Article | April 16, 2020
A retail POS system is a system that includes customer display, barcode scanner, receipt printer, cash drawer, monitor, computer, and debit/credit card reader. POS systems offer the functionalities of CRM to interact with the customers or integration with an existing CRM system, sending of email & text messages, loyalty reward program, updating contact records, and functions for setting an appointment.
Article | April 16, 2020
Point-of-sale (POS) software is constantly evolving. Clunky cash registers alone can’t keep up. Brick-and-mortar retailers are adopting leaner systems that operate on mobile devices in favor of complicated setups that cost thousands of dollars.
But it’s not just retail stores that are interested in POS systems—online store owners who sell at craft fairs, trade shows, and farmers markets are also in need of inexpensive and easy-to-use point-of-sale solutions.
So, what exactly is point of sale software, how do you know if you need it, and how do you choose the right tool for your business?
What is point-of-sale (POS) software?
Point of sale software is what brick-and-mortar retailers use to conduct sales in person. It's sometimes a cash register, computer, or even a tablet where cashiers input products, tally the cost, and conduct the financial transaction. Most POS software will also communicate with inventory levels to keep everything in balance.
A lot of big-box stores have wildly complex and expensive POS solutions, some of which were custom built for their needs. Independent retailers are moving away from these traditional POS systems and toward cloud-based point-of-sale solutions.
Types of POS software
There are two main types of POS software: on-premise and cloud-based. On-premise POS software requires you to be on location to use it. Terminals are the most common on-premise POS. Cloud-based POS software offers more flexibility, as you can use any connected, compatible device to access the dashboard. Cloud-based POS software is becoming more mainstream—the market was valued at around $1.29 billion for 2019, with an expected growth rate of more than 21.38% through 2026.
A cloud-based POS allows you to conduct sales and check in on your business even when you’re not at the store. You access it directly from the internet, and it’s often compatible with most POS hardware (cash drawers, printers, etc.) and other tools in your tech stack. This is great if you’re a small business that sells in a store and online along with the occasional in-person event.
When you use a cloud-based POS and link it to your Shopify store, your inventory automatically adjusts, helping you mitigate costly problems like stockouts. Cloud-based POS systems are also typically less expensive and more convenient than a tethered on-premise solution.
There are other types of POS software that fall into one or both of the above categories:
Mobile POS (mPOS): A mobile point-of-sale can move around inside or outside a store. Store owners can take transactions from a central point of purchase, like a traditional checkout counter or cash register, or wherever they need it to be. To take transactions on the go, retailers often use hardware like a tablet or smartphone to process transactions. Best for: Pop-up shops; increasing in-store conversion rate
Tablets: A tablet POS can be both mobile and docked to a station. These POS systems run on Android tablets or iPads, acting as either the main POS or supplementing your central POS station. This is also a mPOS. Best for: Selling products with lots of details, features, and/or use cases; collecting lots of customer data at the point of purchase; self-serve options; pop-up shops and event sales
Desktop: POS systems that run on a desktop computer are typically on-premise solutions docked to a checkout station. They’re bulky but often more powerful and reliable, depending on the hardware you choose.
The main POS station in a permanent brick-and-mortar store; businesses that want to add mPOS in addition to their desktop setup
Self-serve kiosks: Self-serve kiosks are common in food-based businesses, especially for quick-service restaurants and fast casual dining. This type of POS can drive a 15%–30% increase in average check size. They also work in retail environments. Best for: Food-based businesses; reducing lines and wait times; digitally savvy customers
POS apps: Depending on the POS, there are a few point of sale apps to choose from. POS apps work with your hardware and other compatible devices to enable you to access your data and manage business operations. Best for: Businesses that want flexibility and customizability without needing lots of technical resources or budget
Open-source POS: Open-source software allows companies to use their source code to build custom solutions with their platform. You can build your open-source POS system internally or with external collaborators. Best for: Enterprises with lots of technical resources; highly unique POS needs
Multichannel POS: A multichannel POS can integrate with various commerce channels, an increasingly important capability. These channels include your own website, third-party online marketplaces, your store, pop-up shops, event sales, wholesale, social media, and more. Best for: Ecommerce merchants who do or plan to sell in-person; multichannel online brands
Retail POS: A retail POS has features tailored to a brick-and-mortar business selling products. These features could include inventory management, forecasting, and multichannel selling. Best for: Pop-up shops; permanent brick-and-mortar stores in a traditional retail environment
Restaurant POS: Restaurant POS systems are designed with food-based businesses in mind. Specific features might include menu planning and costing, ingredient-level tracking, dish customizations, and self-serve ordering. Best for: Food-based businesses (fast food, casual, quick-serve, sit-down, etc.)
Components of a POS system
There are other pieces of hardware that can complement your POS setup:
Barcode scanner: In addition to scanning barcodes, you can also use some scanners to add discount codes. There are 1D barcode scanners that use the traditional bar code, and 2D barcode scanners that can read QR codes.
Cash drawer: Unless you only process cashless payments, you’ll need somewhere to put the cash customers use to pay for your products. The cash drawer is a safe, secure place to organize bills.
Credit and debit card reader: This piece of hardware can read debit and credit cards. There are several ways to read a card, including swipe, tap, and EMV chip. You need this for payment processing so you can receive the funds from the customer’s bank.
Receipt printer: These aren’t always essential, especially if you use Shopify POS, because you can send email receipts, but a printer can connect to your POS and spit out receipts on the spot.
Label printer: There are some instances where you’ll need to print a label—ship-from-store, for example. With a label printer as part of your POS setup, you can do that on the spot.
Scale: If you sell products by weight, you’ll need a scale to be able to determine how much to charge customers. Some scales connect directly to your POS for a seamless checkout.
What does a POS system do?
Modern POS systems offer far more functionality than simply administering transactions. They can complete other business functions, as well as inform important business decisions, including:
Managing inventory across all locations, both online and offline
Providing sales metrics and reporting
Managing customer data effectively
Improving in-store sales
Adapting to business needs with customizations
Managing inventory across all locations, both online and offline
Whether you have inventory at your storefront, pop-up shop, or warehouse, keeping accurate counts across the board is a tricky (and sometimes tedious) task. Inventory is one of your largest expenses as a retailer, and you need a simple way to manage it. That means having the right products in the right place at the right time—and a POS that helps you achieve that goal.
A modern POS system should help retailers manage inventory anywhere you keep your products. Not only does this level of inventory management make tracking easier, but fulfilling orders is quicker when you know how much of a product is at a given location at any time.
With a POS, you can easily monitor stock counts across all your stores, while keeping customers happy by avoiding stockouts and automatically ceasing sales of products when inventory runs out. Accurate stock counts streamline ordering from vendors so you always have inventory in stock wherever your products are selling best.
Complete visibility of your inventory across all locations also makes it easier to move stock from one place to another (e.g., from warehouse to storefront) when you run low on a product. And it’s simpler to create purchase orders and accurately create your demand forecasts.
Providing sales metrics and reporting
A POS is useful for far more than processing transactions. You also can use crucial information from your point-of-sale solution to make data-informed decisions about your entire business.
Modern POS systems make it painless to see analytics across every channel in your retail business, both individually and as part of your business as a whole. The ability to break down and filter sales data this way can often shed light on what’s working—and what isn’t.
So, when you’re assessing a POS system, ensure you can easily track the following:
Data for both in-store and online sales
Sales broken down over time (number of sales by day, week, month, etc.)
Sales per employee
Sales per channel (across all stores and for each location)
Staff activities broken down by employee
Product reports (to see what’s selling and what’s still sitting on shelves)
Number of orders (broken down by various stages of fulfillment)
Easy, intuitive access to this kind of data can help you make better decisions and understand the overall health of your business.
Managing customer data effectively
A POS should also help you easily collect, track, and manage customer information. Access to these details can help you better understand your ideal customers and identify your most loyal shoppers.
When evaluating your shortlist of POS contenders, make sure that your top choice helps you manage the following:
Customer profiles. Collect contact details to build in-depth profiles of your customers to help you learn more about them and their shopping habits.
Customer order histories. Quick access to a customer’s order history can help you effectively cross-sell and upsell by offering on-the-spot, tailored product recommendations based on past purchases.
Customer loyalty programs. A POS should give you access to your loyalty program across all sales channels, whether someone buys online, in-store, or elsewhere.
Improving in-store sales
The traditional shopping experience has changed, and retailers have to meet the ever-evolving demands of customers in order to compete. But a POS system can help you keep up with a shifting industry.
The right POS features can help you appeal to the empowered shopper and make more sales. For example, use your POS to stay in touch with customers and keep your products top of mind after they leave your store. Sales associates can email customers a list of items they were interested in but didn’t purchase while in-store, so, when they’re ready, the customer can buy those items via a feature like Shopify POS Email cart.
Providing a variety of shipping options is another way you can serve your customers’ evolving needs. You can use a POS feature to ship a purchase to whatever address is most convenient for a shopper, whether it’s their home, their office, or another location—which can give you a competitive edge.
A POS that offers flexible shipping alternatives can minimize the need for returns and exchanges and keep sales strong. That’s why the following pickup, purchase, and delivery options are quickly becoming table stakes:
Buy online, pick up in-store. In-store pickup allows customers to buy online and collect their order from the retailer’s physical store or a third-party location. Thousands of stores are decreasing returns and selling more by letting customers check the size, color, and shape of their purchases before walking out—all while offering highly valued flexibility.
Home delivery. After customers buy products in-store—especially heavy or large products, like furniture—they don’t necessarily want to lug it home with them. As an added convenience, offer home delivery. Or, if an item isn't available in-store, but is at another location, customers can buy in store and have the item shipped to their home.
In-store returns/exchanges for items purchased online. Creating a hassle-free returns experience for customers can actually build loyalty. For example, if a customer wants to return a product they purchased online, they may want to make a return immediately rather than sending the product back via snail mail. Make it simple for them to visit your store to make the return.
Article | April 16, 2020
Amazon’s New York expansion plans will now include the former Lord & Taylor building in downtown Manhattan, as the eCommerce company announced that it will purchase the storied building from office sharing startup WeWork, according to the New York Post. The price tag on the building, famous for being the former New York hub for the shopping retailer, is in excess of $1 billion. The building’s current owner is WeWork, which has been having a difficult time as of late after a failed IPO and then the need for a bailout from SoftBank later. The building has 12 stories. It was sold to WeWork in 2017 for $850 million on the basis that it would become the WeWork headquarters.
Article | April 16, 2020
At my current company Monizze, we issue social vouchers, like meal, eco and gift vouchers. These vouchers are consumed using a specific Monizze payment card via a physical terminal. As a result, I come into contact with card payments on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I am still far from being a card expert, but along the years I can say I have built up a good basic understanding of how a card payment happens. As I had to collect information from different sources to get this first good understanding, I thought it might be interesting to share my summary for "dummies" of how card payments work.
First let us have a look at the card itself. A card is just a plastic carrier on which a design is printed. Afterwards a chip (an embedded microprocessor) is attached to the card, on which 1 or more applications can be deployed. A card with such a chip is often also called a smart card or an EMV card, with EMV an abbreviation for "Europay MasterCard VISA", which are the 3 companies that originally established this global electronic transaction standard. A card does not need to have a chip, some cards only have a bar code or QR code on them, while others have a magnetic stripe. Obviously an EMV chip card is more secure than those other models.
Most EMV chip cards today are Dual Interface chip cards. This means the card can be used in both contact (i.e. the card is put in the terminal to read the chip) and contactless (i.e. the card communicates via an NFC antenna with the terminal) mode.
This should not be confused with co-branded / co-badged cards, which exist quite a lot in Europe. As many countries still have their local payment method (like Bancontact in Belgium, Girocard in Germany, Cartes Bancaires in France, PagoBancomat in Italy, MultiBanco in Portugal…), most banks in those countries issue such a co-badged card, which supports both this local payment method and a more international payment method. E.g. in Belgium almost all debit cards are co-badged with Bancontact and Maestro (Maestro being an international payment method owned by MasterCard).
When fabrication of EMV chip cards starts, all cards are the same. Of course by printing the design on the card and personalizing the card (with the name, card number…) you get a specific card. Additionally there is a personalization of the EMV chip. On the chip the specific application(s) of the card is deployed, as well as the specific personal information. This personal information stored on the card consists of the card number (also called the PAN number = Primary Account number), the expiration date, a security code (also called CVV = Card Verification Value or CVC = Card Verification Code), a number of cryptographic keys and the list of CVM checks (CVM = Card Verification Methods). This list indicates which type of security check should be applied and can depend on the type of payment (e.g. contact versus contactless), what the terminal supports and the amount. E.g. the CVM list can indicate that a contactless transaction can be executed up to 50 EUR without asking for a PIN.
The cryptographic keys ensure the necessary security. E.g. they are used to calculate a cryptogram (based on one of the stored secret keys and the info of the transaction), which is sent along to the issuer. The issuer can then verify that the transaction message was not altered along the way by calculating itself the cryptogram and comparing it with the provided cryptogram. In the same way, it is possible to encrypt a PIN code and send it to the issuer for verification. The PIN code can be stored on the chip and verified by the chip directly. This so-called PIN offline verification is however only possible when the chip can be read by the terminal. In case of a contactless transaction requiring a PIN, card issuers usually work with PIN online, which means the PIN is sent in an encrypted way to the issuer, who verifies the correctness of the PIN, before authorizing the transaction.
The information on the chip of a card can also be virtualized. This means that instead of the card sending the NFC signal (in contactless mode) to the terminal, it is also possible that your smartphone sends out this signal (and emulates the card). This can be a specific app, using HCE (= Host Card Emulation), but this technique is only available on Android phones, as Apple does not give access to the NFC antenna. A more common technique is of course Apple Pay and Google Pay, where you onboard your card on the Apple/Google infrastructure and your smartphone emulates the physical card.
Now that we have clarified what the card does, it is good to have a look at how a payment works.
The first step is of course telling the terminal (POS = Point of Sales terminal) how much the customer needs to pay. This can be inputted directly on the terminal, but large retailers have of course an integration with their cash register (= ECR = Electronic Cash Register). This integration allows to pass immediately info like the amount, which card types can be accepted (cashier can select a specific payment method) and potential other reference information. Obviously, a lot of cash register systems exist (e.g. Lightspeed, Square, Casio, Toshiba…) and also a lot of protocols to integrate ECRs with terminals (e.g. VIC protocol) and finally also a lot of different terminals (e.g. Wordline, Ingenico, CCV, Adyen, SumUp, VIVA Wallet, Cetrel, Loyaltek…). All these differences make those integrations quite a mess.
The terminal will then read the card (contact or contactless) and determine which verification methods need to be applied. Once the verifications on the terminal are ok, the payment is sent to the Acquirer (often the merchant’s bank), which sends the payment to the Issuer (usually the bank of the card holder, which issued the card). This Issuer validates if the card is still active, if the PIN code is correct (in case of PIN online), if the customer is allowed to do a transaction at this merchant (e.g. card might be disabled for foreign transactions) and whether the customer has sufficient funds to execute the payment. In case of a positive reply, the payment is considered as successful, even though the actual settlement will usually happen later. This settlement consists of the acquirer requesting payment to the issuing bank, the issuing bank debiting the cardholder’s account and transmitting the money to the acquirer bank and the acquirer bank crediting the merchant’s account.the cardholder’s account and transmitting the money to the acquirer bank and the acquirer bank crediting the merchant’s account.
For the communication between the terminal, acquirer and issuer a "Payment Network", like VISA, MasterCard, American Express, UnionPay, Bancontact… is used. This payment network sets all the rules of how these different players should interact. Additionally there are multiple protocols of how terminals can communicate with the Acquirer, like CTAP, EP2, Nexo (EPAS), IFSF, STD70, ABI-CB (Italy)…, making it for international players very hard to support all local payment methods.
It is also important to understand the difference between a "Four Corner model" (also called a Four-Party scheme, Open Scheme or Open Loop payment model) and a "Three Corner Model" (also called a Three-Party scheme, Closed Scheme and Closed loop payment model). The first model is the model described above and is the most widely used. E.g. VISA, MasterCard and UnionPay use this model. In the second model ("Three Corner Model"), the issuer, acquirer and payment network are the same party. This means the payment network provides the card to the card holder and contracts with the merchant to configure/setup the terminal. Typical examples are Diners Club, Discover Card and American Express, but often also niche payment methods, like the social vouchers (e.g. meal voucher payments) of Monizze fall in this category (even though in many countries, social vouchers are also handled via an "Open Loop" model based on VISA or MasterCard).
As you can see a card payment involves a large number of parties. While cash registers and terminals are bought or rented by merchants and typically include also a monthly service fee, the other players are usually paid per transaction. The Acquirer will recover those transaction fees from the merchant through a "Merchant service charge". The Acquirer however keeps only a small part of this fee, as around 20% of this fee (the so-called scheme fee) is going to the payment network (e.g. VISA or MasterCard) and up to 70% (the so-called interchange fee) to the Issuer. Part of this interchange fee is often used in the form of rewards (e.g. cashbacks) to the customer, thus encouraging the card holder to use his card as much as possible.
Card payments are clearly undergoing a major transformation. On the one hand, there is a strong push towards a cashless society. This trend, strongly accelerated by the Covid crisis, increases the use of card payments. On the other hand, there is a trend to replace the physical cards by payments with smartphones. This includes the exponential rise of the use of Apple Pay and Google Pay, but also new payment techniques, often based on QR code scanning (like e.g. Payconiq in Belgium).
Additionally due to the aggressive take-over strategy of the 2 major American players (VISA and MasterCard) in the last decade, there is a strong feeling, especially in Europe, that there is need for more competition and a new European player. As a result, several large European banks are joining forces to create a European alternative. It is however doubtful that this new initiative will be successful, as new technologies and payment methods, like PSD2 Payment Initiation, SEPA Request to Pay (SRTP), instant payments, CBDCs… can likely give better (more frictionless and cheaper) alternatives to the traditional card payment schemes.