Launching your retail business includes countless details to consider. From choosing your space, picking branding, messaging, and attempting to staff your store, you have a lot to consider. One of the greatest challenges is selecting the tools needed to grow your business and knowing what to prioritize.
It can be intimidating to visit website after website for POS, eCommerce, marketing, social selling, and on, and on, and hear how they are all THE tool you need to grow your business and sit on a beach with a margarita.
To make it easier, we’re outlining the types of tools you need to LAUNCH your retail business and the priority it should take in your launch. We are assuming that you are launching with brick and mortar and online so some details may need to be adjusted for your business. Each tool will be separated by purpose and given a priority.
- High Priority: Must be in place at launch
- Medium Priority: Should be in place at or shortly after launch
- Low Priority: Not particularly urgent, may be important but it can wait
Point of Sale/Inventory Control – High Priority
Your inventory will be the most important piece of your business. Ultimately, all other tools and resources go to make sure your inventory sells as you need it to. Knowing this, tracking your inventory and understanding your sales is a top, if not THE top, priority for tool selection. Choosing the right tool can be difficult but it’s incredibly important.
One of the hard things is wading through the sales pitches of each Point of Sale (POS) tool that all promises to be the solution to retail problems. Truthfully, there’s really a few POS solutions out there but they are not one-size-fits-all. Here are a few things you want to look for:
Cloud vs Server
The first thing to consider is if you want a cloud-based tool or a server-based tool. Cloud tools are accessed via the internet and usually are done via a browser or an iPad app. Server-based programs “live” on your computer.
Server-based tools can be useful due to offline access and ultimate control of your software. The downside, and why we steer people away, is in their IT complication and the difficulty of integration with cloud-based tools like eCommerce and Accounting platforms.
If your area has a poor internet connection, then a server-based tool might be your best bet. If this is the case you might consider:
- Quickbooks POS (PC)
- Lightspeed Onsite (Mac + iPad)
For all other businesses, we strongly recommend a cloud-based tool. It allows for seamless integration with online stores, accounting, and does critical things like self-updates and frees you of the need to backup. For strong cloud-based tools consider:
- Springboard Retail
- Lightspeed Retail
Purchase Order Tracking
Creating Purchase Orders as your method of receiving merchandise is the single most important thing you can do for your inventory control. It allows you to track cost, reconcile your accounting, and get insights into things like turn and sell-through.
Some important questions to ask:
- What does the process look like to create products and add them to a PO
- Do PO’s transfer to my accounting suite for reconciliation?
- If you will have multiple locations, can you allocation inventory to particular locations on one purchase order?
- Can you send purchase orders to suppliers from within the software?
Ease of Sales
Your point of sale will be the primary technology you use to engage your customers in-person. How does the sales process look? It’s easy to consider them “all the same” but there is a nuance to consider in selecting your tools.
Some things to consider:
- What fields are searchable from the POS? If barcodes aren’t accessible, can you search by name, category, or an alternate code?
- What customer data do you have access to directly from the POS? Getting past sales history and understanding their buying can help your associates up-sell.
- What does the payment process look like? Is it quick and easy or filled with unnecessary steps?
Inventory Control and Point of Sale tools are not one-size-fits-all. Our recommendation should be taken with a grain of salt but consider this as a starting place in beginning your search.
Here’s some to consider:
Springboard POS: This is one of our favorites. It’s incredibly customizable and integrates with several other tools like your eCommerce platform, accounting, and customer loyalty. Its reporting platform is the best in the market for cloud-based POS tools.
Lightspeed Retail: They are probably the top player in the cloud-based POS tool and for good reason. Lightspeed, out of the box, gives you an easy way to track purchase orders and integrate with your eCommerce solution.
A note about Shopify POS: We get asked about Shopify POS more than you’d know. Shopify is the top, and best, eCommerce platform out there (more on that later). A few years ago, they released Shopify POS to give omnichannel retailers the ability to have a single solution. It is easy to use and beautiful but it is not something we recommend. It is missing basic features like detailed inventory reports, purchase orders, or cost-tracking.
eCommerce Platform – High Priority
Whether you’re targeting significant revenue right away from online sales or not, having an eCommerce presence is important for a couple of reasons:
- Consumers now look to eCommerce as their primary starting point in the buying process – using the convenience of their devices to browse and compare products across multiple brands. Having a professionally designed website is key to meeting your customers at each important stage of the customer journey.
- Another buying trend is using social channels like Facebook and Instagram to discover new products, share content with their circles, and even interact with brands on a more personal level. If you don’t have a shopping cart to give customers “the next step” after engaging with you on social media, then you will miss out on sales, both online and in-store, since a very common shopping behavior is to shop online and then buy in-store in order to avoid shipping fees and wait times.
To get the most out of your online store as possible, you need to find an eCommerce platform that is easy to manage, integrates well with your point of sale and doesn’t saddle you with a lot of technical debt. These are highest priorities when choosing the right tool to launch with. Marketing and optimizing the site is more of a phase 2 priority once the dust settles from launching your store.
- Shopify – Shopify is one of the most popular and fastest growing options in the world – and for good reason. Shopify is one of the best for getting online quickly with a beautiful looking site that will scale and flex to fit your needs as you grow.
- BigCommerce – BigCommerce is a powerful platform, comparable to Shopify in terms of cost and product management. Their open API and powerful native features give them a leg up on merchants who need flexible integrations with 3rd party solutions (like point of sale or inventory control) and don’t want to mess with using a ton of apps to create the functionality needed for their shopping cart.
- Lightspeed eCom – Lightspeed, one of the top cloud-based POS solutions for independent retailers, has gone all in on offering their own eCommerce solution to fully integrate with their point of sale, fulfilling a massive need for brick and mortar retailers. It is the youngest platform of the three mentioned here, but you wouldn’t know it just from looking through the features.
For a deeper dive on platform selection, read this article on choosing the best eCommerce platform to fit your business.
Integrated Payment Processing – High Priority
This isn’t a particularly complicated piece but it can be a major mistake retailers make when launching. Many retailers launch their business and immediately sign up for processing with their bank (they’re good at that sales-pitch) What they don’t tell you is that their processing is going to require a middle-man to integrate with your Point of Sale that will have an extra fee.
Our recommendation: Select your Point of Sale solution and then choose your processor based on compatibility. This will help prevent either costly fees or having to manually enter sale-totals into a non-integrated credit terminal.
Some of our favorite “pairings” are:
- Lightspeed POS + Cayan
- Springboard Retail + Vantiv
Accounting Tools – High Priority
There’s a ton of pieces that “track” various inventory and sales but there’s plenty of other expenses and financial data that needs to be tracked for multiple reasons like taxes and general financial health.
This should seem like a no-brainer but we understand there’s a cost associated. We highly recommend launching with a cloud-based accounting tool that can integrate with your POS and other sales channels.
Quickbooks Online: This is the standard for most accounting firms. You’ll have no problem finding a bookkeeper and they integrate well with most cloud tools.
Xero: If “disruption” was a term that could be applied to accounting, it would go to Xero. They’ve become a very prominent force in the cloud accounting world and have built a business based on integration.
Store Email – High Priority
It may seem like a small thing but for a new business, you need to build trust and legitimacy in the market. From having a beautiful, branded website, to offering a unique in-store experience, people want to shop with a serious business. One of the easiest details to overlook is using a @gmail or @yahoo address rather than @businessname.com.
This doesn’t have to be a complicated piece and you don’t need an IT guy to do it. Above any other tool, we recommend G Suite to run your email. It’s basically like using Gmail but you get to use your domain. If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do that here.
Payroll – Medium Priority
You could do handwritten checks every week or manually calculate hours and submit ACH deposits but that can be time sensitive. Having an automatic payroll solution helps you guarantee that your people get paid on time each and every pay period. To take it a step further, using an integrated scheduling software can cut down on quite a bit of a headache.
ADP: This is the standard bearer for payroll solutions. It has existed since before cash (not literally) and has continued to stay up-to-date in regards to how they work. It’s not cheap but it’s the most scalable option.
Gusto: We are huge fans of Gusto and use it ourselves. This tool makes all the pieces of managing people much easier from automatic payroll to administering benefits. We use it to track PTO, handle payroll, deal with 401k, and generally handle all HR task.
There are so many details to consider when opening your business, and selecting and prioritizing the tools you need is a big part of that. Please use this guide as a starting point, and as a way to reduce the mental strain required for checking this off your to-do list.