By David Russell, Sales Director, Secure Retail

Embracing multichannel operations is a challenge for retailers of all sizes, but for SMEs in particular, the complexities and expense of integrating online and offline channels has historically presented a barrier to their development. In this article, I will be explaining how the latest advancements in Cloud Point of Sale (POS) technology and supporting hardware is aligning small businesses with their market-leading competitors when meeting the demands of the 21st century consumer.

Retailers are well aware that consumers jump between online and offline touchpoints during their journey to making a purchase, but as an industry we’re only now getting to grips with the logistical and payment implications this has. In addition to demanding well-conceived websites and smartphone applications, today’s shoppers desire a flexible and functional in-store experience, which is often not compatible with the fixed POS technology currently installed in most retail outlets.

Dynamic, growing businesses are constantly looking for more effective ways to integrate their operational processes and transactions to drive in-store sales. This is a tall order for any retailer, but for SMEs the challenge is even greater, for a number of reasons.

For starters, the majority of small businesses have a modest budget apportioned to technology solutions. Even if they want to invest further, they don’t have the same research resources as larger retailers, which can limit their awareness of the latest technologies - for instance, they may not be familiar with the benefits of Mobile Point of Sale, whereas larger brands are already rolling out smartphone and tablet payment solutions in their flagship stores.

Installing new payment technologies can also be a complicated process for SMEs. Smaller store footprints mean a limited amount of infrastructure can be accommodated at each outlet, which could restrict the range of appropriate solutions, and disruption caused during implementation. In addition, connecting to existing back-end systems could prove devastatingly disruptive to trading profits.

Thankfully, the continual development of Cloud POS software technology and the innovative designs of tablet based POS systems is addressing these issues. With no network cabling and on-site store server required, it is ideal for outlets with restricted floorspace, and the fact that data is stored remotely rather than locally creates security peace of mind. Many providers offer rental options to reduce initial financial outlay, with managed services that include technical support to limit downtime for smaller retailers reliant on external expertise.

In the event of technical problems beyond the system provider’s control, such as loss of internet connectivity, Cloud POS can remain functional using mobile telecommunications technology – something that has improved with the launch of 4G. The solution’s hardware monitors and controls network issues to provide backup, while many are equipped with roaming SIMs to provide quality coverage even if the Wi-Fi fails.

Cloud POS is not just a practical payment solution, however; its small business benefits extend far beyond that. As an example, even a fixed till system run with Cloud POS can be located close to any power socket in the store, which allows retailers much greater flexibility in their store layout.

It also generates new levels of data visibility for SMEs, as customer and stock information can be accessed through any connected device, so long as it has signal.

This means store managers can take payments and view back-end information anywhere on the shop floor, while business owners with multiple sites can gain an accurate snapshot of inventory and transactions across their store network, wherever their location. Using this improved insight, small businesses can better integrate their online and offline activities to give customers a better retail experience – on every aspect from stock replenishment to queue busting.
Until now, there have not been fully end-to-end solutions available that address the harmonisation of fixed and mobile POS, which has forced retailers to independently source each element and negotiate price in order to implement a multi-channel solution.

This process raises a lot of questions, such as whether these aspects can be integrated to the back-office system, can tablets connect as well as fixed POS, can hardware such as printers be run off one power supply, are software updates simple and automatic, and are there any hidden charges – to which smaller retailers may not know the answer?

Thankfully, this confusing and time-consuming procedure is set to change in 2014 with the launch of new hardware and software offerings that address the issue of a true end-to-end Cloud PoS solutions that will help bring together fixed and mobile POS onto one common platform. By removing the logistical challenges and costly overheads associated with assembling a system from scratch, SMEs will have a viable way of integrating their online and offline activities and transactions through Cloud PoS, and automatic software updates will ensure this solution stays current and relevant.

More than that, the visibility and capabilities of Cloud PoS will enable smaller retailers to begin offering the same cross-channel services as their larger competitors – from click and collect to order in-store for home delivery. New applications are continually in development by solution providers, which SMEs will be able to download from the cloud and tailor to their own needs, whether for staff purposes like allowing access to an online catalogue, or for the customer’s benefit e.g. creating a multi-channel loyalty scheme.

With such revolutionary tools accessible at the touch of a button, Cloud PoS could align the technologies and services available to all retailers, regardless of their size, and empower the smaller retailer to go toe-to-toe with their leading brand rival.