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ECRS’ Unified Experience Keeps It Ahead Of Changing Landscape 

Catoe
Peter Catoe

Company’s software is based on best practices, not customization

by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer

Peter Catoe founded ECRS in 1989. Thirty-something years later, he remains the president. While a lot has changed with technology in the grocery business during that time, his strategy has remained the same.

“We consider ourselves a transaction company, and we always have. Complex, high-volume transactions – that’s where we play, and that’s the space that we’ve been in all these years,” Catoe said.

“We follow wherever the transaction takes us, whether it’s on a kiosk, whether it’s self-checkout, whether it’s point-of-sale, whether it’s on a mobile device or on the web. To us, it’s all the same thing. We just keep focusing on that transaction.”

Thus, adapting to rapidly changing technology – such as the implementation of click-and-collect, delivery and curbside pickup – has been easy for ECRS.

“We’ve evolved, and that’s driven our whole philosophy around e-commerce,” Catoe said. “E-commerce and the store have to merge as one, and the systems had to reflect that. That’s what makes our product special and what drives us as a company.

“It’s really interesting problems to solve…we see e-commerce as just a new set of opportunities for us to extend our knowledge of transactions to the web.

“The ability to shop in the store with your smartphone is going to become even more important, and that smartphone is going to have to perform the same way that point-of-sale does.”

And as Catoe emphasized, this strategy has differentiated ECRS from its competitors in a positive way. The company is more nimble, and the software is based on best practices, not customization.

“There’s a lot of problems in a retail environment that have to be solved. A lot of retailers and a lot of vendors…they approach the problem from the perspective of silo. For instance, ‘I’m going to be a company that makes a mobile app so you can shop in the store with your smartphone.’ And then the point-of-sale company says, ‘Well, I’m going to do point-of-sale,’ and the self-checkout company says, ‘I’m going to do self-checkout.’

“The problem is, how do you get all of those entities to act as one? What ECRS does that’s so different is we make the entire stack. We make the point-of-sale, we make the self-checkout, we make the mobile app, we make the web store app – and all of it is really the same piece of software.”

Catoe added that ECRS offers a unified experience. 

“To keep things unified and simple, we literally put our software on the scale, so now we’re doing the scale for the deli, and then we’re doing the self-checkout, the point-of-sale, smartphones, and it’s all one business logic. And that’s how you get the unified experience.”

Catoe refered to ECRS’ strategy as “unified transaction logic,” because he believes the problems clients face when they have silos are much greater for a business than the problems of one solution. And this business approach has proven to work well.

“Imagine if you had all these different silos, and you had a new type of marketing promotion where you had to modify the point-of-sale to do that promotion,” Catoe said. “Well, how does that affect self-checkout? How does that affect the smartphone? How does that affect the web store?

“And you can see how it’s like a cascading, whiplash effect. If they’re all using the same piece of code, you can see how it’s more harmonious, and you’ll be able to adapt and be more agile.

“It’s a really unique approach. And it’s a winning approach. And so that is what makes us different.”

ECRS Catoe

Another niche edge that ECRS has is being “very ideal” for local and regional grocers, according to Catoe. “It allows them to have a really powerful technology stack, but without all the complexity that the larger operators have by having all these silos.”

“We focus on local and regional operators, but if you think about it, even a local operator has the same problems that a national operator has,” he said. “A national operator just has more.

“We don’t write custom software. Our application has a lot of capabilities, and you turn the functions on and off…that, too, for some reason is very unique. Most people have the same software, but it’s been modified so much that they’re not really part of a family of users. Our user base is one group, and they literally can exchange ideas…best practices, and they all have the same product.”

And as Catoe pointed out, retailers need harmonious software because they’re busy – too busy competing and running their stores to stop to mess with incongruities.

“We’re constantly getting ideas from the customer base, and that drives what we do,” he added. “But whatever we do, everybody gets…the cool thing is, when we add functionality, for say, a chain on the West Coast, a chain on the East Coast is going to have access to those functions because we do it in a generic fashion.

“You would think that would be how everybody does it, but that’s not true. Most people have customized their product to such an extent that you really can’t converse…we’re constantly building that community, giving them the latest and greatest capability.”

Asked what’s next for e-commerce and technology in this space, Catoe said “next” is exactly what they’re doing right now – “to pool the two together – the store and the web experience.”

“But I feel very certain that if your web experience or your smartphone app can do the same thing that your point-of sale-does, I can’t imagine that going into a store…it’s necessary that you go to a self-checkout. Why can’t you check out with your phone?

“We have a few sites that we are going to be testing…but we definitely see smartphones becoming more and more important to your typical grocer. For us, the step from the register to the smartphone is very small – just the way our system is architected. 

“Typically, if you have a silo approach, you can see how complicated that would be because that smartphone has got to do the transaction with all those crazy promos…to act like a register in terms of the final price.”

Catoe said ECRS also is doing some work with ai vision-based artificial intelligence.

“I see that becoming more and more important in the store,” he said. “Everything from detection of theft to even helping in the transaction process. So that’s becoming more important, long term. The industry is definitely changing, dramatically.”

To learn more about Boone, North Carolina-based ECRS, click here.

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