Helping retailers value the brand

gift-wrapped.jpgWe help smart retailers break free from the pack which thinks that the only way to promote a deal is through a discount.  Using our retail management software, it is easy for retailers to give a free gift on a qualifying purchase.  Retail studies have shown adding value in this way to be an excellent way to differentiate at traditional sale times.  Where discounting can detract from a brand, a free gift can be positioned to add value to a brand.  Providing users of our software with choice in handling sales, discounts and offers is another way we add value ourselves to our relationship with them.

As retailers ourselves, we understand the importance of flexibility in positioning offers.  We use the facilities I have described in this post in our own six retail businesses.

Helping retailers help charities

Tower Systems’ point of sale software helps our retail partners raise money for charity.  We do this in a number of ways:

  • Tracking sales of fund raising items and making reporting to the charity easy for the retailer to manage.
  • Promoting charities on receipts – better connecting the retailer with their social responsibility.
  • Prompting counter staff of a donation opportunity during a sale – this worked recently during Movember to remind staff to let customers know they were involved.
  • Easily adding a surcharge for a certain period – this is popular in the US where businesses get behind selected charities and add, say, a $1.00 charge to transactions over a certain amount to raise funds for a worthy cause.

We have built these facilities into our software to enable our retail partners to be more socially connected if they wish. 

Charities we have worked with recently, planning for 2009, like the options we provide for them to more efficiently connect with retailers.

November 2008 benchmark results released

We have emailed the results of our November 2008 newsagent sales benchmark study to all participants.  The project took longer than expected because of the considerable difference in results between the participants.  We had to call and interview more than half the participants to be certain of the data.  This benchmark study places us well for our end of year study which will commence next week.

This study provides evidence of good growth being achieved by newsagents who sieze entrepreneurial opportunities.

Helping out while others are closed

We took a couple of calls yesterday from newsagents not using our software but in need of help.  They could not raise their supplier.  Thankfully, we were able to help.  It is one thing to promise 24/7 support and another to deliver.

Suppliers hard at work

Maybe it is a sign of the economic times, maybe it is a sign of a busy year ahead.  We are working with several suppliers this week between Christmas and the New Year on new facilities, new products and new standards (in one marketplace) to be accessible through our software.  It is good to have an opportunity to get in early on these initiatives and build more value in our software offer.

Spring clean

We are using these few days between Christmas and New Year to take care of some housekeeping around the office and with our internal systems.  While we have a full team on deck to take calls it is quiet as our customers are busy with post-Christmas sales.  We are using the spare capacity to tidy up.  While our offices are professional, through the year things accumulate.  We are not the hoarding type so this week is about getting rid of what we don’t need.  If items can be used by charities and others we gladly give them away.

Christmas wind down

Our Help Desk closes at 2pm today as we wind down for a couple of days break Christmas Day through to Monday at 7am.  Our after hours numbers and backup emergency numbers (including my number) – seven mobile numbers published at our website and our weekly newsletters – are all operating through this time.

Broadband mess

Broadband is as important to retailers as clean water is to a restaurant.  Australia is like a third world country when it comes to broadband services for businesses. 

I heard on ABC Radio yesterday that the Federal Government’s self imposed deadline is likely to be missed.   If this happens it will bring shame on all involved.

Our retail customers rely on broadband every day from linked businesses in a group to selling electronic voucher type product and reloading other product.   I know from my own retail stores that a stable broadband connection is vital with at hundreds of transactions every day relying on broadband access for the transaction to complete.  More and more electronic voucher and reload transactions will be done – if broadband access is stable and fast.

While I am lucky in that my own retail outlets have good broadband coverage, speed is an issue.  I want the speed I have seen in other countries recently.

Success with phonecards

One of our newsagent users last week made $100 in commission from selling a new phonecard product we have launched through our software.  This $100 commission is effectively net profit since there is no stock holding cost and we are using technology already in place.  It is equal to $1,500 in lottery sales or $500 in newspaper sales – but without any supplier overheads.  What makes the $100 commission all the more valuable is the speed of the transactions through our software.  We are delivering a better return for less work.

The commission arrangements for these phonecards sold through our software are exclusive to us.  This is another way we help our users improve the financial return from their IT investment.

Help for small newsagents

Our low cost point of sale solution for small newsagents which we released six months ago is helping more small newsagents connect with current industry standards and improve efficiency in their businesses. 

Our commitment to this package is not so much a commercial pursuit but out of our program of social responsibility.  The newsagency channel has been very good to us and we are pleased to be able to put something back by financially supporting this low cost solution for small newsagents.

Reducing theft at Christmas

We have received several calls over the last week from retailers using our point of sale integrated security system reporting that our technology had avoided expensive theft in the business.  By providing visual certainty around counter activities we are able to help retailers reduce payouts on false refund claims and other activities. 

Given the news of fraud by shoppers in the media over the last couple of weeks our technology is proving itself.  We have also received some excellent feedback to guide plans for 2009 in this area.

New stock files available

We have tested up to date (as of last Friday) stock files for Simson cards, Artwrap, Uniball and the latest OfficeSmart catalogue.  These are available for our users.  The process of testing supplier files is time consuming but well worth the effort given the support calls that it saves.

The value of sales data

We have several examples now of the value of sales data thanks to relationships we have fostered between businesses using our software, ourselves and several suppliers.  By unlocking sales data for suppliers we have been able to strengthen key relationships and provide some handy commercial outcomes for users participating in our sales data sharing programs.  While these projects still have a way to go before they are shared more widely, we can see real value in this.  In one case, the project has been running for well over a year.  It takes a long time get connections like this working well for all the stakeholders.

Full strength this week

While many other businesses are scaling back in the run down to Christmas, Tower Systems is has a full team on deck this week in the three days leading to Christmas.  We have many new users who have installed over the last few weeks and we need to help them settle into their new software.  In addition to the full strength support team, we are engaged in outbound calls to these new users to ensure that every question, even those they consider too trivial to call about, are resolved.  We have found our outbound call program to unlock good opportunities to help our users.

Enhancements for gift retailers

We finalised the content on Friday for the first software for 2009 and included ar enhancements specifically for gift retailers.  Thanks to our work with several gift product wholesalers we have been bale to develop time saving tools which will be released exclusively in our next update.  Some of these facilities will also serve our newsagent users who are strong in the gift space.

Our membership of the 4,500 member strong AGHA shows we are even more committed to being best of breed in the gift shop software space.

Saturday support takeing a break

We are resting our full service Saturday Help Desk from next week for two weeks over Christmas.  The team is on deck today, helping our users.  While we take a break from the office based service, the after hours team will be offering assistance.

Call traffic this week

Support call traffic has been busy right through the lead up to Christmas.  On average we have been processing more than 125 cases a day.  Each involves, on average, 1.5 calls.  The only common thread we can see in the calls is that retailers are busier for Christmas and using parts of the software they do not usually use.  Most calls have been seeking training over the phone.  Our call tracking data is helping us plan training for next year, to head off the need for the call in the first instance.

Statement on hardware prices

We have found one of our competitors telling prospects that we have increased hardware prices.  A quick check of our website and printed price lists will show that hardware prices have not gone up this year.  Indeed, some items are priced lower than a year ago.  Their efforts to make the choice for them about price has backfired in at least three occasions we know of.

Helping reduce the cost of reps

Sales reps are expensive for suppliers.  The labour cost, cars, phones and commissions mean they have to write considerable business to break even on these costs.  We are making progress with a couple of suppliers on how they can release their reps to more valuable, business-building, activity within their businesses.  It starts with accurate sales data feeding direct from our retailers to the suppliers so they can trigger fulfillment requirements. 

While there is nothing ground breaking in the technology, what we are doing is ground breaking in the newsagency channel.  If we can move costs from being an overhead to growth for both sides then it is a good win.

What Christmas slowdown?

We are less than a week from Christmas and our team is busy installing systems in newsagencies and other businesses.  Like last year, Christmas this year for us defies the usual end of year slowdown.  For decades we experienced a slowdown in December as retailers focused on, well, retail. Last year that changed.  This year too.  We’re busy and it’s great.

Advice on handling newspapers over Christmas

We have published revised advice for our 1,500 newsagent users following further discussions with Fairfax about their plans for newspaper deliovery over the Christmas period.  We discovered, thorugh our discussions, that the advice they published is not as completed as it seemed.  This advice will be provided to any of our users calling for support if they have not received the email from our team.

Planning quarter 1 2009

By Christmas Eve we will have dates locked in for our first round of face to face user meetings in 2009.  These will take in all capital cities and major regional centres. Our goal is to be within an hour’s drive of at least 90% of our customer base when we select locations.  Our Q1 schedule will also lock in dates for online user meetings and training sessions.

The timing of the face ro face and online user meetings is important because our first major update for the year, released around this time will include the first of several crucial IT compliance updates in 2009. 

Managing expensive discounts

Years ago we released a suite of SMS facilities in our software whereby store owners and managers are sent text messages based on rules they establish using the software.  The text messages are sent without employee knowledge or involvement.

Once of our users earlier this week cracked a weekend friends discount racket being run by a new casual employee.  Our software alerted them to unusual discount practices.  They checked the details in the software from their location and put together the evidence they needed.

In developing these tools we set out to provide the business owners with peace of mind.  While it is frustrating to find that you have been ripped off, catching it early means you can stop the theft being repeated.

These SMS faciities are a standard part of our software – essential for all retailers.