POS systems come in a range of options, depending on what kind of functionality your business needs. The needs of, say, a shopping store are different from that of a café or a restaurant. This disparity ensures that a one-size-fits-all solution can’t suffice for all kinds of business applications. POS systems are complicated machines. They are the culmination of decades of technological growth that can be traced back to the earliest cash registers. Today, however, POS devices are blends of hardware and software capabilities tailored to suit your requirements. Finding the right device is imperative for building your business, ensuring customer satisfaction, and reaching new heights of growth. The perfect POS system doesn’t dictate operation, it lets you decide how you operate it to achieve the best results. As the saying goes, it’s a niche and not a cliché.
Every business is a different organism and that makes it difficult to build a universal POS, but efficient planning can make a POS system work for several business applications. The prerequisite in deciding on a POS system is to understand your unique requirements.
- What is the type of your business?
- Do you offer mobile transactions?
- What are your estimated daily sales values?
- Will you offer debit/credit card payment option?
- What is the number of lanes (stations) that you plan to have? How do you intend to establish networking between them?
- Does your business include reservations and/or appointments?
- Do you plan to have multiple outlets linked to a centralised database?
- Do you need to sync your data with external applications (like third-party software)?
Good know-how of the usage requirements and applications in a POS system will help you determine the most appropriate software and hardware package for your particular enterprise.
The Basics Of POS
All POS systems have some basic core hardware and software essentials. Brushing up on specific business needs can wait, we first need to understand the various kinds of POS systems available to get an idea of what options are out there in the market.
POS software is the kernel of any POS system. The applications and functionality of the system are derived directly from the kind of software running on it. You can make the correct software choice by brainstorming on the kind of environment where you wish to operate the POS system. You also need to know which features you plan to utilise. Many POS applications are highly versatile and built for a wide range of enterprises but can be environment niche, like POS for café or hospital. Apart from that, many POS systems encapsulate features under versions like starter, professional, and enterprise packs.
So how do you know which POS software is the right one for your requirements?
First order of business is to plot functionality requirements of the POS system. Choosing your required features beforehand will help you filter out both irrelevant and redundant products easily. Some POS features are common to all, but there may be a long list of niche features that are absolutely no use to you. It isn’t hard to imagine there are many functionality features that, for example, a hospital will need that a grocery store may have no use of, and we will discuss some of these micro-adjusted features later. However, a few of the variety of available features that you should have a look at are as follows:
Inventory Management – Inventory management and stock availability are the backbone of every enterprise, and a POS system can help immensely in keeping these metrics. Your customers can be best served by having live and precise stock and inventory data with you at all times.
Reporting – POS systems are great at recording and analysing customer generated trends based on their habits and behaviour. Although most POS systems have basic functionality by default, you can select systems with more powerful reporting features tailored to your needs.
Automated Purchasing – One of the many benefits of live inventory-tracking is that you get the power to update inventory in real time too. You can also have your POS system automatically create purchase orders of items as soon as their stocks fall below certain threshold. Running out of stock at a crucial shopping time will never bother you again.
Customer Management – With a centralised POS system, you can store user information, push customer loyalty campaigns, and drive promotions, all at the same time. This helps you increase returning customers, who are known to generate more business at more steady rates.
PCI Compliancy – Cashless transactions are very common, and you can see credit/debit cards being used everywhere. For the sake of safety and comfort of your customers as well as your business, use POS software compliant with PCI DSS standards.
Return Processing – Returns and exchanges are inevitable in all businesses, no matter the industry or the quality of service. A good POS system can help facilitate this process with live tracking and reporting features.
Employee Tracking – No arguments with employees on their attendance or time logs. Your POS system will have all the employee data you need for ready reference. This employee information can be easily exported to third-party accounting software for payroll process.
These aren’t the only features that a POS system can have, but these are some of the more popular ones. 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.
Every POS system needs hardware to perform basic operations like running the POS software, generating receipts and documentations, and acting as a port for registering information. Which components you finally move to use is largely environment-specific, but these 5 aspects are the most crucial in making the right decision when all things are considered:
Terminal/PC – The terminal/PC is the resultant front which comprises all other POS components. The humble personal computer can perform this function for many POS requirements, as long as it has enough access ports (like USB) to connect all peripheral systems and the software compatibility to run POS software. But POS-specific PCs come with useful features of their own (which include but are not limited to) like power saving, use of touchscreens and gesture-controls for better accessibility, and higher portability. 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 Printer – A transaction is incomplete without a receipt being generated for the customer. A receipt printer shutting down could be one of the biggest disasters to befall your POS systems. You must always ensure that your receipt printer is capable of supporting the speed and volume of receipt generation that your business needs. With the advent of thermal printers and their popularity in the market, print ribbons are not a headache you need to think about 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 Drawer – A cash drawer is one of the most rudimentary POS components, but also one of the most essential since there is where all your hard-earned money goes. Safety, security, and accessibility are all extremely important. Usually cash drawers work in conjunction with receipt printers and automatically open as soon as a receipt print job is activated. Choosing a durable unit that will interface with your system easily will ensure the longest life from your drawer.
MSR/payment terminal – Card payments are becoming increasingly popular, maybe even as much as cash payments. 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 Scanner – A scanner is a great addition to a POS system to reduce manual effort and to provide a reliable system that can gather retail information and feed it to the system automatically. The commonly used laser scanner is great at reading product UPCs but with the need for advanced retail information now prevalent amongst businesses, like 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 be benefitted by the in-counter and presentation devices for even faster, hands free reading and even shorter lines!
Types of POS Systems
Now that you understand the basics of POS systems, it is time to explore the types and varieties of these systems and how they fan out to give you features and functionalities that you can analyse to choose the best one for your business. All these systems have basic and obvious similarities but, based on the differences in operational environment and other factors, software and hardware requirements will vary to ensure your POS system works the way your business does.
Retail POS systems are best for businesses that are retail heavy and place most emphasis on collecting retail statistics and trends. Features like inventory tracking, sales reporting, returns processing, and customer loyalty/couponing functions are crucial in a retail environment. While all businesses will need reporting features, retail applications will especially want to have a finer, deeper level of control to see sales data at the individual product and category levels. Retail POS requirements are the most veritable but most software by default lean towards retail needs.
From a hardware perspective, retail applications will definitely need a barcode scanner to easily input product data for quick checkout. Because the maximum volume of input is based around the scanner, things like touchscreens and all-in-one terminals are palpably useable in a retail environment but are not as essential. A good point of retail can expect a large volume of sales happening every day so, having a reliable thermal receipt printer like the Epson TM-T88V will be a big plus. Reducing clogging of customer queues at your counter with a good Retail POS system will make sure your customers keep returning for more.
A restaurant or hospitality environment is completely different from a retail environment due to the difference in the methodology of handling transactions. In retail, billing is precociously fast because payments are done immediately. In restaurant/hospitality, payments happen only after successful completion/delivery of the customer’s order. Also, unlike retail environments where products are individual quanta with unchanging prices, hospitality and restaurant environment has products that are a lot more fluid in nature. In restaurant/hospitality, products can be ordered in varying proportions, mixed and matched, and customised with add-ons or exemptions. Hence the options to customize orders, add and modify reservations, and manage available spots are all crucial. 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 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 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
A POS system that can meet the niche needs of your enterprise is going to help your business grow amazingly in the long run. Whatever be the type of your business, your POS system choice will be largely driven by requirements.