On a recent date night my wife and I went for a rare shopping trip to the mall without our kids. For those of you without kids, it is hard to convey the excitement we felt when we were able browse unhurried by pleas to go to Build-A-Bear, the food court, or to ride the carousel. Determined to enjoy this freedom to its fullest, we went to the premium mall in our area, a place where (for us) browsing trumps purchasing.
The only "must-have" item we were looking for that evening was a pair of maternity jeans for my wife who is expecting in August. We went into a national, high-end maternity store, and quickly found several pairs to her liking. After 30 minutes of trying them on (guys, you feeling my pain?), my wife settled on a pair. As we proceeded to the POS, we were informed by the clerk that their "computers were down".
She told us that they could not process debit cards, credit cards or checks. If we wanted to make a purchase, we would need to pay in exact change, or they would write our card number down for later authorization. She also let us know that this was the fifth day without POS capabilities! For five days this store had lost countless sales due to POS hardware failure. The home office had sent new computers that arrived on Wednesday, but they were unable to connect to the internet. They were preparing to send the replacements back and a technician was expected to arrive the following Monday. At best 7 days! 7 DAYS of down time.
I was simply staggered at the inefficiency and lack of support for this store for something so critical to their survival. If retailers expect their associates to execute at the store level, then the most basic store function (receiving payment) cannot be allowed to suffer long-term failure.
We are often asked why certain legacy systems last longer than their ideal POS life. And the answers we give can be used as a lesson not only for POS sales, but so many other business verticals. The legacy systems are still there because they work. It's that simple. Ice cream melts if you don't ring it up.
Many retailers do not upgrade their POS because they turn on their current systems and they just work. They call it dial-tone reliability. Changes, updates, new functionalities, CRM, training on demand, cross channel integration & all those are great features as long as they do not interfere with the basics of being able to ring up sales via all tender types.
Come to think of it, seems that if our brethren in the car and banking industry used this same advice of not ignoring the basics, many of the problems they are facing as industries and our economy as a whole could have been avoided.
Being the resourceful guy that I am, we did leave with a pair of jeans, but I wonder how many people left empty-handed? And I wonder if that retailer will still be in business by the end of 2009. Here's hoping this was a one store problem and not something more systematic.