11 Considerations For Blending Brick-And-Mortar & E-Commerce Today
By Jade Moldae
Enhancing your store’s physical location with an integrated e-commerce website has never been easier. Likewise, high-tech POS systems facilitate day-to-day operations — enabling you to be more efficient. We spoke to a collection of dealers and POS/e-commerce providers, who gave us 11 considerations why you should assess adding these valuable tools to expand your store’s reach.
1. An Online Presence Is Essential For Doing Business Today.
It’s 2018, and as e-commerce continues to grow in the U.S., savvy firearms dealers have made the plunge to compete against online-only stores.
“Those of us in the firearms retail business have not been affected as much as other types of brick-and-mortar retailers. But, we can all still see the writing on the wall with online shopping. If you don’t have an e-commerce site you will be missing sales,” said Todd Lockburner, COO of Magnum Shooting Center in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“It’s become a necessity; it’s almost to the same level of how you need employees to run your store. With today’s technology and the way things are, if you don’t have e-commerce or some way to sell things online you’re way, way behind the curve,” said Izzy Musquiz, general manager at Sharp Shooters Safe & Gun in Lubbock, Texas.
2. Enhanced Efficiency
Time is money. Anytime you, as the business owner, can delegate or automate certain functions of your business to increase productivity, it’s worth a second look. An integrated POS or expanded e-commerce presence facilitates these results.
“We need to embrace technology a lot more than we do. I highly encourage any retailer to embrace technology of any sort that streamlines their processes,” stated Adam Burt, CEO of Calibers Shooting Sports Centers in Albuquerque, N.M. “In the long run, it makes us more efficient. The industry has such small profit margins, any place we can streamline efficiency to help increase profits is a plus.”
3. You Can Earn Profits — After Hours
In the Sept. 2017 issue of Shooting Industry, we published a story (“Service & Software Solutions For The Dealer”) addressing the concept of automating certain aspects of your store. RSR Group Senior VP Christina Fisher shared with readers in last year’s article, “A solid e-commerce platform is like having a billboard for your store that can actively sell for you 24 hours a day.” The dealers we spoke to here provided similar perspectives.
“We’re able to run online promotions separate from in-store ones,” said Jacquelyn Clark, owner of Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in Lakewood, Colo. “For example, we were closed on the Fourth of July, so no revenue was coming from the brick-and-mortar. But, we promoted and ran a sale in our online store. We brought in $2,700 in revenue that would have otherwise not been there.”
4. It Will Help Your Business Grow
Developed properly, an e-commerce presence will facilitate the growth of your store.
“If you want to expand your business now, brick-and-mortar is almost not enough anymore. The traffic you’re getting in doesn’t cover the area you would with an e-commerce store,” Musquiz relayed. “You have to reach your people online.”
“The benefit is huge — it’s a whole new revenue stream that didn’t exist before,” Clark added.
5. Auto Replenishment Capability Takes Pressure Off Employees
At Calibers Shooting Sports Centers, Burt shared the benefits of working with a provider like Connected Data Solutions (CDS) — with its auto replenishment capabilities standing out.
“The biggest way CDS has impacted our business is through their relationship with some of the distributors — which has enabled us to take more of a streamlined approach, because it does auto fulfillment for us. When our inventory hits certain mins or maxes, it automatically places an order so our minimums never get below what they should be. For example, we want to have at least three GLOCK 43s in stock. If it drops below, the system automatically orders product to get us back up to our threshold.”
Simply, an auto-fulfillment feature will do a lot of the legwork for your business.
“It’s truly allowed us to focus more on the operations of the business, rather than having to worry about putting together traditional purchase orders,” Burt relayed. “It’s not a perfect science due to trying to figure out what the mins and maxes are — depending on how quickly things move. It takes a lot of stress off; the systems are doing the work for us.”
6. It’s How People Shop today
By maintaining an online presence through your integrated e-commerce system, your store is placed right in front of consumers already perusing online.
“You can buy groceries today online. This is where this generation is going — they want to shop from their phones while waiting in the doctor’s office, at home or on break at work. It’s just where things are headed,” Musquiz shared.
“This is how people shop nowadays,” Clark added. “Having an online store presence brings our brand in to the present and keeps us relevant! People will always want to have the brick-and-mortar because buying firearms is a tactile experience for many, but creating more opportunities for sales is always a good thing.”
7. You Gain Access To A “Digital Warehouse”
In today’s softened environment, there is a lot of focus on enhancing the “customer experience” at retail. Clark shared how an e-commerce presence has changed the way her store uses special orders — resulting in happy customers.
“Our online store doubles as a secondary inventory/special order platform for our in-store associates,” she lends. “If a customer comes in to our brick-and-mortar and wants to buy a model we’re currently out of or don’t typically stock, our associates are trained to take the customer to a computer and place the order online right there from our ‘virtual warehouse.’ We’ve gained a lot of business compared to the old way we used to handle special orders; we’d take the customer’s information and call the next day with a price and availability from our distributors.”
At Sharp Shooters Safe & Gun, Musquiz shared his store maintains more than 3,000 guns in stock. An online store enables his business to offer even more options through wholesaler partners.
“We only carry baseline models of some items; customers are able to go online and buy it and have it shipped to us — with no additional cost incurred. We’re able to show them different options as a result,” he said.
Now that we’ve identified several benefits of an expanded digital footprint, let’s explore some things to consider on what to look for in choosing a provider.
An advanced e-commerce platform enables Sharp Shooters Safe and Gun to cater
to a wider selection of customers through its website.
8. Work With A Company That Has Experience In The Industry
“You need to look for a tried-and-true e-commerce solution that is specific to the firearms industry,” Clark advised. “We chose Gearfire, which easily integrated with our website and comes set up with industry-specific features and reporting that other e-commerce solutions did not have. Gearfire can also serve as a standalone website solution for retailers who don’t currently have an existing website.”
At Magnum Shooting Center, Lockburner said Epicor Eagle’s prowess was a determining factor in choosing the provider for his store.
“At first we considered going with a cheaper POS system, but we decided to take the leap as we knew we would have more than one location and the expense was justified by our future plans,” he said. “What we didn’t realize was the power and simplicity of the Eagle system paid for itself before our first year was over. Since then, Epicor has added Compliance Manager, Range Manager and other software options that are assets to our industry. Bottom line, we’re more profitable because of Epicor.”
9. Make Sure It’s Easy To Use
“The e-commerce solution needs to be user-friendly,” Clark informed. “Make sure you’ve tested the user interface and understand its benefits and shortcomings so you can accurately answer customer questions once you go live. If you implement something that is hard to navigate or provides a less-than-ideal user experience, you’ll do more damage than good.”
Musquiz echoed similar sentiments.
“When you’re looking at a system, you want it simplified,” he stated. “You also want a system that takes out as much human error as possible, but something to keep in mind — the system is only as good as the people you have working it. So if you make those systems easier and user-friendly, the better off you are. Connected Data Solutions offered that for us.”
10. Look For The Type Of Customer Service You Provide On A Daily Basis
You already know standout customer service significantly impacts customer retention. According to Musquiz, the service you receive is also an important consideration when choosing a provider.
“For us, it was the support standpoint: I need the customer service we offer our customers on the back-end of the POS and e-commerce systems. If something goes down, I need to contact somebody who can walk me through a few of these items,” he said.
11. Shop Around
“I know there are a lot of options out there for both an online store and POS system — we shopped quite a bit before landing on the POS system we have, as well as the online solution,” Clark recalled. “For both, we went with the provider that was ‘industry specific,’ as opposed to a POS system that would integrate with our inventory or ATF compliance needs. Same for the online solution: We went with one that had a track record with the firearms industry, instead of implementing a general e-commerce solution.”
One of the benefits of an integrated POS system is auto-fulfillment. At Calibers Shooting Sports
Centers CEO Adam Burt shared this function enables him to focus on other aspects of the business.
There are, of course, other benefits and considerations than what has been outlined here. Hopefully, the thoughts from some of your peers have helped “move the needle” for you to explore either updating (or adding) an effective POS system or expanded e-commerce presence. To Calibers Shooting Sports Centers’ Adam Burt, it all comes back to providing the best customer service possible to achieve growth.
“If you’re a retail store, it’s going to be customer service, customer service and … customer service,” he reiterated. “If you’re a range/retail store, it’s also — customer service. It all contributes to the ‘customer experience,’ assisting customers to have an experience each time they come in that’s unique.”
And finally, an expanded online footprint dovetails with your existing in-store ambitions.
“We have an established base at our store, but as you branch out, people aren’t going to go to a store to buy something — they’re going to shop around and try to find it at the best possible price. This is where your e-commerce comes into play: It allows you to reach the folks in different cities, different states. You can branch out and get those sales if you have the pricing right. It only adds to your daily sales — to your bottom line as far as what you’re selling,” Musquiz concluded.
WHAT DO THE PROVIDERS SAY?
We tasked three prominent providers of POS and/or e-commerce systems to lend their expertise. We tasked three prominent providers of POS and/or e-commerce systems to lend their expertise. See a collection of some of their insights below — some of this content is only available here, on Shooting Industry’s website.
SI: How important is it for dealers in business today to integrate e-commerce with the brick-and-mortar side of the business?
Larry Davis, Connected Data Solutions (CDS) President: It’s extremely important. The true integration of online and in-store commerce together functions as a significant sales multiplier by combining distributor and store inventory, sales incentive promotions and dealer-performed services to provide a one-stop shopping experience; the combined result being greater than the sum of the individual parts.
SI: What factors hold back dealers in this decision-making process?
Sam Kirkland, Epicor Strategic Relationship Manager: In today’s environment, the business-facing systems are very simple, in an easy-to-use format. Often, the hesitation we see is the fear of the unknown — fear it’ll make life more difficult, as opposed to easier. In reality it frees up time, giving dealers more time with employees and customers, as opposed to typing on a keyboard all day. Today’s technology really gets you away from the desk and enables you to engage with others. It’s time to take a look.
SI: What product or service do you often see underused by clients?
Bart McCleskey, Rapid Gun Systems President: Very few of our retailers take advantage of our email marketing capabilities, which is really surprising to us. The days of sending email blasts to all customers in the database are long gone. Modern retailers should be sending highly targeted email to their customers. For example, think about the personal follow-up you might want to deploy for anyone who purchased a GLOCK in the last six months and how that differs from the follow-up you would offer to someone who bought a shotgun. No customer wants to receive junk mail, but every customer wants relevant, timely content. It’s so simple to set up creative, targeted messaging. The cost to do so is very inexpensive, but the results are worth their weight in gold.
SI: What would you say to dealers who are on the fence or doubt the validity of enhancing their online presence?
Larry Davis, CDS: Use an integrated web/POS software provider to help expand your market share. Take full advantage of the tools offered by manufacturers like enforced MAP pricing and drop ship restrictions, shipping charges, new sales tax laws and most importantly, adjusting your in-bound transfer fees. With the evolution of local SEO, the lowest price is no longer the only deciding factor driving online sales. Remember, your competitive edge against the online-only discounter is the Gun Control Act.
Bart McCleskey, Rapid Gun Systems: Two words: Efficiency. Profitability. The efficiencies achieved from one department, or business unit, to the next is incredible when you move from paper to digital. For example, when you have a system that tracks inventory and alerts you when stock is low (and automatically reorders it from approved vendors) you save time and can increase sales. The same system can advise on price point and has the ability to increase profitability. There are many examples, but using a system to its full capability set is advantageous on many levels.
SI: There is a lot of discussion these days on the “customer experience” at retail. How does an up-to-date system relate to the experience felt by the end user?
Bart McCleskey, Rapid Gun Systems: Every aspect of a retailer’s operation should inspire customer confidence and enhance your brand equity. An old or poorly utilized system quickly destroys the customer experience you work so hard to create. Things need to appear to be simple and fast, especially in today’s world where instant gratification is commonplace.
Use your POS to manage inventory with automated, electronic, daily reordering. Automate drop shipping of special order items so nothing gets lost. Show you take security seriously by processing via the chip on a credit card. Collect 4473 information electronically. Have product information easily accessible and ready to share. The list goes on, but the point remains the same — your customers are constantly evaluating every aspect of your business operation. Give them no reason to criticize you and always be ready to “wow.” The key is having one system that connects all aspects of your business seamlessly, so technology does all of the work instead of you.
Sam Kirkland, Epicor: The experience is what brings people back into the store. The checkout process is a critical component to that: As a business owner, I don’t want something clunky to happen, like having a customer put a credit card in 4–5 times and it won’t work. I do believe people talk about the good experiences they have in-store, but don’t talk as loud as those with bad ones. Technology helps customers through their experience in the storefront. It’s about freeing up the employees’ time to engage with them — that’s where you win with these guys. Anyone can buy a firearm or holster online today, but how do you get somebody into a business and keep them coming back? It takes effort, time and a vision of the company to go after this; I think technology can strongly help enabling them to going a thought-leader in the industry.