Faster Checkouts At Hand

It’s spring! Finally! Your parking lot is full, your registers are humming and your employees are running around selling various products to the customers packing your store.

A customer walks your sales yard and picks out a tree and three bushes. Right now, most garden centers tag the product as sold, directing the customer to go into the store and pay. Then, the customer still has to come back and get their purchases loaded into their car. Total ticket processing time: 10 to 15 minutes on average.

Instead, imagine your clerk could process the sale and take payment, load the merchandise into the customer’s car and quickly move on to take care of the next customer. Total ticket processing time? More like two to five minutes.

This solution offers the customer three big wins: a single point of contact, a sale that was completed much faster and no waiting in another line (one of the biggest customer complaints) to complete the purchase. The garden center’s big win: another parking space is now free for the next customer.

Pieces Of The Mobile POS Puzzle

Processing a ticket via a mobile unit (sometimes called “line busting”) can cover a lot of functions. Over the last few years, an increasing number of point-of-sale (POS) systems have allowed you to enter a mobile ticket, suspend or hold the ticket and then collect payment at the register. However, what more and more garden centers are interested in doing is processing the ticket in their yards and collecting payment directly on the mobile device. And, they don’t want to give up speed, inventory control or customer tracking. Just imagine – mobile computing, right at your fingertips!

So, what is mobile computing? It is simply the process of using a small (usually portable) computer on the spot. Mobile computing has three aspects: mobile communication, mobile hardware, and mobile software. The first aspect addresses communication issues (how you connect to the network or cloud); the second focuses on the hardware, i.e. mobile devices or device components; and the third deals with software and the requirements of mobile applications. In this column, we will focus on the latter two aspects.

Mobile Hardware

Let me start with the necessary mobile hardware. A mobile device is a pocket-sized computing device, typically having a display screen with touch input and/or a miniature keyboard. In the case of the personal digital assistant (PDA), the input and output are often combined into a touch-screen interface.

A mobile device has many names: a handheld device, a handheld computer or, simply, a handheld. Smartphones (like iPhones and Droids) and PDAs are popular with those who require the assistance and convenience of certain aspects of a conventional computer in environments where carrying one would not be practical. Enterprise digital assistants can further extend the available functionality for the business user by offering integrated data capture devices, like bar code, RFID, and smart card readers.

So what type of mobile hardware should you consider? Your choices are wide, varied and based on your specific system. The good news is that mobile devices can be as common as a smartphone. Wireless devices like the Janam XM66 and the Motorola (formerly Symbol) MC55 with built-in scanners are two examples of higher-end devices that support an additional magnetic stripe, making them enterprise digital assistants.

Prices for these devices will range widely, from a few hundred dollars to a couple thousand. Your considerations will vary based on your operations, but I strongly suggest you include a scanner and magnetic stripe for credit cards on your requirement list. Ease of use, speed and data security make both of these items a must.

Mobile Software

The second part of any mobile solution is software. Mobile applications can include mobile POS tickets, physical inventory, transfers, receiving, price checking and more. Many of the most popular POS software packages have third-party applications that have addressed mobile computing. Companies like 2B Solutions have written full-featured, third-party applications for CounterPoint and Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Likewise, RMS also has a third-party mobile application available for its product.

Radiant Retail (makers of CounterPoint) has decided to address the situation directly. In the third quarter of 2011, Radiant plans to release CPMobile, which will have the ability to do POS, inventory, and gift registries – all targeted to run on iPod touch and iPhone devices. The POS functionality will be delivered in the summer 2011, and will run over Wi-Fi in the store, or over 3G on an iPhone if you are away from the store.

Intuit, the makers of QuickBooks POS, has taken another approach. Utilizing its credit card processing branch (Intuit Payment Solutions), Intuit offers GoPayments, which allows its customers to process a credit card with a cell phone. After the charge is processed, the order can be downloaded into QuickBooks Financial for a complete recording of the sale and inventory movement. Although GoPayments is limited to a direct interface with QuickBooks, it can also be used as a standalone application.

One note: You might think that with all the headaches regarding credit card compliance, processing a credit card on the mobile device is fraught with security issues. In fact, mobile processing is as secure as terminal processing (assuming you are using a secure processor and following all the PCI rules). Certainly, one of the “best practices” is to provide your clerks, who process the mobile tickets, with a magnetic swipe for customers’ credit cards.

The ever-changing landscape of retail requires that savvy retailers be willing to make adjustments to fit their customers’ needs quickly. Mobile computing may be a newer technology feature, but there is little doubt that, just like credit card processing and POS systems, this new feature is not going away. Will everyone do it? Probably not, but this is a perfect solution for many garden centers and a welcome addition for their customers.

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