This summer, I will be updating my store’s point-of-sale system. I thought I was going to make the easy decision and just upgrade the system I already had. Then I decided to check my options one more time. It was then I fell down the rabbit hole of POS system research and then got lost in the warren of options and apps and features. I read at least 20 articles on the 10 best POS systems of 2017 & 2018 and felt like they were paid ads for the same top-five systems. I even fell for the survey of what options I was looking for in a system and ended up getting 20 sales calls in 24 hours from all over the world. There had to be a better way of figuring out what POS systems are winners, and which are losers.
I started calling around to the store owners I know and work with. I posted on Facebook, I asked the question in LinkedIn and searched for independent reviews. I learned one important thing. There is no consensus. Every store owner I spoke with that uses a POS system has a unique set of needs and their own version of a comfort zone. One business owner sang the praises of a POS and the next one had a horrible experience with that same POS. I still felt lost in the rabbit hole. I thought maybe I should just go back to a Casio cash register from the office supply store and call it a day. That would have been an easy out, but wouldn’t solve the issue of tracking my inventory, creating an easy loyalty program or telling me when my best store hours are.
After 20 hours of research, I finally understood. There is no simple list of POS winners and losers. Every system has its own merits and I have to find the fit for my store. I turned the maze of features and options into a decision tree. I made my list of needs to run my business and turned that into a comparison matrix allowing me to find a system that fits for me.
POS or Cash Register
About 25% of the stores I spoke with still use a cash register and a standalone credit card terminal. This certainly is a viable option if you are a one-person show and have a small amount of inventory that you can visually inspect. What you don’t get with a cash register are the nuances and details of the items being sold. You don’t get a quick read on your inventory level and you can’t monitor your shrinkage to theft. A manual customer loyalty program is bulky and awkward and tracking gift certificates a challenge.
A good POS is more than just a cash register on steroids. A good POS system can track the information that will help you grow your business. It’s as crucial of an investment as your street sign or website. A POS can help you manage your customer data, it can interface with your website, import into your accounting software, create automatic purchase orders for your vendors and even connect with your social media. You get as much complexity as you need or as little.
There are a few middle ground solutions you can try, even free POS systems like EHopper, but remember, you get what you pay for. Typically, enough crucial features are restricted that you end up buying the full version in the end.
Your Merchant Account
Before you jump into a new POS system, check with your merchant account provider. Clover is the POS of choice for many of the local banks that use First Data for their merchant accounts. Even Sam’s club is in the merchant account business and they are promoting Clover. First Data is one of the largest traditional style merchant account providers and have upped their game to compete with the new players like Square and Shopify. Before you jump all in with Clover, know that most of their extra options like inventory management, reporting, customer management and loyalty programs are another app you have to subscribe to. Not all are free, or the free ones may not be ad free. It reminds me of all the apps on a smart phone. You have many customer service centers to talk to with any issue. Will they blame each other or you for the issues you may have to resolve? Yet, with Clover, you can keep the POS options to your comfort level and you can access the software from your laptop or PC anywhere.
Square, QuickBooks, PayPal, Shopify are all merchant accounts that have proprietary POS software. Once you invest the money, setup and training in their system, you are stuck with their credit card processing. You can work around their merchant account, but it requires you to have a separate credit card terminal and the cash out process slows way down.
If you love your merchant account, there are lots of POS systems that will interface in varying ways. Non-integrative payment means you need your own credit card terminal equipment. Integrated card payments include the credit card processing in the software and hardware. The top guys like Vend and Lightspeed give you merchant account flexibility. Don’t forget to make sure Apple Pay, PayPal, Google Wallet and the other newer payment systems will work on your POS. These payment options are growing in leaps and bounds.
Cloud or PC
The difference between Cloud and PC is where your data lives. PC systems are resident on your computer, Cloud systems are accessible over the internet. There are pros and cons with both and it all comes down to the interface and how technical you want to be with your software.
Cloud POS systems are subscription based and are 90% of the top POS systems. You don’t ever have to pay for an upgrade, yet, if the internet goes out, can you still ring up sales? You don’t own the software and your data is stored in a server outside of your business. If you decide to change POS systems, you have some work to do to download and capture all the info you need before you stop paying the subscription.
According to PC Mag the top-rated Cloud based systems for retail are: Square, Vend, NCR Silver and Shopify. Other articles for the top POS systems for small business bring Lightspeed and Shopkeep to the top. Many retailers in the spiritual industry have gone with MindBody, yet they complain about the inventory integration.
Most PC POS systems are a onetime purchase and you will have to buy it again with every upgrade. You own it and if it keeps running as you expect, you don’t have to upgrade if you don’t want to. However, if something goes wrong, you are on the phone with a help desk who has to dial into your computer. If you don’t upgrade, you may lose the software support. Yet, you possess all the information. If the software supports it, you can network several stations together as needed.
PC POS systems are not as easy to find, and QuickBooks POS leads the pack. RetailPlus is a free customizable PC based POS. It requires lots of back-end programming. This may be a dream for some and a nightmare for others. PC based systems are usually customized systems from local companies specializing in retail or restaurant point of sale systems.
Connect with Your Website
Do you want in seamlessly integrate with your online store? Omni-channel and eCommerce features are what you want to review. The cloud-based systems, Lightspeed, Square and Shopify lead that pack on Omni Channel connections. This is where your inventory is live in your brick and mortar and website at the same time. Lightspeed and Vend can also connect your inventory to Amazon to expand your online reach. Most POS systems generate an inventory report to be uploaded to your website for daily inventory integration. Connecting your POS with your web store needs patience and professionals. Lightspeed has in interface to help you build your site right from your POS.
What Features Do You Really Want?
Each store has a unique combination of needs. You may have a wide range of products that you make and want to track. You may want a connection with Amazon and social media. You may have the perfect setup with your merchant account and don’t want to change. You may want to schedule services or manage all purchase orders through your POS. When you start ticking off the options you want for your store, the choice becomes clear. This allows you to find a POS that fits you instead of your changing your business to fit the POS.
There do seem to be leaders in the POS world; Square, Clover, QuickBooks, Lightspeed, Shopify, Vend and ShopKeep. Once you get through the bigger decisions, the rest start to look alike. These top seven are very similar, yet have enough specifics that make them unique. I usually start with the deal breakers then move to the dealmakers in my decision matrix. Below is a comparison in options and prices that will help narrow down the systems you want to demo. Once you get to your top three, trust me, you will want to a demo of each. The user interfaces vary greatly, and the logic used in the visual interface can make your POS life a dream or a living hell. I know that I am partial to the Windows, QuickBooks type screens and another store owner wants something that works in a more Mac, iPad logic.
You are almost there! Make a wish list of your store needs and then start comparing. Once you have this first layer of info, a phone call, email and demo are in your future.
What Are the Hidden Costs
Before you buy, look and ask about any hidden costs to operate, upgrade and support the POS. This is more than the software. How much equipment will you need? What’s the conversion time for your inventory and customer database? Is converting your data an extra fee? How long will it take to train and master the new program? Are there any add-on applications that make it work to the level you want? At my little shop, we also asses the cost of an internet outage and test the system to see if it will work offline. Lost sales are a real issue when your system is down. The pain of turning away customers with credit cards can make a grown business owner cry.
The cost of future upgrading is a consideration too. Cloud systems are automatically upgraded like apps on your phone, but will the software upgrade cause a hardware upgrade? According to Retail Info Systems the typical lifecycle of a POS system is 5.5 years. Five years ago, several of the current top POS dogs were just bit players in the field. Think about where you want to be in three and five years. If the system cannot grow with you to the next step, it’s not the right one for you.
What Did I End up Buying?
As of this article, I have not made a choice on my new POS yet. We have demos, reviews and tests to conduct. This is such an important decision we are having the whole crew weigh in on this purchase. I made the decision about the last POS I bought because there was a lot of free stuff that came with it that I needed. It was a panic decision and not a good one. The POS before that was from the bank and they financed it with the hardware. It was OK, but you needed a PhD to make it work. Once the lease was up, we had to give up the all the goods and start over. I have learned a few big lessons and am going into this with eyes open.
There are several of the top seven that don’t fit me and I don’t want to change my merchant account because it will cause cost issues with my websites and digital security. I currently use QuickBooks and was going to upgrade that but looking at the extras with Lightspeed and Vend, I am intrigued with what I can do to grow my business with these new options. I also stumbled across Harbor Touch that is quickly rising in the ranks of a great fit.
Yet, If I was to start all over from scratch, Square looks like a powerful and flexible system that the vendors in my area are in love with. Clover, on the other hand, is being promoted by banks that use First Data as their merchant account provider. Some are even offering great deals on the hardware to convert to them. This brings me full circle to a place of too much information! Take your time and don’t get pressured into changing how to do things to fit someone else’s model. This is a big decision and you are the decider!
Links to POS systems:
Harbortouch | www.harbortouchpossoftware.com
Vend | www.vendhq.com
ShopKeep | www.shopkeep.com
Shopify | www.shopify.com
Lightspeed | www.lightspeedhq.com
Square | www.squareup.com
Clover | www.clover.com
QuickBooks | www.quickbooks.intuit.com
eHopper | www.ehopper.com
Retail Plus | www.retailsoftware.com
MindBody | www.mindbodyonline.com