How to Choose Your Point-of-Sale System: A Guide for Brands
What is POS?
Point-of-sale systems, or POS, are the retail software and hardware merchants use to process in-person transactions. It consists of both hardware and software which integrate with the rest of your tech stack to administer sales, track revenue, and manage inventory, among other things.
Before the POS was introduced, businesses used old-school cash tills or registers to manually process transactions. But the POS has transformed physical retail, allowing SMBs and large corporations alike to gain new, deep insights into their business.
It’s important to choose the right POS regardless of where you’re at in your business. SMBs just starting out need to find a solution that can grow with them, and high-growth retailers need a POS that can handle rapidly changing and flexible workflows — not to mention a tool that plays nicely with others.
Why choosing the right point-of-sale system is important
Building a tech stack that works now and in the future is extremely important, especially for rapidly growing companies. As digitally native brands venture into physical retail through pop-up shops and permanent storefronts, it’s important to keep operations streamlined across all channels.
Without a POS that can talk to inventory management software and other crucial platforms, you could run into serious stockout and overstock dilemmas. A POS will provide the rich data and insights you need to understand your customers, improve your products, and grow your business.
As you add new selling channels, locations, products, and customers, your operations get exponentially more complex. High-growth merchants need scalable inventory and order management solutions to streamline complex operations to help bring the focus back to selling and growing the business. One piece to that puzzle is the POS.
It’s also important to consider who’s using your POS solutions. If you’re a one-person show, you can make the decision based on your personal preferences and business goals. But if you’ve got a team — or plan to build one — you’ll need buy-in from the people who are actually going to use the POS. Finding one that’s intuitive and easy to learn is important for adoption and data accuracy. It’s highly impactful to both the customer and the employee experience; rather than creating friction, the POS should create seamlessness.
How to choose the right POS
First, prioritize your needs. Consider what you need the POS for. Is it for permanent brick-and-mortars, or do you need a smaller, more mobile setup for event selling? Then identify your current POS challenges and pain points, as well as your growth goals. This will allow you to prioritize which features are most important to you.
Here are a few key areas to consider when choosing a POS:
Existing tech stack
Which tools do you already use and heavily rely on? Most POS systems have integrations with other technologies, like accounting, inventory management, your website CMS, staff management, and marketing.
Remember, all-in-one solutions suffer from “jack of all trades, master of none” syndrome. It’s a good idea to find custom options for each area of your business which can integrate cohesively for a large tech ecosystem, or command center for your biz.
Tip: A good place to look for POS options could be the integrations page of your current technology providers.
The ability to customize tech solutions is an ongoing need for high-growth brands. As you hit each new stage of growth, your operations may change. As such, you’ll need a retail POS software that provides the option to create custom workflows and automation to fit your unique needs. To rapidly scale, you need solutions that allow for, rather than inhibit, creative and outside-the-box processes.
Reporting and inventory tracking
Even if you only sell via one channel, it’s likely that won’t be true for long. That’s why you want to find a POS that can accommodate multichannel inventory tracking. Features like low stock alerts can help you stay on top of inventory levels in-store, online, wholesale, and other channels, and help you avoid missing sales.
It’s also important to consider how product information is organized and categorized. You need ways to quickly take inventory counts, and to build custom reports which distill information down to product characteristics for more actionable insights. Also find a POS that allows for product variants, so you can maintain operational organization as you expand your collection.
Some POS software has built-in payment processing while others work with third-party integration. Either can work fine, as long as you ensure payments are secure, but you’ll also want to consider what the payment processing fees are.
Tiered pricing charges different fees for qualified, mid-qualified, and non-qualified transactions. There’s also blended pricing — based on a flat rate — and interchange plus, which uses a flat fee + percentage of the transaction amount. Some processors also offer membership-based pricing, which is the most appealing for businesses with serious growth goals. This is because the fee stays the same, even if you process more transactions or higher-value orders as you scale.
You also need to think about the types of payment the POS can handle. Credit/debit card processing is a given, but consumers are paying for goods via new methods. Virtual wallets are expected to be used by more than half in 2020, pre-pay is a great way to capture sales for a major launch, and biometric technologies like Keyo enable customers to pay with the palm of their hand.
Mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) systems are also a consideration for small businesses and growing retailers. Especially if your main goal is to use the POS during pop-up or temporary retail activations, mobility is key.
In 2014, 53 percent of U.K. retailers rated mPOS as the most important in-store technology. And that was five years ago!
mPOS allows your staff — the face of the brand — to reach the customers where they’re at. Instead of queuing up at a register, a customer can check out anywhere in the space.
You also want the POS to be cloud-based. This way, team members in different locations (especially important if you’re doing temporary activations) can access the same data set at any given time. And as your team expands, centralized data becomes more important.
Part of mobility also includes the set-up and installation process. Is it easy to get up and running for a two-day pop-up, or does the POS require in-depth, hands-on installation support?
When it comes to CRM, your POS should have built-in email marketing and customer loyalty program functionality. Offer customers the option of digital receipts — not only can this help you go paperless, but it also opens the door to nurture the customer-brand relationship. Customer open email receipts 50 percent more than emails without a receipt.
Tip: Use email receipts to solicit feedback, cross-promote related products, or give customers unexpected freebies.
Built-in customer loyalty programs can also help you keep track of big spenders and customers who might need a reminder about your brand and products. 84 percent of consumers are more likely to stick with a brand that has a program, 66 percent of consumers change their spending behavior to optimize rewards. In all, enrolled customers spend 37 percent more than those who are unenrolled.
Pricing and contracts
While features and capabilities should be your priority, there is always the topic of cost. And it’s important to evaluate not only how much each POS system software costs, but also what that price includes. Some POS providers will offer tiered pricing options; you pay more to unlock more features. And while this may keep costs low for SMBs, if you’re looking to grow, you’ll want to consider how those expenses will change.
Investigate set-up and installation pricing too. You might find a POS that you can set up on your own, but you might still need help migrating all of your data into it. These costs vary depending on the POS. If there’s a set-up fee every time, and you’re about to go on a pop-up tour, you might want to check out other options.
Beyond the hard numbers, be mindful of the contract term. Some POS companies will let you cancel whenever, at no charge, but others may require a minimum contract length and cancellation fees if you go against that agreement.
Another POS consideration: hardware
Most of what we’ve discussed above pertains specifically to the software side of POS. But to be able to function, a POS needs the hardware to go with it.
When it comes to your basic POS set-up, here’s what you’ll need:
- Cash drawer: Though we’re getting there, we’re not a completely cashless society. This is where you’ll safely store cold hard cash (and paper checks).
- Credit card reader: To be able to accept and process credit and debit card payments, you’ll need the physical reader. This is the device where you swipe the card or insert the chip.
- Computer screen: This is the display which shows the transaction in progress, or any other data an employee may want to look up. This might also be a tablet or smartphone.
- Barcode scanner: This eliminates manual data entry during transactions. Instead of typing in a product SKU and purchase details, the barcode scanner will read the SKU and automate the checkout process.
- Receipt printer: Though email receipts are popular, some customers still want a physical printed receipt. You’ll need a printer if you want to provide this as an option to your customers.
Best POS systems for growing brands
Vend’s best feature is arguably its customer loyalty program, though the POS is rich with other capabilities that are perfectly suited for rapidly scaling brands. It works well for SMBs with basic needs, but also boasts a robust list of advanced features to support growth.
Other features we love:
- Branded gift cards
- Store credit
- Custom receipts
- Multi-store control
Shopify POS is an eCommerce-first, retail-second POS. This makes it ideally suited for digitally native brands looking to expand into physical retail. The POS works for in-person sales alongside the online shopping cart functionality.
Other features we love:
- Easy and quick set-up
- Discounts and promo codes
- Option to choose different fulfillment processes
- 24/7 access to customer support
Square is widely regarded as the top POS for businesses of all sizes. Like Vend, Square is a well-suited point-of-sale system for small business but has a library of features and upgrades you can grow into. Another bonus? There’s zero monthly fee.
Other features we love:
- Easy and quick set-up, like Shopify
- Simple, unintimidating user interface
- Customer profiles
- Easy to add new channels
Lightspeed Retail’s inventory management features are arguably its most bragworthy. Automated purchase orders keep stock levels healthy, and it’ll even automatically adjust stock levels as orders are placed. Plus, it has lots of categorization and multi-variant features — especially important if you’re scaling.
Other features we love:
- Check the status of any order in real-time
- Robust, detailed reports with real takeaways
- Geographic-based order routing
ShopKeep is an easy-to-use, beginner-friendly POS system for small businesses. Targeted to boutique and niche shops, ShopKeep runs only on iPads. If you’re looking for a simple and mobile solution, ShopKeep is a good one to check out.
However, it doesn’t have the capabilities that retailers with growth goals will need.
Finding and vetting your options
So now you’ve got a list of options that meet your needs. How do you vet each of your options to narrow it down?
A good place to start is with your inventory management system provider. It’s crucial that your POS integrates with your IMS, not to mention your IMS already knows and understands your business, so they’ll be able to make an informed, personalized recommendation. Your IMS might even have a partners page where you can browse their list of POS integrations.
Then check reviews. Look at sites like Capterra, Merchant Maverick, GetApp, and Web Retailer to see what others are saying about the POS. Pay extra attention to reviews from brands similar to your own, either in industry, size, or growth trajectory.
Also consider what people are saying about the customization and level of customer support post-implementation. If the POS is rigid and inflexible, you’ll have a harder time achieving sustainable scale — the POS will work against you rather than foster that growth.
Once you’re happy with your options, set up a demo. During the demo, make it a point to ask what the POS product roadmap is. Which features do they plan to roll out? How often do they make updates? And what do they do with customer suggestions and feature requests? If there isn’t much of a vision for the future, that’s a red flag: They may not innovate as fast as you need to remain competitive in a rapidly changing landscape.
Moving forward with your POS system
Choosing the right point-of-sale system for your business depends on two major things: What are your paint points now, and how will your needs change as you scale? It’s important to invest in a tech stack that will grow with you — otherwise, you’ll have to do this process all over again when your business needs change.