The Power of POSitive Thinking

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Integrating your point-of-sale register with a back-office accounting package is all about making better business decisions.

By Richard McCausland

Imagine entering a new branch location for a local retail chain that you frequent elsewhere. You find whatever you came in for, buy it with a credit card, and while glancing at the receipt, notice it says, “Thanks for shopping at SuperStore, Roger” or “We appreciate your business, Patricia.” There’s even a coupon for use toward a future purchase.

Partner Insights

How’s that for customer satisfaction? Increasingly, stores in the middle market are recognizing that automated Point-of-Sale functionality, especially when integrated with the back-office accounting, not only helps them to run their businesses more profitably, it also helps them to hold on to their best customers.

“Our bread-and-butter is the one-location retailer,” says Leslie Capachietti, a principal with Automated Financial Services in Winchester, Mass., who specializes in QuickBooks retail installs. The POS package is “really catching on” among independent stores, she notes.

It’s not hard to figure out why. Most of these independents had been using a cash register up front and QuickBooks in the back office, Capachietti explains. At the end of each day, they had to tally up their sales and close out their credit card accounts, and then re-enter this data into QuickBooks. Understandably, “Most people just don’t want to deal with all that double entry,” she says.

No less than the mega-retail chains like Wal-Mart, small and mid-sized retailers can benefit from systems integration, contends BusinessVision president Murray Aston. Linking POS to Sales Analysis, for instance, allows management to parse results by customer, product, and location; to facilitate mail merges for marketing purposes; to track warranties; to initiate customer follow-up with associated product offerings; and to notify customers in the event of a product recall. POS-GL integration means that there is readily accessible transaction detail for product line analysis, cost-of-goods analysis, and sales tax reporting. Moreover, “During an audit, this information is essential,” says Aston.

Acme POS, developed by Savage, Minn.-based Total BusinessWare, integrates with the TurningPoint accounting package from Red Wing Software. This kind of linkage allows the store owner to realize a “substantial” return on investment, says Total BusinessWare president Bob Brink. For instance, customer charges and “paid on accounts,” as well as cash transactions, are immediately reflected in the TurningPoint AR module. Similarly, “Smart postings to the GL eliminate the detail work many retailers dread like handling manufacturer coupons, cash over and short, and reconciling credit card receivables,” he notes.

Brink continues, “We believe the old adage that ‘60 percent of your profit comes from 30 percent of your customers.’ Acme and TurningPoint provide excellent reports that can help the retailer find their 30 percent.” He cites the system’s Customer Sales Analysis reports, which include options to print top customers by sales or margin. Armed with this data, the retailer can produce mailing labels for targeted marketing campaigns.

In recent years, most major middle-market accounting software publishers have stepped up their retail efforts by developing POS packages, bringing the functionality in-house through acquisition, or partnering with independent software vendors. Microsoft Business Solutions is making a major push with its Retail Management System. Intuit has brought out a variety of QuickBooks Retail (accounting) and QuickBooks POS editions. Epicor went the purchase route, buying a suite of food service-specific packages from reseller partner CompuNet eBusiness Group.

And the competition is still growing. American Express Tax and Business Services, headquartered in New York, plans to release an SAP Business One - American Express Edition for the general-purpose retail market. Reportedly, it will incorporate Fusion Retail Solution, although company officials are providing few details before the product’s official launch.

Charles Riess, managing director for consulting and information services at the AmEx unit, says, “We’re taking a supply-chain approach to the marketplace.” The company already sells an SAP/AmEx Edition geared to wholesale distributors that includes credit card authorization, sales and use tax calculation, document management, and EDI. “We believe retail is a natural extension of that foundation,” especially for distributors that have a retail site or sell to retailers, explains Riess. Down the road, “we’re absolutely planning to have an eStore component” as well, he adds.

All this rivalry means more attractive price points for small and medium-sized shops. QuickBooks Premier Retail Edition starts at $500 for a new user, while QuickBooks POS starts at $800 for Basic 3.0. (Upgrade discounts are available.) Microsoft’s RMS has a suggested retail price of $1,290 for a single-lane store.

As for the browser-based Accpac POS, it’s “extremely cost effective and scalable,” says Craig Downing, vice president of product management for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac. The price is $2,000 for the server, plus $1,000 per additional register. A serial version is $3,000, plus $1,500 for each additional register. Either version can function offline if the network connection is lost, and can integrate with Accpac’s eTransact Web-store solution.

Whatever the price, automated POS is becoming ubiquitous in the middle market. “By and large, it’s replacing the cash register,” says Capachietti.

An ROI Perspective
Fargo, N.D.-based Microsoft Business Solutions partly relies on independent software vendors to provide integrated retail functionality to its several accounting software editions. However, MBS also targets small and mid-sized retailers with its own Retail Management System, a POS solution for customer tracking and inventory management.

Using RMS, “Retailers with even a single store location will benefit considerably from an ROI perspective,” contends Jeff Riley, manager of retail solutions. He notes, for example, that RMS can generate seasonality reports to allow a store owner to better manage inventory levels, or it can identify a loyal shopper who is eligible for on-account billing, improving customer satisfaction.

“Where RMS stands out from the pack,” in Riley’s view, is in the accessibility of numerous “hooks” that allow it to be customized or extended into specific retail niches. A case in point: the WineClub Manager developed by Napa, Calif.-based Elypsis. An RMS add-on, it can handle credit card processing, calculate sales tax and shipping rates, monitor club membership data, and facilitate mail merges with Microsoft Office. “It interfaces with several accounting packages out of the box,” including QuickBooks and Peachtree, according to Martin Olsen, director of retail software solutions.
Elypsis also markets Navision e-Winery, which provides point-of-sale integration with RMS, notes Olsen. Features include viticulture and vineyard management, as well as bulk wine costing and tracking.

To differentiate themselves, several POS packages promote their niche-market versatility. For example, because Acme POS from Total BusinessWare employs granular logic, it can support industry-specific hardware such as touch screens (at ticket-dispensing kiosks), scales (supermarkets), and fuel pumps (gas stations). Upcoming enhancements include the ability to track rentals. Plans also are under way to release a Web store-friendly version of the product, eAcme, built on .Net and for which source code will be available.

Similarly, Fusion Retail Solution sports all kinds of sector-specific features, such as serial number tracking for rental shops, or configuration capabilities needed by computer dealers and furniture stores. Software development partners are being recruited to focus on additional niches. Already, for businesses that desire an “e-tailing” presence, there is Fusion E-Commerce, which allows them to set up a Web store that can draw on the inventory, customer, and pricing data stored in the accounting system.

More generally, Fusion reports can show how much product is in stock, the top-moving items, and profit levels. Management can gain valuable insight into customers’ purchasing habits, and translate those findings into effective marketing campaigns. Entry-level pricing for the Standard Edition comes in at just under $1,000 per register.

Employing an Accounting System Interface, Fusion Retail can currently integrate with Epicor Enterprise, Exact Software/Macola, SAP Business One, and Best Software’s MAS 90/200/500 and Platinum for Windows. This diversity means that, in many instances, a retailer doesn’t have to resort to “integration by Band-Aid” when it wants to upgrade its accounting software or even switch vendors. “All they have to do is replace the integration layer” when, say, they move from PFW to MAS 500. “That’s a compelling message,” says Tomaso K’nipper, Fusion’s executive vice president for field operations.

No ‘Kludgey’ Imports/Exports
Point of Sale Professional from HighTower, a Best Software reseller and master programmer, integrates with the MAS 90/200 AR, GL, SO, and Inventory Management modules. Single-register pricing is $2,995 ($149 for each additional register). Plans call for MAS 500 integration as well, according to Brian Dunn, sales and marketing vice president for the Lincolnwood, Ill.-based firm.

POS/accounting integration is invaluable to retailers, not least for reducing duplicative data entry and the “inevitable” errors that result, says Dunn. For example, if a POS Professional user creates a new customer or changes an address or adds a credit card number, that information is automatically available in AR. There’s also no need for “kludgey” data imports/exports since the POS and MAS 90/200 accounting packages share the same Daily Register Updates and Period End processes.

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