February 8, 2019 Last updated February 23rd, 2019 139 Reads share

How Independent Retailers Are Becoming More Like Startups

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Today, most new technology companies achieve success by following a flexible, scalable Lean Startup model. They don’t invest too heavily in technology or staff until they have evidence that they’re gaining traction, and they go to market with a “minimum viable product” before adding on the bells and whistles that their customers are asking for.

My company, Instore, provides a mobile point of sale solution to restaurants, cafes, and small retail businesses. While we’re a young software company in San Francisco, our customers are brick-and-mortar, traditional businesses—yet we see them adopting many Lean Startup principles.

Here’s the modern independent retailer’s wish list, based on what we’ve seen:

  • They want the capability to manage their business from anywhere.

Sure, store owners spend plenty of time on-site—but when they’ve been on the floor all day, they don’t want to spend their nights crunching numbers in a back office. They want to use management and point of sale tools to analyze data and set up schedules and tasks on the go, whether they’re at their kids’ soccer games or on one of those rare, but well-deserved, vacations. This tool is also valuable for multi-location businesses, allowing for management of one location from another.

  • They want to accept multiple payment options.

Most of our customers prefer cash over any other form of payment, but that’s getting harder to come by 2 out of every 5 consumers carry less than $20 with them on a given day, according to Bankrate. While credit cards have been the norm for a long time, retailers are eager to explore other options that don’t take such a steep cut out of their profits, such as Dwolla and Bitcoin, and to easily accept gift cards.

  • They want to take friction out of the sales process.

Most retail stores still rely on check-out lines, and restaurant servers need to take customers’ credit cards to a register and then come back with a receipt. We’ve talked with many retailers who want the ability to cash-out their customers anywhere in the store. They want to sell a customer a piece of jewelry she’s examining right next to the display (a la the Apple Store), rather than forcing her to locate and wait in a check-out line; or cash-out diners instantly at their tables. This streamlined checkout system enhances the user experience for customers while increasing the business’ overall efficiency. (And, in the case of a retailer, it can help close a sale that may otherwise fall through due to a long check-out line.)

  • They want to consolidate operations into a single technology platform.

Rather than relying on dozens of spreadsheets and poorly integrated software programs, retailers and restaurateurs want the ability to manage their various needs from a single platform that encompasses everything from scheduling to bookkeeping to customer management to loyalty programs, along with the traditional point of sale features. They know that modern software can help them capture large amounts of data relating to their business, and want a system that helps them analyze and make sense of that data for better business forecasts and improved marketing efforts.

  • They want the flexibility to adapt easily to meet changing demands.

In the past, retailers and restaurant owners would invest thousands of dollars in a bulky point of sale system. Now, many of them are making the move to cloud-based, mobile-native software solutions that are fully supported. These next-generation systems integrate new technologies regularly with ease, rather than getting stuck with outdated technology that requires ongoing paid support and maintenance.

  • They want easy, integrated marketing options.

Integration of sales trends and marketing used to require complicated tracking systems. Whether a business is considering Tuesday burger sales or Sunday morning cappuccino sizes, the data is easily available and displayed in a way that marketing can use and react to. By moving to an mPOS system, businesses can quickly see what’s not selling and when they are slow, then promote these items and times in creative ways. Promotions can be created quickly and performance tracked easily. Free social media plugins make getting the word out quick and simple, even for those new to the game.

  • They want to increase their customer retention rates

Returning customers are one of the most valuable assets a brick and mortar business can have. When making the move to an mPOS system, businesses have data on their side when working to bring consumers back to the establishment. Customer tracking allows business owners to know something about nearly every customer who walks into the store, allowing for complete customization and brand loyalty. Rewarding customers for how much they spend, magically and painlessly without slowing the checkout line, is a valuable customer service technique. A cloud-based reward system allows the business to reward the customer and the customer to check the balance of his or her rewards in real time. When purchasing and paying with gift cards, the giver and recipient are in and out, leaving with a positive feeling about the business. Customer, gift and rewards data can easily be shared across multiple locations to increase customer satisfaction and repeat visits.

  • They want to optimize their staff performance without micromanaging

Managing employees is critical to success, but can also be a headache. mPOS labor management tools automate clock-ins and clock-outs with fewer mistakes and greater accuracy — no more backtracking to discover when an employee was on the clock. Tracking labor and balancing it against the percentage of sales ensures that you are able to recognize and reward your most productive employees, as well as staff properly and maximize profits. Identify errors before they become problems.

The face of the modern consumer is changing, and the modern restaurant must learn to adapt or risk losing customers to businesses that have focused on adapting and innovating in response to changing customer needs. While brick-and-mortar retailers and restaurants seem far removed from the slick tech startup scene on the surface, their needs and desires have a lot in common—and moving towards a startup-inspired management strategy will help them adapt and thrive in the coming years as their old-school competitors close down.

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Matt Niehaus

Matt Niehaus

Matt Niehaus is the CEO of Instore, a merchant management platform for restaurants and other retail businesses. He previously was a partner at Battery Ventures and at J.P. Morgan Capital. He offers frequent advice for retail owners on Instore’s blog, and has written about entrepreneurship for VentureBeat, KillerStartups, and other sites.

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