The onerous process of switching your point-of-sale system may pay off in increased functionality and lower costs, thanks to mobile and cloud technologies.
"A lot is changing in payments, particularly in how POS (point of sale) is delivered and how retailers interact with their customers," says Todd Ablowitz, president of Double Diamond Group, a payments industry consulting firm based in Denver.
Such change can mean both good and bad things for merchants, of course, but Ablowitz tends to see it as a positive—especially since, in this case, it means "there are more options than ever for smaller retailers."
Steven Naccarato, co-owner of Shake Shake Shake, a retro burger cafe in Tacoma, Washington, recently decided to switch out the restaurant's more traditional POS solution for an iPad-based one developed by a company that’s fairly new to the payments industry.
Cost was the main driver of the migration, he admits. Unfortunately, although the new system was cheaper and more technologically forward than its predecessor, it still was "imperfect" and "buggy," says Naccarato. "It doesn't have a simple way to split tenders or—and this is a biggie for many—a straightforward way to accept gift certificates."
He then switched to another iPad-based solution from a more established company. Did that do the trick? Not really, he responds. "My sense was they would have the bugs worked out and we wouldn't have to worry about the issues we had" with the previous system, he says, but "this hasn't been the case so far."
Despite those fairly negative experiences, Naccarato expects tablet-based, cloud and mobile POS options are the wave of the future with "inexpensive apps running on the cloud and iPads instead of on the big all-in-one POS systems of the past."
Both Naccarato and Ablowitz suggest a few issues to consider when changing your POS system:
1. There’s more to it than cost
"Retailers shouldn't just consider price as the primary driver in decision-making," Ablowitz advises. "Value-added services" are included in most of the latest POS systems, "such as customer, sales and inventory analytics; tools to increase loyalty; and functionality that can help retailers build and maintain relationships with their customers," Ablowitz says. "A small retailer may not need all of this functionality, but it's important for them to evaluate their priorities and invest in a POS system that supports that."
2. Ask around.
Talk to business owners who are currently using the systems you’re considering, suggests Naccarato. "Get a list of users from the rep trying to sell you the unit. If they won't give you a list, don't do business with them." Also, he adds, "find out about ongoing support costs and upgrades," as failing to do so "can really end up costing you."
3. Take the POS system for a spin.
Both Ablowitz and Naccarato recommend demoing potential POS purchases. "Try the system a few times before buying," suggests Ablowitz. Use the experience to "look at how easy or difficult [it is to make] changes on the back end," adds Naccarato. As for which options smaller, payments-accepting businesses should consider if they decide to migrate to a new POS platform, Ablowitz points to cloud-based solutions as well as those that incorporate mobile technology at the point of sale. Consider "the power consumers have at their disposal through the use of their own mobile devices for price-checking, ratings and reviews, and scanning their own purchases," he says.
4. Always be on the lookout for the next big thing.
Although Ablowitz admits that "the list of POS functionality is growing and may be much more than a small retailer needs, it's important to be aware of the trends that are developing and anticipate how those trends could support them and their ability to meet their customers' needs in the future." You can be sure that your customers are seeing the trends when they're making purchases.
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