Times are tough for brick-and-mortar stores. In many sectors of retail, the online giants have practically pushed high street stores to extinction.

Builders’ merchants benefit from the nature of their business – trade professionals want to see stock in person before buying materials for an important project. Similarly, DIY customers value the expertise provided by employees in-store.

Regardless, as e-commerce continues to account for a larger proportion of the market, local merchants must learn to adapt if they’re to survive. Previously, we’ve written about how smaller merchants can compete with big business through expertise, customer service and savvy social media use. Today, we turn our attention to the role of EPOS and stock control software in competing with large businesses.

Turning big data into effective solutions

You don’t have vast teams of data analysts to shed light on ‘big data’. Instead, your EPOS software collects vast amounts of data on each and every trading day – transaction history, stock levels, customer contact details and much more. Turning this data into actionable information is the tricky part.

To avoid being overwhelmed by data, choose a few KPIs to track and measure. These KPIs should reflect your business goals and objectives, and you must be able to measure them easily. A good place to start is with any reporting templates that came packaged with your software. Which of these reports will help to show you if you’re making progress towards your targets? Remember that these templates will be automatically populated with data from your system – so there’s no need to mess around with data yourself.

Pair your findings with anecdotal evidence from your employees. Sometimes there’s an obvious reason for odd figures or any anomalies – it’s easier to ask your staff instead of trawling through the data looking for a clue.

If your reports identify a problem or limiting factor, work with employees to find a solution. Use your flexibility to your advantage and implement solutions quickly, without having to get approval from several layers of management. Your analysis will be a little rough around the edges – but at least your findings won’t take months to be implemented!

Reduce admin time

Given that labour costs continue to rise, it’s in your interest to make the best use possible of employee time. That means reducing the hours spent on admin tasks that could be automated. For example, you could set up automated alerts that trigger when stock levels are low – and then create automated purchase orders with just a few clicks. The alternative is to scroll through a list of all SKUs and manually add each item to the order, before adding order quantities manually too.

You can then use this spare time more productively.

Use customer information wisely

You’ve no doubt plenty of customer information stored in your EPOS system. Big businesses tend to communicate with customers in a very robotic way – automated emails when products are in stock, and little more. Instead, small businesses should combine the valuable software data with their own experience of the customer. Perhaps you know that they’ve been unhappy with a product in the past, and a different customer has recommended an alternative. Using the contact preferences stored in your software, get in touch and let the customer know that you might have a new product in store that works for them.

Overall, although you don’t have the data analysts or seemingly unlimited resources of the internet giants, your EPOS software can still provide a significant competitive boost. By using your time more effectively, putting data into action and using a hybrid ‘data-personal’ approach to customer communications, you’ll be able to stand your ground in this competitive sector – without sacrificing the qualities that your customers value in your business.