POS SOLUTIONS

What Is Point of Sale Software? A Checklist for Choosing the Best POS for Your Business

| May 12, 2021

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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.

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