Researching research on consumer habits

For some time we have been researching research on consumer impulse purchase habits in pursuit of smarter facilities we can provide in our software. There are some excellent papers on the topic which provide guidance for our goal. It is fascinating reading about the psychology of retail – essential though if we are to ensure that our software is more than a technologists solution to managing data.

Too often, independent retailers miss out on accessing the results of professional research and thereby miss out on maximising up-sell and other opportunities in their businesses. We have the time and resources to take a broader view and distill aspects of the papers we read through our software and other client communications.

A generational shift is occurring in point of sale software. Now that we have been in the Windows environment for ten years and with two generations of POS software, it is timely to pursue evolution based on the latest research which is guiding the national chains with which our user community is competing.

This is an area where industry associations could help their retailers – collating current research and providing guidance to members on best practices based on the findings from the research.

Adding fifty newsagents

We have now added fifty newsagents to our stand-alone eziPass mobile phone recharge platform.   These are fifty newsagents who are not currently using our point of sale software.  eziPass, besides being a free platform from which they can sell mobile phone and other electronic voucher product, enables these newsagents to test drive Tower Systems out without risk.

Given the parlous state of Bill Express and its mobile recharge business, we are expanding our pitch to newsagents so they can establish a viable alternative in time.  To support this we are making some internal changes to help us better deal with the increased Help Desk and admin load.  At the same time we are improving the documentation provided with eziPass to ensure that installation and operation are easier.

Since eziPass is a service we are providing newsagents for free, it is important we make sure it is as self-serve and easy to use as possible.

Overall, eziPass is serving over 600 newsagents and and more coming on board.  The iloveezipass website has newsagent feedback.

CRM solutions database grows

We have close to 200 tested and peer reviewed solutions in our CRM database now, taking us closer to releasing access to this valuable asset of knowledge for direct customer access. Imagine handling between 200 and 300 calls a day and having support person having access to the same hymn book when delivering advice. The improved consistency of advice is helping us and our customers. We’re excited about the prospect of providing direct customer access – but all in good time.

There are CRM solutions and there are CRM solutions. Not all are the same, not by a long shot. A company can spend a few hundred dollars and say they have a CRM solution or they can spend hundreds of thousands and claim they have a CRM solution. The difference can be felt in the outcomes achieved by users through their contact with the help desk and other touch points with their software provider. This is where we are investing time and money, on the key customer service touch points to ensure that our advice is accurate and easily accessible.

Each new case we add to our CRM database gets us closer to to our CRM goal.

Busy end of year

June has been a very busy month for us as existing customers and new friends in retail finalise spending to maximise tax benefits prior to June 30.  Our existing customers have been particularly happy with the package of offers we put to them – we did this because too often we see business rewarding new customers and ignoring existing customers.

Software for specialist stationery retailers

We have started marketing our point of sale software to specialist stationery retailers. While technically not a new market for us, this is the first time we have approached them as a group.

Our new marketing is as a result of recent developments in our software specifically for stationery retailers. These changes relate to specialist supplier interfaces which drive better outcomes in the stationery channel. Stationery retailers can rely on our software in the areas of:

  • Point of Sale.
  • Stock reordering.
  • Stock arrival.
  • MYOB interface.
  • Quicken interface.
  • Management reporting.
  • Special orders for customers.
  • Customer accounts.
  • Category management.
  • Supplier management.
  • Business marketing.

The synergy between specialist stationery retailers and newsagents is excellent. The most recent enhancements which we have spent a couple of months developing will be a tremendous to newsagents who wish to specialise more in this category. Likewise, some recent enhancements for newsagents are proving to be most useful to specialist stationery retailers.

Expanding the office

We have had plans drawn up to change the office layout so we can accommodate new team members.  If quotes check out we should be in renovation hell within the next few weeks.

Stocktake sale tips

We get really involved with our retail customers – jewellers, gift shops, bike shops and newsagents – beyond mere use of our software. We draw on our own experience as retailers and as a team interested in the art of retail. It is with this in mind that we have put together some stocktake sale tips for for our retail customers and others who swing by here:

  • Run the sale for a short period of time. Sales which run for too long lose their gloss as a sale.
  • Quit stock which is not performing. Use your software to help select items for the sale. Unsold stock costs in terms of capital, real-estate and labour. Factor this in when determining the discount to apply to the stock.
  • Have others help in picking stock. If your staff don’t like items they will not try and sell them. Ask staff what items they would add to the sale and exit from the business. You will probably be surprised by what they pick.
  • Price as if you want to sell the stock.  Given the regular pitches by KMart, Target and others there is no poijt in being soft when it comes to the discount.  Price the stock as if you want it sold today.
  • Contextualise the sale. Call it a stocktake sale, consumers will understand this more than just a sale.
  • Move stock in the sale every day. The sale table has to look fresh as this will have regulars looking at it each day. Allocate time for items to be moved around.
  • Pick your key days.  In one centre in which we have a retail business every second Thursday is the best day to have a sale.  Customer traffic is up and browsers have more money.  Knowing this sets the timing for our sale events.
  • Use your software to manage the sale.  Create a catalogue so that selling the sale items is easy and handled by scanning the products.  The easier the selling the more your team will support the sale.

I hope this information is useful if you are doing a stocktake sale this year.

Electronic voucher products for newsagents

Our announcement yesterday of the addition of four Visa Prepaid products to our eziPass platform has resulted in contact from two more companies interested in adding their product to our platform.

Now that we have a well established and widely used platform, including sites not using our point of sale software, we can quite easily bring more products on board.   Each new product adds value to our newsagent partners without them having to spend on stock and or infrastructure.

We are fast tracking discussions with one supplier which offers products hitherto unavailable in newsagencies yet appropriate to their customer traffic.

In these discussions we are more than a software company.  We represent our 1,500+ newsagent user community.  It is a position we appreciate and treat with respect.

New products available on eziPass for newsagents

We are thrilled to launch today four Visa Prepaid card products through our eziPass platform. CANVAS, VCARD, Just4 and Secure Cash Xpress provide newsagents with competitive products for several demographics. Commission on each card sale is between 30% and 40%. Commission on reload is five times the commission for BOPO.

The four new Visa Prepaid products available on eziPass are:

CANVAS, a reloadable Visa Prepaid card for everyday personal use. Great for teens and small business expenses.

VCARD, a Visa number, no plastic, for easy and safe shopping online, by phone or mail-order.

Just4, the perfect gift card. Can be redeemed where Visa Prepaid is accepted.

Secure Cash Xpress, 2 linked Visa cards – top up in Australia, redeem overseas. Perfect for sending money regularly to friends and family overseas.

More than 600 newsagents partner with eziPass already.

Further information and sign-up forms will be sent to all eziPass newsagents within the next two weeks.

With no long contract to sign or hefty monthly fees, eziPass is proving to be a platform newsagents like. More than 300 products are available. Newsagents only need to complete one simple form at www.ezipass.com.au to get started.

eziPass is available, free, for all newsagents. Sign up now at: www.ezipass.com.au

Manging change

One of the tough roles we have is managing changes requested by users of our software.  This is a tough role beceause of the volume of requests and because of how some users approach their requests.

We receive between ten and thirty change requests a week.  Most are for facilities which exist in the software.  However, getting to the point of providing that advice takes time because we have to understand the request in the context of software function.  We don’t have a change request form and this means a request can be a single sentence throuygh to an essay.  We have found it better to let people make requests in thir own words.

The challenge of how some people approach the request is difficult to address.  One or two percent of users demand their changes be done.   They don’t understand that we have to respect the needs of 1,500 newsagents and 1,000 other retailers.  Even though few are difficult about changes they take considerably more time.  We address this by inviting them to spend a day at our head office and see the process from the inside out.

The best test for a change is to cost it out and ask if the requester would invest that amount in the change.  It bis what we have to do internally, to provide a financial basis for the change and to compare against other changes we can make.  We take a pragmatic approach considering the whole user community.

All of this is somewhat moot now that we have expanded of software development team including adding two new developer roles in the last month.  Once these resources are across our technology they will help us deliver even more updates sooner.

newsXpress market fairs

We are participating in newsXpress market fairs around the country, getting to meet newsagents in a more relaxed environment than the traditional industry trade show although we will continue with these as well.  The market fairs are a good opportunity for our people to also meet with suppliers and develop better EDI links which will, in turn, save newsagents time in managing stock.

Efficient touchscreen at point of sale

pos_screen.JPGNewsagencies are busy businesses operating on tight margins. For the model to work, sales need to be processed efficiently. This is where thoughtful touchscreen design is essential.

We give our users the ability to change hot keys to suit their specific business needs. The image (left) is from the screen at one of our own newsagencies. This layout is reviewed as necessary to help us process quickly and accurately.

Beyond the top level of the POS screen is the ability to quickly and easily answer customer account queries, stock queries, look up past sales, find out when the next issue of a magazine is to arrive … answer just about any query which one gets across a newsagency sales counter.

From time to time we mystery shop other retailers – supermarkets, convenience stores, mass merchants – to compare keystrokes for common products – newspapers, magazines, greeting cards and stationery – to ensure that we are as efficient as we claim while maintaining good data integrity for the retailer.

We are fortunate to have offered touchscreen support for more than ten years and therefore have a large install base from which we receive feedback on screen design and other changes around the point of sale.  The best designers of the point of sale screen are those using it.

Every keystroke we can remove is a potential mistake eliminated and in retail this can be money in the bank.

Online user meetings for jewellers, bike shops and newsagents

We are hosting a series of general user meetings for newsagents, Jewellers and bike retailers early next month.  We’re doing this in response from users keen to try an online user meeting.  The agenda will be similar to our face to face sessions: we will cover recent software developments, provide training in areas we know will be of interest and take questions from the floor. 

The online user meeting sessions currently scheduled are:

  • Jewellers user meeting, July 2 at 10am
  • Bike retailers user meeting, July 2 at 2pm
  • Newsagents user meeting, June 3 at 11am

Participation is free.  Book now on bookings@towersystems.com.au to reserve your place at this great opportunity to learn more about how to use Tower Systems’ software.

We will add more sessions if there is strong interest.

Benihana and customer service

socialising.jpgI was cleaning up some photos off my phone this morning and found this one I have forgotten about. It is from a dinner some of us attended at the Marriott resort on the Gold Coast a month ago. We were having dinner at the Benihana teppanyaki restaurant. It was a great night, good food and lots of fun – trying to catch the food the chef tossed at us in, apparently, typical Benihana fashion.

At the end of the evening, we left with our shirts splattered, our stomachs full an a smile on our faces.

Looking at the photo today, I was reminded of the experience and how well the restaurant lived up to their sales pitch promise of a good night. It was an great interactive dining experience, heaps of fun.

Often businesses don’t live up to their sales pitch. It is a fear I have, that we pitch an outcome which is not matched by our products or our actions. While we do make mistakes from time to time our reputation for delivering is good.

The strong memories I have of the night at Benihana are a reminder of the importance of delivering on promises and I mean genuinely delivering – long after a computer system is installed. Beyond building good word of mouth, there is the demonstration to the team the importance of being true to your word.

From the left in the photo taken at Benihana on the Gold Coast you have Gavin Williams, our General Manager and second in charge of Tower, Nathan Morrison, NSW Sales manager, Tim Batt, VIC Sales Manager and Luke La, QLD Sales Manager.

Expanding the back office

We are thrilled to announce an expansion to the back office function at Tower Systems. We have successfully hired for a new administration role which will help us better cope with sales growth. This new role will take care of installation scheduling, travel arrangements, pre-sales support activity and some other tasks. It will free up resources which can be applied to the customer service function.

We have previously covered the tasks across several roles. bringing them together as we do from next week will improve internal efficiency and improve the outcomes for our customers.  It is a good example of us working on the business more so than in it.

Mid Year offer for Gift shops

We have relased the following offer to gift shops as a Mid Year / End of Financial Year offer.  It packages hardware, Gift Shop software, on site training and support in an excellent bundle for gift shops.

gifts_mid_year.JPG

This is the most popular gift shop specific solution in Australia.

Cashback offer for newsagents

We have announced a $500 cash back offer for newsagents to celebrate the end of the financial year.  The cash back is offered as credit in a Just4 prepaid Visa card.  Here’s the brochure which hit newsagent faxes this morning:

na_cashback.JPG

Developing a new website

Last week we commenced the development of an entirely new website for Tower Systems. Being build fresh from the ground up, this new site will better position us for the next phase of our growth. The new site will deliver additional functionality to our customers as well as provide better assistance to prospects considering purchasing our software. I’ll leave the detail of the new facilities at that until we launch the site soon.

Our current website is not even a year old and here we are replacing it, such is the short life span of websites in today’s marketplace.

With so much business being conducted online and many software users preferring self service access to support, the time was right to revisit what we can achieve from a smarter website.

Outside of the significant technical changes being delivered with the new website, as it is based on completely new architecture, we are developing a new look and feel to reflect our company today.  The changes are exciting and the investment well worthwhile.

Managing cards and gifts for growth

cardsgifts.JPGOwning our own newsagencies and card and gift shops has helped us develop some excellent facilities in the card and gift categories. We are happy to leverage this to our exclusive advantage by working closely and confidentially with suppliers on trials of new ways to leverage point of sale technology and supplier back office technology to drive sales and cut costs.

We have several projects under way, two of which are delivering excellent early results.

We are able to develop the software, text it is any or all of our six retail outlets and provide timely feedback to the supplier involved without the need to involve a third party. This is what makes Tower Systems popular for developing initiatives with an IT requirement. Our speed to market and ability to conduct confidential trials is easy.

It is rre we knock back a trial opportunity as we understand the importance of innovation in retail. If tchnology can help with innovation – through delivery or tracking of results – we are there with all the resources we can muster, from the back office software developers to our front line retail team.

In addition to the work with suppliers, is work we undertake with retailers directly. Besides supporting supplier ‘links’ to more than fifteen card companies, we provide retailers with the ability to compare supplier performance. This is important is more than one supplier is in the category in a store. We are committed to ensuring that retailers have a best practice tool set with which they can make the decisions necessary for their businesses to achieve its full potential. Our commitment in this regard is also driven by our ownership of retail stores.

There is nothing like walking in the shoes of your customers.

Gift shop walk through

We are hosting a gift shop walk through in Melbourne for gift shop owners looking for a computer system.  We will show how our gift shop software helps day to day in processing sales, processing new stock, handling returns and placing orders.  From the back room to the counter to the front of hours, you’ll get to see the integrated Tower Systems gift shop software solution in action.  Please email Tim Batt for details on timb@towersystems.com.au.

Retailer Mobile previews

We have been participating in several trade events over the last few weeks and have used the opportunity to demonstrate our soon to be released Retailer Mobile software and portable hardware devices.  Mobile is pretty cool as it provides businesses with tools which previously they had to use a desk computer to access. 

While we have had PDE units for stock take and some other functions, Mobile sets a new benchmark in delivering portability to key business functions.

The reaction at our most recent previews has been excellent.  Our development team and our users are united in anticipation on the new portable tools Retailer mobile delivers.

Qualifying candidates by email

Even though it is only a week since we advertised on Seek, tomorrow we are interviewing several candidates for two new positions.  We have received some excellent applications and have finalised a shortlist. 

One way we qualify candidates is their connectedness.  We pre-interview by email.  This allows us to assess written communication.  It also tests the accuracy of resume claims.  Given how much of our work is email and online based, communicating through a keyboard is important.

One candidate held themselves up as having excellent written communication skills and provided two references to support this.  They failed the email test, struggling to string together more than two or three words to answer a question which demanded more. 

Even though I read about a skills shortage, we seem to attract plenty of candidates.  We need to find reasons to not consider a candidate further, hence the email interview.

Selling your retail business

Selling out of a retail business can be a challenge, especially to someone who has never owned a retail business before. For years now we have offered a free day of training to any purchaser or a business where our point of sale software is being used.

Our free day of face to face training for new owners is backed up by access to free group training, free online training, free user meetings and up to date user documentation.

All in all the training package can sometimes make a business using our software more appealing than a business using something else or with no software at all.

Intralot advice on the way

We are developing advice for our newsagency users on the appropriate handling of Intralot sales.  The advice will be similar, where appropriate, to the advice we provide on recording Tattersalls sales using our Point of Sale software.  We will make the advice available to all of our users without cost.