Best Practice Steps to Retail Software Selection

Erply Retail Software CEO Kris Hiiemaa

Retail Software Selection Process

Finding perfect retail management software can be a tiresome process. You are buying a software environment to build your business on. This is not something to take lightly, because you will likely be using it for years.

Luckily, many people have gone through the process. Their experiences are summed up in a 7-point check-list of facts that help to tackle misconceptions you should not fall for.

Retail Management Solutions are Different

Many adopt a view that because a retail solution was developed by a leading software manufacturer, it will obviously contain all features that a retail business needs. This belief is often strengthened during software selection demonstrations. Also, software appears similar in look, feel and cost. Why is it then that some retailers implement software projects successfully, while others mess up?

It all starts with your enterprise. The clearer view you have of what you need for now and want for future, the better. In general, there are three types of software out there:

– Vertical solutions that are made specifically for your company or industry, to take care of all aspects of the business. While the very personal approach seems to sound good, the vendor might not be able to upgrade the systems quickly enough, resulting in stagnant software.

– Horizontal solutions are “one-size-fits-all” software tools that work right out of the box. You might, though, have to adjust your workflow to the software.

– Hybrid solutions that use ready-made software modules, either tailoring these for your needs or even mixing solutions from several vendors. A single partner responsible for implementation is an absolute must.

The truth is, all software companies, even the biggest ones, have more experiences in particular fields. This does not mean that a software solution that is used in one industry cannot be used in another one. Just be certain that the software vendor is ready to adapt it if necessary.

Retail Software is a Management Decision

“The management is too busy to come to the meeting”. This phrase, uttered by the IT department, heralds a grave mistake in a software selection process. Retail software (ERP, POS, CRM, PIM) initiatives are business projects, supported by IT, not the other way around.

It’s a bad idea to pressure IT to run the selection process alone. Why? Because IT tends to filter business requirements, i.e. the backbone of successful software selection, through their limited understanding of the organization’s business processes, as well as their own technology bias.

All too frequently this leads to an all-inclusive feature wish-list in an attempt not to leave anything out. Technological compatibility and process compliance should not become more important than business benefits and client interactions.

Business system implementation projects are the brain surgeries of the technology world.

Imagine needing surgery and telling your doctor to hurry up because you have another meeting to attend. Or him, delegating the surgery to a nurse, because he’s too busy with other concerns.

The average business software implementation lifecycle is 6-8 years. Investing the time, energy and resources necessary to construct an appropriate foundation and business process framework, one that envisages both current and future requirements, will pay significant dividends in the long run.

Try the Software. A Demo Is Good but Not Enough

Don’t judge a book by its cover, as they say. The graphical user interface is an inferior factor. There are much more important things to consider: like system architecture, offline and online accessibility, speed, set of features. By the way, in most cases the user interface can be upgraded to meet your style and preferences.

When you see a demo, find out if it’s a demo setup you are seeing, or an actual working system. Is the demo computer more powerful than the hardware your employees will be using? Is the internet connection similar? Are you prepared to upgrade your hardware, if necessary?

With demos, make it hands-on. Ask one of your front desk employees for an opinion. Your IT guy probably knows how to handle any software, but all your employees might not be so computer literate. The interface must be as intuitive as possible, as this saves your business countless working hours.

The hands-on demo was good? Now it’s time for a trial run, preferably in several devices and real working conditions. Try to input or export data to see how the system handles the data flow.

Actually, we even suggest starting from the trial version; many software vendors offer it without a demonstration run. Look and feel are not so important; a great software tool is designed for heavy use and scalability; your employees will get used to it quickly, and it improves their workflow.

6 Questions to Ask During a Retail Software Demo

    1. Is your retail software system hosted in the cloud with the ability to work in an on-line or off-line mode with remote access capabilities?
    2. What type of hardware does your system support (i.e. cash register, scanners, printers, etc.)?
    3. Is the solution hardware agnostic?
    4. Please describe your approach for data back-ups/recovery.
    5. Please describe your technical environment and your approach to security.
    6. Is training included?

The Cheapest Is Not the Best… Nor the Cheapest

Returning to the medical metaphor, your heart and brain are the most vital organs in your body. If you need a surgery on one of them, would you interview three doctors and then select the least expensive? Of course you wouldn’t. Business software and process automation are critical to organizational productivity, capacity, workflow, throughput, effectiveness and success.

When evaluating software, do not limit your calculations to immediate costs. Take into account the cost cuts and productivity enhancements that the software has to offer. Find out how long is the software product’s lifecycle, and how much do upgrades cost. Will the solution you would get be up-to-date and give you competitive advantage? Does the vendor have good references?

Remember that low prices come with thick contracts. Fixed bids hide inflated contingency funds and come with a promise of future change orders and inevitable conflict.

Retail Software Vendor Is Your Partner

Some companies are used to an outdated belief that minimal information should leave the house. This is partly for business security, but mostly reflect an assumption that it is possible to get better pricing, if the size of operations is kept in secret.

The truth is that contemporary business environment has so much information floating around that it is not possible to hide how your main operations are organized. If your competitor wants to know, they know already. Provide your possible software partners with sufficient information, so they can offer you the best suited solution they have.

Also, it does not pay off to give the impression that the scope of services needed is thinner than it is. Most of the retail software provides favorable conditions to bigger clients, so you will get a better deal the larger the operations are.

Adopting a win/lose negotiation strategy, denying requests for critical project information like business drivers and budget expectations, and not providing access to the leadership team leads to increased project and financial risk. A retail software vendor is your partner who contributes to the backbone processes of your company. The idea of cooperation is growth and prosperity for both parties, so that both the vendor and the software buyer can achieve the best results in their scope of conduct.


About the author
Kristjan Hiiemaa
Entrepreneur building better POS and cloud-based retail management suite . Product guy. CEO & Founder of Erply.