Is Epicor Poised to Rule the Mid-Market Retail Sector? (Part II)

Part I of this blog topic  introduced Epicor Software and its traditional vertical solutions. It also analyzed Epicor's forays into the attractive retail sector via the CRS acquisition two years ago. Designed for integration and scalability, the  Epicor/CRS Retail Suite can support a wide variety of retail enterprises' requirements.

These environments range from the rapidly expanding regional retailer requiring point-of-sale (POS), store operations and merchandising, to the large, global retailer requiring central management, visibility and control over hundreds or thousands of distributed stores and outlets.

Epicor/CRS  customers include leading retailers such as Aéropostale, American Eagle Outfitters, Ann Taylor, Cache, Chico’s, Coach, Eileen Fisher, Factory Connection, Foot Locker, GNC, J.Crew, Stage Stores, Trans World Entertainment, Tuesday Morning, Inc., Yankee Candle Company and Zumiez, among others. The retail division employs more than 360 employees based in Newburgh, New York, the United States (US), with regional offices in Seattle, Washington, US and Bracknell, the United Kingdom (UK).

The  Epicor/CRS Retail Suite  was devised to assist retailers in integrating their sales channels, order management, pricing, inventory, and resources to more effectively manage a real-time (or close to), multi-channel enterprise. Some of the retail applications that are presently generally available in  the suite are:

  • Epicor/CRS Merchandising Suite [evaluate this product] is a set of applications that includes tools to manage items, inventory, purchase orders and pricing. Modular applications in the  suite include Allocation, Orders and Fulfillment, TransfersPlus and ECommerce. The  merchandising suite includes the tools for users' distribution centers (DC's) to ensure more accurate receiving, replenishment, merchandising reporting, and more efficient distribution to the stores. In addition, through detailed transaction logging, the optional SalesAudit module provides an unbroken, audit trail of everything that happened in each store across each type of transaction for sales audit and loss prevention purposes. Also, a detailed Customer Sales Analysis module provides the information to build and broaden sales through the customer base. In addition to key applications for replenishment and reporting, the merchandizing suite includes interfaces to accounting systems.

  • Epicor/CRS RetailStore [evaluate this product] is a Microsoft.NET Framework-based POS store system designed to assist store personnel to provide a better customer experience, and more effectively manage store operations.

  • A more complete store system includes store management, operations and reporting applications, in addition to POS. Store operations are in that case managed through Epicor/CRS RetailStore Office, which provides the store manager the flexibility to work on inventory, employee maintenance, or other tasks while still monitoring the sales floor. The RetailStore Office  module provides store management with secure control of tasks including employee maintenance, time & attendance (T&A), store opening/closing, preferred customer management, layaway management, inventory, POS administration, cash management, electronic journaling and reporting.

  • Epicor/CRS RetailStore Central provides even more comprehensive systems management solutions to chain store retailers who need centralized control of store software and configuration profiles. Based on the Microsoft .NET Framework, the solution uses secure publish/subscriber-based technology to allow retail chains with hundreds to thousands of locations to monitor and manage their store system configurations and business rules more easily and with greater control.  RetailStore Central provides control, monitoring and tracking of all unique changes, including those related to policies, procedures, payroll, security, marketing, taxes and inventory. Changes to  RetailStore  POS and back office configuration profiles can be managed remotely on a store-by-store basis or through user-defined store groupings without requiring information technology (IT) resources or customizations.

  • Epicor/CRS MobileStore is designed to extend access to key store functionality and information beyond the cash register and manager workstation. Through wireless devices running the  MobileStore application, store managers and sales associates can remotely perform inventory control, item lookup, manager authorization, along with other key store functions.

  • Epicor/CRS RetailCRM is a customer relations management (CRM) solution based on Microsoft .NET framework. By gathering and analyzing customer information from multiple channels,  RetailCRM can deliver a more accurate and comprehensive view of the customer to assist sales associates and marketing teams with better information to serve customers. Utilizing the data integration, analysis and reporting capabilities of Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services,  the CRM application  aggregates information on customer purchase history and shopping behavior across sales channels, enabling retailers to deliver a higher level of one-to-one marketing and personalized customer service at all points of customer interaction.

  • Epicor/CRS ReturnsManagement is a multi-channel returns management application enabling retailers to reduce refund fraud and ensure accurate refunds, while improving customer service and employee compliance.

  • Epicor/CRS EnterpriseSelling  combines real-time inventory and location management with a configurable order manager to integrate inventory transaction processing of multiple sales channels allowing retailers to sell merchandise and satisfy customer demand from anywhere within the distributed enterprise.

  • The  Epicor/CRS LossPrevention  module can be used at the corporate office or in the field to quickly identify patterns of suspicious actions, evaluate exceptions, track potentially fraudulent activities, and investigate individual employee behavior, to assist investigators in dismissing innocent mistakes or building cases for prosecution.

Finally, the Epicor/CRS Retail Integration module provides an integrated offering across the Epicor Enterprise Financials Suite [evaluate this product] and Epicor/CRS Merchandising Suite. Through Epicor Service Connect , a Web services-based business integration platform that came from the above-mentioned Scala acquisition, a secure, auditable two-way integration is supported across these diverse solutions.  Service Connect  functions as the central integration point for implementing secure workflow orchestrations within Epicor applications and with third-party applications to enhance collaboration and automate business processes. The  Epicor/CRS Retail Integration  provides the integration for feeding store-level information from merchandising to the financial application.

This brings us to the fact that Epicor’s products are increasingly developed on and use service-oriented architecture (SOA) concepts, which can help manufacturers, distributors, retailers and services organizations to more quickly and efficiently respond to changing business requirements and practices. SOA is a modular, standards-based approach to software development and its deployment is designed to provide a more agile and adaptable application foundation, which can help companies more effectively align their IT resources and enterprise software with their overall business objectives. Epicor’s early adoption of Microsoft .NET and Web services technology allows its product offerings, development and services to leverage the benefits of a SOA and provide growing mid-sized businesses with increased flexibility, inter-operability and cross-platform capability.

To be able to service its growing list of international retail customers, over the past year Epicor/CRS has engineered its POS product to support global market requirements. The latest version of RetailStore, 3.1, released in Q3 2007 – supports French Canadian, Italian, French, and Spanish languages. The release handles capturing customer data for multiple country formats and supports multiple currency denominations and rounding. Additionally, the solution is compliant with the Unicode standard for engineering software that works across multiple regions, countries, languages, alphabets, and scripts. And in early 2008, RetailStore is slated to support Unicode for the Japanese and Chinese markets.

Also, to further support its international retail customers, Epicor is continuing to grow and leverage its UK office located in Bracknell as its implementation and support services hub. The company’s Europe Middle-East & Africa (EMEA) consulting team also grew considerably in 2007, opening additional offices in Slovakia, South Africa, Kenya and India, as well as an office in Egypt, operated jointly with consulting partner IDTA. Epicor also plans to extend its Center of Excellence in Malaysia, which will provide implementation, training and help desk and support services, as well as maintenance, disaster recovery, and support for new store openings.

To further expand its presence and prowess in the retail sector, in December 2007 Epicor and NSB Retail Systems jointly announced that they have agreed on terms for the acquisition of NSB by Epicor for approximately US$320 million. NSB provides a range of software and hardware solutions to apparel, specialty, and department store retailers (which all sounds quite similar to the CRS' offering).

As a vendor of software for retailers of apparel, footwear and other "specialty" merchandise, NSB is headquartered in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and registered and publicly traded in the UK. In 2007, NSB had over 600 employees and projected revenues of $91 million (with some sizable profitability too) from about 200 customers (mostly in the US). The deal is expected to close in February 2008.

Part III of this blog topic will analyze a continuation of Epicor’s strategy to capitalize on the red-hot retail software market, where it initially jumped into with its acquisition of CRS Retail two years ago. Your views, comments, opinions, etc. about Epicor's moves in the retail sector are customarily welcome in the meantime.
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