What to Expect from a New Point of Sale System

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In the scale of stressful life events, installing a new point of sale (POS) system ranks right up there with marriage and having a baby. And as with these life-changing events, there is happiness at the end of a maddening roller-coaster of a ride filled with worry, anticipation, long days and sleepless nights.

As someone who enjoys change and thrives on big projects, I was thrilled to be the project manager for installing ECR Software’s Catapult system at Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op. I had worked with ISS45 POS for the last six years as a cashier, front-end manager, and assistant store manager, so I knew we were ready for some new technology.

At each step in our installation process, we planned, discussed, researched, learned, made mistakes, and learned more. While I had the support of other POS project managers, ECRS, and management at Mississippi Market, I wished for a manual or a guidebook to help me through this installation. Looking back, I realize that no manual or guidebook could have fully prepared us for the organized chaos that is a POS installation. But I will offer advice to anyone thinking about embarking on this daunting journey.

Choose your system carefully

We began this project by evaluating our needs for a new POS system by holding focus groups with all of our managers. They described every function they absolutely needed and also gave me wishes for a new system. Then we pitted our “must have” list against the POS systems on the market and decided on Catapult. We actually gave this list of needs to our sales representative and he verified which of these functions were possible with Catapult. I highly recommend this step for making sure all your basic needs are covered with any new system. Be sure to include all the basics that you might take for granted (i.e. daily reports, receipt layouts, sale structures, discount structures, member equity payment plans, and security measures).

Clean up your data

It is important to start a new POS system with clean data. After using our old POS system for over nine years, we had outdated/discontinued items and inconsistent pricing and PLUs between our two stores. We pulled our databases from our old system into Excel and deleted any items that were discontinued. We merged the stores’ databases to reorganize and agree on consistent PLU ranges for each department. Catapult allows for separate fields for brand, size, supplier order numbers and any information you want to keep in “powerfields”. We pulled data from UNFI’s catalog and added it to our inventory items in one big swoop, saving us plenty of data entry time later.

Be sure to compare how your current system reads UPCs compared to your future system. For example, our old system dropped leading zeros and check digits from UPCs, but Catapult recognizes all digits. Our old system used a very different format for price-imbedded barcodes as well. Be sure to let your installer know these things! I recommend trying to get your data as perfect as possible before importing it into a new system. There’s nothing worse than having a huge data entry or data cleanup project looming overhead just as you are finishing a POS installation.

Prepare your staff, operationally and emotionally

It is crucial to have staff “buy in” and be prepared for this major change. I focused my energy on open communication, soliciting advice from staff, and promoting realistic expectations. I attended each store’s department meetings to introduce the idea of a new POS system and all the changes that would ensue. I met with each manager to hear their concerns and hopes for a new POS system. Front end and customer service staff attended weekly mandatory register training sessions before the installation. Every issue of our Payroll Newsletter included a “POS Update” from the moment we announced our decision until a month after installation. I tried to balance excitement and enthusiasm for our new system with warnings that no POS is perfect and the installation would mean extra work for us all. (We fueled that extra work with free breakfasts, cupcakes, and tons of praise.)

After all this, there were still a few folks who were not happy about our new system. This is inevitable. It is important to work with these individuals so they feel supported, and make it clear that good customer service and professionalism means no grumbling about register woes to customers!

Prepare your members and shoppers

Our members and shoppers were thrilled to learn we were upgrading to a new POS system. But they needed to be reminded of this during installation week when our lines were longer than usual! It is normal to expect about a week of slower transaction times. Depending on the new system, cashiers may have to go from “automatic pilot” to thinking about each step of a transaction. This puts an enormous amount of stress on cashiers to rush, so I recommend doing everything you can to inform and entertain customers during their wait.

We posted signs on the doors and registers letting customers know about our exciting new change at the registers. We used humor and product samples to keep customers happy while we were getting used to our new POS system. Staff from all departments took turns setting up sample stations at each register and joking about technology slowing us down. If I had to do it again, I would actually schedule particularly outgoing staff members to fill this role during our first week.

Prepare yourself

I knew that this was going to be a stressful project. I know how to handle stress in a healthy way (I have a M.A. in Holistic Health for goodness sakes!). But the weeks preceding, during, and following our POS installation were more overwhelming than I imagined. I lived and breathed Catapult. I dreamt about touchscreens. I saw UPCs every time I shut my eyes.

My advice is to schedule time for a walk or some type of relaxation every day during installation week. Schedule a massage for the week after your installation (any sooner and you’ll be tempted to cancel it; any later and your shoulders will be joined to your ears). Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat food during this week, as normal bodily messages like “I am thirsty” are easily missed amongst register crises and frantic calls to technical support.

You can count on the first month after the installation to be busy and filled with troubleshooting. There are always weird quirks to figure out with any software and a POS system is no different. Teach several people everything you know and document procedures as much as possible. This will allow you to go on vacation and reintroduce yourself to family and friends!

Ask for help when you need it

If things are not going as planned or you have concerns about your new system-ask for help from other co-ops or your software provider. We had mysterious delays at our registers following our installation and asked ECR Software to send someone out to help us. They provided us with several days of on-site support and daily telephone meetings until the problems were resolved. Now our system is running smoothly, and I am going on vacation.

Every co-op I have spoken with has had valuable advice to give regarding POS installations. Until you experience a POS installation yourself, all you can rely on is the stories and advice of others who have been there. Plan, schedule, and prepare all you can but remember that you can never be fully prepared for a new POS system.

See other articles from this issue: #135 March - April - 2008