August 18, 2022

One Tool To Rule Them All?

by Elisabeth Harvey

Why A One-Size-Fits-All Approach To Software May Not Work For Your Retail Operation

We all want to make our lives simpler. Whether we adopt a minimalist decor or Marie-Kondo our sock drawer, many of us feel compelled to simplify complex areas of our lives.

For natural food retailers, specialty markets and grocery superstores, the desire to streamline is just as strong. There’s room for improvement in hiring and onboarding, inventory management, recon accuracy, “loss leader” vetting, promotions analysis, and so forth. Who wouldn’t be attracted to the idea of using one tool to manage all of those areas of complexity?

For many years, back-office technologies have promised that level of all-in-one simplification. Complex software companies say they will deliver comprehensive, intelligent solutions — at an expensive price point to match.

The allure of a comprehensive solution to completely overhaul operations is powerful, indeed. Operators want the ability to transform tasks that typically bottleneck their teams, and hope to free up their staff for more productive, strategic tasks that improve the customer experience.

Image of neatly stacked silver and black grocery carts. You probably didn’t get into the grocery business to focus on software (or stack shopping baskets, for that matter). You want to be managing your inventory turnover ratio, not your tech stack. ERPs and one-size-fits-all software systems don't provide enough customization to support grocery store growth. 

However, one-size-fits-all solutions like ERP (enterprise resource planning systems) often miss the mark for grocery operations. Different regions have different needs; different communities have different regulations. And not all tech products are designed to seamlessly interact. Many retail operators find that choosing a “silver bullet” solution comes at a much greater cost than price. Not only does transitioning to an all-in-one solution require a large portion of your annual capital expenditure (CAPEX) budget, but onboarding can mean countless staff hours spent reconfiguring work stations and workflows. In addition, large developers in the space consistently use proprietary, closed systems to develop their software solutions. Rather than prioritizing efficiency for customers, these solutions are focused on their own profitability and rarely deliver on the one-and-done promise. 

Grocery deserves better.

Let’s take a closer look at what an all-in-one software looks like, and how grocery can navigate around this chimera.

Swiss Army Knife Solutions

An all-in-one solution usually starts as software with one niche function. Maybe it was originally a scheduling application, an operations planner, or an accounting platform. This application is the core of the solution, and as the SAAS (Software As A Service) expanded, other specialized tasks were added on top of it. 

Frequently, these all-in-one solutions are marketed as the best investment you can make. However, an expensive tech solution doesn’t necessarily support every area of operations, and a silver bullet doesn’t always live up to expectations.

For many grocery operators, a complex and lengthy integration process might be the first red flag. A second let-down? When the software is finally up and running, but it can’t fully handle the layered tasks your business had hoped it would.

Blue-lit robot cracks an egg over a white bowl. A lemon half sits at the robot's base, as though it will be selected next. Similarly, ERP systems and one-size-fits-all software can’t handle the many delicate tasks your grocery business needs sorted.

At Plate IQ, we call this kind of software a “Swiss Army Knife solution.” It does a bit of everything, attached to one central functionality—but it might not always be the right tool for the job. 

Getting the Job Done Right in Construction

Not all industries are looking toward a Swiss Army knife solution, and there are reasons why. Let’s take the image a bit farther, and look at a different industry: construction. 

Now, we all have found a Swiss Army knife handy at some point. We might use it to cut something in a pinch, or tighten a loose screw when we’re on the go.

However, construction professionals aren’t using a Swiss Army knife to build a home. Instead, they use highly specialized tools that are a perfect fit for the job. These tools make the specific task easier and more efficient, delivering a better final product for both the construction company and the homeowner. 

Evolving Specialized Technology in the App Marketplace

We can also take a look at another industry: consumer technology. In the late 2000’s, the iPhone had just been released, and Google also launched their Android platform. The possibility of an app marketplace was a pivotal point in the global tech community: would there be just a few large, well-funded tech solutions that would dominate the new market? Or would there be numerous apps with a more niche audience?

Looking at the marketplace today, the app economy has exploded. There are thousands of apps, rather than a rigid, fixed system. Consumers prefer specialized apps that meet specific needs—and of course, the same is true of grocers. Apple and Google made their app ecosystems open and flexible, empowering integration and innovation. This translated into maximum convenience for consumers, and new functionality for the cell phone. 

Different Strokes for Different Folx in Grocery

The grocery industry is massive, but it isn’t a monolith. The market is complex, with operators ranging from mom-and-pop markets to neighborhood cooperatives to multi-unit chains — all grappling with COGS, stockouts, cost to retail percentages, and spill and spoilage issues. Within segments, offerings range widely: prepared foods, delivery services, and restaurant-like concepts are constantly changing the face of grocery.

Each of these segments has vastly different needs. Smaller organizations with a few locations may have a slim team where everyone wears many hats, juggling responsibilities like receiving or accounts payable or inventory. A supermarket with hundreds of locations, by contrast, may have a highly specialized above-store back office that focuses specifically on one area of operations. 

Grocery clerk hands an apple to a person. Display is abundantly overflowing with fresh produce. How can a software company possibly address every facet of every retail operation?

These two ends of the spectrum have vastly different needs, and demand advanced software tools that are flexible and robust. How can a software company possibly address every facet of every operation?

Unfortunately, a Swiss Army knife approach can result in clunky, difficult-to-adopt software solutions that leave organizations in the lurch (and feeling like failures). By trying to appeal to the widest audience possible, software developers often miss the central problem they are trying to solve, and ignore the persona of user segments who need the tool’s functionality.

Building Adaptable, Flexible Technology

In addition to the one-size-fits-all-actually-doesn’t-fit-our-store issue, many comprehensive technology offerings are rooted in tech that is outdated.

Systems are often built around a specific tool, then additional software layers functionality on top. Because the solution was built over time, updating the foundational technology becomes increasingly difficult. For example, many of the Saas industry’s all-in-one solutions still use outdated functions like FTP (File Transfer Protocol), which is an unencrypted and vulnerable data exchange system that modern tech tools in other industries stopped using at least a decade ago.

The grocery industry longs to increase organizational efficiencies in every department. “Comprehensive” solutions and ERPs look great on paper, but in practice they often fail to meet the bespoke needs of each individual operation. ERPs rarely perform optimally in multi-department and multi-location organizations. Grocery stores and food retailers can learn from other industries, and look instead for best-in-class tools to meet each strategic, long-term goal. 

Photo of all eggs in one basket. Don't put your eggs in one basket, especially since the grocery industry is chock full of baskets. We recommend tools designed with integration in mind, and a collection of solutions that plays well together will better serve your retail accounting and store operation. Give your team the tools to beat inflation by seeking out best-in-class automation solutions. Look for robust machine learning, custom approvals, invoice digitization, and a digital filing cabinet.

The Bottom Line about Your Software

It’s completely understandable why grocers might want “one tool to rule them all.” You probably didn’t get into the grocery business because you wanted to focus on software. You want to be managing your inventory turnover ratio, not your tech stack. But ERPs and one-size-fits-all software systems often miss the mark. A Swiss Army knife approach doesn’t provide enough customization to support grocery store growth. 

When you only have one basket, it makes sense to put all of your eggs in there. But the grocery industry is nothing if not chock full of baskets (and carts in varying sizes). 

The best tools for the job are designed with integration in mind, and a collection of solutions that plays well together will better serve your retail accounting and store operation.

Give your team the tools to beat inflation by seeking out best-in-class automation solutions. Look for robust machine learning, custom approvals, invoice digitization, and a digital filing cabinet.

If you’re ready to explore world-class solutions for back office operations like Accounts Payable (AP), Plate IQ offers AP automation software that can meet the needs of your unique organization. Custom approvals, invoice digitization, automated bookkeeping combine to give your finance team the mobile boost it needs to beat inflation.

Plate IQ is ready to help you build a resilient, innovative business, today and tomorrow. Scroll down to book a personalized demo today. 

Elisabeth Harvey writes for Plate IQ, covering technology in the hospitality industry from a background in specialty foods marketing and co-operative grocery management.

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