Pay by Cell Phone in Store

Your retail business runs on telecom, but you’re probably paying way too much for services. These red flags can help you determine if you’re being overcharged.

Technology

Retailers: Cut Your Telecom Bills Down to Size and Save Big

  • Kelly Smith
  • 11/22/2017

Your retail business relies mightily on telecommunications. Your payment processing systems, online ordering and tracking features, alarm units, video surveillance cameras, phones, and mobile devices all use telecom connectivity. You couldn’t operate without telecommunications — but you’re very likely paying way too much for it.

Most retailers get stuck with outrageously large telecom bills because reviewing the invoices gets caught in the middle between your IT and accounting people. Your IT support probably does a splendid job keeping networks and equipment humming, and accounts payable remits telecom payments like clockwork. Scouring the invoices doesn’t appear on either’s list of responsibilities; and even if it did, deciphering the coding on telecom bills is a lot like reading Attic Greek — it takes highly specialized learning. So it’s all too easy to throw up your hands in surrender and overpay for these services.

But it’s not a no-win situation. Even though you don’t necessarily have the expertise onboard to right-size your services and bills, you can look for some telltale indicators that point toward overpayment. If these ring true for you, consider a professional review of your invoices to rein in telecom spending by as much as thousands of dollars each month.

Retail red flags for excess telecom services and billings

A quick review of these common retail situations will help you assess whether your business is vulnerable to excess telecom billings.

  • You’ve closed or moved a location — Believe it or not, telecom services aren’t always disconnected when you move or close a location. And since invoices typically only show the billing address, it is difficult to catch any lingering invoices for locations that should no longer be billed.
  • You’ve upgraded your technology — Whether it was phones, payment processing systems, mobile carriers, or any change in technology whatsoever, upgrades often mean duplicate billings. The transition from one service or provider to another often takes multiple billing cycles to reflect the proper changes. Following an upgrade, retailers are often billed for two services when they are only using one.
  • You have emergency/alarm phone lines — Some of your business lines have one purpose: calling 911 in case of an emergency. This may be the alarm in the elevator or at your entries. Telecom providers are known for tacking on extra features and fees to retailers’ business lines, such as voicemail and three-way calling — including on the alarm lines, where they aren’t needed at all. But picking the features and fees out on the invoices is no simple task. In most cases, the individual phone numbers aren’t even listed on the bill, never mind the features included on each line.
  • You get multiple invoices at each of your locations — Wherever you operate, you need, at a minimum, voice and internet services. With so many different services and providers, it’s easy to wind up with two to three invoices for each location. And for every location you add, it becomes that much more difficult to monitor and maintain the costs. What if a location utilizes traditional phone lines for alarms, VoIP lines for voice services, and is part of your MPLS network? Keeping track of what services each location uses can be tedious. Yet there are options to ease the pain. Billing aggregators can often help consolidate services (such as copper lines) across multiple locations onto one invoice. Many providers offer the ability to have subaccounts and cost centers to make it easier to identify where each service is physically situated.
  • You have had a merger or acquisition or you have a location that makes its own telecom decisions — If you’ve acquired or merged in a business that previously made its own decisions about telecom services — or if you have a rogue location that operates with its own authority — you’re at risk of telecom overpayment. You should centralize and standardize telecom at the corporate level so you don’t end up with hardware your corporate team can’t support or extended contracts that outlive their use. Many of these locations have services they don’t need or use, and as you fold them into your corporate operations, you’ll take on their overpayments, too.

Telecom review is an exercise that could pay dividends

Staying on top of telecom expenses can be time-consuming, and it often requires an in-depth look at every line on the bills and several calls to the carrier to ensure things are billing correctly. For retailers, it is worth the exercise. You may be able to shave off up to thousands of dollars in monthly payments. Considering the number of your locations, the complexity of these services, and the constant shifts in both the technology and retail landscapes, it is all too easy for retailers to end up paying for services you don’t need — and paying too much for the services you do need. Even if you spend a generous amount with a single provider, you are still at risk of carrier negligence on your bills. Oftentimes, the carrier isn’t even aware that an overbilling has occurred. It takes a thorough and trained eye to find these items and a great deal of patience to get it resolved.

How we can help

CLA’s telecom advisory services team works with our retail industry professionals to help you understand your expenses and check that you are being charged fairly by your providers for the services you need. We can provide the details you need to make informed decisions about your telecom services and expenses, mitigate the risks of overpayment, and provide value in ways that make sense for your retail business.