How Shopify is Changing the Ecommerce Game for Good

It’s a new year, which means we are in the season of change. Brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly moving online, while famed ecommerce brands like Warber Parker are now opening up brick-and-mortar stores. Up is down. Down is up. And nothing in commerce is the same it was a decade ago.

The distinction between online and physical retail is more blurred than ever as consumers seek out dynamic shopping experiences that adhere to their fast-paced 21st century lifestyles. At the forefront of this sea of change is the suite of ecommerce tools that makes online engagement and POS fluid: Shopify. 

If you run a business in the 21st century, you know about Shopify. Yet despite the pervasiveness of this platform, few truly understand the significant ROI it offers. Born out of necessity, Shopify founders developed this flexible platform after discovering that current ecommerce options were inadequate for selling their snowboarding products. They built the platform using open-source framework and have since built out its capabilities to include marketing, POS, and user engagement features.

What, exactly, is Shopify?

Shopify is one of those solutions that is frequently brought up in marketing and ecommerce conversations. Everyone nods agreeably, but few actually understand the logistics of the platform. Put simply: Shopify is a suite of products used for ecommerce and online point of sale transactions. Put not so simply: Shopify is a platform that allows those with a limited budget to enter the ecommerce space, allows those with larger budgets to grow their brand, and, maybe most importantly, allows brick-and-mortar stores to bridge the gap between their online sales and in-person business, thanks to a proprietary POS system.

Shopify is a lot of things to a lot of different businesses, which is why it has become ubiquitous among successful ecommerce and online marketing this last decade. Sell products online, in a store, on social media, after concerts at the merch booth, etc. — the flexibility of the platform allows businesses of all sizes to sell the way they want.

According to Shopify, its suite of products and services are scalable to businesses of any size. Physical sales, digital sales, consultations, memberships, ticketing, lessons, and rentals — this platform is meant to be a one-stop “shop” for all things ecommerce. This is especially appealing to aspiring entrepreneurs who find it difficult to enter the industry, or for established brands looking to extend their reach.

Why platforms like Shopify are the future of ecommerce 

Global ecommerce sales are projected to hit nearly $5 trillion in the next year. This represents a 265 percent growth change compared to 2014. This growth can largely be attributed to new opportunities in the global market. Over the next year, nearly 20 percent of ecommerce sales will be attributed to consumers overseas. Same goes for the domestic consumer base — as the Internet breaks regional divides and cultural boundaries, ecommerce gives consumers an opportunity to engage with foreign brands like never before.

Business is booming, and this business needs a strong infrastructure to support this unprecedented growth. Shopify is currently the competitive big dog in the ecommerce world, but it’s not the only game in town. Square Space, Wix, Big Commerce, and others also offer ecommerce site building features. However, what makes Shopify stand out, and makes it the most competitive option, is its versatility. 

A cohesive ecommerce experience depends on the cumulative success of many factors. Branding, building an audience, cataloging products, support features, etc — all-in-one platforms like Shopify help to reduce the barrier of entry for anyone interested in buying a businesses by making ecommerce turnkey. 

Whether you’re selling handmade jewelry out of your basement or designer dresses from Milan, ecommerce gives everyone a shot at establishing a customer base. Ecommerce is the great equalizer. No longer do deep pockets automatically equate to lasting business. Today, savvy strategy, a resonate brand, and even altruistic business practices can lead to repeat business. Thanks to platforms like Shopify, the barrier for entry into the ecommerce landscape has never been lower — anyone with a good idea, a strong work ethic, and a little luck can have success in the online marketplace.

Are You Doing Enough with Your Restaurant Data?

Between your POS system, your forecasting/scheduling software, your inventory management system, and every other system you have, you’re collecting data on just about everything that goes on in your restaurant. Maybe you even have some insight into the data of your competitors. Here’s the problem: you have all kinds of data, but not many insights. If you’re not making business decisions based on the data you collect, what good is that data? Here’s how you can use the tools at your disposal to create actionable insights for your business.

Engage your team

Every restaurant manager regularly reviews all kinds of store information—from hard data like sales and labor, to soft data like Voice of Customer information. The group that sees this kind of data the least also happens to be the group that can have the biggest influence over it: your in-store employees.

If you broke a sales record during the Black Friday rush this year, share that info with the team that made it happen. If a customer gave negative or positive feedback about a recent experience, make sure your employees see that feedback. Get your employees engaged with the data and they’ll be more invested in your success.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” — George Bernard Shaw

One of the best ways to share this data? Using your chat tools, like Crew, Slack, and so forth. Every day, share the wins and results of the day before with the team by sending out a quick message.

Think like a coach

The Chicago Bulls were an unstoppable force in the NBA from 1991 to 1993, due in no small part to the teamwork of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Were Jordan and Pippen great players on their own? Absolutely. But it was the combination of the two that made the Bulls unbeatable.

You probably already know who the Michael Jordan’s are in your restaurant. Take it a step further: in addition to identifying your best players, look for the best combinations of players on your team. If you have 10 percent better sales on nights when Stacie and Josh are working the same shift, schedule them together more often. If Karl isn’t the fastest at prep, but can wash dishes like nobody’s business, put him on the bench during the rush and bring him onto the court when it’s time to close.

You already have all that information by looking at the data at your fingertips! Review your schedule alongside your daily sales report and track results to determine who makes the best team. Take it a step further by observing them the next time they’re scheduled together to find just what makes them so good together. Use what you’ve learned as a coaching tool for the team.

Automate everything you can

A lot of restaurants outsource their payroll, but you probably still have to download your payroll information, package it up, and send it to your vendor—usually days in advance of payday. If you’re paying someone to handle your payroll, why are you still putting so much effort into the process? Many software solutions can automatically export data like payroll and send it where it needs to go. The same goes for sharing security information and sending data to corporate. If you’re doing something by hand, there’s probably software that could be doing it for you—and it might even be something you already own.

Trust but verify

Data can generate important business insights and save you time and effort—but every system needs oversight.

Let’s say your employees use an app like Branch or Earnin, where they can cash in the portion of the paycheck they’ve already earned before their regularly scheduled paycheck gets deposited. Typically, those apps verify their working hours by using their cell phone GPS to prove that they were in the restaurant for the time they claimed. 

Now, let’s say a particularly studious employee has been staying in the store for a couple of hours after every shift to study for schoolbut they’re not working anymore. While these apps are excellent and convenient tools, they are not perfectly accurate unless they’re integrated with your scheduling software. So, they might be tracking time for non-work time spent in the store.

If your employees use one of these apps, you should be regularly checking your scheduling data to make sure it lines up with how much your employees are getting via payrollotherwise, you could be losing money that could get hard to track down the line.

Restaurant data can make your life much easier, but verify that it’s accurate by doing periodic manual audits to make sure it’s behaving the way you expect it to.

Many restaurant software solutions can help you sift through your restaurant data to find actionable insights to use. And the best part is, you may already have these tools at your disposal. Stop sifting through countless rows of spreadsheets and let your data management software do the heavy lifting, so you can focus on using your findings to improve your restaurant.

Amazon is Reportedly Developing a Hand-Scanning Payment Option

Amazon is reportedly developing checkout terminals that will allow shoppers to pay by scanning the palms of their hands.

That’s according to the Wall Street Journal, which cited people familiar with the matter.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

The WSJ said Amazon is targeting the terminals, which link credit and debit cards to consumers’ hands, to coffee shops, quick-service restaurants and other locations that “do lots of repeat business.”

It also reported the platform is working with Visa to test the technology and is in discussions with Mastercard. Visa and Mastercard did not respond to requests for comment.

This follows a September 2019 story from the New York Post, which said Amazon was testing pay-by-hand scanners at vending machines in its New York offices and planned to roll out the payment option at some Whole Foods locations in early 2020.

A patent application dated Dec. 26, 2019 from Amazon Technologies, the company’s Mumbai-based electronic manufacturing arm, for a “non-contact biometric identification system,” describes a hand scanner, which can capture images of users’ palms with wrinkles and “deeper characteristics” like veins.

The document suggests applications in stores, libraries, hospitals and offices and notes it can be used in conjunction with point-of-sale devices.

“The user may present their hand to a scanner to provide an indication of intent and authorization to pay with an account associated with the identification data,” the application says. (It also says the scanners may be used in conjunction with robots to facilitate package deliveries.)

The news comes after similar efforts from Amazon to eliminate friction at checkout and push into financial services, including checkout-free Amazon Go stores, which now number 24 in four U.S. cities, and its Amazon Pay service, which is hoping to capitalize on consumers’ increasing willingness to pay with their voices.

Meanwhile, Chinese ecommerce platform Alibaba debuted similar smile-to-pay technology, which allows users to authenticate payments with facial scans, at a concept restaurant from fast food holding company Yum China in 2017.

Implementing Efficiencies Within Your Restaurant

Whether it’s in the restaurant, financial, healthcare or energy sectors, implementing customer efficiencies that save them time and increase satisfaction affects the entire organization.

When highly successful individuals like Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet reach a certain financial level, money becomes secondary to time. Yes, they can always make more money, but time for them becomes a precious resource even more valuable than money. Getting more of it back into one’s day can only be achieved by evaluating where time is being wasted and then using techniques and technologies to recapture that lost commodity.

When operators build efficiency strategies within a restaurant business, the implemented tactics hold a promise of generating more time through the process of eliminating the waste; those strategies can also deliver better value for customers, improve reputability, create more manageable costs, and promote higher staff productivity. Yet, restaurant operators may feel that carving out the initial time to uncover those gaps that often lead to wasted effort is a problem within itself. Another holiday season arrives, busy nights ensue, and that desire to improve operations slips between the cracks. However, operators must consider the wisdom of one of our nation’s great leaders. The importance of spending a little time now to create more efficiency later is no better illustrated than through the words of Abraham Lincoln, who once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

How to Sharpen the Restaurant Operational Edges

To create a smarter, more efficient operation, let’s start by looking at three areas within the hospitality industry that hold the most potential for improvement:

  • More restaurant staff efficiency
  • Better guest efficiencies
  • Efficiency within the business as a whole

While all three of these areas can be evaluated in total, it’s typically best to focus on one improvement area at a time in these early stages. If a process or technology solution arises that addresses more than one area, then that can be weighed later. For now, isolate each area, uncover the biggest time-wasting area, develop the tactics to use, then plan for implementing and measuring improvements.

Once operational gaps are pinpointed, ruthlessly eliminate those activities so that improvements can be realized. Operators typically have some knowledge of where energy, time, or product waste is occurring, but he or she may not immediately understand how these are causing ripple effects throughout the organization. Obtaining staff input from those employees affected by the issue ultimately ensures knowledge that originates from its source. At the same time, probe deeper by asking staff what other areas need improvements. Soliciting staff opinion will ultimately help confirm their value to the team and instill partial ownership of the solutions once implemented. From this input, select a minimum of two issue-prone annoyances to tackle, and begin.

Most of the time restaurant operations continue day-by-day in the manner in which they ended the day before. However, by examining present day organizational problems against the solutions that can lead to more productive operations, extra time can magically appear so that other areas of the business can receive the focus they deserve.

Creating Stellar Staff with Efficiencies 

Gathering staff feedback for problem areas can often set in motion the answer to the problem at the outset—improved employee attitudes. When employees don’t feel heard, they shut down and problems ensue. Every team member’s attitude, from the head chef to front of house hosts, all the way down to the high school junior who sweeps the floors will improve through regular visits from management who listen to their suggestions. According to McKinsey & Company, productivity improves by 20–25 percent in organizations with connected employees. Operations will run smoother when communication flows and efficiencies are put in place.

A few of the restaurant problems that arise in restaurants without staff efficiencies include:

  • Low staff performance
  • Stress-filled shifts that increase safety risks
  • Poor communication between teams
  • Increased staff turnover

Today’s restaurant staff expects to work in a productive environment and that often means operators must implement technology to help them meet and exceed customer needs. Putting a point of sale (POS) system in place may be one of those technologies that illustrate how management values time for the staff. If servers have used a POS system at other restaurants where they’ve worked previously, once hired to work in a restaurant operation without one can add to frustrations and wasted time.

If a POS system is already in place, organizational improvements can be furthered by implementing technology that builds upon the time saved at the point of sale. Many digital operation platforms that integrate with a wide variety of POS systems can automate the kitchen while giving front of house staff the tools to improve management of guests.

Ensuring Grateful Guests with Efficiencies

Nothing turns away customers like a crowded restaurant with long wait lines, only to discover their workaround for that scenario—a reserved table—has been scheduled for the wrong time, or double-booked. If this occurs far too often within the organization, technology exists to correct the problem. A guest management platform can improve areas that satisfy guests and staff alike.

Some of the issues that occur in restaurants that have not deployed a restaurant management platform are:

  • Unorganized wait staff
  • Inability to manage online reservations
  • Dwindling guest traffic
  • Failure to quickly respond to guest complaints

As with improved efficiencies for staff, guests also appreciate being heard, so from the get-go, implement a method to start collecting customer feedback. An operation can’t improve guest satisfaction if it does not listen and respond quickly to complaints or suggestions. Wagering a guess as to why customers aren’t returning for their next dining experience is operating with one hand tied behind the back when so many digital solutions are available to facilitate the collection of guest feedback at the end of every meal.

Whether it’s in the restaurant, financial, healthcare or energy sectors, implementing customer efficiencies that save them time and increase satisfaction affects the entire organization. Last year, the Temkin Group, a thought leader in the experience economy, stated that a moderate increase in the customer experience generates an average revenue increase of $823 million over three years for a company with $1 billion in annual revenues.

Affecting the Entire Operation through Efficiencies

When implemented, restaurant efficiencies rival the banking industry’s secret sauce: compounding interest. And by now, the financially astute know that the sooner you begin, the more you’ll have when you need it. The same is true for restaurant technology and the efficiencies the right solution can provide. Additions in efficiency add up quickly; when a restaurant brand begins scaling, technology improvements today pay huge dividends later.

As an operator ditches the inefficiencies of pen and paper for a kitchen automation solution, back of house operations become nimble and highly responsive to changes in the front of the house. This technology adoption also increases staff cooperation where a previously siloed team with an “us against them” mindset is transformed into one where everyone feels they are working on the same team to achieve a common goal—customer satisfaction.

With the right kitchen automation system, busy kitchens have access to real-time production information, better bin management, programmable prep times, and from a management level, operators can access an enterprise portal to view data anywhere they are. If kitchen operations still run on spreadsheets, then an upgrade is in order to maximize efficiency. Without an automated kitchen, individual restaurant functions suffer, and time is wasted from front of house to back of house.

Here are some of the problems experienced by restaurants that have not automated kitchen operations:

  • Out of date inventories
  • Poor stock management and rotation
  • Inadequate forecasting of stock levels
  • Inability to address restaurant trends such as off-premises dining

When time isn’t set aside to anticipate trends and the technologies that address upcoming trends like ghost kitchens, a rise in third-party delivery companies, and off-premise dining, competitors can quickly get a leg up and surpass any past gains an operator may have made. Even though the restaurant industry is known for its low margins, operators can do more with less, but not without the technologies in place to enable that transition and enable more time for staff, guests and the overall operation.

Restaurant efficiencies are critical for long-term survival. They save businesses from further earning declines; they improve growth, but best of all, they ensure a pleasurable dining experience for all parties involved.

3 Retail Technology Trends to Watch in 2020

The dust has settled following the “retail apocalypse” of 2018, and the numbers reveal that retail’s radical transformation is more nuanced than we once thought. While headlines in early 2019 spelled the end of retail, data from IHL Group shows otherwise. In 2019, retailers announced 2,965 more store openings than closings.

Certain retailers led the charge and emerged from the 2018 retail slump stronger than ever. In evaluating why, this much is clear: merchants that are thriving are leveraging their technology investments to evolve how they interact with consumers. Today’s consumers arrive in-store looking for expertise and an experience, and merchants need to bring this to life with technology.

Those making technology investments that allow them to offer the new kinds of experiences today’s consumer wants out of a shopping trip will come out on top of the pack. In fact, IHL Group also revealed that the brands leading their segments are investing in technology at a rate 70 percent higher than their competitors. To keep pace with the industry and outrun the current market leaders, retailers must leverage their tech investments in new and innovative ways. Here are three technology trends retailers should watch closely in 2020.

Contactless Payments Hit Their Turning Point

Contactless payments have been growing rapidly around the globe, and in 2020, adoption in the U.S. will finally reach its tipping point. By the end of 2020, we expect 50 percent to 60 percent of credit cards to have contactless capabilities enabled. Most merchants have the technology in place to accept contactless payments, but that doesn’t mean adoption will happen overnight. The real challenge will be educating consumers on the benefits and opportunities of contactless, much of which will be tasked to the card companies and merchants themselves.

Prioritizing the implementation of contactless payment technology is less about adding a new payment option and more about empowering the consumer who wants fewer steps between entering a store and leaving satisfied. Contactless payments offer the quick and frictionless experience today’s busy shoppers want, and 2020 will be the year this changes from nice-to-have to non-negotiable for many U.S. consumers.

The Evolution of Mobile

The retail industry has been talking about mobile for years, but in 2020, retailers will have no choice but to incorporate mobile point of sale (POS) more creatively as consumer demand for it reaches its peak. Recent research shows that 45 percent of retailers consider mobile POS to be essential within their omnichannel strategy.

Mobile payment technologies can turn even a big-box store into a consumer experience focused on individualized service. Mobile POS devices can also help customers skip the line to complete a transaction, leaving them with a faster, more positive in-store experience.

Those using mobile creatively — be it Starbucks with its mobile app or restaurants with pay-at-the-table technology — are designing experiences that create more loyal customers.

Biometrics Become the Norm

Each day is bringing new biometric applications, most recently with Whole Foods testing human hand scans for payment. This trend will continue to gain steam in 2020, as payment methods that were once perceived as invasive are now seen as innovative and even more secure. Consumers are quickly becoming more comfortable with fingerprint scans and facial recognition, thanks to daily interaction with these biometrics on their smartphones. Merchants would be wise to take advantage of this new consumer acceptance when planning their 2020 strategies.

The popularity of biometrics will only continue to rise as other digital payment methods, like contactless and mobile, accelerate in the new year. Retailers that embrace these technologies in new ways in 2020 will set themselves up for continued success … even in the face of another “apocalypse.”