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Dynamics AX 2012 CU8 at NRF– why Dynamics Retail mPOS is changing the in-store retail experience

Last week the best and brightest of the Retail world gathered at the National Retail Federation show (NRF) in New York.  This was my 10th NRF show and my 3rd as a Microsoft employee.  The Microsoft booth was hopping for all 3 expo days and I was right in the middle of it all, demonstrating the Dynamics AX Retail product to many prominent retail organizations.

As you may know, just this past December we released our RTM version of our Modern POS solution (known as mPOS).   At NRF we were able to really showcase this new product and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.  I wanted to use this blog post to point out my top 5 reasons why I believe that deploying the Dynamics AX mPOS solution will allow retailers to really “change the game” when it comes to in-store systems.

1.   Engaging with your customers when they arrive, not when they check out

As shoppers, we’ve all experienced “traditional” retail.  You walk in a store, perhaps you are greeted with a very general “can I help you” greeting ….but the sales associate has no idea who you are in most cases (unless you frequent the store quite often).  If you are greeted, you may decide to ask for help, or you may decide not to bother since you don’t think they will know enough about what you are looking for to truly be a help to you.  If you do engage, often you find that the Sales Associate is trying to sell you things you don’t want.  Sometimes you even have to politely ask to be left alone (because it becomes apparent that the Associate has no idea of your actual tastes or preferences).   Of course, many retailers are not even greeting you at the door, you are left on your own to roam the shop and fill your basket and your first interaction with a store employee may not be until you reach the checkout counter to pay for your purchases.

If you are a retailer, your goal is to engage the customer, keep them interested and keep them buying.  If you never make contact with the customer until they are checking out, it’s pretty much impossible to capture their interest at the checkout counter. In most cases, your customer is already tired and ready to leave, they aren’t interested in your help or sales suggestions now. The customer may have even been standing in a long line and just wants to pay and go.  The checkout time at the traditional cash wrap is really one of the worst times to have a first identification/interaction with your customer.  In addition, often times the customer isn’t ever truly identified at the store.  If they are identified, it typically is not until they provide their loyalty card or other identification.  Again, this is way too late in the process for your Sales Associate to finally know the customer and interact at the checkout counter.

The key is knowing who your customer is when they ENTER the store!  This is where mPOS can be a game changer.  By deploying the mPOS on mobile devices such as tablets or smartphones, your Sales Associates are now empowered with the data they need to really engage with the customer. They can use the mPOS to look up the customer data by scanning the customer’s card or searching for the customer at the time they greet them at the door or on the sales floor.

Not to mention that you can extend the mPOS to allow things like RFID tags in loyalty cards or other technology to identify customers and bring up their data in the mPOS.  Unless this is a brand new customer, your Sales Associate will now have a wealth of useful information at their fingertips to help direct the customer to the products that make the most sense.

These screen shot on the left gives you an idea of the type of information we can put forward from AX or other CRM systems (with integration) to empower your Sales Associates. Knowing information about the customer such
as their recent purchases (not just from your store, but from any of your sales channels), wish list items (from your ecommerce site or mobile application), and even data like their loyalty points balance (“did you know you have enough points to get $10 off your purchase today?”) are all things that can totally change the conversation. Now the customer doesn’t feel your Sales Associate is just being pushy – this Sales Associate actually knows who you are!   If you are a fashion retailer, incorporating data on this screen like the customer’s size or color preferences, or even information about their family members and birth dates can all help your Sales Associate to increase basket size (“I noticed your husband’s birthday is in 2 weeks – can I show you some ties that we have on sale?”).

2. Making your Sales Associates as smart as your Customers

One of the things we often hear is that the customer knows more about the products than the Sales Associates do in the store. Customers have so much information at their fingertips that often-times the Sales Associate can’t really impress the customer with information that they don’t already know.  By the time the customer arrives in your store, they have probably already researched online and may even continue the research process in-store with their smartphones. Sales Associates typically don’t have the same access to the content, or if they do it requires them to leave the customer’s side to go to a fixed computer or perhaps use their personal smartphones to try to keep up with the customer’s knowledge.

This brings me to the second reason as to why using the Dynamics AX mPOS is empowering for your Sales Associates…product data!!!!  The mPOS allows users to “shop” not only your in-store inventory, but inventory sold in other locations or channels if desired.  The rich content user-interface design allows both the Sales Associate and the customer (while standing next to the associate or by taking hold of the mobile device themselves) to see pictures of products, read marketing copy, review item attributes such as size and color options, or even review more detailed information such as care instructions or item dimensions or weight.   Any of the AX product attributes can be extended to display on this product details screen.

Now your Sales Associate not only has the product information they need in a handy mobile device, but they can also lure the customer away from their own smartphone screens and share the mPOS screens with the customer. Now your Sales Associate is back “in charge” and can get engaged with the customer while providing the information the customer needs.

A really neat feature added to the mPOS allows a side by side comparison of multiple products.  If your customer is undecided, presenting them with this view may just be what they need to help drive them to a final decision.

3.  Mobility, Mobility, Mobility

One of the biggest benefits of the mPOS user interface is that it can be deployed on tablets or smartphones. This relates back to my original point about getting your Sales Associates out on the floor and engaged. Now your associates can be mobile, but are still armed with the information they need to really work with the customers on the sales floor. Remembering that outside of all of this customer and product data, the mPOS is a full POS solution – so if the associate would like to complete the sale and collect payment in the middle of the sales floor, they are able to do that.

New retail server architecture concepts even allow you to take the store anywhere. The mPOS can be deployed on a tablet or smartphone and can leave the confines of your brick and mortar store while connecting to a retail server hosted at a data center or in the cloud. This makes things like a parking lot tent sale or taking your store to a trade show or other event really easy without a lot of complex hardware/technology logistics. Even creating a quick “pop
up” during the holidays is easy to do from a store technology perspective when using our mPOS technology. Added offline support is also available for many devices in those situations where your network connectivity to the retail server may be severed or spotty.

The other neat thing is that we have so many hardware options that allow the mPOS to be used as a mobile device, but also docked and used as a traditional POS device at the cash wrap counter if desired. This Toshiba TCxFlight device was one that we demonstrated at NRF. A very neat device that can pop off the base to be a mobile tablet with a portable MSR and barcode scanner, but can also be docked and hooked into traditional POS hardware for a more standard checkout experience. Dell and HP also make similar devices which really can help the retailer save on hardware expenses (not to mention counter space as the footprint of these new solutions is so much smaller than the traditional POS hardware we used to use!).

4.    Never lose the sale!

Because the Dynamics AX mPOS is powered by the Dynamics AX ERP application, and AX can manage all of your channel inventory, this allows the Sales Associate to view inventory availability in other stores across the chain, or even in other channels (like DC inventory, etc…), there is really no reason to ever lose a sale due to out of stocks.   The Sales Associate now not only has the ability to find the inventory elsewhere, but can then easily transition into setting up a sales transaction that will allow the customer to have the item shipped to them or allow them to pick the item up in another location if they desire.  The Dynamics AX ERP provides the central hub for all sales transactions which allows for a transaction to start in one channel and be completed in another without any complex integrations.  I am always shocked when I am shopping for an item and the Sales Associate simply tells me they don’t have any in stock and they don’t know when more will arrive…. so many retailers do not have the ability to drill into their supply chain or their other inventory sources to “save the sale”.  The functionality provided in the Dynamics AX mPOS really makes this possible.

5.       Multi-Functional Devices

In addition to providing customer information, product information and being a traditional POS checkout device, the mPOS can provide functionality for inventory management tasks and overall store management tasks.

With the proper security, this same application that can be used for sales can also be used to receive inventory or perform a stock count.  In addition, a full suite of reports can easily be accessed from the device to provide managers or other supervisors in-store with store sales activity data and individual sales associate performance in real-time at any point in the day.

Features like clock in and out and safe and bank drop capabilities also allow for additional in-store functionality to be performed from the mPOS.

The mPOS is extensible as well, so you can add-in links to other systems or programs to make the mPOS your main “hub” for all in-store applications.

Unlike other mobile POS solutions that may only allow you to use them to scan items and accept payment, and are not extensible for the retailer, the Dynamics AX mPOS can perform many additional functions to make it the only application you need in-store.

To recap, I was really excited to present these mPOS concepts to retailers at NRF this year. I really do believe our Dynamics AX mPOS is a game changer and I cannot wait to see it in action at a store near me!