Retail technology has come a long way in recent years. We asked two specialist EPOS suppliers to explain their particular strengths.
ASIF Ashraf is an award-winning Scottish retailer who, with his business partner Shahid Farooq, runs the Lanarkshire-based growing independent c-store and supermarket chain Smartways.
He’s also trained in digital technology and the partners have built up an EPOS company with a difference, where the systems have been designed by and for retailers.
Mhouse Solutions had its beginnings back in 2009 when Asif had built his then collection of symbol stores to around four or five units.
He was frustrated with the information technology available to him. However, he’d been a programmer and was comfortable with technology. He built his first system as a favour for a friend – something he could use, hopefully easily, in his store.
“He used it for two or three months with no problems,” he said.
“Then he can back to me with feedback. He asked if I could add something to the package, if I could tweak something else.”
To cut a long story short he realised there was a need to be met, called in a former IT colleague to help, and began work on a system that was developed from the ground up from a retailer’s point of view.
Now Mhouse solutions has systems in 170 -180 stores, mostly in central Scotland but branching out into other parts of the country too.
Asif acts as project manager working with 12 programmers, who are based in India, to develop and maintain a system that fits in with almost all of the major symbol groups and wholesalers in Scotland and is designed to be very easy to use. It also comes with full installation, training and back-up support, headed up by director of support, Faisal Suttar, including multilingual online training and support available in English, Punjabi, Urdu and Hindi.
“We tailor support to each retailer,” he said. “Phase one is the basic training for retailer and staff and we’ll have someone there for one or two days for that.”
That original phase will see the team create a comprehensive, bespoke database of all the items in an individual store’s stock, designed to give them complete control over pricing and real power to prevent wastage.
Phase two is effective ordering and phase three covers full stock control and more.
The retailer decides how far he or she wants to take it. But at every level the system is, says Asif, designed for maximum usability. For example, simple, easy to understand reports on footfall, turnover and profit are generated and emailed to the operator automatically.
He reckons it’s very competitively priced too. The firm will work to costs dictated by the retailer’s budget but it’s possible to have EPOS for £15 a week, he said.
Asif and Shahid’s own Smartways chain, now standing at 10 stores with two more Lanarkshire outlets to be added soon, runs on the system and takes full advantage of all its automation to streamline the business’s administration.
And Asif sees particular strength in the firm’s continuing commitment to feedback and constant development.
“We get a lot of customer feedback. The customers have a lot of good ideas,” he said.
l Relevance, ease of use and value are key parts of the package put forward by specialist retail technology firm Reposs.
The company’s system covers all of the normal functions of c-store operations, explained Reposs’s Richard Holder. But it really comes into its own in the way it handles news and magazines business, and in the way the system can be very economically financed by low weekly payments that are paid as part of a store’s news bill.
News and magazines is a part of retail that’s becoming increasingly important to the business of many independent stores, especially those facing competition from new Tesco Express or Sainsbury’s Local outlets, Richard argued.
The Reposs system has a couple of packages. It can include all hardware and software and peripherals, and an upgrade that adds news and home delivery functionality as standard. And in Scotland many stores pay for the system, which comes with free installation, maintenance and support, over two years as part of their Menzies news bill, after which the system is the retailer’s.
It’s often also possible to install a virtual system onto a retailer’s existing hardware if that’s preferred.
Prices start at £17.65 plus VAT per week and Richard reckons that’s often better than systems provided by suppliers which are listed as free but can have charges for maintenance, bolt-ons and upgrades.
The firm has sales technicians who all have a technical background and will deal with the customer from the original demonstration, through installation, to training and support.
“For the retailer that’s a very good thing,” he said.
“You get the right advice from the start, we’re not just selling things. And you get continuity all the way through.”