What's 20 Seconds?
Last fall, software developer Premier POS did a top-down overhaul at Precision Camera & Video, installing an Internet-based system that cut credit card transaction time by more than 75%.
A store owner can make a bundle of money in a 20 to 25 second credit card transaction. So, why not make the same bundle in 4 or 5 seconds? After all, faster moving lines mean happier customers and more sales. This is a lesson that Precision Camera & Video (Austin, TX) learned well in time for its 2001 holiday rush.
The all-things-optical megastore sells everything from cameras and camcorders to telescopes and binoculars. Its inventory stands ready to outfit experience levels from family photographers to Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists. It also runs a photo processing lab and a rental department, and does repair work. This array of products and services requires a high degree of customization at the point of sale. For years the business had been running a vanilla POS (point of sale) system tied into its ACCPAC Pro Series Accounting software. The back office solution worked well, but according to Premier POS Vice President Ezra Weinstein, it needed a front-end application that was more targeted for the retail photo industry. Weinstein's company markets a custom solution for such businesses that includes rental and service modules, which its customers can pay for separately. The solution has evolved from the Premier POS System, the developer's base software product. As customizations are developed, Premier POS creates modules and adds them to the arsenal for future customers. Premier POS most often sells its solution through VARs, but when one of its resellers came across Precision Camera & Video, the VAR referred the retailer directly to Premier POS.
Prescription For POS: Speed
Precision Camera & Video's ailment was clearly diagnosed by an obvious symptom - the lack of speed with which it was processing customers, specifically those using credit cards. With the dial-up solution ICVerify, credit card transactions were taking upwards of 20 seconds. "Before we started working with Precision Camera & Video, I was searching for a good IP [Internet protocol]-based solution, but most of them were geared towards e-commerce," says Weinstein. The company did look at VeriSign's PC and WebAuthorize products, which are IP-based as well, but found problems with this software at the implementation stage. "We needed a thin client," says Weinstein. "These products caused us a headache from an implementation standpoint."
Weinstein found what he was looking for in Rich Solutions' (Redmond, WA) RichPayments.NET Web Service. "The product was designed to integrate seamlessly. From the standpoint of the end users, they don't know what's running the credit card processing. They're just running the Premier POS product," says Weinstein. At Precision Camera & Video, credit card processing time has gone from taking 20 to 25 seconds to averaging between 4 and 6 seconds as a result of the service. "Twenty seconds might not seem like a long time, but to a clerk who's drumming his fingers on the counter as a line of impatient customers waits for a credit card to clear, it's huge," Weinsten says.
No Support Headaches
"There's not much support needed. The solution is driven by XML (extensible markup language) technology, so we're just passing information back and forth between the store and the server at Rich Solutions. When we do need support, Bill Pittman [Rich Solutions president] has been phenomenal," Weinstein says. He claims that other credit card authorization services offer limited support, and he says that it gets worse as companies keep merging and acquiring one another. "Who even knows who owns ICVerify? You can't even call them on a weekend. In retail, that doesn't work."
With RichPayments.NET, Weinstein can offer his customers services such as signature capture and electronic receipt storage on a remote, secure server. "That's a really big benefit from a chargeback standpoint," he says.
Weinstein's relationship with Rich Solutions is benefiting his other specialty clients as well. "Rich Solutions is working on check verification and ACH [automated clearinghouse] transaction capability for us," says Weinstein. "Another of our specialty markets is the martial arts and dance schools that have recurring billing. These features will be perfect for that."
Deal With The Fear
"People don't like change, especially when dealing directly with the revenue-gathering system of a company," Weinstein advises. Sensitive to this fear, his approach at Precision Camera & Video was guarded. "The goal was to get our application in, then look at credit card processing at a later date," he says. "Once our application was installed we set up a payment processing demo unit, which tested to a live server at Rich Solutions. When the owner saw the result, it pretty much sealed the deal."
Another concern about Internet-enabled solutions warranted a backup plan. What happens when the store's Internet connection is lost? Rich Solutions software detects the presence of the Internet. When it's not present, the software dials into a private network via modem in order to capture the credit card transaction. "This has become backup option number one, because it's seamless to us," Weinstein claims. The secondary backup Premier POS offers is traditional dial-up service to the Internet. "In the event the DSL (digital subscriber line) goes down, because these days you never know with DSL companies, they will at least have a dial-up connection," Weinstein assures. And in the worst case scenario, Weinstein says the ICVerify icon remains on each person's machine. "We'll probably never revert to that, but it's in place," he says.
The installation cost Precision Camera & Video approximately $50,000, which included only minimal hardware sales. The only hardware Premier POS sold the company was portable data terminals and bar code printers, which it uses for tracking inventory and monitoring the use of equipment in the rental portion of its business. Phase two of the installation, which Weinstein calls the "wish list" phase, is underway now. Wireless hubs are being installed by the retailer's IS (information services) department, and Weinstein hopes to introduce the use of wireless handhelds for line busting in the near future. The company also has plans to integrate its e-commerce initiatives with its brick-and-mortar POS system, and has requested an intelligent scheduling system for its photo-processing department. Weinstein reports that the 2001 holiday season went off without a hitch for Precision Camera & Video. That's sure to have resulted in fewer drumming clerks, and more happy customers.