At Stream 9, we create a lot of custom e-commerce websites. Some of the businesses we work with operate successful online stores in addition to one or more retail locations. As their businesses grow, they are inevitably faced with the reality that it becomes difficult and time consuming to keep track of product inventory and sales made made between their brick and mortal locations and online storefronts. One of our clients, Military Pride, was faced with just such a scenario and they asked us to help them put together a solution.
To keep track of inventory and record sales, many businesses use point of sale software (often abbreviated POS). Traditionally, most store owners will purchase POS desktop software to do this. The software manages their inventory and is used to scan barcodes when a purchase is made, apply payments, discounts and record the sale. The problem with these type of systems (other than most of them being quite dated) is that they don't always have a way for online stores to integrate with them. Those that do, usually require the store to setup and maintain a network at their location for the online store to connect to. This adds complexity, reliability issues (networking problems) additional expenses for maintenance and introduces security concerns.
“The problem with these type of systems (other than most of them being quite dated) is that they don't always have a way for online stores to integrate with them.”
In recent years there have been a number of cloud-based point of sale solutions that have emerged. These systems are web-based, so there's no software to install or run on a computer. They access via the internet through a web browser or connected mobile devices (think trade shows). Another benefit, as the software matures the user benefits from the upgrades. It also makes integrating e-commerce sites less complicated.
We reviewed a number of different online POS systems and ultimately recommended a system called Vend to our client. Vend runs in a web browser and manages products, product options, product inventory and product images. It also records sales, prints product barcode labels, etc. It has a clean, modern, interface and can be used with tablets or desktops.
Our client's website, which had originally been built a number of years ago, utilized a traditional local product database used only by the site. When a purchase was made on the website, they would adjust their inventory in a spreadsheet, manually. Since they sell thousands of different products, this method of tracking inventory became impractical. But, to integrate with a POS system meant we would have to replace just about everything behind the scenes. They opted to keep their current design and have us install Iris and custom integrate it with Vend.
Vend has an API we could use to integrate the site with the POS system. This means the client can manage all of their product data through Vend, instead of the their website, upload a product image, enter a description and add options, etc. The site pulls this data from Vend and stores it for use on the website. Each time a product's price is changed at Vend, the new price is reflected on the website. When a sale is made on the website, the sale is recorded at Vend and product's inventory is updated accordingly. This eliminates the problem with products being oversold and keeps all sales in one location for financial reporting and order fulfillment.
“There are some limitations with the type of system, however most can be worked around with a custom CMS like Iris.”
There are some limitations with the type of system, however most can be worked around with a custom CMS like Iris. It should also be noted that this solution won't work for all types of businesses and is really better suited for small to medium operations. While it can work with multiple retail locations and online stores just fine, at a certain point it makes more sense to look at enterprise level or proprietary options. I should also note we are in no way affiliated with Vend and there are other adequate, but similar options.
We're always eager to learn about alternate solutions as well, so leave us feedback, below!