October 10th, 2023

Omnichannel retail - Building your own platform

As omnichannel retailing takes center stage, the importance of a robust, flexible, and efficient Point of Sale (POS) system can't be overstated. While numerous off-the-shelf solutions are available, many enterprise companies are seeing value in building their own.

Max Alexander

Max Alexander

CPO and CoFounder of Ditto

Don't miss out on Part 1 and Part 2 of our omnichannel blog series!

In today's fast-paced retail and restaurant landscape, optimizing the shopping experience is no longer just a nice-to-have - it's essential. As omnichannel retailing takes center stage, the importance of a robust, flexible, and efficient Point of Sale (POS) system can't be overstated. While numerous off-the-shelf solutions are available, many enterprise companies are seeing value in building their own. Let's delve into the nuances of crafting a tailored POS system that can propel your business to new heights.

Understanding the Need for Customization

Building your own POS offers a degree of customization that pre-made systems can't match. Given the varied nature of retail and restaurant businesses - each with its unique inventory, promotions, and customer preferences - a bespoke POS can cater to these specific needs without unnecessary bloat.

  • Scalability Matters - Your POS isn't just a transactional tool; it's a growth engine. By constructing your system, you ensure that as your enterprise grows, your POS can adapt without undergoing costly replacements or upgrades. A custom-built solution offers seamless scalability, paving the way for business expansions and new market entries.
  • Seamless Integration with Other Systems - Off-the-shelf POS systems can sometimes present integration challenges, especially with legacy systems. Building your own guarantees that your POS interfaces smoothly with inventory management, CRM, ERP, and other essential systems. This harmony across platforms can result in increased efficiency and improved customer experience.
  • Leveraging the Power of Data - A custom POS allows businesses to determine the kind of data they wish to capture. This facilitates more refined data analytics, enabling businesses to derive insights most pertinent to their operations. Understanding customer behaviors, inventory turnover rates, and peak transaction times can be game changers.
  • Enhancing Security Protocols - Security is paramount in any retail or restaurant setting. A custom-built POS system gives businesses complete control over their security protocols, ensuring that customer data and financial transactions are safeguarded with the latest technologies.

The retail world is ever-evolving, and staying ahead of the curve is crucial. Often, if you use an off-the-shelf Point of Sale system, customization can cost millions and take months to develop. However, if you build your own, you should be able to budget control feature rollout appropriately. With a custom POS, businesses can quickly implement innovative features, whether integrating emerging payment methods, incorporating augmented reality for product previews, or offering AI-powered shopping assistance.

Pitfalls to Watch Out For

While the benefits of a custom POS are manifold, there are challenges to consider:

  • Development Time and Costs - Constructing a system from scratch can be time-consuming and may require a significant financial outlay. It's vital to assess whether the ROI justifies the initial investment.
  • Maintenance - Unlike off-the-shelf solutions with vendor support, a custom POS requires an in-house team or a dedicated third-party provider for maintenance and troubleshooting.
  • Staying Updated - As technology evolves, it's crucial to ensure that your POS doesn't become outdated. Regular updates and periodic overhauls are essential. The ubiquity of digital and cloud-based systems in today's retail and restaurant space has been a double-edged sword. While offering unparalleled convenience and efficiency, these systems come with a pressing concern – how to operate offline. Offline scenarios, although sporadic, can wreak havoc on the customer experience, tarnishing the brand image and causing a direct hit to revenue.

The Dire Consequences of Going Offline

Imagine this: A bustling restaurant during lunch hour, a queue of hungry customers, and suddenly the POS system can't communicate orders to the Kitchen Display System. The restaurant's operations come to an abrupt halt. Customers grow impatient; the kitchen staff needs to be fixed and the revenue loss for that duration mounts.

But why did this happen? The root cause often lies in the underlying architecture. In a typical client-server model, POS systems rely heavily on backend data centers, often via Wi-Fi. If the Wi-Fi, internet, or cloud system faces disruptions – due to technical glitches, peak traffic, or external interferences – the entire system can falter.

Beyond Traditional Client-Server Systems

One might ask, "Why should transferring data within a restaurant rely on a connection to a distant data center?" The short answer is, it shouldn't. A POS system's ability to communicate an order to a kitchen display or manage internal inventory should be independent of external internet dependencies. Enter alternative architectures:

  • Edge Sync - Edge synchronization allows devices, in this case, POS terminals, to store, process, and relay information locally. When data needs to be updated or synced with the central system, it does so without affecting ongoing operations. This ensures continuous operations even when offline.
  • Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Technology - A P2P network allows devices within the same network (like those in a restaurant) to communicate directly. Instead of routing through a central data server, data transactions happen locally. If one POS terminal fails or loses connection, others can take over without interruption, providing redundancy.

Investing in Robustness

A restaurant or retail outlet cannot afford system downtimes, especially during peak hours. The potential revenue loss and a tainted customer experience necessitate shifting from traditional system dependencies. By investing in edge sync or P2P technologies, businesses can ensure that their operations remain unaffected even when offline scenarios strike.

Go Mobile

Building retail experiences for mobile is not just a luxury but a necessity. Let's delve deeper into why POS systems must embrace the mobile revolution and how to navigate the choice between two major platforms: iOS and Android.

Why Mobile Matters

  1. Power and UI in Your Hands: With their intuitive interfaces, mobile devices make it seamless to build a POS system. The touchscreen interface is user-friendly, reducing the learning curve for new employees.

  2. Ease of Training: With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, new hires are likely already accustomed to touchscreen devices, simplifying the training process.

  3. A World of Development Opportunities: The mobile development landscape is rich with technologies and tools tailored for crafting robust POS systems.

  4. Seamless Payments: Innovations like Apple's tap-to-pay have revolutionized transactions, reducing the reliance on traditional payment terminals and speeding up the checkout process.

  5. Employee Mobility: Customer preferences are constantly changing. Restaurant's today are seeing an increase in popularity for outdoor seating and patios. Ensure your employees are equipped with the tools they need to support customer needs from anywhere, not just at the front-of-house POS.

Selecting Between iOS and Android

The iOS vs. Android debate isn't just reserved for smartphone enthusiasts; it's a critical decision for businesses venturing into mobile POS systems. Here are some insights to guide your choice:

  1. Durability and Protection: While some perceive iOS devices as fragile, several industrial-grade cases from brands like Otterbox and Spigen can fortify them against drops and damages.

  2. Development on iOS: Building POS apps on iOS has been a tried and tested strategy for many businesses. Apple's Swift programming language offers stability and efficiency, making it a favorite among developers.

  3. Navigating OS Changes: One challenge with iOS is Apple's periodic OS updates, which may require regular app updates for compatibility. On the Android front, variability in device quality and inconsistent OS support can be concerning.

  4. Device Flexibility with Android: While Apple's device sizes are limited, Android manufacturers like Elo offer larger, industrial-grade devices. These are particularly suited for Kitchen Display Systems or Kiosks.

  5. Cost and Durability: iOS devices typically carry a higher price tag, but their longevity often justifies the initial investment. On the other hand, Android devices offer a broader price range with varying degrees of durability.

  6. A Note on Windows: While Windows might seem like an alternative, it's advisable to tread cautiously. The platform has a history of rapidly changing its development environment support, posing a risk for systems intended to last a decade or more.

Going mobile with your POS system isn't just about staying updated with technology trends; it's about optimizing operations, enhancing customer experience, and ensuring longevity. Whether you lean towards iOS or Android, the key lies in understanding your business's unique requirements, potential growth trajectory, and the technological landscape. After all, in the realm of retail, adaptability and foresight are the cornerstones of success.

Choosing Native Development or Cross Platform

The question often arises: iOS or Android? The answer, however, isn't as binary as it might seem. Instead, many businesses recognize each platform's strengths and leverage a hybrid approach. Let's dissect the dynamics of using a mixed mobile ecosystem in the POS landscape.

Embracing the Best of Both Worlds

  • Customer-Facing Systems and iOS: The elegance, consistency, and user-friendliness of iOS devices, especially iPads, make them ideal for customer-facing Point of Sale systems. Their sleek design and intuitive UI align well with front-end operations' aesthetic and functional needs.
  • Android for Back-of-House Operations: Screen real estate is paramount regarding Kitchen Display and Fulfillment systems. Here, Android shines with its range of larger-screen devices that can cater to the hustle and bustle of back-of-house operations.

The Cost of Going Native-First

Opting for a mixed environment of iOS and Android brings undeniable advantages. Still, there's a financial caveat to consider Fielding Dual Development Teams: Native-first development means building using platform-specific languages and tools: Swift (or SwiftUI) for iOS and Jetpack Compose for Android. These are robust and efficient environments but have distinct learning curves, toolchains, and best practices. As a result, maintaining separate sets of engineers for each platform can be costly.

The Allure and Challenges of Cross-Platform Development

  • One Codebase, Multiple Platforms: Cross-platform frameworks, notably React Native and Flutter, present an enticing solution to the dual development challenge. By allowing companies to maintain a single codebase that deploys to iOS and Android, they promise efficiency and cost savings.
  • The Rough Edges: However, the cross-platform journey has its bumps. While React Native and Flutter have made leaps in bridging the gap between platforms, there are still instances where platform-specific behavior or nuances aren't perfectly mirrored. This can sometimes lead to inconsistencies in app performance or appearance. Accessing certain native functionalities might require additional plugins or bridging, complicating the development process.

Building your own POS system is a significant decision that can offer unparalleled advantages in an omnichannel retail environment. You can create a system that facilitates transactions and catalyzes growth and innovation by assessing your business's unique needs and potential challenges. Remember, the heart of omnichannel retailing lies in offering a seamless and efficient customer experience, and a custom POS can be your ticket to achieving maximum success for your customers.

Thanks for reading part 3 of our ominchannel blog series. If you are looking for more, take a look at Part 1 and Part 2.

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