Saturday, August 26

Tips on buying Point of Sale systems

Point of Sale systems are a large investment, not only of money, but of time as well. As a systems administrator who has helped several businesses make the move from cash registers or smart registers, to real Point of Sale systems, I've picked up some tips that might help you in your purchase.

First of all, decide on the software first. While you may have an idea of the hardware you are most comfortable with (such as thermal printers, verses ribbon printers, or the use of barcode systems for inventory control), always make the decision on the software, before purchasing any hardware.

This use to be a hard and fast rule, but software systems are becoming more hardware friendly. Back in the late 90's POS systems were often designed to only work with a particular set of printers, cash drawers, scanners or card readers. Several companies designed their software to only work with their proprietary hardware. That seems to have been a less than perfect business decision on their part. While times have changed and POS systems are more open to the hardware they are able to use effectively, it is still a good idea to have the software decided on, and then look to purchasing the supported hardware.

Another item to consider is not all POS systems were designed equally. Some have features others do not, some support information sharing with external reporting software for example. You may find the perfect fit for your business, but discover it only works on Macintosh, or Linux. If you have already paid for a Windows 2003 server (with the huge costs of Windows licensing), it puts you in a rather difficult spot.

When looking for Point of Sale software, many business owners start out with a knowledgeable computer expert or a systems administrator like myself. While I dearly love the work, the basic fact is, I don't know anything about running a retail store or restaurant, and most computer experts don't either. We tend to know a great deal about things like... computers.

While the POS systems are software and computer related, if you are looking for advice on purchasing POS software, go to people who have used POS software, such as other business owners. There are many forums and other sources on the web where retail and restaurant owners share information. Also, search out reviews on the software packages you are looking for. A good search on Google for reviews would be formed like this:

+"Name of the Software" +Review

Searching like that will bring up software reviews, and other information regarding the package.

Also look for reviews and forum posts about the software company itself. The old saying about bad news traveling fast is even truer on the Internet. While you certainly don't what to take ever gripe and complaint at face value, if you see a reasonable trend of similar complaints, you might want to take them into consideration.

One of the basic things I look for is "Can we get our information out of the software?" ... this is such an important question I can't put enough emphasis on the word. If I was one of those that thought bolding with italics and multiple explanation points were not the signs of a very sick mind, I would do so with that question.

Many POS systems claim that they have export functionality. Many of these don't actually export all of your data, or export it in a format that can be worked into being able to import your data into another system. Why worry about this? Several reasons:

The POS software company goes out of business
You find a better software package
They raise the rates of support contracts outrageously
You purchase another store, which as a better system installed

You get the idea (I hope), and these situations I listed happen more often than I can count. POS software companies go out of business all the time. Let's face it, POS software is difficult to create, with various functions, long lists of "needs", and supporting the software is even worse (even just on the easy stuff). Training staff is always a long process, so you often have several weeks, with each new sale, of phone calls coming in from staff who are only partially trained because of scheduling and odd working hours. Its a mess!

If the software company isn't prepared for full onslaught that comes with POS software, they go under (and most of them do).

While that is certainly something you want to keep in mind, safeguarding your data is our main concern. Make sure that all of your data can be exported in a format that is usable.

Finding the features you want is also difficult. The best way I've seen this done is by getting with your staff first, and making lists of features you want, before going out to see what features are available. Never mind what you think is possible. Start making lists of what you need, and what you want.

What feature would increase your profits? What would speed up lines? What would add to the customer experience? What about spur of the moment sales, with extra change? Donations, Gift Cards, Promotion tracking?

Getting these down, and then searching for software will cut your time down, and increase your chances of finding the software your company will really benefit from.

If you are looking for more tips on Point of Sale systems, and Hardware, check out