The retail landscape has evolved both dramatically and rapidly over the past several years. E-commerce giants like Amazon have continued to grow in influence and power, even expanding into brick-and-mortar formats. Consumers are more empowered than ever thanks to the internet and smart devices, which afford them the ability to perform extensive research and compare prices before (and even during) an in-store visit. Customer expectations are also higher than ever, with convenience becoming an increasingly important consideration in the buying process.

Despite the numerous challenges these developments present, pool and spa retailers have managed to keep up and thrive. Sixty-three percent of those who took our retail survey said their businesses are getting stronger, an encouraging statistic.

Sustaining this growth is the next (and greater) challenge, and one many retailers are worried about. According to our survey results, competing with big box stores and the internet is among the retail segment's most pressing concerns this year, second only to hiring and training new employees.

Strategic retailers will look beyond our industry and bring new concepts into the showroom. For example, the grocery industry is jumping on home delivery and curbside pickup programs that are designed to cater to time-strapped customers — and also generate additional revenue from service fees.

RELATED: Retail Wisdom (From Other Retailers)

Retailers of all sizes are flocking to mobile apps to enhance the customer/retailer relationship, manage rewards programs and expedite the ordering process — even restaurant chains like Taco Bell, McDonalds and Starbucks offer mobile ordering options as a way to save time in their stores, giving "fast food" new meaning.

Customers also expect more freedom in how they interact with your business. Instead of calling for a quote, many prefer emailing (and even texting!) for information. Checks are going the way of the pager and cassette tape; a survey by USPS found households paid 75 percent more bills online than by mail in 2016. This year we learned 75 percent of our retail respondents do not offer online bill pay, indicating our industry has much room for improvement.

Now more than ever, retailers must pay close attention to customer expectations and take steps to make the shopping process as quick, easy and painless as possible.

Read on to learn more about what pool and spa retailers think about the industry as it stands today.

 

Industry Spotlight: RB Control Systems

Point-of-sale systems are helping retailers stay on top of their game by managing inventory, customer records, orders, service schedules, loyalty programs, marketing opportunities and more. Here, RB Control Systems explains how a pool- and spa-focused POS system can help streamline your business.

AQUA: What are the advantages of using an industry-specific POS system rather than an off-the-shelf system?

Rachael Pritz, executive director, RB Control Systems: Off-the-shelf systems are relatively limited. Pool industry software is aimed at addressing the needs of pool and spa business owners. Using software that can meet specific needs unique from other industries puts businesses at a greater advantage for streamlining internal processes. Businesses that use pool and spa industry specific software have access to vendor integrations within the pool industry to make operations more efficient. The end users of industry-specific software also have an impact on customization and new features being added to the product.

AQUA: Transitioning to a POS system takes some time and adjustment. How can retailers prepare themselves for the transition?

RP: One of the first steps business owners can take is to investigate prior to purchasing. How much support and training will be provided by the company you are purchasing from? A new software system is only as good as the support and training you're going to be receiving. Confirm you will have unlimited access to trainers, operation manuals, webinars and phone support. In some cases your new software provider may grant access the training information prior to software installation. Get a jumpstart on learning!

If you're switching credit card processors, get the process started as soon as you sign with your new software provider. If you're keeping your existing processor, get the information over to your new software company so it can be set up at the time of installation. Cancel services no longer being used once you are up and running with the new software.

If the new software allows you to import your existing customer base and inventory, do it. Export your data from your existing system, but be sure to review the data and clean it up along the way. You don't want to start a new system with bad information!

Finally, get your staff on board! You need your staff to be enthusiastic about the implementation of the new software. Show them how it's going to make their job easier.

AQUA: How can POS systems help retailers create a personalized customer experience?

RP: Collecting customer information and having the ability to access that information easily allows you to create a personal shopping experience.

For example, you can provide customers with weekly pool/spa care handouts with their name, preferred chemical brand and correct dosages for their specific pool or spa. Customers are excited to have these easy-to-follow instructions, and they come back to your store because the products listed on the handouts are not found in the big box stores.

Also, POS systems give you the ability to truly know who your customer is and what products they buy from you. Customer purchases can automatically build equipment profiles for your customer. For example, when a customer needs a cartridge filter, any staff member can look in the computer and see the filtering system the customer has at home.

 

Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.