Four Things Every Retailer Must Know About Telecom
As a brick-and-mortar retailer, you’re likely focused on tangible pieces of your business: your unique inventory, talented team and physical space.
But, without a reliable communications infrastructure—none of the above will matter. Without a system to keep critical communication alive and robust with customers, colleagues and vendors, your business will unravel.
Here are four essential things every retailer must know about telecom.
1. Strengthen your Web connection and backup plan
Most POS applications—especially those for debit and credit cards—are Web-based and require broadband (DSL, Cable internet or mobile data) or dedicated (T-1 or Ethernet based) connectivity. Many retailers, especially those on tight budgets, use broadband services for Internet connectivity. While less expensive than dedicated bandwidth, your stores share bandwidth with other businesses and individuals. During peak Internet usage times, you’re more likely to experience latency or timeout issues. Dedicated bandwidth ensures your business is the only entity using the bandwidth and includes Service Level Agreements that can facilitate a more rapid recovery should any performance degrading incidents occur.
Whether using dedicated bandwidth or broadband, you must have a backup plan for when the primary network goes down. At some point—it will go down. Consider 3G or 4G mobile data backup so that POS transactions can continue. A strong network and backup plan with the right features will also help keep your stores PCI compliant.
2. Streamline multiple locations
If you manage multiple shops, keep your telecom networks cohesive across all retail locations. For locations that are similar in size and output, look at what services and usage levels it takes to efficiently run one location and develop a standardized configuration for all telecom services and lines. During times of expansion, this will prove very helpful because you will already have an automatic, tested template for the each new location’s telecom infrastructure.
Also, work with telecom providers to optimize your network and streamline the billing process. When operating multiple locations, different bills from different carriers for multiple facilities can become an administrative nightmare. You can consolidate carriers and request invoice management services to help alleviate this problem. When you have more control, oversight and understanding into usage, negotiations and payments, you can save a significant amount of money in the long run.
3. Treat offices and showrooms separately, but connectivity
Whether your administrative offices are within or outside of your showroom locations, your telecom networks must be treated separately. For example, in the showroom, you may want to grant customers WiFi access. If so, you should maintain a separate network for all business operations. A private network, such as Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS), will protect sensitive and business-critical data.
Also, your office and showroom bandwidth considerations may be different. If you use hosted applications such as Quickbooks or Salesforce, for example, your office may in fact require much more bandwidth than the showroom, especially if you stream or download security video or large images.
You may also want to include multiple voice lines—at least one for customer-facing questions, and others for business and administrative use. However, to maintain connectivity between the office and the showroom, you should use the same carriers for both, and use integrated telecom systems, such as a private branch exchange (PBX) system, which can route incoming calls to different extensions.
4. Always Negotiate with Carriers
Even if you run a small retail operation, you can still negotiate with your telecom carriers. To leverage the best price, demonstrate your shop’s growth potential by presenting your three- and five-year growth projections. These plans should be realistic and likely. If you negotiate growth into your telecom contract and fail to achieve your benchmarks, you could be faced with penalties.
If you’re not planning an expansion in the next few years, there are other ways to create leverage. For one, consider bundling telecom services with one carrier instead of using multiple carriers. Also, you should always anticipate telecom contract renewals months in advance and begin the negotiation process early. This will buy time to research other carriers’ prices and promotions, gain an accurate understanding of current and future telecom needs and keep the negotiation alive by continuing to field counter offers.
Contributed by Melinda Curran, the founder and CEO of RCG, a single-source telecommunications provider based in Franklin, Tennessee. RCG collaborates with nationwide carriers to custom-create voice, data and mobility network solutions tailored to a company’s individual needs. Dedicated to superior customer relationships, expertise and value, RCG serves as a single point-of-contact for network design, sales, contract negotiation, billing resolution and repair. Visit RCG online at www.myrcg.com or on Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter @RCGNashville.
Great post. I 100% agree that telecom is often overlooked and has become a crucial part of the business for all retailers. With the prevalence of cloud based point of sale systems, online backup tools (which I think is another huge necessity) and analytics offerings the requirement for bandwidth is more important than ever. Retailers need to resist the urge to save a few bucks, as the impact to their business will be much larger if they do.