Mobility could be seen left and right at the recently held National Retail Federation’s (NRF) BIG Retail Show. The idea on display was that mobile devices will soon, if they’re not already, be the only tool that sales associates need to have in their hands to engage with their customers. 

It is all about the customer experience, as every retailer knows, and every customer request and interaction should be enabled in a real-time cloud-based mobile platform for retailers to provide true seamless customer experience (CX). To that end, KWI has espoused its wish to be the strategic partner to enable its specialty retailers to achieve this seamless CX. But “KWI who?” might be the first reaction by many. Indeed, the New York-based software company—in existence since 1985 and with 120 specialty retail customers including such well-known brands as 7 For All Mankind and Aerosoles—should have much more name recognition due to its recent growth and breadth of cloud retail software expertise.

KWI First to Offer Retail SaaS Solution

KWI entered the retail industry in 1985 when a Benetton franchisee came to KWI founder Sam Kliger with a unique request for designing and developing a managed services solution (the first) to run its specialty retail operations. The retailer needed technology that would not only be the right enterprise system solution, but also one that would not require an IT staff to run it. What is known today as software as a service (SaaS) was way back in 1985 called a “Service Bureau.”

From 1985 through the early- to mid-1990s, KWI was alone in providing managed services to retailers and found its niche with small to medium retailers and brands opening up their first retail stores. As the company grew, adding retailers and brands, through major investments in research and development (R&D) and innovation in functionality so did its solution set, providing retailers with a scalable solution for merchandising and retail back office functionality. KWI continued to develop the solutions, adding basic stock replenishment, planning, and allocation, and embedding a business intelligence (BI) tool based on IBM Cognos for reporting.

KWI’s growth strategy in its early days was to provide the back office deep domain expertise and partner for the point of sale (POS) in-store solutions. KWI partnered with Fujitsu in 1986 and in 2001 with what is now Epicor to deliver POS solutions for its customer base and protect the investment in stores as they grew. Later, KWI continued to add best-in-class value-add solutions, such as Micros XBR Loss Prevention store analytics, and developed and extended its platform to offer customer relationship management (CRM).

The Internet had only just started to offer significant bandwidth in the mid-nineties, and cloud computing for the masses has thus been something of a late developer. KWI’s strategy to stay at the forefront of the technology has easily moved it from service bureau and managed services into the cloud as Internet technology progressed. In 1999, the arrival of and later Google and Amazon made “cloud computing” prominent in the industry, and KWI gladly joined the SaaS bandwagon.

KWI’s Current Cloud and Retail Focus

KWI quietly continued to grow its customer base, which numbers over 120 retailers today, over the years, and moved into a new partnership with Global Bay/VeriFone in 2011 for mobile POS (mPOS) and mobile-enabled in-store cloud solutions. Today, KWI remains a privately held, debt-free, and fully management-owned company with over 170 employees, a number that is growing steadily. The vendor has become a leading provider of mobility in retail stores, representing over 650 stores and over 3 million mobile transactions across 50 mPOS retailers.

Those retailers chose KWI Mobile for the customer and sales associate experience in the store, lower total cost of ownership (TCO), and the speed to market advantages. What has transpired over the last year is a tremendous lift in units/transactions and overall higher sales volumes for KWI’s retailers with mobile POS in the stores. KWI analyzed 1.4 million transactions from just 7 clients over 2 months in the pre-Christmas selling period in mixed POS environments (mobile POS and registers) and found mobile transactions had 16.6 percent more units per transaction, while the average dollars per transaction was 20 percent greater in mobile transactions. This was greater than what anyone expected, and has been a real game changer for KWI Mobile customers.

At the recent NRF 2014 show, KWI went a step further and announced the acquisition of the source code and associated patents licenses for the KWI Cloud9 Mobile POS platform from VeriFone. KWI’s choice to integrate the Global Bay mPOS and toolkit into the KWI Cloud 9 product offering, in fact the first acquisition in the company’s history, should enable KWI to deliver mPOS features more rapidly based on its customers’ requirements and allow a faster time to market. This acquisition builds on a range of capabilities offered today on KWI Cloud9 Mobile POS, including multiple payment tenders with cash, credit, gift cards, and other retail forms of payment. Retailers can deploy the KWI Cloud9 Mobile with any POS or Merchandising system as it is untethered from the store POS and connected directly to the cloud.

KWI has now reached a level of expertise and leadership to take over development of its own mobile solution. By taking over the full development itself, KWI hopes to apply its expertise to the continuing tradition of combining all of its customers’ requests and wish list items into one single code base, allowing its customers to take advantage of the innovative ideas of KWI’s entire retail customer base collectively. As a strategic partner of VeriFone for mobile retail solutions, KWI has already been defining the requirements and leading the design effort for the development of the KWI Cloud9 Mobile platform, which is currently available on Apple’s iOS.

What’s Next for KWI?

Mobility was the only part of the enterprise-class platform that KWI did not control and now it does—the KWI platform is mobile-enabled and the vendor can now add mobility to each new release of development. KWI can also now develop the back office platform and the mobile system in parallel, providing a faster time to market advantage to its customers.

KWI’s next big release will reportedly introduce Clienteling to add value to its mPOS offering and connect to the CRM capabilities for the KWI clients. Clienteling, i.e., using information about an individual customer’s buying habits and preferences during interactions within the store to create a personalized attention and build a stronger buying relationship, is an important go-to-market strategy for specialty retailers who want to provide a high touch customer experience. The aforementioned cash, omni-channel fulfillment, and a set of integrated non-sales and operational transactions KWI Cloud9 Mobile V. 4.0 were announced at NRF 2014. A retailer can now implement 100 percent mobile in store and not need a traditional POS.

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