eComOne podcast- "Retailers need to start thinking like a Tech company for Growth"

Catch up with AirPOS CEO Marty Neill on the latest episode of the renowned eComOne eCommerce podcast; Unfiltered Conversations. Richard Hill and Marty delve into the world of online selling and look at why many smaller retailers are struggling.

AirPOS
AirPOS
33 min read

We are excited to share the AirPOS CEO, Marty Neill's feature on the renowned eComOne podcast hosted by Industry expert Richard Hill.

The eComOne podcast describes itself as raw, honest and insightful hosting some of the best names in the eCommerce; asking the questions, we listeners want to know. On the latest episode, Marty and Richard discuss everything from the pitfalls in overdesigning eCommerce stores to the growth and necessity of click and collect. The result of which has created a refreshing discussion which, whether an eCommerce Veteran or a small business owner, only recently dipping their toe in the world of online selling, will provide an interesting take on the industry.

Below you can read the full transcript of the conversation on eComOne and you can find the audio of the podcast on all major streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts. Alternatively you can click here to hear the full podcast.


Richard Hill:
Hi and welcome to another episode of eCom@One. Today's guest is Martin Neil. Now, Martin's the CEO and founder of AirPOS, who have a variety of solutions for eCommerce stores and EPOS systems. How are you doing, Martin? You okay?
Martin Neil:
Pretty good, Richard, pretty good, surviving lockdown.
Richard Hill:
Yeah.
Martin Neil:
It's a perfect day, so yeah.
Richard Hill:
You're coming all the way from Northern Ireland.
Martin Neil:
We are indeed. We're in relatively sunny Belfast.
Richard Hill:
It looks very bright there today, yeah.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. Yeah. That's if you're
Richard Hill:
They think we're in for a couple of days of heatwave, don't they? I think is the latest. So fingers crossed.
Martin Neil:
Someone said hotter than the Caribbean at the weekend. So that's, you know?
Richard Hill:
That's good, because we won't be getting there for a while, I don't think.
Martin Neil:
No. Definitely not.

  • So I thought it'd be good to kick off, Martin, with a bit of history, really. Your career history, bring us up to date with where you are now?

Martin Neil:
Yeah. Absolutely. I'm a multi-faceted career person, I guess. I've never had a specialty particularly. Just kind of done stuff, you know? If I'm ever asked to give a talk or a presentation on careers, it's like, yeah, you just do stuff. I kind of suspect that everyone just does stuff. I listen to people who plan and go, "Yeah, you're just going to do stuff, aren't you?"
Richard Hill:
Right. It won't be the thing, would it?
Martin Neil:
Yeah. I've done stuff in the music industry. I've done stuff in broadcasting. I've done stuff in journalism. And it all led me at every point into tech. So every touchpoint that I had in the music industry was becoming digital. Everything in broadcasting was becoming digital. Websites, et cetera, et cetera. So always fascinated by digital transition, if you like. Probably peaked by, I did get fired because of Napster. Well, I got
fired because of what I said to my boss. But it was led by Napster.
Martin Neil:
I worked at a record label. You'll have heard of Snow Patrol. They were kicking around with the editors of this record label called Bright Star.
Richard Hill:
Of course. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
Yeah, Napster launched, and I was the tech guy on staff if you like. And I came in and made the wild suggestion that we should just start giving the music away, and got fired on the spot. But I really did mean it, and I really had thought it through. Yeah. I think our boss had assumed that we had somehow put all the music on Napster. He didn't really understand that that wasn't us, that that was fans on the label.
Martin Neil:
So, yeah, just interesting things like that, and watching industries get disrupted. And then in around 2008, I was coming out of a project that we had done with the guys from Snow Patrol, called the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast, which was effectively a charity to help young people get into the music industry, and get them off the streets as they say, et cetera.
Martin Neil:
So, yeah, I was coming out of that, and we set up Belfast First Tech
accelerator/incubator/coworking space in a really old warehouse building in the centre of Belfast, that we were effectively given. That the building had half a roof, which was why the project failed in the end. And yeah, we were working as eCommerce consultants at that point, pretty much. Making eCommerce stores for small retailers,mostly, but also working with some bigger brands like Budweiser and various other guys along the way.
Martin Neil:
So, a real interesting time. But kept seeing the problem over and over again of a lack of joined-up thinking on the retailers' end, and also on our end. We were part of the problem. So effectively we went into a small shop, that had whatever internal processes it had at that point, we bolted on an eCommerce store which caused them all sorts of issues financially. Lots of issues in terms of inventory.
Martin Neil:
We never really thought about that. That wasn't our job. And off we went into the night, and if they sold some things, great, if they didn't sell some things, well, wasn't really our issue. AirPOS came from the idea that a friend of mine had been given a record shop, and when I say given a record shop, genuinely just been handed the keys in the pub and went and opened it up the next day.
Martin Neil:
It had unique vinyl records, so he wanted to sell them, and he needed to sell online. The idea was to try to save this old record shop in the centre of Belfast. And we went looking for an inventory system that could sell unique items online, but make sure that they wouldn't be sold in the shop, and there wasn't one on the Earth.
Martin Neil:
So I naively, in hindsight, went, "Well, why don't we just make one, then?" And that's why AirPOS was born. AirPOS was genuinely the world's first Cloud POS, genuinely the world's first Cloud EPOS and eCommerce system, long before Shopify ever considered POS. And a little bit ahead of Square as well.

  • Yep. Okay. So, for those listening in that are not quite sure what an EPOS system is in terms of helping an eCommerce store, how would you explain that?

Martin Neil:
If our software developers were on this call, and I said this, I'd be in trouble. I have always seen an EPOS as somewhat of a glorified calculator in some ways. And an essential tool for retail. I think if you're not on EPOS at this point I wonder why, because it's so affordable for all. In the days that we came into this, in 2009, we were getting quotes from EPOS companies that were just surreal. I mean, £10,000 for a start-up retailer, who simply didn't have the cash and really didn't understand what it was that they were buying, a lot of the time.
Martin Neil:
So, it's all changed significantly. You can get EPOS accounting, CRM, all of these things that were well beyond the reach of a small retailer 10 years ago, you can get all that for less than £100 a month. So I think EPOS, assuming that you've kept up with any times whatsoever, and you're not stuck in the '90s, and you've got an EPOS solution, well, an EPOS solution is a way of managing your financial records, your sales, even card payments.
Martin Neil:
But when it gets a little bit more advanced, and gets further up the food chain, it's also an inventory platform and it can feed into eCommerce and feed into ordering and supply chains, and all sorts.
Richard Hill:
So it'd be fair to say it sits in the middle of a business and it controls off, at the full scale, the inventory, the stock, the CRM, the financials, and integrates everything at maybe a location or 10, but also syncs everything with your eCommerce as well? So you have your retail stores and your eCommerce, bringing it all together, rather than,
"Jim, have we got any of them left in the warehouse? Let me go and check," sort of thing.
Martin Neil:
Very much. Very much.
Richard Hill:
"Who sold that last packet of whatever?" Like the old days.
Martin Neil:
Looking back, I think I mentioned naively, we thought, "We'll just build an EPOS solution." But I don't think we really understood the complexity of an EPOS solution at that point, and also the essential, the real, critical nature of it. Because it critical. It is the heartbeat of a shop, effectively.
Martin Neil:
And iPad's really. You know, I could claim all sorts of things, we were first, and what a wonderful idea. What really changed the industry was the iPad. It was really Apple and the idea of tablets.
Richard Hill:
The idea is, they can walk round the store with everything in their iPad, on their iPad, sort of thing. So am I right in thinking, then, a retailer, eCommerce person listening in that wants to get started, I think once you've got different listeners that are doing several thousand a week to millions of pounds a week, somebody that's maybe looking to start out, you've got a lot of options out there. When you say there's a CRM, there's an inventory, there's a warehouse, there's this, what would be a good start point for,
say, a small retailer or a small eCommerce store with an EPOS system?
Martin Neil:
Well, excepting that you've absolutely got to take card payments, and I think everyone recognizes that now, that wasn't true five years ago, people were still debating whether or not to do card payments. I think with contactless payments, you've got to be taking card. And I don't know if we want this to be dated as a COVID podcast
Richard Hill:
We can touch on all that, no problem.
Martin Neil:
I think out the other side of COVID, contactless payments, and digital economy, is going to be a real heightened debate. So I think number one is you've got to serve the customer best, really. So you should probably offer them the payment solutions that they want, be that Apple Pay, be that contactless cards, be that chip and pin. You've just got to have that.
Martin Neil:
From those basics, you've got to have records for your making tax digital as well, even though HMRC have kicked the ball down the road for a year, it's coming. And have that fed into your accountancy platform, things like Zero, or World Changers, you know? For me, I would be looking at a budget, Richard, that said I would build it in at somewhere between £100, £150 a month, and I would go looking for a suite of solutions that allowed me to take sales, manage my accounts, take payments. And also sell online, for
that.
Richard Hill:
£150 mark a month will be more than a good start point, where you're going to get, like you say, accounting, warehousing, contactless payments, all integrated in one. And in terms of integrations with eCommerce store platforms, so I think obviously there's a lot of platforms out there, but there's two or three that, Shopify, Magento, obviously, Magento 2 more so. Some of the newer players coming into the market like Shopware, people like that. So integrations-wise, that's all standard stuff, I would guess?
Martin Neil:
It is and it isn't. So you've got a... I'm not a fan of the word integration. I think integration has slipped too easily into everyone's lexicon with a lack of understanding of what integration actually means. Do you know? So there's this idea that it's somehow this alchemy, that this thing can talk to this thing. Well, it ain't that simple, ever.
Martin Neil:
So, you take Shopify, for example, now, we're actually working on a Shopify integration as we speak. We haven't done up until now. We wanted to focus on our own platform. Our own platform's good for your start-up retailer, but we're not competing with Shopify just yet. We're that far along. And they're 16 years in, so they're a little bit further down the road than us.
Martin Neil:
But something like a Shopify, because it came from the world of eCommerce, and it was an eCommerce platform first, it's not very usable in a multi-store
Richard Hill:
A retail app size more. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. So you do have your limitations, and you do still have your roadblocks. And I think people are working their way through those. Shopify had to change its thinking from an eCommerce system into a system that also serviced not just one outlet, because it was always just one outlet, and that was eCommerce. You've got your EPOS solutions now that have to fall in line with that.
Martin Neil:
We suffer from that a little bit ourselves. Now, I think we're lucky in that we were born as a multi-channel solution. We were EPOS and eCommerce from the start, so we've always had that consideration. But we're much, much smaller. We can't raise the fence around it. Even in Canada, and Northern Ireland. So Shopify raising their, it's whispered, I think, a billion.
Richard Hill:
Shopify, since lockdown, since the initial drop of a lot of shares in every industry from lockdown, I've been tracking Shopify, and Shopify yesterday was up 110%, their share value, from about eight weeks ago.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. That says it all.
Richard Hill:
I think about a year ago it was $300 a share, now it's about $740 yesterday. And if you got it in the drop, in the mid-March where the world went crazy for about a week, where not sure what's going on, you'd have done more 110% in eight weeks on the Shopify shares.
Martin Neil:
That to me, is a wonderful thing, because for me, eCommerce has always been... I think the difference between, if we're talking about new retailers born in this era, or born prior to this era, COVID's a bit curious for everyone, I doubt there's too many people opening shops. But they may be. If you're born in the last five years, you should be thinking multi-channel, out of the box. Your business should be selling online from day one.
Martin Neil:
I think the change is going to be... It took us a long time to recognize what the problem with eCommerce was for small retailers, you know. Always thought it was a technical hurdle. That people are afraid of new things, et cetera, et cetera. Actually, what I realized just through talking to lots and lots of them over time about it, is it's a cultural change. They fear that they're going to damage their main business that works, by introducing this new thing. You know?
Martin Neil:
So, I'll give you an example. A running shop that has customers that come in, they're expert in this, at distance are they still as expert when they can't talk to people face-to-face? Well, I would argue yes, absolutely, 100%, and you can also talk to people far wider than your local environment as well. But it's that cultural change that seems to be the stumbling block. Out the other side of COVID-19, I think that attitude will change significantly.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. I have to admit I'm seeing, where we are, there's quite a lot of smaller, local... Well, I say smaller, but more localized firms that they rely on that local footfall. So, a garden centre, for example, very successful, we have got to know the family quite well, fairly huge operation I would say, for a local business. Very successful. But they've got
no website to take orders.
Richard Hill:
And obviously lockdown, and they open up Facebook saying, "Yeah, we're going to start doing deliveries." Boom, they get 1,000 orders on direct message. It's impossible. They're running around just trying to manually take that payment, manually then ring the customer and say, "Hey, yeah, how many daffodils was it?" Or whatever. You can imagine.
Richard Hill:
I went to pick something up, and the chaos that was there. I felt so, so, so sorry for the guy. And I've got to know them quite well. Such a lovely family. But they're absolutely... I said to him, "Dude, what's going on with the website?" "Oh, yeah, we really need to sort that out." I'm like... So I've introduced him to, obviously, we've got a few development partners that we recommend, so I've introduced him to one of those, and I think
Martin Neil:
I hope you recommended an inventory integration for him, Richard, because if you didn't he's going to have a big problem.
Richard Hill:
Well, yeah. He's got quite a... He's got a lot of things to solve. But they're back open now. But yeah, they've got that... That type of business, like a lot of businesses, got that seasonal element to them. A lot of eCommerce stores. Quite often you've got that Christmas element, or summer element. Definitely the Black Friday, Christmas element. In that instance, you've got that spring six weeks, even five weeks, I think, where first sign of the sun and then it's like, right, everyone's sorting their garden out.
Richard Hill:
But yeah, so I think there's quite a few things there, isn't there? So in terms of the guys listening in, there's quite a... I think gone are the days, is what you're saying, of maybe having to spend £10,000, £20,000, £30,000 to get an implementation
Martin Neil:
Yeah. Those days are not coming back. They're gone.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Which is great. So that opens it up to everybody. That £150 mark, obviously, that's quite a variable thing, but that low amount which, when you look at what some of those integrations can do, you're going to save that straight away just by the whole tax element, the accountancy fees that you're not spending on two-day manual work integrating something from an Excel sheet.
Martin Neil:
Oh, 100%. And do you what? It puts your destiny in your hands to a large degree.

What I love about being an owner of AirPOS is, I am involved in every single little thing,

but not in a silly way, I hope. No. It's, I know where all the bodies are buried. There is no part of our business where the exposure exists where I have no idea what's going on. And that's really tools. That's not me being brilliant or anything like that. That's just really having a set of tools at your hand.
Martin Neil:
And really, this is the thing for me. And everyone wants to view the world and think everyone thinks like them. Right? That's how we operate. If retailers start to think like tech businesses, the way Amazon does, for example, then if you think of that garden centre and the seasonality of that garden centre, there's no reason that garden centre can't sell X amount of other things that are related throughout the year. And there the gross margin is extraordinary, because it could be selling things at 3 a.m..
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Well, this is the thing. We also have garden centres that work with us all year round. So I can see the complete contrast of somebody doing... It wasn't on their radar, to somebody that, that's their business from day one, has been an eCommerce store 24/7, 365, selling different seasonal products throughout the year. So, from your side, you've got your business which is supplying, it's a B2B eCommerce business, in effect?
Martin Neil:
Correct.
Richard Hill:
But then your customers obviously are a whole array of eCommerce stores and
retailers.
Martin Neil:
Yeah.

  • Is there any, over these last couple of months, during lockdown, is there any sort of strategies, things that you've seen eCommerce stores doing that's really just been a stand-out strategy?

I hate to use the word pivot and things like that
Martin Neil:
I think they are pivots. I think they're genuinely pivots. I mean, pivot's become a buzzword, but these are genuine pivots. It'll surprise no one to find that England is selling lots and lots of alcohol online at this point. That's what we've seen. England, Ireland, alcohol sales. And people quickly, and pivoting is the word, because they weren't selling online before,

using our platform to really, really quickly launch an eCommerce platform and start selling.

Martin Neil:
Now, the difference in strategy, and this is really interesting, again, me thinking that the world should see everything the way I do, I'd always assumed that retailers would like to sell as widely as possible. In this case, it's all hyper-local stuff. All of it. It's like they want to sell to certain postcodes. So our biggest request at this point would be, "I don't want to sell to everyone. I want to sell to a very, very defined set of people," and that's new. I haven't really seen that before.
Martin Neil:
I've seen it in some cases with heavy goods, and guys selling tractors. I remember you're not going to ship a tractor, it turns out. But people will buy them online. I was stunned at that. But yeah, you know, that hyper-local thing is definitely the new world.
Martin Neil:
Whether that maintains out the other side of the crisis is a question. I think it will. I think it will. Because you're going to have customers... The whole thing's about the customer expectation, anyway. So the guys who have been buying online in this period, they're going to expect to be able to do that out the other side.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, you've seen, obviously, 10, 11-ish years in the space, obviously, from start-up to where you are now, with hundreds of customers. So you've no doubt seen a lot of different things, success, and the opposite end of that.

  • What's some of the biggest mistakes you've seen out there, with either your business or learning points, or other eCommerce stores? Some of the learnings that you've come across over the last 10 years?

Martin Neil:
In our business, I think underestimating the length of time that it takes to solve a problem is a start-up disease. All founders are the same. They may not look like optimists. They may not behave like optimists sometimes. But at heart they all believe it is going to work out, and it's going to happen.
Martin Neil:
I probably thought we could do this in three years. And merely 10 years now, I mean, we've really been operational since about 2011, because we were a spin-out from the eCommerce consultancy for the first couple of years. We were one cooler in a corner type stuff. But nearly 10 years, and we're only really becoming an eCommerce platform now. Which is interesting. Now, what we've done is highly disruptive. What guys like Vend have done is highly disruptive. We've genuinely collectively disrupted an industry. But we're a tiny little part of it still. The legacy industry still exists.
Martin Neil:
And people forget that. We're all over in a corner punching each other's lights out, meanwhile, MICROS and SAP are the big, massive players in the industry still. Not even thinking about that. So I think one thing was definitely the amount of time it was going to take to build a solution and to solve the problem, the problem being, I can sell anything anywhere, and be in control of the fact that I have it. I can definitely sell it. I can drop ship it. I can do this. I can do that. It's really enabling retailers to just have visibility right across the business.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. I definitely resonate with that, amount of projects, always worked for myself et cetera, and always really worked with business owners, and entrepreneurs.
Martin Neil:
Well, the other thing, then
Richard Hill:
And launching a podcast.
Martin Neil:
Exactly, right?
Richard Hill:
It takes a week.
Martin Neil:
I entertain notions of doing this. I'm glad you've done it, Richard. It sounds full-on.
Richard Hill:
I have to admit, yeah, I just do the easy bit. I do this bit, and then the guys do the tech bit, and sort it all out. But yeah, I think it has been, this two and a half months of lockdown, has given us, and a lot of people that I've spoken to, that extra time to work on side projects and work on that, implementing their ethos system, in your case.
Richard Hill:
What was that guy we spoke to, Martin, about that? You know. And then it's like, things still... You have to admit, when I really took on board we're going to be at home for a couple of months, it was like, "Right, we're going to do this, we're going to do this." We got to one and a half of those things, sort of thing.
Martin Neil:
Oh, totally. Absolutely. Can I plug my little side project? I do have a football game.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
I have a football game called Football Fortunes, if anyone's a football fan.
Richard Hill:
Okay.
Martin Neil:
I do have a little side hustle. The other thing I've seen, in terms of the retailer side, the constant mistake that I see is overthinking eCommerce in terms of design is a big one. So when we were in the consultancy, I would talk to small retailers who wanted this and this and this and this and this, and it's like, "Okay, all right, yeah. Let me show you Craigslist." And of course, they'd never heard of Craigslist. And Craigslist, to this day, is
still text and nothing else.
Richard Hill:
Yeah, yeah.
Martin Neil:
And last time I looked, it was a $4 billion turnover.
Richard Hill:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Martin Neil:
So it's never needed anything beyond text. And if you look at Amazon and eBay, and this isn't to denigrate them because what they've done is genius, their design hasn't changed much in the 20 years that they're hanging around. The 15, 20 years that they've been around. And the reason is, it just works. And I constantly see retailers talking themselves out of selling online because they think oh, it has to be this, or it has to be that. No. It has to be just there.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. They get stuck in the detail, and then months or years go by where they should be moving on to the next part of the eCommerce, rather than trying to polish something that's already 90% there. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. You know? Get something out there. Your customers will tell you how to make it better. That's my big learning from building a tech product.
Richard Hill:
So, on that thread then, so the guys that are listening in, that have got eCommerce stores, they may be at a point where they're looking to 2X it and really go for some expansive growth, what would be one bit of advice or one strategy that you've seen consistently, maybe, that would help a business go from that, maybe doing a couple of hundred grand a month to £400 grand a month?

  • Are there some very distinct patterns you're seeing with firms that are seeing some hyper growth, or big growth?

Martin Neil:
Yeah. It's the guys that have got on top of marketing. It would horrify me to think that our customers were coming through, buying something from us, and I would never know anything about them. That would horrify me. And yet that's what happens in a retail shop, the end dealer. So if you have a loyalty scheme in particular, that's really top-notch and on top of things, you're in really good shape straight away, because you're getting the details that you need. You're able to talk to people. You should see
about a 33% or more of return on loyal customers than you would have done without a loyalty scheme.
Richard Hill:
A loyalty scheme that works online and offline, where whatever they
Martin Neil:
Oh, as you know, that's one black spot for loyalty at this point, and it's one of the things that we will solve because we have both sides of the platform. We have loyalty on the POS but not online at this stage, but that's a sure thing for a lot of..
Richard Hill:
That's on its way, then? Or is that a little way off?
Martin Neil:
It's on it's way. Yeah. And even customer accounts. The ability to manage your own customer account online is a black spot, again, as well. You won't find that on Shopify just yet, or anything like that. And they're all bespoke things. That's something that Tesco would go and spend £20 million on implementing at this stage, still.
Richard Hill:
When you've got that ability to then follow up, follow up, follow up, email, those databases.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. It sounds simple, Richard. Yeah.
Richard Hill:
Yeah.
Martin Neil:
It sounds simplistic, but it's so effective. And if you conjoin that... And then, everyone's on social for example, so the websites have taken a back seat, and that to me is somewhat of a mistake. You know, because what I see in small retail in particular is, they've got a Facebook page, an Instagram page, a Twitter, they're managing all that stuff to some degree, but they don't have their own website, so they don't have that centralized place where people are coming to, that they can learn about the brand.
Martin Neil:
For me, social's a feeder to an outcome. It's not an outcome in itself. You're not going to sell much by just posting
Richard Hill:
And you don't own it, do you? You don't own Facebook or the channel on Facebook. The page. You are just making a noise on someone else's platform.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. Totally.
Richard Hill:
That can just be taken away from you, can't it? Whereas, you've got your own site, you're building the asset.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. If you've ever been unfortunate enough to be in South by Southwest in Texas during the music festival, and you're on Eighth Street, and there's 16 bands playing at once, that's what social media looks like. Unless you're extraordinary good at it, you get lost in the noise. But if you do have a channel, you know?
Martin Neil:
So, from, Facebook, Instagram, are all highly effective channels. If you can advertise on Facebook and drive them to your eCommerce shop, for example, then remarketing as well.

So it's really that full cycle of capture market, remarket, improve.

And if you can get that feedback loop, and get those details, that's going to grow your business faster than anything.
Richard Hill:
So you're going out there, but you're taking them back to your asset, and then remarketing them back to your asset all the time. Yeah.

  • What sort of patterns are you seeing around paid ads? Are you seeing anything around paid ads with your customers?

Like Google ads, Facebook ads, anything there going on in terms of big investment or...You know, a bit opportunity right now, we're seeing quite a few people have abandoned paid, because for other reasons, maybe something else is down in the business and they've got to really just hold everything in. But we're seeing a lot of discount at the moment on clicks, a lot of industries where an eight ROAS is more of a 20 ROAS because the demand's a lot higher. The ROAS on paid ads is a lot... Are you seeingpatterns there with that?

Martin Neil:
No. I mean, I think it's the next war zone for our guys, in a funny way. I think small retailers are so time poor that they don't really tend to do this, and they don't go through agencies. For me, one thing I'd like to see change, is agencies are out of reach of these guys a lot of the time, in terms of the cost.
Richard Hill:
The retailers? Yeah.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. Working with small retailers is not on the agenda for most agencies, because the money's just not there a lot of the time. But if you do it on a percentage of sales, for example, or something similar, you know, it's getting these guys into the... There is a digital divide in my opinion. And I think the small retailers, the owner-operated, maybe with a couple of staff, they're doing the basics, they're firing up the odd Facebook post
the odd time, or..
Richard Hill:
They're doing the shelves, and they're doing maybe the 50% and it's working.
Martin Neil:
There's no strategy. Yeah. There's no strategy to it. I don't think it's measured and that's one thing. And again, this is me wanting the world to look like I want the world to look like, if retailers start thinking a little bit more like a tech company, my business strategy is to measure everything. You can go too far, and you get into analysis paralysis, and you don't know where you are. But we know our ROI. We know our minimum customer acquisition. We know that stuff. If small retailers were more sophisticated.
Martin Neil:
The last thing, then, is it all feeds back to the accountants. If the accountants were more sophisticated, sometimes, if the accountants were saying, "I'm your trusted advisor. How are you marketing your business? Well, here's what might happen if you did."
Richard Hill:
But I think that then comes back to just being a good businessperson, doesn't it? It goes right back to basics of, a lot of people, and no disrespect to anybody, but they start a business, I feel, I've been there, you start a business as a, "Do you know what? I might try selling a few of these things." The next thing you know, you're doing a million quid a
month, and then you're expected to understand everything to do with VAT returns, tax returns, and you may be doing a bit yourself, but you've got a bookkeeper doing a few bits. "Oh, I'm not going to pay an accountant £500 a month to do that. I could do that." Well, no you can't do that. You can do it, but you'll cost yourself a bloody fortune. And I think that's the same with all the... We talk about marketing, Facebook ads, AdWords.
Martin Neil:
Yeah. Oh, totally.
Richard Hill:
"I know what's in that warehouse, we don't need any POS system." Or whatever. It's investing in the right areas, but acknowledging when to invest, holding your hand up.

  • As a business owner, you can wear too many hats, can't you?

Martin Neil:
Yeah. I think it's something measurable, really. So if you're saying, "I won't pay an accountant £500 a month to do that for me," well, okay, well, then tell me your figure. What would you pay them? Would you pay them £50 a month?"
Richard Hill:
Yeah.
Martin Neil:
"Why? Because it's £50 a month or because it's valuable to you? Would you pay them £5,000 if you knew that you could turn over another £150,000 a month from doing so?" I mean, these are the questions. And it's really trying to get strategic. And I understand the struggle. It's bloody difficult to become strategic, to work on the business instead of in the business. But that's the hardest thing sometimes, you know? And we're always
asking them to work on the business, not in the business, which is..
Richard Hill:
That's it. You'd hope that... I think that a lot of business owners right now, with in theory a bit more time, would hope to make some more strategic decisions, I would think, over the last couple of months. Not in all cases, but they're going to have a bit more time to explore, understand certain, whether it's marketing, digital solutions, softwares, accountancy.
Martin Neil:
Well, totally. And do you know, I think just looking at our partners, for example, we're partnered with Hive and Starling. Simple things like... It's not simple at all, actually. I'm calling it simple, but it's not simple at all. I know so many people who have gone to traditional banks to try to open a bank account and have been told no. On opening an account. And you're like, "What planet is this now?"
Richard Hill:
Yeah.
Martin Neil:
You used to go and ask for an overdraft. Now you can't get an account.
Richard Hill:
You can't even open an account to put money into.
Martin Neil:
Right. And do you know, for the Bounce Back Loans, a lot of guys were coming through us, there was a lot of people coming, because we had put up a business information page.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. They're doing it, aren't they? I think they're a little bit... Little bit of a four or five day delay, I believe, wasn't it, on Starling?
Martin Neil:
Yeah. I mean, they're doing it in 18 hours on average.
Richard Hill:
Yeah, yeah. From nothing. From, "Can't do it. Haven't got the technology to do it." I don't know if that's the official stance, but. And then bang. Whereas the high street banks, some of them were taking four or five days to..
Martin Neil:
Oh, it was all verification stuff. And if you had any sort of... They were looking for
trading histories to open an account.
Richard Hill:
Yeah.
Martin Neil:
You know, Starling, you can genuinely do it in 10 minutes. Hive, you can do it in 10 minutes. So you're clocking 18 hours from opening a Starling account.
Richard Hill:
It’s no longer having £50 grand or whatever it is. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
Opening an account to get a Bounce Back Loan within the hour. Now that's the sort of world that we operate in. That's the sort of speed that we move at. That's really where... I think people might take this period as a moment of pause to say, "Okay, guys, A, do I really care about this business that I have?" Is the first big question. "Am I going to do that out the other side of this? Yes, I am. Okay. Well, what's it going to look like?" That's the big question, now. What's it going to look like? What's the world going
to look like? And how does my business relate to the world.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Yeah. A lot of time for reflection, and a lot of hard decisions to be made. So, the eCommerce stores listening in, like I said, we have a lot of different types of listeners, from guys that are just installing Shopify for the first time, to companies that are doing hundreds of millions a month, or a year, should I say.

  • What would you say are some of the features, things that you've seen eCommerce stores implement on their site that can help conversions, and help that user experience on sites to really turn the dial on conversions and sales?

Martin Neil:
I think, first things, first principles are,

treat your eCommerce shop as well as you would treat your physical location.

Don't go into it with the idea that you just chuck something up there and it sits there and that's it. Tick box, it's done. Right? It's not. It's another
shop. It is genuinely another shop.
Richard Hill:
So just like you would spend £50 grand kitting out a shop in the high street, and spending weeks and months and months preparing and employing the right tradesmen to deliver that, put a similar sort of effort into your..
Martin Neil:
Yeah, very much. If you knew that you had a quicksand pit in the middle of your retail store that all your customers are falling into, you'd get rid of it pretty quickly, if you've got a quicksand pit. Or you don't know that you've got a quicksand pit on your eCommerce store and all your customers are falling into it, well, you know what? It ain't going to work for you.
Martin Neil:
I would say analysis is the thing, Richard. And what we've learned at AirPOS, and this is very hard to do, but when you do it right, it's a real eureka moment.

Build the journey that you want your customer to take before you build your website, and before you build the eCommerce store.

Say, "What do I want these guys to do?" And then build a system to do it. And to go back to what I was saying about Amazon, eBay, Craigslist, they haven't radically overhauled design on the web, or done anything spectacularly technical there. But what they have done is funnel people perfectly down the rabbit holes that they want them to go down.
Martin Neil:
You know, Amazon's one-click checkout, wonderful. Absolutely transformative. PayPal and eBay's case, absolutely transformative. Those types of things just make it easy, but also know what's not working. Being able to sit down and go, "You know what? We implemented this change. We changed categorization and sales fell off a cliff." Have that analysis. You don't get that in your retail store, a lot of the time, because you're dealing with a human being, and you can't swab test their DNA later, right? But you can do that online, and you can get those sorts of details.
Martin Neil:
And if you have your analytics set up correctly, you're going to know that people are coming back three times before they buy. Well, why's that? Why's that happen? You're going to know that you're getting lots of dropped carts. Well, why is that happening? All that type of stuff. And I think from the technology side, from the solution provider's side, we need to up our game too. We need to get better eCommerce that's easier to set up, with loyalty schemes integrated, with customer accounts integrated, with better payment platforms integrated. All that type of stuff. We need to provide a lot of that too. And we're not quite there yet, but we're getting there.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. So on that note, what trends do you see for the future of eCommerce? Obviously, you're at the hub of the technology side of eCommerce. What are the newer... I think robotics is quite a hot topic at the moment in terms of warehousing, and integrating that into pick and pack facilities and things like that.

  • What sort of trends do you see? Any exclusives you can give us in terms of what AirPOS are looking at implementing on your roadmap over the next couple of years?

Martin Neil:
I think click and collect's a big one. It sounds boring, but I do see it moving towards that local shopping experience, do you know?
Richard Hill:
Now, it's literally, everything is... For us, we're clicking and collecting halfway around the county.
Martin Neil:
It's always been one of those things that's very intriguing and very enticing. But click and collect's going to be the big one. I've always wondered why Co-Ops, and Spars, and all those types of shops, have never done click and collect. Why haven't they been doing that for years?
Richard Hill:
Yeah.
Martin Neil:
And now they are, you know? And that'll be its own sea change.
Richard Hill:
It's almost something that, the click and collect terminology, and the offer of click and collect, it's been around for a long, long time, hasn't it? But it's just not been that sexy, or that much... But it's literally everywhere. It's the new thing. It's the new buzz, I think, in that locality. Especially with restaurants and takeaways that you can't go in and go to the counter, click and collect, yep, I'm going to get my pizza.
Martin Neil:
I mean, if I was a retailer I think top of my list in terms of questions would be, how do I beat Amazon to X amount of customers? You're not beating Amazon overall, that ain't happening. Unless you're Walmart and you buy Shopify, which they keep trying to do. And you're joining into a big platform. That might happen at some point. But it's going to take something the size of Amazon, and the resources of Amazon, to even take it on
at the head. But how do you beat Amazon to X amount of customers?
Martin Neil:
I remember, really early days in AirPOS, when we were so green about investment in particular, and we were looking for investors. And of course we had shops who we had implemented eCommerce for, and there was one guy in particular, and he had a lot of money. Lots and lots and lots of money. And he owned jewellery shops. He had done very well for himself. Family had done very well for themselves.
Martin Neil:
We couldn't get him over the line to selling online. Every six months he would get interested again. He would come back around to it. He would poke at it a little. He would spend a couple of grand here and there. And then eventually sat down with him one day and went, "Okay, let's take a look at this thing, Amazon. You're aware of Amazon?" He went, "Oh, yeah, it's a book thing, isn't it?" Right.
Richard Hill:
"Somebody called Jeff?"
Martin Neil:
We sampled his catalogue of jewellery and we went through the catalogue of jewellery. We got about five in when he started to cry, because Amazon was selling his top sellers at less than he could buy them wholesale. That was 12, 13 years ago. That was quite a while ago, right?
Martin Neil:
So, you're looking at that and you're saying, "How does a small retailer..." And the answer is probably, "Within their own locality, beat Amazon to 200 customers a month," for example. How do you do that? Well, you definitely don't do it by sitting in a shop and hoping that it happens.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
Definitely, definitely not. That is not the answer. And more so, when your competitors, who are also trying to beat Amazon and beat you at the same time, start offering click and collect, you can buy something sitting in the supermarket car park and pick it up on your way home, that's a new world.
Richard Hill:
Yeah. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
That's a new thing. So click and collect may not be as exciting as we thought it was five years ago, but this is the era when it becomes a real thing. And wider eCommerce maybe follows. I think I'd always assumed the two things would happen in tandem, but I'm starting to see that it's actually a localized... It's a local
Richard Hill:
Absolutely. Yeah. Definite, this last couple of months, going from maybe having nothing. These localized businesses, going from no internet or website, or no eCom, to starting with click and collect, they will now obviously see massive orders, and a whole revenue stream that never existed. So the natural next step is, right, how do we build the full eCommerce experience?
Martin Neil:
Totally. And this comes back to your advisors and your accountants. Because your accountants, I believe that this is what my accountant would know, because if he didn't he wouldn't be my accountant any more, the accountant should be going, "Hey, guys, you've turned over, let's say the COVID period went on for six months and you turned over £30K that you never had before." Right? Not that amazing. You sold £30K online in six months. Okay. It could be £60K. If you're a very small retailer, that's huge. Right?
"You earned that at a gross margin of what? That £30K cost you X. Oh, wow."
Richard Hill:
Yeah. And you've got no retail store costs, and whatnot. Yeah.
Martin Neil:
"This £30K was better than the £300. Ah." That's the difference, right? And that's where the advisors come into it, but they should be going, "Okay, well, this is online sales?
Okay. You see this thing and you're on £45."
Richard Hill:
Yeah. There's 90% now in that as opposed to 10% in the retail. Yeah, or whatever.
Martin Neil:
Oh, completely. You could be looking at 70% plus gross margin on your eCommerce sales. Now, that would be a bargain. So on your checklist of things I must do to win,
"Beat Amazon by X amount of customers. Get those sales at 70%."
Richard Hill:
Brilliant. So, final question, Martin, for the podcast. We always like to end on a book recommendation.
Martin Neil:
Oh, yeah. Okay.

  • What book would you recommend to the listeners?

Martin Neil:
I love it, and I've never finished it. So it's a challenge for me. It's a real challenge because it warps my mind every time I try to read it. But I learn so much. It's a book called the Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by an author called Robert Pirsig.
And the tag line for the book is, An Inquiry into Values. And it's absolutely fantastic, and it's really about a motorcycle trip across America. But it's fantastic. It's just mind bending in its complexity.
Richard Hill:
Oh, wow. That's one I have not heard of, so that's fantastic.
Martin Neil:
Oh, well, I warn you, it's a mind bender. It's an absolutely mind bender. I think I've tried three times. I was 16 when I got the closest to actually reading the thing. But I don't really think I was reading it.
Richard Hill:
Skimming through.
Martin Neil:
So, yeah. I would recommend that. Both from a personal perspective and from a business perspective. I just think it's a wonderful piece of literature.
Richard Hill:
A lot of stuff in there. So, for the guys that are listening into the podcast,

  • What's the best way to find out more about yourself, Martin? What's the best websites to get you on?

Martin Neil:
We're at airpointofsale.com, and yep. You'll find us there. We've got a community there. We invite interaction. We invite guys to come talk to us any time. We're pretty open, and very transparent in everything we do.
Richard Hill:
Well, thanks, Martin. It's been an absolute blast. Thanks for being on the eCom@One
podcast.
Martin Neil:
Thanks for having us, Richard. See you soon.
Richard Hill:
Thank you. Bye.