Profit By Offering Mobile POS To Smaller Merchants
By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine
Providing secure mobile payment solutions for small and midsize retailers can open up new markets.
Mobile point of sale (POS) solutions are increasingly popular with smaller retailers. These merchants often either don’t have a traditional brick-and-mortar location at all, or they are building their businesses by selling at trunk shows, farmers’ markets, mobile carts, and via other nontraditional venues. For VARs and ISVs, this growing class of small retailers presents a substantial market opportunity — provided they can offer a secure, reliable mobile POS system.
Rutland, VT-based High Meadow Business Solutions is an ISV that developed the RetailEdge POS and inventory management software solution. The company and one of its VAR partners recently deployed a POS solution for a small paddleboard store that includes multiple mobile POS stations that can be used both in the physical store and at remote locations.
West Coast Paddle Sports is a small, San Diego-based company that sells paddleboarding equipment and accessories. In 2011, the company approached local VAR Trio POS about providing a complete POS solution that could handle all of their brick-and-mortar, online, and mobility needs. The company wanted to be able to combine inventory and POS functions, as well as take advantage of customer tracking and loyalty functionality.
Trio recommended High Meadow’s RetailEdge POS software, which also provides sales analysis, inventory, purchase order, and loyalty program functionality. The system is based around a synchronization engine that allows POS stations at multiple locations to function offline and then synchronize data with the central solution. Unlike cloud-based solutions, this helps keep the POS stations running even when is there no network connection, because each station has its own database. “Cloud technology doesn’t work for many of our customers, because either they don’t have reliable Internet connections, or they’re working disconnected half the time,” says Bill Breed, sales manager at High Meadow Business Solutions.
For the past two years, the company has also offered Island Mobile POS software, which allows merchants to use both tablets and laptops as mobile POS stations. The mobile solution also includes remote credit card processing and allows users to track sales, inventory, and customer data. With a database resident on the mobile devices, the solution also provides built-in backup capabilities.
“Since our solution is synchronization-based rather than cloud-based, they can have multiple disconnected computers that synchronize with the master database every minute,” Breed says. “You have a real-time view of what’s going on at each store, and you can see what sales are happening remotely at a trunk show.”
POS On The Beach
West Coast Paddle Sports opted to deploy the software on a RetailEdge Win7 S-line all-inone touch computer workstation at the store, as well as on a MacBook Pro running VM Fusion and Windows 8, an HP Win7 laptop, and a Samsung 7-inch tablet computer. The company can access all customer information on the mobile workstations, so if a customer at a mobile location has store credit or a gift card, for example, those transactions can be handled on the tablet or in the store.
“They sell at the beach or at local surfing locations, so they needed that mobile capability,” Breed says. “They don’t have Internet connectivity at the remote locations, so the ability to do this in disconnected mode was important.”
The retailer is on a monthly maintenance plan. While High Meadow handles the regular software updates, Trio manages all of the maintenance at the local level. High Meadow has also partnered with PayPros for payment processing.
Using RetailEdge Island has given the store the flexibility to make sales from any beach, bay, or lake where they are exhibiting. By using the tablet-based solution, they can sell any product they take with them to an event and can also check store inventory in real time, which allows them to sell product from the store at a mobile event and then have it shipped to the customer. That provides convenience for the customer and new sales opportunities for West Coast Paddle Sports.
Employees can also use the mobile devices in the store, processing orders on the sales floor without having to bring items to the register station. Considering the average stand-up paddleboard is more than 10 feet long, that provides significant convenience for the customer and the sales clerk. The company is using the RetailEdge Dashboard application on iPhones to monitor sales information remotely.
Having a mobile offering not only helped secure the business in the West Coast Paddle Sports implementation, but Breed says it has opened up new opportunities in other markets as well. “Mobility is a requirement for a lot of businesses now, because smaller retailers are taking their stores on the road, they’re selling at trunk shows and trade shows, and that’s part of their business plan,” Breed says.
The synchronization elements of the mobile solution and the main RetailEdge product also make it attractive to high-volume retailers who can’t afford to have all of their registers go down if the LAN crashes or the main workstation fails. “In a traditional setup, a second workstation works as a client that looks to the main workstation for data. We have customers that have told us they can’t afford to have all their workstations go down, or they’d be out of business,” Breed says.
Mobile Payment Security
Breed says that providing adequate technical support for clients using mobile payment solutions is critical, since most customers don’t have experience with the technology. High Meadow offers 90 days of free tech support with its software. Many merchants need that support because they don’t necessarily have any IT help on staff.
For VARs, Breed says it is critical that they ensure the correct platform/OS for the solution is determined ahead of time, that the customer’s connectivity options (3G, Wi-Fi, etc.) support the solution, and that the solution will provide the data the customer is looking for on the mobile devices. “We’ve had a number of inquiries from customers/resellers who want to switch from systems that provide only partial data and program subsets on the mobile devices,” Breed says.
According to Breed, security is also important for clients deploying the Island solution. RetailEdge is PA-DSS validated for PCI compliance and supports encrypted card swipe. That prevents unauthorized access to customer payment data, even on the mobile workstations.
PCI compliance can be a challenge with smaller retailers, who often aren’t familiar with the requirements or don’t have enough staff to stay on top of the issue. While the retailer is responsible for maintaining compliance, Breed says his company tries to educate customers and provide solutions that can help reduce the compliance effort. “One thing the retailers are supposed to do to maintain compliance is make sure they are up to date on all the payment solution updates and patches,” Breed says. “We have a silver software maintenance plan, and for $5 per workstation per month, we manage a lot of that for the customer.”
Ultimately, Breed says his company would like to move away from PA-DSS validation altogether. “It’s a burden to us as a software developer,” he says. “There is new technology coming down the road like chip and PIN, and once we start implementing that, we have to change our certification every time the technology changes. We’re working with PayPros and our other partners to come up with an out-of-scope solution, so that PayPros, for example, would assume the compliance portion. That will give us much more flexibility moving forward.”