Point of Sale
Buying Guide

Choosing the Right Point of Sale System

Just like the wide range of businesses they're used in, POS systems come in variety of types and capabilities. The needs of a retail store vs. a restaurant are different enough that there isn't a single solution to fit every application. POS systems are a combination of software and hardware that has come a long way from basic cash registers. Finding the right combination of components is key to properly managing your business, maintaining customer satisfaction, and being successful. The most valuable POS system is one that will allow you to run your business the way you need to.

Every business is unique in its needs and processes, but a well planned POS system can be made to work for any business type. The first step in finding a POS system is identifying your specific needs.

  • What type of business do you have?
  • Do you need to conduct transactions in a mobile environment?
  • How many transactions will you conduct daily?
  • Will you need to process credit and/or debit cards?
  • How many lanes (stations) will you need? Do you have a network to link them?
  • Will you need to manage reservations or appointments?
  • Do you need multiple stores to be linked together?
  • Will you need to sync data with external applications (e.g. accounting software)?

Knowing how you'll be using it and what functions you need in a POS system will help you determine the best combination of software and hardware for your specific business.

POS Basics

Every POS system consists of software and a set of core hardware components. Before getting into the specifics of your business type, a primer on the basics of a POS system will help make answering these questions easier.

Software
POS software is the center of any system and will ultimately determine what you can do and how you do it. Deciding on the right software will depend on what types of features you need and the type of environment you are working in. Many POS applications are very flexible to accommodate a range of businesses but can be environment specific, like restaurant or mobile POS. Added to this, many applications offer basic, pro, and enterprise versions each with different features.

So how do you know which POS software is best for your business?

The best thing to do first is decide what features are essential to you and the way your business functions. All POS software will handle basic transactions but there is a long list of additional features beyond this that may or may not be of use to you. There are some specific functions that, for example, a salon will need that a retail store may not, and we'll look at some of these environment-specific needs later. Some of the many features you'll want to consider are:

Inventory Management - Every business needs to manage their inventory and most POS applications will help by tracking stock levels with each sale. Always have up-to-the-minute, accurate inventory data to keep up with your customer's demands.

Reporting - One of the biggest advantages of a POS system is what it can tell you about your sales and customer habits. Most applications will have basic reporting functions or even the option to create custom reports to provide you the most complete picture of what is happening in your business.

Automated Purchasing - By tracking your inventory you will also know when items go out of stock. Some POS software will be able to interface with your accounting software to automatically create purchase orders for low stock items. Never be caught without stock of the items your customers are demanding.

Customer Management - Loyalty programs, customer specific promotions, appointments, couponing, and reservations are all possible with the right software in place. Creating the best possible customer experience keeps them coming back.

PCI Compliancy - The fact is that most transactions are paid with debit or credit cards today. In order to accommodate your customers and keep them safe, your POS system should support the PCI DSS standards.

Return Processing - Returns and exchanges are something every business has to deal with. Your POS software can help make this a painless process for you and your customers.

Employee Tracking - Track employee attendance and sales easily by them simply logging-on to a terminal. All this information can be reported on or exported to accounting software for payroll processing.

These are just some of the most common features available but knowing exactly what you need will make choosing the best fit software for your business easy. When it comes to putting a POS system together, the last place you'll want to cut corners to save a few dollars is in the software. Having all the right features will be well worth the cost in time and headaches down the road.

Hardware
All POS systems will have several pieces of hardware to run your software, collect payments, and create a receipt for your customer. Your choice in components will ultimately depend on what type of environment you'll be working in but these 5 pieceswill be the most essential for many businesses.

Payment Terminals Terminal/PC - The terminal/PC is where everything comes together in a POS system. Many businesses can use a standard PC as long as it meets the memory and processor requirements of the POS software and provides the needed USB ports for all the peripherals. There are also POS-specific PCs that offer sealed cases or low power operation as well as all-in-one units with integrated touchscreens and card readers to take up less space. Where a retail store could use a standard PC, a restaurant may need the space saving or rugged design advantages of an all-in-one unit. Likewise, your POS terminal might be a compact mobile computer for a fully mobile solution. At the end of the day, as long as your terminal/PC can support your software you will be ready to start running transactions.

Receipt Printers Receipt Printer - Every transaction ends with a receipt for the customer. Having a printer go down is one of the most crippling things to any POS system. Making sure you have a receipt printer that'll support your print volume and is easy to use is essential. Most printers are thermal based so you don't even have to deal with ribbon cartridges anymore. Just load the paper and you are back up and running! Whatever your receipt size or type requirements are, there's a printer to fit your needs.

Cash Drawers Cash Drawer - The cash drawer is the simplest component to any POS system but having a secure place to keep cash, checks, and credit card receipts throughout the sales day is essential. Drawers normally connect to your receipt printer and open with every valid transaction. Choosing a durable unit that will interface with your system easily will ensure the longest life from your drawer.

MSR MSR/payment terminal - Card based payments are just as common as cash today so every POS system needs a means to quickly read credit/debit cards to process them. Depending on the capabilities of your POS software, you may only need a basic MSR or a full payment terminal. In either case, you can make check-out a breeze for your customers by supporting secure, card-based payments.

Barcode Scanners Barcode Scanner - Scanners are a crucial part of many POS systems to quickly enter items and speed up the check-out process. The standard laser scanner will read all the UPC codes on products but with the expanding need for age verification, couponing, and loyalty card scanning, 2D scanners have become more commonplace. Many scanners have a handheld form factor but for POS, you can take advantage of in-counter and presentation devices for even faster, hands free reading and even shorter lines!

Types of POS Systems

With some POS basics under your belt you can start to dig into the specific type of POS system you will be using and the specific needs you have. Each type of system will share a core set of features but, given the differences in how everyday transactions occur, software and hardware requirements will vary to ensure your POS system works the way your business does.

Retail
Retail POS systems are most centered on the actual sales transaction and all the tracking of this information. Many of the common software features like inventory tracking, sales reporting, returns processing, and customer loyalty/couponing functions are essential in a retail environment. While all businesses will need reporting features, retail applications will especially want to have a very granular level of control to see sales data at the individual product and category levels. Retail POS requirements are the most wide-ranging but most software, like Intuit Quickbooks POS, will be geared towards retail needs.

From a hardware perspective, retail applications will definitely need a barcode scanner to easily input product data for quick check-outs. Since most input is based around the scanner, things like touchscreens and all-in-one terminals are definitely useable in a retail environment, but are not as essential. Since you will probably be doing a fair number of transactions per day, having a reliable thermal receipt printer like the Epson TM-T88V, will also be a big concern. A robust scanner and printer will ensure your lines move quickly and make the customer experience a positive one.

Restaurant/Hospitality
The biggest difference between a standard retail POS and those used in restaurant or hospitality environments is how the sales transaction is handled. In retail, everything is inputted for the sale and paid for immediately. In restaurant/hospitality, an order is placed for food or a service which is only paid for after it is completed. A suitable POS system will have to be able suspend these orders until payment is received. Likewise, options to customize orders, schedule reservations, and manage seating/rooms are all musts. The interface of the POS software is also going to be quite different. In retail, your main input type with be with a barcode scanner while in restaurant/hospitality you'll most likely be using a touchscreen. Having a software interface that is touchscreen friendly, like Aldelo Pro, will be very important for many businesses to allow easy order entry.

On the hardware side of things, the biggest difference to retail POS is the importance of the barcode scanner. While it may be needed occasionally, most input in a restaurant/hospitality environment is manually done through the POS software. This is where a touchscreen can really help make this process easier. Since space is also often limited in these applications, all-in-one terminals are very commonly used since they limit the mess of cables and have integrated touchscreens. Receipt printers are important in every POS but when you are dealing with sending orders to a kitchen or other high heat environments, an impact printer like the Star SP742, will be preferred over a thermal printer which is fine for customer receipts.

Mobile
Mobile POS is not that different from a standard retail POS solution at a basic functional level. Processing a sale, tracking inventory, and receipt printing are all the same. Mobile POS applications will also readily support processing credit cards as long as you have access to the internet. Just like other POS software, mobile POS software will vary greatly in the range of functions like inventory control or reporting that you can conduct from the mobile device. Some applications are just as capable as a regular POS, while others will be geared towards just processing transactions to later sync with a standard POS system. The big concern when implementing a mobile POS is if the system will need to be self-contained or if you'll be interfacing the mobile system with a fixed POS.

Since the goal of a mobile POS is to get away from the fixed check-out counter, the biggest difference will be the hardware that is used. Instead of a desktop PC you'll be running the POS software on a mobile device like the Motorola ES400 or even a tablet. Many of these devices will have integrated scanners and touchscreens so all your input needs will be covered. The only missing parts will be the receipt printer and credit card reader. There are mobile printers like the Zebra MZ320 but many mobile POS systems will support emailing receipts to customers to avoid the need for printing all together. With the plethora of available mobile MSR readers, like the ID Tech iMag Pro, you can easily add this capability to almost any device and many will even be bundled with a card processing service. Just like a standard POS, with the right hardware and software you can conduct sales wherever you need to.

Finding the Right POS System

Having a POS system that meets all the specific needs of your business will make it an essential management tool and allow you to stay focused on meeting the needs of your customers. Whether you're a retailer or a new restaurant, determining how you'll use the POS system will guide in your software and hardware selections. If you are still having difficulty or have additional questions, give our POS experts a call. We're happy to help you out.

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