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The Cash Office Goes High-Tech

BY CSA STAFF

Traditionally, cash office management and the reconciliation process have relied on manual procedures, such as counting currency and coin by hand, creating handwritten check deposits, and keying totals into the POS system. Many retailers have used the same cash office procedures for years, with the procedures inconsistently executed from store to store. Chain Store Age talked with Balance Innovations’ Janette Davis about how technology is bringing new efficiencies to cash office management.

What is the biggest mistake retailers make when it comes to cash office management?

One of the most interesting statements we hear from almost all of our customers in the beginning is that they don’t think they have a problem in their cash offices. They are looking at ways to solve a few issues, like managing safes. When we work with retailers, we step back and review the entire cash office and reconciliation process. Retailers see our analysis of their daily processes — till balancing, deposits, check processing, etc. — and realize their current methods aren’t efficient. They are struck by just how much the inefficiency is costing them and how much of it is consuming their day. Many are skeptical that a technology solution can help them solve these issues. After we show them how Balance Innovations can save them up to 60% in labor costs, among many other benefits, they are eager to implement a VeriBalance pilot program in their stores.

What are the drawbacks and benefits of outsourcing cash counting and check processing?

Some retailers choose to outsource cash counting and check processing to save labor hours or to reduce cash touches within the stores. While this may seem to be a more convenient solution, there are many drawbacks — primarily cost. Banks charge exorbitant fees for these services, and you lose the ability to follow up on discrepancies, such as an over/short or a missing check, at the store level on the day they occur. Outsourcing these processes takes the control away from the retailers, and it doesn’t address the store-level issues that prompted outsourcing in the first place.

Reconciling at the store level is more efficient because bookkeepers are able to rectify issues much more quickly by researching the problem with the staff on site. If reconciliation is done at corporate or at a district office, it can be days or weeks until a discrepancy is identified, and resolution is more difficult because so much time has passed.

How does Balance Innovations help retailers with their cash office management?

Through its simplified, automated processes and its integration with the POS, our VeriBalance program significantly reduces the time needed to complete bookkeeping tasks, allowing retailers to redirect their teams to other activities, such as working with customers.

Rather than requiring cash office personnel to manually count cash, balance checks and process credit and debit, our solution integrates in real time with the point of sale, pulling totals and reconciling them with till contents. Balance Innovations’ solutions reduce shrink through improved accountability of cash management functions, providing an audit trail and historical research capabilities.

What type of impact, if any, do self-checkouts have on back-end practices in this area?

Managing, monitoring, balancing and forecasting the cash held by self-checkout terminals is a manual and time-consuming process for the cash office.

Our solution, vbScout, automates the balancing and reconciliation of self-checkout terminals and allows the cash office to monitor the level of cash and coin in each terminal. It alerts the user to low cash or coin conditions and also provides notification as cash acceptors approach their thresholds. The combination of the two technologies reduces the frequency of balancing the terminals and downtime for the customer caused by out-of-cash conditions or full acceptors. vbScout also eliminates manual balancing errors by guiding bookkeepers through a step-by-step process of balancing each terminal.

How does your back-office check conversion work?

vbEPIX enables retailers to implement back-office check conversion, providing total reconciliation. It works in conjunction with our VeriBalance cash office solution and is integrated in real time with the chain’s POS system.

All check types can be imaged with vbEPIX with no user decisioning. This check conversion solution leverages POS transactions to ensure all checks are balanced and reconciled. Corrections occur at the store level, ensuring deposits are accurate.

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App Essentials

BY Staff Writer

The life of any top-level retail executive is hectic, but there’s a whole host of mobile app tools to help manage everyday tasks and ultimately boost efficiency.

From keeping track of to-do lists and meetings to eliminating paper receipts needed for expense reports, here are eight essential iOS and Android apps every retail exec should download — and actually use:

Evernote: This note-taking app can be a lifeline for retail executives. Whether in a meeting, on a train or unwinding on the couch at night, Evernote is a key platform for jotting down notes by voice, text or photos. In addition to housing a place for ideas, it keeps track of to-do lists and keeps you organized, without having to bug an assistant for calendar updates.

Bonus: Evernote is newly integrated with Livescribe, a Wi-Fi-enabled smartpen ($169.95), which records what you hear during meetings and syncs it up with the notes you take. (So if you tap the pen to notes at a later time, the recorded audio matches what was said at that time.) Because the Livescribe pen works with Evernote, users can access everything directly via the app.

Dragon Dictation: For execs who are more orators than pen-to-the-paper writers, Dragon Dictation is a speech-recognition app that translates what’s said into notes. So if there’s an hour to spare in the car to work on a speech, this app simplifies the process and serves as an on-the-go virtual secretary.

Dropbox: This cloud-based app syncs documents, photos and media files remotely, so dragging data from a PC or mobile platform to a Dropbox account allows users to access them while on the go. Dropbox is also shareable between users. Need to approve that document before it’s presented at a conference? Pop it into the app and make necessary changes without actually downloading data-sucking files.

Twitter: As Twitter CEO Dick Costolo recently said at a San Francisco tech conference, the biggest misconception about the micro-blogging site is “that you have to tweet to use [it].” By following key retail journalists and publications — Chain Store Age included via @ChainStoreAge — you can get the most up-to-date news in real time and stay ahead of the curve. Monitoring brand competitors on Twitter is also valuable for keeping track of merchandising strategies, especially during the holiday shopping season.

Flipboard: There’s a good reason why Flipboard has been among one of the most-downloaded apps for about two years. Along with a beautiful, streamlined interface, the app packages the top news on the Web into a magazine-style reading format, allowing users to flip through headlines like turning pages in a book. It’s also customizable, so the app presents the most relevant news based on interests and industry (e.g. brand marketers are presented with different articles than a financial executive would see).

Pocket: Another news consumption app worth downloading is Pocket, which saves articles, videos and Web pages and gives you access to them at a later time, even when you’re offline such as taking a flight.

CamCard: This business card reader app for Android users scans images taken from a smartphone camera and automatically saves them as contacts to a mobile address book. This means taking a picture of a business card will ensure you’ll never lose important contact information again.

Expensify: For avid business travelers, Expensify automates the entire expense report process so you can be reimbursed quickly and avoid carrying around piles of receipts. The app syncs with the user’s credit cards and bank accounts to keep track of purchases and creates digital copies of paper receipts. Meanwhile, when a credit card is used, items paid for in cash can be documented digitally via the app’s scanner feature.

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Focus on: Mobile Retailing

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

By many accounts, Walgreens is already a mobile retailing veteran. But eager to keep its service exciting and valuable, the drug store chain recently added a new product-mapping service within its mobile strategy.

Walgreens began its mobile journey in September 2009, when it launched an app designed to “improve the way our customers interact with us,” explained Tim McCauley, senior director, mobile commerce for Deerfield, Ill.-based Walgreens.

The services supported by the app include electronic prescription refills, access to prescription histories, the ability to order photo prints, a store locator, access to the chain’s weekly ad, the ability to browse merchandise and check stock availability, and browse and pay for orders.

Such robust functionality has consistently placed the Walgreens app among the top 50 free apps downloaded through Apple’s iTunes Store. Building off of this excitement, the chain was ready to add a new dimension of functionality, one that further improved the in-store experience. For Walgreens, this translated into a product-mapping component.

“Initially, our app helped users navigate the shopping experience outside the store,” McCauley said. “As consumers begin to enter the store with their device, we needed to deliver more value, relevance and excitement to their shopping experience. The mapping offering does this.”

McCauley expects the service to help customers build shopping lists prior to visiting stores, and easily navigate aisles once they enter.

“It helps them preplan their trip, and then make the visit a better experience once they get there,” he explained. “We need to provide services that remind shoppers what’s on sale, and help them find what they want.”

Walgreens required a solution that could deliver easy navigation, scalability and the flexibility needed to support its breadth and expansion plans. The chain partnered with St. Louis-based aisle411 based on its robust, customer-friendly display and its seamless integration with its mobile app.

Walgreens provided aisle411 with formatted product mapping data, customized for each store. As shoppers launch the Walgreens app, they choose the store locator icon, select their desired location and then choose the store maps icon, which connects them to a store-specific schematic, complete with labeled aisles. Users can build shopping lists either by adding items from the weekly ad or manually entering them. The map directs shoppers to where they reside in their chosen store.

Since launching the mapping software in July, Walgreens’ customer and employee feedback has helped the company make additional enhancements, including creating more streamlined lists and simpler mapping.

“[When we make] product searches and mapping operations easier, the shopper experience improves,” McCauley said. “We hope to further streamline functionality in time for the holidays.”

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