It has not been a great time for retailers. Last week, Macy's missed its estimates and reported its fifth consecutive decline in revenues. Kohl's and JC Penney saw declines in their stock prices and Nordstrom suffered a profit drop. Both Walmart and Target are expected to show similar disappointing results when they release their earnings this coming week.
But what about you, the small merchant? How are you doing? The good news is that you're different than those stores. You're more nimble and less bureaucratic. You can make decisions quicker and act faster. And there are plenty of great technologies available for you to not only increase productivity in your store but also expand your customer universe and your profits, regardless of how those big-box retailers fare. Here are just three technologies that will help you do this.
Mobile point of sale.
Look at Revel, Shopify, Shopkeep, Imonggo and others. This is what your customers want. Mobile POS systems work on iPads and tablets. They replace your cash register. They enable your employees to come out from behind the checkout counter and interact with your customers. They integrate data with your website if you've got an ecommerce store (and you better have an ecommerce store too!). A good mobile POS system can not only take orders but manage your inventory, alerting you when new items need to be ordered or if lines are getting too long. Because it knows your inventory so well, it will recommend additional items that a customer may want based on what they're purchasing so it can do some of the thinking for your employees too.
Your mobile POS system will, of course, accept both credit and mobile payments on the go because it integrates with all the major applications, from PayPal to Apple Pay, that do this. And it will provide to you metrics -- best and worst selling items, highest margin items, turnover, most popular times of sale -- that will help you to increase your profitability. Do you see any of these big retailers doing this? I don't. Think there's a connection with their profits or lack thereof? I do.
Look at Clover, Belly, FiveStars, Perka and there are others here too. Once a customer comes into your store, the goal is to keep him or her coming back. And in 2016 a great way to do this is through loyalty programs. Now, these are not your father's loyalty programs. These are mobile programs. Your customers will have to download an app and sign in. But once they do, you can deliver to them coupons and points or discounts based on their visits or (more importantly) their historical purchases with you. You can find out what they like buying and offer similar products. You can enable them to engage with you on social media and capture their data for your customer relationship management system (more to come on that soon).
Most importantly, keep an eye on those services, like Clover and Belly, that are "beacon-enabled" because you'll want your customers recognized the minute they walk into your store with a customized greeting and specific offerings delivered right to their smartphones. Your customers want to feel special and, short of buying them each a puppy, a good loyalty program will help you to do this.
Look at Insightly, ZohoCRM, Salesforce and GoldMine (and, full disclosure, my company sells some of these). I order sushi every week (yes, every week) from a local Japanese restaurant and every time I call them, they recognize me in advance and know what my order is before I say it. Last Christmas, I received a fruit basket from this restaurant. Yes, a fruit basket--are you getting a fruit basket from your local Japanese restaurant? Didn't think so. Every month, I get an email offer. Once a year, I get a birthday card from this Japanese restaurant. I haven't received a birthday card from my kids in over five years, but I get one every year from this restaurant! That's because they have a customer relationship management (CRM) system. They capture contact data for every customer who gives it to them by joining their "VIP" club or who offers it when requested. They integrate it with their phone system.
But they primarily use it to engage and expand their community by delivering communications -- emails, postcards, etc., to their customers with offers, tips on making sushi and special announcements to keep them close. CRM systems will integrate with mobile point of sale and loyalty applications. And they will build value in your retail shop because they will make sure that every customer or prospect who walks in the door will continue to receive helpful information from you to entice them back another day. That's because it's not just about the sale. It's about the repeat sale. Which is why very great business invests in CRM regardless of their size or their industry.
No, you won't ever be as big as Macy's or Walmart. But you can be better and ever profitable, relatively. You can invest in the kinds of technologies that these stores aren't using very well, if at all. You can do this because you're smaller, more nimble and -- c'mon, let's admit it -- smarter than those guys!
A version of this column originally appeared on Inc.com.