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Keeping accurate stock with an EPoS system

Do you know exactly what your stock count is every minute of the day? Is this even possible? With a traditional pen and paper recording system you will only be as up to date as your last check, and will need to refer back that specific hand written count every time you need to recall your figures.

With an EPoS system you can maintain one central and highly accurate stock record that is always up to date. Not only this, it can track stock throughout your entire estate, from a single café or small corner store, to a chain of restaurants or local convenience stores. You can think of this itemised stock count that is managed by an EPoS system, as your very own product encyclopaedia. It can hold every detail that you need to know about your stock in real time, including a complete description – size, weight, colour, ingredients, etc.

Keeping a detailed description of products will come in useful throughout many operations to help clearly identify goods, such as during shipping, receiving goods, stock check, customer queries etc. It can also be applied to various selling channels like online shopping when the customer relies on the on screen description.

Other information includes :

  • the category it belongs to
  • an example image
  • knowledge of the supplier
  • delivery and sell by dates
  • how many are in stock
  • location such as in store, and importantly which store, or back in the warehouse
  • how many have been sold, wasted or returned
  • who is buying it and when
  • what promotions it is linked to

Keeping such an up to date, detailed and specific product database may seem daunting and perhaps unnecessary, but the initial outlay of time, effort and monetary investment will be worth it. For this information, built up over the weeks, months and years of business will hold great insight and provide much of the data that you will come to rely on for reporting and future planning.

Firstly physically building and maintaining the data doesn't have to be a mammoth task as there are tools in place to make your life easier. Take the barcode and barcode scanner for example; the barcode itself holds within it the majority of product information. So, when setting up a product database within an EPoS system it's often a case of scanning the existing barcode, which can be done at the till or anywhere that is convenient if you opt for a portable scanner, and recording the relevant fields of information. Then if necessary you can also create your own unique product barcodes using the information you have inputted into your system.

Following the initial introduction of a product to the EPoS system, going forward, every time that product type is sold or moved from the warehouse to the store, so long as you scan it in, the EPoS system will automatically record its activity. At a later point when you need to know for example exactly how many of that product has been sold and whether you need to buy any more in, you can extract this information from the EPoS system.

It isn't just about storing and tracking product data though, for an accurate stock count within an EPoS system can be of use to many other trading scenarios:

  • Ordering and purchasing :With hundreds if not thousand of products coming and going from your store or busy restaurant, it might be hard to keep an eye on stock levels. Fortunately, with an EPoS system you don't have to. So long as you have scanned your products on arrival and again when sold, the system will be able to keep track of the product count and flag any low numbers. In addition, once you have several weeks of sales in place for a product you can use the sales figures to determine exactly how many products to order in. In fact it can also go so far to automatically raise a purchase order to actually reorder stock for you, based on the fact that it holds your supplier information and can react to pre-programmed stock information that tells it at what the reorder level is.
  • Marketing and promotions :Once you have accumulated enough product sales data you can extract from this great insight that can be used to create effective marketing campaigns. For example, you might ask your system which products are slow to shift and make a specific promotion for these products. Or if you have a loyalty programme, you might enquire as to which products are bought most regularly and create customer specific special offer vouchers. Once a product is scheduled to be in a promotion, you can create a specific bar code that the EPoS system will recognise, so it automatically adjusts the final sale price according to the promotion.
  • Theft watch :Tracking your products is much easier if you already know how much of each product you should expect to find in each location, such as on the shop floor or out in the store room. With all data being accountable to your EPoS system, it is very possible to keep track and notice when things don't add up. You will be able to determine which products are going missing and from which locations, and with this information you can put additional security measures in place such as keeping the most easy to steal products closer to the staff till point or under CCTV surveillance.
  • Wastage : A significant amount of product, that should be making the business money, is in fact wasted. This can be for many a reason, like out of date product that didn't sell in time, broken product that arrived damaged or got damaged after arrival, returned product that the customer deemed of poor quality and so on.
    With the help of an EPoS system, you can build a case for reducing such wastage by programming your system to alert you to products that are nearing the end of their shelf life, for which a promotion can be introduced, or simply to help you recognise which products are being most affected. In some cases additional quality control measures can be put in place, such as checking products as they are delivered, or perhaps recognising staff that are prone to waste a product and introducing a supervisor sign off.
  • Good/bad sellers : You can't sell every product under the sun, so how do you decide what products would be right for your business? With an EPoS system it's pretty simple. With every product recorded by the system, you can easily find out which products are your best sellers, those that are more seasonal or sell periodically, and crucially which items need to be discontinued. Your shelf space is valuable and the EPoS can prevent you from wasting time and money stocking poor selling items when you could use that space to sell more of something else or bring in a new product. For even more added support in this area, you can also test a product based on its location, which could be just a different spot in a store or on a menu, or even a completely different shop/restaurant location.
  • Pricing : The pricing of your goods, as you likely know, is a fine balancing act between cost price to you plus your regular outgoings, gas, electric, water, rent, staff wages, etc, and how much it's truly worth in the eyes' of your customers. Price too high and you won't sell enough, but price too low and you won't cover your costs. With an EPoS system to guide you, it's far easier to figure out what the right price is. You can literally see what the profit margin for each item is based on its selling price, and with this tool to hand, you can set guidelines as to your maximum and minimum sale price. In addition, you can test pricing and look back to see how the sales figures were affected.
  • Multi-channel : EPoS systems provide the flexibility for you to expand your business through various selling channels, and acts as a central platform where you can manage and view all selling activity as a whole as well as for an individual channel. The fact that it keeps detailed information about products means the task of moving a business online for example also becomes much easier. The more opportunities you have to sell, the better, but that doesn't mean that all channels work for everyone. For example, perhaps you own a local convenience store; should you provide self service tills or online ordering? Maybe you would sell more if you offered delivery services? All of this can be tested via an EPoS system and the answer will become clear. Your goods' sales figures can be presented by shopping channel so you will clearly see which is working for you and is therefore worth the extra investment.
  • Customer service : Instantly knowing what products are available in your other stores, or which restaurants in the area have seats available, is a great benefit if you are out of a product or fully booked. Using cross store information, you can make sure a customer never has to leave empty handed or be turned away, by directing them to other options. This ability to continue to provide service by having all product data available to you means you business will have the best chance of making a sale and pleasing the customer.

Industry insight

Ultimate Outdoors, a growing, family run business, found itself struggling to manage its stock across its five stores. It was experiencing issues with overnight polling, and as a result plans for an ecommerce website were being delayed. John Smale, buyer and former store manager at Ultimate Outdoors, explains: "The business had five stores and the visibility of stock across the estate was becoming an issue for head office. Furthermore the business was looking to go online, but with their old system in place, they would not be able manage the stores and an ecommerce site". John continues, "The data was not live, it was polled overnight. So in effect the data was out of date. Not only did you have to wait overnight for the system to update its stock levels, but when there was a communication problem it turned it into 2 or 3 day old data. So when you are trying to manage stock and replenish, you were always half a week behind which is pretty useless when you work in a fast moving retail environment".

With access to live data becoming critical, Ultimate Outdoors invested in a new EPoS system from Cybertill. "The key thing was real time data," said John. He adds: "The instant updates of data, sales, stockholding, prices, products, customer information, movement of stock between branches were critical. I was working in the store then, and I remember when it came in, it was quite revolutionary and radical to what we had before. Head office explaining if you sell something in another store it will have gone from the system".

After installing Cybertill, Ultimate Outdoors created three different websites all serving different markets. "A huge benefit is linking the ecommerce sites into the Cybertill system. The product file is the same so stock levels are visible across the stores and websites at any one time. The stock data is also visible to customers and we can see customer information from all three sites straight away," comments John.

Meanwhile, Vend shares some positive experiences by its customers that manage their stock through an EPoS system. Hugh MacIntyre, owner of The Little Mule Café in Melbourne, was pleased to put a stop to the guesswork: "We can get rid of underperforming menu items and actually be able to tell someone if we have something in stock".

In addition, Ingrid Starnes, who used to manually manage her two fashion stores and 10 stockists by hand through a system of online spread sheets, comments: "Having all systems talking to each other is what makes this amazing. When we make a sale in-store in Vend it updates our online inventory numbers and sends the sale invoice through. We don't have to do anything except look after the customer."

If you'd like to find out more about the advantages of an EPoS system or upgrading your existing solution, expert help is available. Contact us for advice on the right EPoS system for your environment and receive a free quote.

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Please note that the budget required for the purchase and installation of a Full EPoS system starts from £1300 for hardware and software.
The prices can be considerably higher depending on your requirements.

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