For any type or size of merchant, the point of sale (POS) is by definition a mission-critical system. In addition to being a basic tool for retail and hospitality companies to conduct business, today’s POS systems can also be profitably tied in with key operational solutions, such as inventory management, labor scheduling, and customer marketing.
POS systems’ importance makes selecting the one that’s right for your business a challenge. Here are four tips to help formulate the right questions to ask POS vendors as you narrow down your options:
1. What are your inventory management needs?
One of the biggest benefits of POS systems is their ability to automatically deduct sold items from inventory, making key measurements such as inventory on hand and item-by-item sales data far more accurate. However, if your business operates with a limited, relatively uncomplicated inventory – e.g. just a few hundred SKUs with little variation in size, style, or color – choosing a POS system with advanced inventory management capabilities will be a wasted investment. Key questions to ask include:
- How many items do you carry in each store?
- Do you look at each item as a unique item or as a style?
- How do you order inventory from suppliers if the item has varying colors/sizes? Do you need to see item attributes as a matrix?
- Do other buyers/store personnel need to be able to fill in or look up on-hand information without visiting the store floor or calling other stores?
- What merchandise information do you want to be able to view at your desktop?
2. What additional functions will you want your POS to provide?
Even if your needs are currently fairly basic, that doesn’t mean they won’t expand as you grow. Consider additional capabilities you may want your system to provide in the future, such as:
- Time and attendance/time clock
- Sales reporting, broken down by associate, store, department, time of day, etc.
- Customer marketing, allowing you to capture the customer’s purchase history and other data for future marketing, and customer loyalty programs.
- Transfer systems, allowing associates to transfer merchandise between stores, and on-hand lookup, allowing each store to see at a glance what inventory other stores have on hand.
- Gift cards, tracking gift cards sold and their redemption.
3. What types of POS peripherals will you need?
POS system hardware isn’t limited to the cashier’s touchscreen. Think about whether dual display screens, showing customers what they ordered to improve accuracy, or displaying ads to promote key items, are worth the investment. Compare thermal printers to ribbon printers: thermal printers use heat to print receipts so even though they cost more initially, retailers can save long-term on the ink cartridges required by ribbon printers.
4. What security features does the POS system offer?
Security must be a key element of any POS system, from the basics (lockable cash drawers, cash drops, and password-protected access) to erecting firewalls around the POS system’s network to guard against malware attacks. Retailers accepting payment cards must ensure their POS systems comply with the latest Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS), and they also need to bring their systems in line with the EMV global payment standards prior to the October 2015 liability shift. Retailers doing a high volume of payment card business may want to consider using encryption, which protects customer data during transactions by creating a cryptographic key that denies access to anyone without the appropriate decrypting key.
Finding a POS system that meets your business’ current needs while also providing the tools for future growth can be challenging. Keep both short-term and long-term requirements in mind when evaluating different solutions.