The Power of the Till

Hand in hand with the amazing growth of charity shops on the high street goes the amazing growth of need for volunteer help to make them successful – even viable.

While you’re competing for donations and for sales, you’re also competing for volunteers.

Whenever we discuss systems for gift aid processing and, increasingly nowadays, to streamline multi-store systems administration and control, volunteers’ needs are on the agenda. There is nervousness as to how volunteers will take to new computer-based tills and systems.

It’s a sensible concern, but as it turns out, an ill-founded one: in practice we’ve had reported an almost immediate reduction in till errors of up to 90%: surely the ultimate proof of ease of use and acceptance.

Not merely acceptance, there’s even enthusiasm. It seems that when you’re giving your time you want it well used – and volunteers appreciate the time-saving benefits of improved systems as much as managers and fundraisers do.

The growth of IT in charity shops started with Retail Gift Aid processing, with its offer of increased revenue from the same turnover. Some early systems often added to the workload as sales had to be recorded twice – once for the cash, once for the gift aid.

More modern approaches bring a win-win, as computerised tills make gift aid processing easy and auditable, with big savings in admin costs for general shop operations such as cash tracking and sales figures. Increasingly there is provision of data to equip managers to get results on an increasingly competitive charity high street.

The fulcrum for all this is operation in store, and optimally (we think) at the counter. While volunteers often prove more resilient than you may expect, these systems are used by a lot of people each for a day or two each week. This places a premium on a well-designed and resilient user interface.

People often think that one till, or one computerised point of sale, is much like another, with the differences between systems in back office functions or size of a support team. Of course these matter- after all that’s where the value may be delivered – but they’re not what makes the difference. An old IT expression is GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out……

So what does matter in a till? After about 20 years delivering PC based tilling functions, these are our conclusions:
1. Focussability
2. Distractability
3. Fault tolerance

Focussability
Can you produce an interface that mirrors exclusively your procedures, with no redundant functions?
Is your core process as simple as it can be? Can you change it with time as you gain outlets or develop new trading areas – cafes, furniture, new goods – or as HMRC requirements change, and still keep the focus to make volunteers life simple?

Distractability
Tills exist in shops, not in offices. So users are distracted mid sale all the time – people ask questions, they see someone popping something in their pocket, a police car rushes past with blues and twos on the go….

Can the user get back to the till and see where they were when the left it? Does the interface use one form (screen) for one job, or are users expected to use a complex multifunction screen? Speed matters here too – fast multiple form interfaces get best results.

Fault tolerance
Is the system designed for resilience. If the internet falls over, will the volunteer even notice? Kudos can deliver cloud based benefits of central management and real time data without building in connectivity vulnerability as well.
If a label falls off, can you still sell the product quickly, simply, and efficiently? Or does the system get grumpy, prompt for a label that isn’t there, worry the volunteer, worry the customer, hold up the queue….. Is it worth all that, just to squeeze every last gift aid pip. You should be able to make that choice – what’s right for your operation, your volunteers, your customers.

Happy volunteers make for happy shops, and happy shops sell more, unhappy volunteers make for stressed managers and closed shops!

Training and Installation
Beware of the ‘this is the best way to do it’ approach, and look for your supplier to bring their expertise to your project as well, because they offer complementary experience; and lots of it. You may install a new system every few years – your supplier will do them every week. So it’s a team thing now, and into the future.

You need options to optimise your solution – but you deserve support in making the best selections efficiently.

More in Store
Processes impact more widely than on the computer at counter or stock room. It’s an IT based solution, but it impacts more widely – and sometimes IT may not be the answer.

It looks cool in a demo to add a new donor at the till. But IT’S A TILL. If your customers have to wait while you do your admin, they won’t thank you, or your volunteers, and both of them may end up going next door.

So how can you get process off the till? How well will new systems fit existing shop processes, where can they improve or simplify? And focus on those!

To sum up

  • Volunteers enjoy well focused solutions, both for ease of use compared with old fashioned tills, and for the improved use of their time
  • Not all tills are the same in adaptability, ease of use, friendliness, acceptability
  • Retail IT starts at the till, then up the line to deliver value at all points
  • Just because your system is computerised, doesn’t mean you must, or should do everything on the computer
    And finally
  • It’s an evolution, not a big bang. You will and should change your system setups and configurations in response to experience in practice, and changing trading conditions. You can’t imagine your way to perfection – you can only evolve there.

When you get there, your volunteers will thank you for it!

This guest blog was provided by Kudos Software