Buying software for your retail business can be difficult, especially when there are so many options available.
Retailers often need both software and hardware, which can complicate issues. Should you buy an all-in-one system that combines both hardware and software? Should you buy them separately?
5 Questions to Ask When Buying Retail Software
Before we get into the meat of the issue, here are some initial questions to ask yourself when searching for and buying software:
1. How much are you willing to spend?
Software, and especially hardware, can be an expensive yet necessary investment. Before you start looking for solutions, create a budget. Be sure to keep in mind the fact that these days, most software is deployed via the cloud, meaning that software will likely be an ongoing monthly expense rather than a single purchase. Additionally, how much are you willing to spend on hardware? Is it better for your business to buy a single solution that covers all of your needs (including hardware) or take a more a la carte approach?
2. What problems are you looking to solve using software?
There’s an app for nearly anything these days, and business software is no exception. Before you get overwhelmed with the options, consider exactly what you would like the software to accomplish. Do you desperately need an easy accounting solution that doesn’t rely on spreadsheets? Are you looking for a way to manage your holiday employee schedules? Maybe you’re finding it difficult to manage the inventory for both your storefront and your online shop. By first isolating the specific issues you are trying to solve, sorting through the individual features of software becomes much easier.
3. What systems are you already using?
It’s likely that you’re already using some kind of software or hardware to help run your business. Do you want your new tool(s) to integrate with the software and hardware you’ve already put in place? Are you looking to completely revamp your entire system if the right solution comes along? Do you only want to make a small change? What may seem simple at the onset can become complicated and time-consuming if you don’t consider how your new software will interact with the tools you already have in place.
4. How cutting-edge do you want to be?
Recent retail software trends are heavily focused around mobile, so it’s worth considering if that’s an option for your business. Software implemented on a mobile device is often less expensive and easier to learn, and allows your staff the freedom to move around the store. If you are resistant to mobile, consider other methods of modernization. Self-serve kiosks are another way to utilize mobile technology in retail. It’s never a bad idea to take a long, hard look at your business and see where improvements can be made.
5. Are there solutions tailored to your industry?
Every retail business is different, and many provide niche offerings that are very different from the average retail store. It might be helpful to consider whether software tailored to your specific needs as a business is a good option. A pet store, for instance, will have very different needs from a clothing boutique, and a florist will have completely different needs from both. While many retail software tools can be used by any retail business, specific tools may eliminate the need to purchase additional software later.
Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll be well on your way toward finding the right retail software for you. However, you’ll still want to do your research. There’s a lot of software out there and you have limited time to search. So in the interest of saving you some time, here are some questions you’ll likely find yourself asking.
Retail management systems vs. retail POS software
Knowing the difference between a retail management system and retail POS software so you can choose the right solution for your business
Retail management systems (RMS) are designed to combine a variety of useful tools for retail businesses into one platform. Often, an RMS will contain POS features within it. In general, retail management systems are built to handle every aspect of a retail business, so it would likely be the only software tool your business will need.
However, if you are already using several software tools that you do not want to eliminate, an RMS will likely overlap with those tools; it therefore might be worth investigating retail management systems that are composed of modules.
Modules allow users to purchase the base platform and add functionality as needed. So if you’re using an accounting solution you really enjoy, you can purchase an RMS and buy only the modules you need. (In this case, you wouldn’t need the accounting module, but you may want the inventory management and POS modules.)
Retail POS software is primarily built to facilitate customer transactions. However, many retail POS systems do have robust feature sets that extend beyond simply ringing up customers.
Some will have many of the same features as an RMS, which is primarily where the confusion lies. Increasingly, retail POS systems are installed onto mobile devices, such as tablets, to provide a single hub for a variety of features. These features will likely be less robust than those found on an RMS.
The main question to ask yourself is whether you are looking for a complete system to manage your store or a POS system with bonus features. If you own or manage multiple stores, an RMS is likely a better option. If you are a smaller business, a POS system is likely a good first step.
How retail software can help grow a retail business
Every business is different, so there’s no single answer to the question of how retail software will help you grow your business. However, there is retail software that has marketing features if you’re looking to grow your social media presence or create a loyalty program. Creating an online store is also an option, and some retail software will help you both create and optimize an e-commerce offering.
The first real step requires you to determine what kind of growth you are looking for. Are you looking for more customers? Do you want to increase your customer retention? Do you simply want to increase sales? Do you want to expand to multiple locations? All of these goals will require different solutions, and each business will grow differently even if their goals are the same.
One easy first step is to ensure that your retail software has robust analytics. Those analytics can then be leveraged to get a good picture of where your business succeeds and where it needs work. By working on those areas of improvement, your business will either grow or you will discover new areas of improvement. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, but there are many ways software can help you grow if you have an idea of where to start.
Free software is out there, but it might not be the best choice for your business
Is there free retail software out there? The short answer is yes. The long answer is yes, but you will be sacrificing features and may not find the exact solution you are hoping for.
Finding free software also depends on the kind of software you require. While there are free POS software, it will be much harder to find free retail management solutions or free industry-specific software. However, many solutions do offer free trials that can last between seven days and a month. Giving any software you are thinking of buying a try is always a good idea, but the likelihood of a product remaining free after its trial is relatively slim.
Though unattractive (who doesn’t like free stuff?), paying for software provides advantages such as data security, access to customer support, and help with implementation.
Luckily, there are enough software solutions available that you will likely be able to find something that works within your budget while providing all the functionality you need. And remember, we at G2 Crowd are always here to help you find the perfect software for your business.
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Lauren is a former market research analyst focusing on the e-commerce and retail industries. Since joining G2 in July 2017, she has focused her energy on consumer-driven spaces after spending time in the vertical, design, and CAD software spheres. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a degree in English language and literature and her writing and research has been cited in publications such as Forbes, Eater, and Nasdaq.com, among others. She enjoys building and sharing her knowledge, and in her free time enjoys reading, knitting, and gaming. Her coverage areas include retail technology, e-commerce, and restaurant technology.