Welcome! This guide covers all the essentials in the POS selection process and it answers the most common and important questions that are bound to arise as you go about upgrading your system.

Why upgrade your POS? Well, aside from enabling you to easily accept and process payments, a modern POS system lets you sync, track, and manage virtually every aspect your business–from your inventory and sales to your customer data—all from one convenient location. It can simplify how you run your business, make information easier to find, and minimize mistakes. A modern POS system also enables you to better serve your customers and enhance their shopping experience, thus building loyalty in the process.

A modern POS, in short, can be a whole lot of awesome.

So let's find the best one for you.

Step 1.
Define the needs of your business.

In this section we help you identify all the features, functions, and services that you use to run your business, the important stuff like your checkout process, inventory, and customer relationship management.

But it's not all fun, we also provide a handy checklist for every step.

Here are some tips to aid the checklist: If you’re operating your business manually, think about how long it would take for you and your staff to learn and adjust to an electronic system.

Already have a POS in place and thinking of upgrading? Enumerate the features that are missing in your current system and take note of any problems that you’ve had with it.

Look into any improvements that you could make. Are there any cumbersome tasks in your business that need to be simplified? Write those down. It’s best to talk to your employees as well. What upgrades can you implement to improve productivity and efficiency in your staff?

Finally, talk to your customers. Ask them how you can make shopping at your store a better and smoother experience.

Step-by-step checklist for defining the needs of your business

  • Write down the features, functions and services required in the following aspects:
    • Payments (accepting and processing cash, credit, debit, checks, etc.)
    • Inventory (how product information is added, monitored, and updated)
    • Customers (how customer information is stored, managed, and updated)
  • Take note of problems or missing features that you have with your existing system
  • Write down any special needs that your business may have now and in the future, including:
    • Several locations
    • E-commerce site
    • Mobile
    • Coupons
    • Rewards programs
  • Talk to your employees and ask for recommendations
  • Talk to your customers and get suggestions

Lisa Callaghan, CFO, Interactive Accounting

"It's so important to map out the systems from your customer creation, through sale, inventory adjustment and connecting into your accounting system. We find that our clients who do this, pick the right systems and strip the overheads out of their business, almost completely."


Step 2.
Take note of the required hardware.

Here's where we work out what you need to make your POS work. Some systems require you to buy hardware, others operate on your existing equipment, others still only need an iPad or Laptop. Which will be right for you?

Itemize the equipment that you need in your store. Be sure to include the number of units required for each piece of hardware. Consult the checklist in this guide to get a rundown of the equipment and tick off the ones that apply to your business.

Already have existing hardware and equipment in place? Write down each item’s brand and model for future reference when looking up various POS systems to see if they’re compatible.

In addition to thinking about the hardware that you need, you may also want to consider the equipment that you can do without. Depending on the nature of your business, it’s possible that you won’t need all the items listed below. For example, some retailers choose to send receipts via email instead of issuing physical copies, thus eliminating the need for a receipt printer.

Hardware made easy

Itemize the following:

  • Terminal (PC / Mac / Mobile) [No. of units = __ ]
  • Receipt Printer [No. of units = __ ]
  • Cash Drawer [No. of units = __ ]
  • MSR/Payment Terminal [No. of units = __ ]
  • Barcode Scanner [No. of units = __ ]

Craig Aberle, Publisher, The Point of Sale News

"No matter what type of POS hardware you want to work with, start by evaluating and selecting the software first. Then choose peripherals from that vendors approved list."


Step 3.
Set a budget.

The costs of POS systems vary, with some having one-off upfront costs and others a recurring monthly fee. Have you factored in the cost of setting up your information, the cost of support and the lifespan of the product? Well, this section will help with that!

The costs of POS systems vary, depending on the size of your business (number of stores, customers, products, registers, etc) and the capabilities you require. Generally speaking, for traditional desktop-based software, a single-user software license comes with a price tag ranging from $1,200 to $2,500.

Prices for modern cloud-based POS software-as-a-service (SAAS) systems start anywhere from free, for a basic system, through to $50-$200 per month depending on the size and complexity of your business.

Your choice on whether to go with a one-time licensing fee or a recurring SaaS model will depend on the nature and finances of your business. The former might free you from any recurring payments but will usually require a long-term contract and it won’t be as flexible as its subscription-based counterpart. The latter on the other hand, offers a more scalable SaaS solution that can be upgraded, downgraded, or cancelled at any time, making it more ideal for businesses that are growing or constantly changing.

Hardware-wise, traditional POS terminals can cost around $3,000 to $4,000 each. Additional equipment such as printers, scanners, and cash drawers can amount to $900 for each terminal.

iPad and cloud based POS systems are priced very competitively, with an 'out of the box' system of cash drawer, printer, stand and barcode scanner, starting at around $450, plus the cost of an iPad (also around $450).

If you have additional stores, be sure to account for the hardware and software needed in those stores as well, and include the numbers in your budget.

When it comes to ongoing payments, retailers spend an average of 1% to 3% of annual sales on their POS system.

When setting your budget, don’t just think about how much you’ll spend. Also consider how much you’ll save with a new POS system. Remember that upgrading your POS can boost efficiency and save both time and money, so if you pick the right one, you’ll find that it actually pays for itself.

Work out your budget in four steps.

  • Write down your annual sales
  • Decide on how much you’re willing to spend on your POS
  • Determine whether you would prefer long-term contracts vs. SaaS models
  • Compute the following: Total annual revenue x average lifespan of POS (5 years) x percentage of sales you’re willing to spend (0.01 to 0.03).
    Ex: $100,000 x 5 x 0.01 = $5,000

Vaughan Rowsell, Founder & CEO, Vend

"Ecommerce startups are competitive because their costs to get started are low. The beauty of modern POS systems, is that budding entrepreneurs can now also bootstrap a retail business with just a good idea and an iPad, which means getting to market and finding your first customers faster."


Step 4.
Audit and compare POS systems.

Do your research on the POS solutions out there. This is the section where you need to get some industry feedback and learn about the experiences of other similar retailers. If this was a game show this is the bit where you phone a friend and ask the audience.

Talk to other retailers in your industry about their POS system and ask them how it’s working for them. Conduct an online search and check out the websites of various POS vendors. You can also turn to LinkedIn. Start a discussion on relevant groups and ask your fellow merchants about POS solutions that they recommend and why.

Call POS vendors yourself and ask about their products, services, and company in general. Take note of where they’re located and ask about their business and support hours.

Additionally, you might want to ask about their areas of expertise and years that they’ve been in business. Obviously, if they’ve been around for a while and if they have experience working with other companies in your industry, the better it is for you because you’ll know that you’ll be working with a company that knows what it’s doing.

Also remember that customer service matters a lot, so get a feel of their support team as well. Are they accessible 24/7? What kind of support do they provide? Call the POS vendors, ask questions, and gauge just how helpful, patient, and knowledgeable they are.

Then go back to the information you collected in the first three steps of this guide and create a shortlist of POS systems that meet your requirements in terms of features, functions, services, compatibility, and costs. Limit your choices to four POS vendors to make things easier and less overwhelming. Use the table included in this guide to compare choices.

Use this drop-down for the audit list

  • Conduct an online search for potential POS vendors
  • Contact retailers in your industry and ask about their POS systems
  • Start discussions on retail-related LinkedIn groups and ask other members about their POS systems
  • Call vendors and ask about their POS solution. Be sure to talk about the following:
    • Features and functionality of their solution
    • Location
    • Areas of expertise
    • Business hours
    • Customer support method and hours (i.e. web, email, phone, etc.)
    • Warranty information
    • Specific needs of your business
  • Take note of problems or missing features that you have with your existing system
  • Write down any special needs that your business may have now and in the future, including:
    • Several locations
    • E-commerce site
    • Mobile
    • Coupons
    • Rewards programs
  • Go back to the information you collected in steps 1 to 3 then create a shortlist of POS vendors using the attached worksheet.

Amad Ebrahimi, Founder, Merchant Maverick

"If the POS vendor is popular, then there will be a wealth of actual customer experience data about them on the web. Your job is to find that data and sift through all of it. Read as many customer reviews as you can and look for patterns, whether positive or negative."


Step 5.
See the POS in action.

You know what the POS systems are all about on paper, now it’s time to see them in action. You'll want this handy watchlist: look especially at whether the POS has what you need in terms of speed, accuracy, ease-of-use and necessary functionality.

The easiest way to do this is to request for local references from the POS vendors that you’re considering. Reach out to these businesses and request to see how the POS works.Can’t get in touch with other businesses? Go the DIY route and ask for a free trial instead. Most POS vendors let customers try their software for free, so they can see it in action first-hand.

Keep an eye out for speed, functionality, and user-friendliness of the each POS solution. Can you see it getting along with you, your employees, and your customers? Also think about how you will transition to the new POS. How does the process of transferring data about customers, products, suppliers, etc. work? Ask other retailers how they did it or request to see a demonstration from the POS vendors.

Click here for what to look for on your trials.

  • Ask potential POS vendors for local references
  • Contact references and request to see their POS systems in action
  • Ask about the transition process
  • Observe the following:
    • Speed
    • User-friendliness
    • Interface
    • Functionality

Jason Shico, Director, DigiCloud

"Reporting is a major factor when deciding the future direction of your retail business. When choosing a POS system, make sure the reporting features are comprehensive and use them to make accurate insights into your business, which in turn helps drive revenue."


Step 6.
Get the Set-Up Right.

You’ve chosen a POS vendor and you already have all the necessary software and equipment in front of you. Now it’s time to set up your new system and get everything up and running. A great tip is that the better you do this the better your entire future experience of your POS will be. So take the time and get the help to get it right.

Before getting to it, be sure to have CSV files of your inventory and customer data ready, as you will need to import the information into the system.

Your set up process will vary, depending on your POS solution as well as the size and requirements of your business.

Your POS vendor should have provided instructions on how to properly install and set up the system but when in doubt, talk to your vendor about how to do it. Let them walk you through the process to make sure that you get everything right.

If you need further assistance, see if you can use a template or dummy account, first. You can also ask your vendor if they have any IT or technology partners in your area. Established POS vendors usually have networks of IT consultants and SMEs that can help customers set up and implement their new solution.

The set-up rundown.

  • Gather necessary hardware and software
  • Prepare CSV files of inventory and customer information
  • Consult POS vendor if necessary
  • Request a template or dummy account first, if necessary
  • Get in touch with an IT or technology partner if necessary
  • Install necessary software
  • Plug-in necessary hardware

Tim Mullaly, Director, Universal PC Solutions

"Whether you are switching systems or implementing a POS system for the first time, the transition should be as seamless as possible. Test the system during “down time,” and make sure your employees are trained in using the system before you make the transition."


Step 7.
Make the most of your POS system.

Once you have your new POS system up and running, it’s time to find ways to make the most of it. Look into apps, add-ons, or hardware that can enhance your POS and make your life easier. Are you making full use of the system? Re-evaluate and see if there are any features that you haven’t fully utilized.

Talk to your vendor, tell them how you’ve been using the POS and see if there are more ways to make the most of it.

It’s also a good idea to start seeing your vendor as more than just a service provider. Make an effort to establish a relationship with them. See them as a long-term partner that can help you expand your business and expertise.

Don’t just contact them to seek technical help. Also inquire about any free resources that they have for their customers. Do they conduct trainings or seminars? Perhaps they can send you free whitepapers or online courses. In any case, asking for these things is completely free and takes minimal time and effort. But the knowledge that you stand to gain by availing of your vendor’s resources can go a long way in your business.

Turbo-charging your POS experience.

  • Evaluate and see if you are making full use of all features of your new POS
  • Talk to your employees and see how they like it
  • Talk to your customers and get their feedback
  • Check out possible apps or hardware that can improve your POS
  • Speak to your vendor and talk to them about possible enhancements to your system
  • Ask your vendor about training programs, seminars, publications, and other resources

Karen Moss, Editor, Retail Systems Magazine

“These days point of sale is about much more than taking payments, it’s about understanding your customer and their shopping habits with greater accuracy. Making the most of your POS systems means fully utilising the data it provides to enhance your visibility of stock and buying patterns, right down to the individual shopper.”


Final words

Although this may seem a bit to think about, the benefits of getting the right POS for you are more than worth it. A good POS will save you time, money and will let you know more about how your business is going, to make better decisions. And all this of course allows you to spend more time looking after your customers and growing your bottom-line.

Good Luck!

Check out our collection of retail resources.

Give your retail business the competitive edge with Vend guides and ebooks.

The Complete Inventory Management Guide

View guide

Future-proof your store with Retail Survival of the Fittest

View ebook

10 Key Performance Indicators Every Retailer Should Track

View guide