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The app economy powering small business

Tablet PC with cloud of application icons flying arround

There is a huge disruption coming in retail over the next few years around mobile technology. This isn’t simply using mobile to connect with customers, but technologies that are changing the way retailers can do business. We’re moving away from the days when we could have completely separate and siloed systems for the different areas of our business – like accounting, operations, online and in-store. The future is all about connectivity.

There are so many new developments taking place in retail, for example the increase in online shopping, click and collect, and customers demanding instant and easy access to products, that the siloed approach simply isn’t the best way to run a business anymore. Customers don’t see any difference between your online presence and your physical store. They expect the same level of service, the same brand feel, and the same shopping experience across every channel. So it’s important that every touchpoint, from sales to inventory tracking, loyalty programs and promotions, are completely in sync.

The growing app ecosystem

It’s now incredibly easy to achieve this kind of connectivity in your business, due to the rise of new cloud technologies. Cloud allows retailers to essentially build their own bespoke enterprise toolkit, by selecting from an ecosystem of affordable, world-class apps that integrate with each other. And these tools can then all be managed from an iPad or mobile device.

Soon, we can expect to see more and more retailers running their business entirely on apps. Mobile is becoming such an important part of the business landscape that Apple is ramping up its work in this space. Recently, Vend announced that it is one of a select number of mobile app developers working with Apple to fully integrate business tools on the iPad, alongside other companies like Xero for accounting and Deputy for employee scheduling and timesheets. Business app companies are working together, to provide complementary cloud and mobile software to retailers as part of a world-leading app ecosystem.

Uptake by local retailers

Independent retailers and pop-up shops, which aren’t held back by legacy systems, are already using this app ecosystem to better manage their business. For example fashion boutique Slate Melbourne uses Vend’s POS system to take sales in their Richmond store, integrated with various other cloud-based technologies in order to streamline the business.

“It took some time to set up the online store and to get this right – making sure we had all the product information correct and great pictures of our stock. But integrating the software wasn’t nearly as hard,” says owner and manager Ellie Weekley. “Vend easily plugged into Xero for accounting, PayPal for online purchases, and Shopify for the online store. We even use cloud storage services such as Dropbox to share files, photos, and collaborate together.”

“It’s been really key for our business. We have an employee who manages the online store entirely from home. With direct access to the POS, she can check products and pricing to make sure they’re consistent with the physical store. And the best thing about connecting our POS to the online store is the unified stock reporting. If a customer buys a product off our website, I can see that item be removed from our inventory in real time,” she says.

Apps to run your business

There are many apps out there that could significantly benefit your retail business, but here are a few good places to start:

Payments – Solutions such as Tyro Payments have NFC-enabled terminals that take contactless payments, meaning customers don’t have to fumble with cash or credit cards. These types of devices are easily integrated with other new payments technologies, so by using them you can ensure your business is ready for services such as Apple Pay and Google Wallet when they arrive in Australia.

Accounting – Using an online accounting tool such as Xero is an easy way to manage cash flow from the office or via a mobile device. And it significantly reduces the amount of time you need to spend reconciling sales and bookkeeping. Systems can be configured to send alerts when outgoing payments are due, automatically invoice customers and check if payments have been made.

Ecommerce – Systems like Vend Ecommerce and Rocketspark can link to your in-store POS, which prevents you from making a ‘double-sell’, where you accidentally sell the last of a product to two customers at once because your inventories are not in sync. It also means your products, customer details and special offers can be linked up across all your selling channels – ensuring your customers then receive the same seamless, positive experience with you no matter what channel they’re on.

Loyalty – Physical loyalty cards are hassle to carry and they add time and effort to the checkout process. There are now mobile- or POS-based loyalty programs that let you track rewards and offer perks, no cards required, such as Vend’s built-in loyalty program. And there are specialist platforms like Collect, which connects retailers directly with their customers via their smartphone. Through this, you can issue personalised offers and run analytics that give you more insight into your customers.

About the Author:

Written by Jordan King, Director of Business Development, APAC, Vend