Local merchant operations are small enough to implement new network security, payment processors or other types of digital or mobile technology without breaking the bank. Small businesses are often early adopters of technology in the marketplace.
While merchants are well-positioned to embrace the latest gadgets and software, there are a handful of technologies they should consider to be successful in today's digitally driven small-business landscape. Here are 10 must-have technologies for small merchants:
1. Mobile point of sale:
The point of sale in a small-business setting is a primary driver of sales, but most merchant owners aren't aware of that fact. A fully integrated mPOS system can be used to improve back-end operations as well as customer service using analytics and real-time reporting capabilities. Point-of-sale systems can also integrate with inventory management systems and other existing and pertinent business functions, creating a seamless operation.
2. Google analytics®:
Most merchants need to have some type of website nowadays, and it's important to see where traffic is coming from. Since local search has become an important aspect of how consumers find businesses around them, Google Analytics® can help optimize customer outreach processes and provide deeper insight into where website traffic is originating, how long consumers are staying on a page and which landing pages they're visiting and for how long. Its user-friendly platform allows operators to create custom reports and easily digest certain information.
3. Security cameras:
It's an unfortunate reality, but merchants must have the proper security systems in place to protect their business. Cameras are a great way to deter theft and any other illegal conduct that could arise in a brick-and-mortar location. Cutting-edge equipment will also link to mobile devices, so if a business operates with total mobility, owners will likely have access to camera footage even if they're not in the store yet.
4. Backup drives:
Since most business operations now function using some type of digital technology, it's simply a best practice to have backup drives and servers as a safety net for all sensitive business and customer information. While mPOS systems can operate in the cloud, it could pay dividends to store certain information on remote and secure drives, just to cover all bases. While cloud-based systems are secure in data storage, hackers may not think to search an on-premise server that isn't connected to the Web.
5. Fast, in-store wireless internet:
Certainly, small-business owners should have wireless internet for their own back-end operational tasks. That's a given. But it may be nice to set up a separate router in store and offer free wireless internet to shoppers; it may pay to do so. In fact, a recent poll conducted by wireless technology nonprofit Wi-Fi Alliance found 48 percent of consumers are more likely to shop at a store that provides access to a wireless connection. Another 16 percent said they would spend more money and one-third of customers said they would stay in the store longer.
6. Social media monitoring:
In addition to having a robust and easy-to-navigate website, businesses today should have some type of presence on social media. It's not advised a brand stretch itself across every single online network, but a concentrated and strategic focus can benefit a local merchant. That said, if a small business is actively engaging with customers on social channels, it should invest in social media monitoring technology. Social listening platforms are based on provided keywords and look for publicly available information with these keywords in the posts. In a way, small businesses can develop a sense of online self-awareness and connect with consumers in more meaningful ways.
7. Managed IT services:
Small-business owners wear a lot of hats, which is why they should delegate certain responsibilities. Once such task that is often delegated is IT oversight. The entire network is too much for a local merchant owner to take on, so there's no shame in turning to professionals to keep an eye out for its security and functionality. Managed IT service providers will supervise a number of daily functions and network requirements to make sure everything is firing on all cylinders. When the IT pros are watching the backs of their clients, small-business owners can focus on the bottom line.
8. Content management system (CMS):
Existing small businesses will likely already have a CMS in place. However, for those that are just starting, a content management suite is a critical aspect of everyday operations, so it's important to choose the right system. The software can vary depending on the vertical and the type of business, but the main point is this: invest in a robust CMS if you don't have one.
9. Email tracking capabilities:
If a small business uses emails to actively engage with its clients, then investing in email analytics or some type of tracking technology would be a great idea. Spreading the word about products and services is half the battle for small businesses trying to gain a competitive edge, which highlights the importance of a powerful email tracking program. Local merchants can send optimized email campaigns and offer the right product to the right customer at the right time, thus increasing the chance of a transaction.*
10. Document automation:
The world is becoming digitized, meaning business owners don't need to bury themselves behind a mountain of papers anymore. In fact, there's a better way to organize important business information: through document automation. Certain technology exists that allows business owners to scan or take a picture of a certain document and upload it to a remote or on-site server. Once the information is digitally stored, business owners can then access it from multiple locations and on any device if it's in the cloud.