These days, more and more software is heading up into "The Cloud”. It is cost effective, universally available from any computer and removes the headache of having to manage infrastructure. A business and user of cloud services can focus on running their business, whether it is a cafe, hair salon, engineering company or accountancy firm, and not spending time looking after their internal data systems. And so, more and more business owners are looking for online solutions. They do their accounts online, their email is managed "up there”, time tracking, billing, the lot. But what about retail? You can obviously run your e-commerce store online, but what about good ol’ bricks and mortar retail?
One of the barriers to going all cloud based to date has been that if you run the software online with web/browser based solutions in environments such as a busy retail store, what do you do if the internet connection is lost? You can do your accounts later, and your email still gets received somewhere and they can probably wait, but what about running a point of sale, where you customer is standing in front of you with cash in hand?
The really good news is that with the current state of play of web browsers, it means if you build your web applications right, they can keep running online and offline. This is something we did at www.vendhq.com. We made a POS that runs as well off-line as it does online, and all in the browser. We brought all the benefits of a cloud based application – no install, no upgrades, and no backups – through to the web browser in store while providing the reliability required to run the POS 24/7.
Retailers want a simple-to-use solution that they can get set up in a matter of hours (or less). They want to be able to roll out a new register or store as quickly and simply as firing open a new browser on another machine. They want to run their front counter POS on a laptop, an iPad, a touchscreen or a Mac. They want to manage all their data in one place, and they don’t want to run the infrastructure.
So gone are the days of requiring proprietary and expensive hardware for your mission critical point of sale. The cloud makes software practically hardware agnostic. Today’s standard computing fare is reliable, replaceable, resilient and cheap. All you need is a modern web browser, and a connection to the internet, and you are away, plus new doors are opening for new hardware solutions every day.
Tablet computing will revolutionise retail over the coming years. That, coupled with the innovation happening with mobile payments, soon you will be able to pay for your meal at the table, like you used to do before technology came along and forced you to walk to the terminal at the front of the restaurant. Like the shirt you are trying on? Pay for it where you stand. I think the innovation in mobile computing and retail point of sale in the coming years will bring real service back into retail and start to make retail experiences new, exciting and easy for consumers in store.
But how do cloud based solutions affect the supply chain? If customers don’t need infrastructure, can sign up online and can buy the computing equipment from the local store, does this make some of the more traditional channels redundant? I don’t think so.
A lot of customers might be fine with setting themselves up, acquiring the hardware and generally getting going. But a lot also want the comfort of dealing with a local supplier who can remove many of the decisions from the process, can provide packaged hardware options and bundled value added services.
The big opportunity? A cloud based solution is usually highly "connect-able” and integrates with other like platforms, as Vend does by integrating with Xero, Shopify.com plus other add-on services. When a retailer is ready to look at connecting the software they use to run their operation as a whole, they may need assistance. That’s when they need to look to expert integrators, who have done this many times before and can suggest the best approach.
Running a physical retail enterprise from the cloud opens up so many possibilities for integrating with other aspects of the business. Integrate your web store with your in-store product price list and inventory. Provide real-time sales feeds to your financial systems. Provide a customised front counter interface on an iPad. Build an add-on customer loyalty module. All these things are possible with an open cloud based solution. All it takes is some imagination, nouse and a helping hand from someone who has done it before.