The Evolution from the Cash Register to the Omnichannel POS

The invention of the cash register in the late 1800s changed the way businesses interact with consumers. For one century, the cash register was a simple and powerful solution that provided enough functionality to keep organizations afloat. Over the years, cash registers evolved into complete Point Of Sale systems with complete back office features including accounting, inventory, procurement, vendor management and even logistics. This made a lot of sense before the digital age, where retail operators relied solely on their brick and mortar stores to generate revenue.

With the surge in the last two decades of online and mobile commerce, some have speculated that brick-and-mortar retail was going the way of the dodo. Spectacular collapses of flagship global retailers fueled speculation that online interactions would soon mostly replace the in-store shopping experiences. But rumours of the extinction of retail have been, to paraphrase Mark Twain, greatly exaggerated. On the contrary: from 7-11s to Zara to Apple Stores, retailers are applying smart software to create a unified branded customer experience by integrating all marketing and sales channels. They are leveraging mobile, social media and web presence to drive shoppers into stores. They are encouraging in-store shoppers to stay in touch and shop via online channels.

What we want to do here is to approach the issue of integrating retail systems both in their physical and online incarnations, considering best practices for creating a seamless and highly efficient solution for creating a lean, mean multi-channel operation, bridging the front and back ends of retail, from a mom-and-pop shop to a multi-national, multi-currency, multi-site chain. We will look at what works and what doesn’t, trying to identify practical steps for building in a scalable and future-proof manner.

Point of Sale systems are, true to their name, taking a point position in this neo-brick paradigm, leading the way as the primary means for bridging between physical and online presence and dataflow, becoming increasing relevant to both the consumer’s experience and the business’ interactions with the consumer. A key takeaway is to recognise that any channel can be a point of sale, and to leave no buying opportunity unexploited. However, the growing relevance of POS comes with its own risks, as reflected in what we might described as an overreach by some vendors to retrofit back-end functionality to what is, at least by definition, a front-end, customer-facing set of functions.

On the eCommerce side, Magento, Big Commerce, Shopify and other eCommerce platforms have enabled retailers of all sizes to quickly sell their products online. However, these engines typically work in isolation of all other consumer channels, operating on their own product and consumer databases. Why would a retailer want a source of data other than their ERP – unless of course they had no ERP and didn’t want to pay the price? And speaking of paying the price: often POS systems will take a hefty cut in transaction fees, cutting deep into the retailer’s margins. And the need to create a custom integration each time a POS needs to connect with an ERP or other external system, the costs mount, and not just on a one-time basis! Working with commission-taking third-parties is a kind of death by a hundred cuts!

Many providers loosely call their POS systems “omnichannel”. But what is really an omnichannel POS ? Clearly, one that is natively and by design integrated with all other consumer channels, back office operations, and is also designed to integrate with any internal or external service. In ZOKU’s architecture, ZOKU’s intelligent client runs on the POS device, ZOKU Sync, a cloud based integration layer integrates the POS client in real time with EPR and CRM systems, consumer channels and essentially any service such as Marketplaces, 3PLs, Delivery Services and Payment Processors.

Instead of “one size to fit all”, a more cost-effective solution to supporting the retail ecosphere should be “right-sized to fit all”. At least one multi-channel integration solution is taking this approach. Zoku is a new provider that has built its lightweight, relatively low-cost, cloud solution on a “lean, mean, flexible” architecture. Hardware agnostic and connecting disparate systems via modular API connectors, the Zoku approach is to adapt its solution to where each retail operation is right now.

Instead of forcing retail customers to replace all its system with something monolithic and monstrous, Zoku gets out of the way of the core software components. It focuses on streamlining workflow, letting data stream seamlessly from one system to the next, bridging between front and back ends. What that means in practice is that changes at one point in the overall ecommerce system can ripple through automatically to every other point, automatically synching data and unifying flows.

Ultimately, the advantages of Zoku’s agile, value-based approach to omni-channel retail integration tends to translate into much faster ROI. There is both a lower upfront cost and faster realisation of operational-savings, especially relative to solutions requiring expensive, time-consuming, and risky upgrades or replacements of back-end legacy systems.

The Zoku multi-channel Commerce suite API has real-time integration connectors with ERPs like NetSuite as well as the most widely used eCommerce engines. It also has the smarts to cache ERP data to ensure your ecommerce site is not hostage to your backend. Especially with legacy systems, there is downtime – scheduled and unscheduled – that can’t be allowed to interfere with a seamless and continuous customer experience 24/7.

Zoku enables you to have customised and flexible designs for your UI, both online and at the POS. You want a consistent look and feel across all consumer channels, with fully connected workflow: POS, web stores (such as your Amazon shop) mobile apps, ecommerce; social media pages and more. The API layer intelligently manages the integration of data flow system-wide.

This approach handles the complexity of disparate commerce systems, keeps pace with change, and delivers that elevated and branded customer experience in harmonious, seamless, and powerful ways. The system also lets you leverage AI and automation to take full advantage of business intelligence in a practical way without breaking your budget or becoming dependent on any one hardware or software supplier. The key is to stay lean and agile – simple, modern and powerful – while hooking all your systems together and future-proofing your business.

This lightweight and relatively lower-price option focuses on helping retailers up their commerce game across front and back-end system, in both online and in-store channels:

1. Reach customers across multiple channels seamlessly, owning channels and data
2. Optimise operational excellence by leveraging a fully integrated infrastructure
3. Future-proof and innovate by integrating internal and external data sources via API
4. Harnessing analytics, visualisation, and BI recommendations to improve services

The Zoku Omnichannel Point of Sale for Netsuite has enabled several RetailScience Articles, Distribution and Food & Beverage operators transform their business and is the only Point Of Sale System that has been approved by Oracle NetSuite as a Built For NetSuite (BFN) certified application. See also Zoku’s Netsuite for retail business application.

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