"Most retailers still use EDC terminals for credit payments"
By Shailesh Shah
Pine Labs, a leading retail technology provider in India, is home to a number of pathbreaking softwares for payment, loyalty, retail automation, prepaid solutions and VAS. Known for its point of sale services which are extensively focused on the retailer’s PC, Pine Labs believes that retailers in India do not extract its full value and still use EDC terminals for credit payments that require manual entry by cashiers. In an exclusive interview with IndiaRetailing, Lokvir Kapoor, CEO,Pine Labs shares his views on how technology can soften retail operations and where his company can help. Excerpts:
IndiaRetailing (IR): How does your technology help retailers?
Lokvir Kapoor (LK): Pine Labs’s technology is focused on the retailer’s PC point of sale. The POS is such a critical customer touchpoint, but most retailers don’t extract its full value. For example, they still use EDC terminals for credit payments that require manual entry by cashiers. Or they run offline loyalty programs which create paper work for the cashier and don’t support real-time, targeted rewards schemes. Our mission is to provide an integrated, secure and flexible platform for all the retailer’s transaction needs. Our product range is completely modular – the client can customize whichever package best suits his needs. And best of all, our solution runs on various hardware platforms and integrates with existing peripheral devices, making it extremely inexpensive to install.
IR: What are the verticals where you provide your services?
LK: Our flagship product is Plutus, the only credit and debit processing application for the PC POS in India. It provides all the functionality of an EDC device – but runs on the PC, seamlessly with the billing software. So the retailers save on telco costs and eliminate cashier data entry. Plus, all transactions can be viewed and managed centrally at the head office level to monitor settlement and improve their acquiring strategy. We’re very proud that we’re certified by all the leading Acquirers and fully PCI DSS compliant. It’s working beautifully at Future Group, Shoppers Stop and others.
On the loyalty side, our NOVA application helps retailers build long-term, profitable relationships with their customers. It supports flexible, targeted reward schemes in real-time and across multiple channels, be it the charge slip, SMS or email. Retailers can track customer behavior and focus their promotions on the most valuable segments.
We have also developed AlphaNet, a PC-based application that provides mobile tops ups, ticketing, bill payment and other value-added services at the POS. It creates a whole new source of income for retailers, and of course draws more customer traffic to their stores.
IR: What about prepaid payment solutions?
LK: In the fast-evolving world of retail marketing, it’s imperative to attract new customers and engage existing ones – and to showcase your brand. Gift Voucher programs are very popular in the market, but have significant limitations – they are not secure and prone to theft and fraud, they’re tedious to issue and redeem. Our electronic gift card program provides the same security as credit card transactions – until it’s paid for and activated, the card is just a piece of plastic. So now retailers can advertise them prominently and sell them efficiently at any till with just a swipe of a card. And because it’s online, retailers can add benefits and discounts to the program to speed adoption, or drive traffic to a new outlet, or capture institutional sales. Finally, all reporting is done in real-time so retailers can monitor performance and optimize the program.
IR: Can all retailers afford to use your software?
LK: We explicitly manage our product portfolio to fit the requirements and the budgets of all segments. For example, our customers in the enterprise segment typically require a bespoke loyalty solution, with deep integration into their supply chain management system. To meet these needs, we can spend anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks on customization and integration of NOVA, which of course increases the cost of the final solution. But for the SME segment, we’ve realized that a flexible rules engine and intuitive interfaces can deliver the types of campaigns the retailer wants to run. In this case, a powerful desktop solution with minimal installation and customization is the best and most affordable option.
IR: How difficult is it to use Pine Labs’ technology? LK: You should try it and see for yourself! One of the pain points our customers mention a lot is the high turnover in sales staff. Training new employees on applications is costly and time consuming, so we’ve eliminated cashier data-entry and decision-making wherever possible. Instead, we centralize the “brains” of the system at the head office level where Marketing and Ops managers design loyalty schemes and analyze campaign performance or manage credit charge backs and add banks as acquirers. All our products use intuitive interfaces and include workflow automation components so that managers can focus more time on their retail strategy, and less on IT.
IR: How is Pine Labs faring during the current retail slowdown?
LK: The slowdown is an opportunity for us. Retailers are competing on razor thin margins, and looking for solutions that give them an edge. We’ve noticed increased demand for Plutus, our credit/debit processing solution, as COOs are trying to manage the costs of accepting cashless payments. Meanwhile, CMOs are using more sophisticated approaches to drive customer loyalty and increase the ROI of promotions. Given NOVA’s reputation in the market and our competitive ASP pricing model, we’ve actually more than doubled our loyalty customers in this fiscal year.
IR: What are the upcoming softwares from Pine Labs?
LK: We are launching a bundled solution for small merchants’ PC desktops that includes payments, loyalty and value-added services. We believe this segment of the market is underserved in terms of the power of their POS applications, and believe there’s real demand for an affordable solution that allows them to compete with the big national chains.