers are friends.

But what about shortening the time it takes to process a sale? Or streamlining more customer-service oriented processes like product availability inquiries, handling returns or talking a customer through product comparison? The faster this stuff is, the better.

These retail value-adds build customer loyalty, but to do them swiftly and efficiently you need access to centralised sales data, analytics, and automation.

Let's look at a real-world example to drill this home.

Let's say you're at a garden centre and you've got your eye on a deluxe 9 foot Christmas tree, complete with LED lights and anti-cat toppling technology. But you only see a display model. With a solid point of sale solution, the customer service rep can:

  • Tell you instantly if that item is in stock or if it's available in another store
  • Offer you a range of size options and enhanced features
  • Give you all your delivery, installation and warranty options

And all this can happen without stepping away from the customer and in one seamless interaction.

Streamlined POS software makes all this possible.

With fewer steps and less fuss, you not only get increased customer satisfaction, but with each minute saved you also reduce the likelihood of losing sales from queue congestion. It also gives salespeople tools to better handle product inquiries swiftly and efficiently.

Reducing Analysis Paralysis

POS software connected to a cloud analytics platform places important sales data at your fingertips, synchronised across all terminals in all stores. This makes it so much easier to make important decisions quickly.

Let's say a brick and mortar business manager is analysing data on two similar models of a toaster in order to see which of these two similar products should be allocated more shelf-space. There's a lot of moving parts to this kind of decision.

With a POS solution equipped with analytics, the manager can:

  • Look at the sales performance of both products across all stores, identifying how many of each toaster model were sold over time
  • Cross-reference this data against support costs, returns, and warranty issues encountered with both toasters, getting a more accurate sense of profit six or twelve months after the moment of sale
  • Analyze each toaster by the profit margin they deliver

Using this kind of data, it becomes a whole lot easier to decide which toaster deserves end-cap status and which should be kicked to the curb. The tools are in place to manage stock in a way that is highly responsive to consumer demand.

Instead of leaving products to languish on shelves accumulating dust, using these kinds of sales analytics a brick and mortar business is well-positioned to make smart decisions quickly and efficiently.

Securing Solid Support

Getting your sales workflows smooth when everything is going right is just the beginning. Agility in your point of sale is every bit as dependent on solid systems for when things go wrong.

Epos Now provides customers with 24/7 support. This means when something crops up with the potential to disrupt the flow of sales, the issue can be rapidly resolved.

Good support also means much better bang for your buck when it comes to effectively analysing all that sales data. Having a point of sales expert available to provide advice on reporting and implementation means being able to do more with the technology.

Staying Competitive Requires The Right Tools

There’s no question that managing a successful brick and mortar business is a lot tougher in the era of e-commerce. Online stores place immense pressure on physical businesses to be more convenient, agile, and analytics-driven than ever before.

But the right tools make it much easier to remain competitive. Finding the right POS provider and retail point of sale solution is a crucial step in the right direction.

If you'd like a free 15-minute demonstration of what Epos Now can do for your brick and mortar business, you can contact us here.