6 Best Retail POS (Point of Sale) Software Programs
As a business owner, you may be most concerned about getting people into your store or restaurant or your website. But smooth management of your brick-and-mortar location, as well as a good overall customer experience, will also be crucial to your business. The intersection of these two things may be your Point-of-Sale (POS) software.
POS software is what allows businesses to process payments. Business owners run the software on cash registers, computers and iPads. POS software, though, does a lot more than process credit and debit sales. Most POS software also tracks inventory, helps manage employees, builds customer loyalty programs and offers reports and analysis.
What you look for in a retail POS system is really dependent on what type of business you are a running. A shoe store is just not going to have the same needs as a restaurant. So it will be important to evaluate what role you want your POS software to play and it may be able to play a broader role than you think.
Ankur Garg is a product manager at RetailNext, a company that provides analytics for retail spaces, and has worked with many customers with their POS software. If you’re shopping for a POS system, you’ll want one that can do more than process credit card transactions, he said.
“I would really be looking for not just a point of sale system but something that is a little more of a platform,” said Garg, who noted that certain features of POS systems — helping run e-commerce, shipping, marketing and inventory — can be especially useful for a small business owner, who “doesn’t necessarily have the bandwidth to manage a whole bunch of a different things.”
A small business might have very few employees, or none at all, making it hard to handle things like marketing or social media branding. A POS software system can be leveraged for both of those tasks.
Here are some important qualities to look for in POS software:
Analytics. Garg said most platforms should provide you with an easy-to-use dashboard to help you read your analytics and whatever metrics you may be tracking. Certain POS software will be able to tell you which products are selling the most, average transaction values, the number of items per transaction as well as the average cost of an item sold.
Customer service. You will rely on your POS software to make sales. If it starts acting up, or worse, not working at all, time is literally money and you’ll want to know the company you contracted with will help you quickly. So before you choose a service, check out their customer service. Do they handle that in-house? How and when are they available. Ideally, you’ll want customer service that’s available 24/7, Garg said. Having multiple ways of contacting customer service is good, too, for example by phone, email and chat.
eCommerce integration. Do you sell items online? If so, you probably have eCommerce software that manages your inventory, calculates your taxes and allows you to add/remove products. Making sure a POS software can integrate with your eCommerce software is key so you don’t have to manually move data between the two. When the systems aren’t integrated, mistakes, such as inventory levels being off, can happen.
Delivery management. Good POS software will let you track and manage your orders in real time. That will help with order accuracy, delivery time and keeping your customers happy.
How to choose the best retail POS software for you
Choosing the best retail software for your business starts with a lot of questions to narrow down the features and functionality that you are looking for. There are some main questions to ask yourself about what you’re looking for in POS software to help narrow down your choices.
Are you comfortable with a cloud-based system?
A cloud-based system (data stored on a remote server) is cheaper than a locally-installed system, where local servers store your data. “The only reasons you don’t use (a cloud-based system) is that you are so concerned about security or IT you don’t want to use anything that’s cloud-based,” said Garg, but he noted that cloud technology is much “more secure” these days. If it’s not cloud or internet-based, Garg also pointed out a cost— you’ll probably need an IT person to take care of your local server.
Would an open platform be beneficial?
If the POS software you are using is an open platform it may allow access to an app store where people doing similar business to you may have built apps that will make your life easier, Garg said. Many companies offer corresponding apps with their POS software.
What kind of features do you need?
Many POS software systems offer different tiers of pricing based on the kind of features you need. If you don’t need all the bells and whistles, especially if you’re only managing one location, you might be able to save money. POS software often comes in versions targeted specifically at retail and bars/restaurants. For retail, inventory management will likely be your biggest concern, but you might also want the ability to accept gift cards, offer loyalty programs and see real-time reports. For restaurants, maybe you’d like help with staff scheduling, want to offer tableside ordering, the ability to see table layout, offer online ordering and check splitting. Think about which features are really necessary for operating your business and also which ones would be nice bonuses.
Top POS software options
Here’s a look at six of the top POS software choices (all six offer 24/7 customer support):
$29 a month for a basic plan recommended for new or online-only businesses; $79 plan recommended for retail stores with one location; $299 a month recommended for businesses with two or more retail locations
Shopify is a very commonly used, cloud-based POS software available for iPhone, iPad or Android device that can manage both online and physical stores. Shopify covers all the bases in terms of payment (credit cards and gift cards, too) as well as supporting multi-channel selling, meaning you can make sales on online marketplaces, social media, brick-and-mortar stores or pop-up stores. Other features include inventory management and stock counts, which automatically stop selling products when they sell out; product popularity reports; and email marketing. Shopify is an open platform with tons of apps, Garg said.
$99 retail POS; $69 restaurant POS; $59 ecommerce POS; iPhone and iPad
Lightspeed offers three cloud-based, POS software options: retail, eCommerce (online only businesses) and restaurants. The retail software works for multiple locations and offers inventory control, real-time reporting data and integrated payments. With Lightspeed Restaurant, you’ll get industry-specific features like tableside ordering, the ability to update the restaurant’s floorplan in the system, and the ability to color code tables by occupancy or stage in the dining process. Diners can also see high-res photos of their dishes before they order.
Square POS software is free with a 2.75 fee for every credit or debit transaction; Square for Retail is $60 a month and 2.5% plus 10 cents for every credit or debit transaction
Square offers two software options, it’s free general system and its more specific software, Square for Retail. Both are cloud-based systems that that are iOS and Android compatible. Although Square is often thought of as just a method for taking credit and debit payments, it offers much the same features as other POS software, including real-time inventory tracking, employee management, customer loyalty programs and purchase order creation and management. Square for Retail more heavily focus on inventory management, which can be tracked at multiple locations.
$69 a month (one license), $129 a month (two licenses), $249 a month (up to five licenses), $399 a month (unlimited)
Specifically aimed at restaurants, TouchBistro offers tableside order management, floor plan management, employee management (scheduling, payroll, timesheets), inventory management, menu management (staff alerts on inventory items) and restaurant inventory management (identify menu item profit margins) reports, analysis and more. The software is only available for Apple products. TouchBistro works on a local network that doesn’t require an internet connection and also allows for cloud access from other locations.
$99 a month for Lite, $129 a month for Pro; call for a quote for Enterprise (aimed at large multi-store retailers or franchises)
Across the board, the cloud-based Vend POS software offers real-time inventory management and real-time reports. Features that come with Pro and above include advanced analytics, multi-outlet retail management and advanced promotions and gift cards. Vend works on iPad, Mac and PC hardware. The system also works offline, so you won’t need an internet connection to make a sale and Vend offers both an iPad app and web-based app.
Request a free pricing quote on the website
ShopKeep offers two cloud-based, POS software types: one for retail and one for restaurants and bars. Both systems allow for unlimited users and inventory items. The Retail POS offers reports like a profitable item list and sales down to the hour and sends alerts when you’re running low on items. ShopKeep’s restaurant POS offers features like alerting you to top-selling items, the ability to customize a customer’s menu order (listing allergies or substitutions, etc.) and reports on peak hours to help with staff planning. ShopKeep works offline and reports are also accessible through the ShopKeep Pocket app.
The bottom line
POS software has the ability to keep your business on track in so many ways — accurate inventory purchases, smart staff scheduling, and of course, basic payment collection. Before you choose a type of software, consider which ones work best for your industry and what you need your software to do for you now and in the future. Keep in mind price, customer service, and mobile capability.