When it comes to shopping, today’s consumers are in control, with more choices and more options than ever before. As a result, it is no longer enough to offer a good selection of merchandise at attractive prices, you need to create the ultimate customer experience. At the same time as enhancing the customer’s shopping experience you need ways to increase productivity and drive sales if you want to stay ahead of the competition.

The customer experience relies heavily on the systems in place behind the scenes. Inventory control needs to ensure a suitable selection of products is in each store, financial data needs to be pooled together across locations. The payment system needs to be fast and efficient and it’s imperative for retailers that their Information Technology (IT) systems are secure.

Let’s take a look at how an IT system might be set up for a chain of three retail stores, selling clothing in separate locations.

  • Three store locations, geographically dispersed across the country
  • One payment terminal per location
  • One dial-up connection per store for the payment terminals to the payment processor
  • One telephone per store for customer enquiries
  • One central inventory and accounting system, independent of the stores

There are several considerations in this scenario, principally around communication. Each store has one payment terminal used for customer transactions that connects to a payment processing company through a dial-up phone line. That same phone line is shared with the store’s sole telephone, meaning that while transactions are being processed, the phone line is busy. Conversely, when the phone line is in use, customer transactions can’ t be processed.

The phone lines are complicating matters, and using a dial-up connection to get an authorisation means payments can be slow. Also, consider that these store locations are acting as independent businesses rather than cooperating to deliver value as a unit. The three locations could be connected for collaboration, information sharing and inventory tracking to improve overall operations. And what about the customer experience? Is their customer information securely protected? Would the stores attract more business if they offered Wi-Fi access for customers?

What if there was a faster and cheaper way for the payment terminals to communicate with the payment processor, while still permitting the phone lines to be used freely?

The first step is to switch the payment terminal network from phone lines to an Internet-based IP system complemented by the MerchantSecure Network Security, Management & Productivity Solution. The MerchantSecure solution securely links the payment terminals, computers and store locations into one integrated system that works together as a unit to help the business run more effectively.

For example, each store now has separate Internet connections and phone lines, permitting both to be used at the same time. When stores need to add additional payment lines during busy times, like during the Christmas shopping season, expanding is as easy as plugging in an extra terminal to the Internet connection and authorising it in the central management system.

MerchantSecure can create secure Virtual Private Networks (VPN) between store locations in a matter of minutes enabling the central inventory and accounting system to safely share information about stock levels, purchases and customer data ensuring that each location has stock, while ensuring sensitive information is protected.

If stores want to provide Wi-Fi access for customers, they can do so securely and easily. The MerchantSecure appliance has an option to provide secure wireless Internet access that incorporates monitoring, so stores know what websites are accessed, when, by whom and for how long. The inbuilt guardian content filtering module can also be used to limit staff access to sites which may distract them from their work while also protecting the business from malware and malicious code.

Should a store need technical assistance, offsite technical support personnel can log on remotely to the Central Management System (CMS) to diagnose and troubleshoot issues. This alleviates the need for a site visit from a technician, or for the retail staff to have any degree of technical expertise. This improves system reliability while driving operating costs down. In addition to which the 3G back up capability will ensure sales and operations can continue as normal even when the internet is down.

But perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for the retail chain to have a MerchantSecure service is to reduce credit card fraud. Australia has attempted to lower fraud rates in the country by mandating chip-and-PIN (EMV) card technology. MerchantSecure locks down the payment network against network tampering, including terminal replacement or external hackers. It’s a true plug-and-play solution that helps businesses comply with Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).

The service not only protects your business from external threats it can ensure your network is 100% PCI security compliant. Upgrading to a service such as MerchantSecure can increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs, secure the business infrastructure, increase staff productivity, foster a better working environment and broaden service options. It’s a compelling opportunity for retail businesses and a great way to get the edge over the competition.

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