Half Price Books streamlines purchasing and inventory management

This article was published in the November 2016 issue of STORES Magazine.

Half Price Books, the purveyor of new and used books, magazines, records, movies and other items, obtains more than 50 million products every year. Each of its 120 stores carries about 160,000 items in inventory; the mix varies from one location to the next but usually contains both best-sellers and rarer items. Last month, its website offered bestsellers by John Grisham and JoJo Moyes, Adele and Bob Dylan, as well as a signed, first edition of “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater or Pearls Before Swine” by Kurt Vonnegut.

Prior to 2015, the Dallas-based company used a homegrown point-of-sale system first launched in 1986. Its reliability had become suspect, though, and finding experts able to work on the 30-year-old system was difficult. “It was a real live bully to manage,” says Mike Thomason, vice president of information technology.

Needing a newer, more robust POS system, “We made a strategic decision to get out of the POS business and focus on our in-house inventory,” Thomason says.

Half Price Books needed a system that could handle the retailer’s enormous product count. The system would have to be easy to learn and integrate smoothly with the company’s other financial systems — and fit within budget, of course.

After a team of Half Price Books employees from operations, retail support and IT reviewed and rated proposals from various vendors, the company decided on PCMS, whose Vision Commerce suite offers a number of software applications geared to retailers, including loss prevention, enterprise resource planning and analytics.

The new POS system “brings us into the current century.”

Mike Thomason
Half Price Books

The POS system, Vision BeanStore, is operating-system agnostic, enables sales associates to search other stores’ inventories, integrates with loyalty programs and supports the promotional requirements of the retailer’s marketing department. “It brings us into the current century,” Thomason says.

What’s more, BeanStore can accommodate the roughly 20 million new and used items in Half Price Books’ inventory at any time. Each product is assigned a unique number, which enables Half Price Books to track attributes associated with it, such as condition, edition or if the item is signed by the author or artist.

Platform-independent

Because PCMS is one of the largest privately owned providers of POS systems, it can take a flexible approach to customer service and financing, says Andy Winans, PCMS North America’s CEO.

BeanStore seamlessly interfaces with and pulls data from Half Price Books’ back-end systems. That speeds the checkout process while making it more secure; it also improves the retailer’s ability to track inventory. BeanStore also allows mobile checkouts, Winans says. “It’s about efficiency and the customer experience at the stores.”

The new system streamlines the process Half Price Books uses to purchase books from consumers. When an individual brings books, magazines or other items to a physical location, the sales associate provides a receipt. The customer accepts and signs the receipt, which is scanned into the PCMS system. The customer can redeem the receipt amount for cash or inventory.

PCMS teamed with Half Price Books to customize the system, Winans says. “We worked with them to take Vision BeanStore and provide a complete solution, while leveraging off-the-shelf features like credit authorization.”

If a customer can’t find what they are looking for at one store, a sales associate can use the POS system to search for the item at another location. Once it’s found, it can be delivered to the customer.

 

Because the BeanStore system is platform-independent, the total cost of ownership and support is lower than it would be with other systems, Winans says. The lifespan is longer as well, because it can run on older hardware, and on Windows, Linux or other operating systems. In contrast, some systems require more frequent hardware upgrades in order to remain operational.

PCMS also allows multiple forms of commerce to access the same capabilities within its systems. Winans says that while many retailers have had to develop one set of promotions for use in their stores and another for ecommerce, with BeanStore they can use the same promotions engine, no matter the type of transaction.

Retailers traditionally have placed servers in each of their locations, but supporting this type of system architecture becomes expensive and unwieldy as the number of locations grows. Today, the stability and speed of the networks has become so reliable and fast that terminals can connect directly to the central system, Winans says. Removing servers from the stores, as PCMS allows, reduces complexity and cost and allows greater visibility, he says.

PCMS, which has its global base in the United Kingdom, has been working for more than a dozen years on compliance with requirements set for Europay MasterCard Visa chip-based credit cards and by the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards Council. Incorporating these capabilities in U.S. locations has been straightforward.

Implementation

The time frame required to implement BeanStore varies with the complexity of the installation and the number of other systems with which it needs to integrate, Winans says, as well as the speed with which a retailer can provide such information as pricing and promotional data.

Half Price Books implemented the BeanStore system in a pilot location in early 2012, and then rolled it out at a steady pace between 2013 and early 2015. “We would do a few stores at a time,” Thomason says. “We’d set up the environment, convert the stores and redirect inventory data from the old system to the new.”

Most associates learn the system in about an hour.

Half Price Books also provided online training for associates, though the new system is so intuitive that little training was needed: Most associates learn the system in about an hour. That’s key, Thomason says. “The name of the game with frontline associates is to be productive as soon as possible.” Along with the software, Half Price Books invested in touchscreen workstations.

The BeanStore system has provided “a leap in reliability from the old system,” which regularly would bring a location down, Thomason says. In addition, the system gave Half Price Books the ability to execute a range of ecommerce and omnichannel strategies, such as allowing customers to make purchases online and then pick them up at a bricks-and-mortar location.

“We’re investing heavily in an online presence and a retooled e-commerce presence,” Thomason says. The updated site will showcase some of the retailer’s more interesting and unique inventory, such as first editions. “We aim to give consumers visibility to our store inventory to a degree they haven’t had before.”