Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Small business: going big on mobility

Mobilising from retail to online

One boutique fashion retailer went with cloud-based POS from day one, a decision that, according to owner Ellie Weekley, has made the launch and subsequent day-to-day management of the online store much easier.

Like many retail stores, Slate Melbourne jumped to a cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) system to save on costs, and have the flexibility of managing the business while on the move.

Weekley and her six staff members came to rely on the mobility aspect when trading at events, where they would keep a keen eye on inventory and stock levels.

Initially, there were some integration challenges with third-party hardware, which Weekley said took extra research in finding the right cash register, barcode scanners, merchant facilities, and cash receipt printers that in the end worked well.

Ellie Weekley (Image: Supplied)

Integration on the software front wasn't nearly as laborious, with the business quickly plugging into other cloud-based software such as Xero for accounting, PayPal for online purchases, and Shopify for the online store, which was launched a little over a month ago.

"The online store has taken a year to be operational on Shopify, because we've also been hard working on our retail store. We integrate Shopify with Vend [the POS of choice] and provide a smaller range to in-store, which has over 1,500 products. The time was spent writing information on the products and taking photos of stock," said Weekley.

Slate Melbourne has an employee who manages the online store entirely from home. With direct online access to the POS, she can check products, descriptions, and pricing to ensure that they are consistent with the physical store in Richmond. They also use cloud storage services such as Dropbox to share files, photos, and collaborate together, Weekley said.

According to Weekley, the best thing about connecting the POS to the online store is the unified stock reporting,

"If a customer buys a product off our website, I can see that item be removed from our inventory in real time," she said.

The store was also able to leverage the analytics that a cloud-based POS brings to the table after it amassed a database of over 300 customers.

"Obtaining customer data is making a huge difference to encouraging loyalty. We make use of the POS' loyalty feature, and our customers can put rewards points towards the cost of their future purchases," she said.

"We send out an email once a month, and can see how many people open it, what they click on, if they visit our online store, and if they make a purchase. We find some of our customers enjoy looking at the new range online, but prefer to come in-store to try it on."

The casual nature of retail jobs means that staff training can take a short-term toll on the overall efficiency of any retail store, particularly smaller ones, but this is where the "easy to use and easy to set up" nature of cloud-based POS has proven to be beneficial over traditional hard-wired systems.

"If we have a casual staff member, I can quickly set them up on Vend without them seeing the back-end components of the business," she said.

With the absence of lock-in contracts and upfront costs, there is less financial risk in experimenting with different pieces of cloud-based products. However, there are numerous options and providers on the market that can, at times, make it overwhelming. According to Weekley, taking the time to do the leg work and finding the option that best suits your business model is a crucial starting point.

"Purchase the right plan from the outset, so that you can scale for growth."