“At first, I thought most of our customers would want a hybrid cloud design,” David Potts explained as he outlined the architecture of his Saleswarp retail automation software.
But soon Potts, CEO and founder of Saleswarp, found that everyone preferred a version that ran entirely in the cloud. It turns out that by going to the cloud only, Saleswarp was able to offer customers a level of service that many retailers can’t readily obtain from other sources.
I met with Potts and his team in the offices of the ETC Baltimore technology incubator located in a former factory that once made beer and soft drink cans. The neighborhood with its post-industrial grime and heavy traffic headed to Baltimore’s port didn’t seem promising. But inside, the offices were cool, sleek and satisfyingly informal. Saleswarp was growing with the help of the city’s investment in technology startups.
Founded in 2009, Saleswarp has developed what it describes as a fully integrated retail automation application that is capable of handling every facet of retail operations. Saleswarp will handle every step of the sales, fulfillment and logistics of a retail operation, including brick and mortar sales, e-commerce, warehousing and shipping.
We stepped our way through each phase of the retail process from the most basic–buying goods in a store through the resulting logistics chain. When an item is purchased, a store’s point-of-sale system records the sale in a database maintained by Saleswarp. When that happens, the software checks inventory levels to confirm that there was still enough of the item in stock and meanwhile decrements the stock on hand by the amount bought.
As sales continue, the stock on hand diminishes and at a set point, the Saleswarp software will generate a purchase order to replenish inventory. It will then track the new stock as it arrives and update the stock on hand.
Meanwhile, over in the e-commerce part of the business, the same thing is happening. Sales can come in from the retailer’s Website, from an affiliate’s site or through a link with Amazon.com.
Purchases are reflected in the inventory database in the same way that they are from store point-of-sale terminals. The process includes the ability to order stock to be drop-shipped where appropriate, for payments to be processed, and for the accounting and ERP packages to reflect the sales.
The cloud-based inventory tracking works so well that one of Saleswarp’s major customers, clothing retailer Zumiez, was able to close its warehouses and keep all inventory in its stores.
Startup Saleswarp Takes Cloud-Only Approach to Retail Automation
Because all the stores share a common inventory database, any store can see all the available inventory and, if necessary, can have products shipped from another store. Likewise, the e-commerce sales draw in the same inventory and the stores are able to fulfill orders placed online.
Potts said that the company is able to work with any point-of-sale system, including some that are pretty old. Some of the POS terminals at Zumiez have been around for more than 20 years. He said that adding new infrastructure, such as new POS terminals, is a straightforward process of enabling the new software for the new terminals.
In addition, because Saleswarp uses Amazon Web Services as its cloud provider, it’s highly scalable. If a retailer grows rapidly or a distributer picks up a big new customer, all they need to do is expand their AWS presence.
I was able to follow the process of products moving through the sales and fulfillment functions seamlessly, with one step leading to the next. Notably, critical security features that are often an after-thought are also a seamless part of the process. Everything meets PCI security requirements, and payment verification and fraud checking are built-in.
In addition to being well-integrated, Potts said that he designed Saleswarp so that it’s highly modular. This means that if a company has an existing inventory management system, they can use that and just integrate it with Saleswarp. Likewise, other functions ranging from the POS to shipping can be integrated or customers can use the modules provided by Saleswarp.
While Saleswarp isn’t the only retail management system to use the cloud, the company contends that it’s only one that is integrated at all levels and completely cloud-based. Although Saleswarp customers can still use a hybrid cloud and on-premises configuration, so far, nobody has moved in that direction, Potts said.
Other competitors are creating cloud-based retail automation applications, but they haven’t been fully integrated. Salesforce.com, for example, is moving in that direction, but its acquisition of Demandware to handle e-commerce sales just received regulatory approval on June 30 and the deal won’t close until the end of July. Only then, will Salesforce begin to integrate the Demandware features with its cloud CRM platform.
As I examined the architecture of Saleswarp, I was struck by how similar it was to the concepts used in the Defense Department’s supply system. During my time at the Defense Logistics Agency, we wrestled with the problem of automating many of the same functions that Saleswarp has available to anyone.
Unfortunately, back in those days, we didn’t have cloud services, automated shipping and inventory visibility at all levels. But with companies like Saleswarp, now any company that needs sales and logistics services can have them any time they need them.
Even better, by using the cloud in this way, those companies can cut expenses, improve service, and reduce the delays and losses that older systems have, if only because of their inefficiency. Now, efficiency lives in the cloud, and it’s available to anyone.