|Featured POS Software Vendors|
Merchant Maverick's Rating: (4.5 out of 5)
Last Updated: May 3rd, 2013
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To put it simply: if successful, Leaf has the potential to be a game changer in the point of sale world. Point of sale software has evolved dramatically over the last three years with the release of the first generation iPad in 2010 along and the growing popularity of cloud based POS apps designed for use on mobile tablets. It's only been a few years and tech reviewers are already referring to traditional POS setups with giant on-site servers and hardware intensive checkout stations as "legacy systems." POS technology is advancing at a tremendous rate and Leaf is headed towards the outer limits of the curve. Many of the cloud based apps currently flooding the market feature a pretty standard "more than just a POS" interface. They're usually turn key solutions that can process orders, take payments, track basic inventory, manage employees, market to customers, and create detailed reports. Leaf has all these functions, but it also has some innovative twists that other mobile apps haven't even touched.
Leaf has three different divisions. First there's LeafPresenter, which is a custom Android tablet built exclusively for use with Leaf software in a sales environment. The LeafPresenter looks like a smart phone with a protective case and a built in credit card swipe. It's the first cloud based POS I've seen with hardware built specifically for the app. Leaf founder and CEO Aron Schwarzkopf makes the case that all of the POS apps designed for iPads are utilizing hardware that isn't meant for the often rough environment of retail--the tablets are fragile and expensive to replace. Aside from that, Schwarzkopf has a vision that extends far beyond the development of a cloud POS app: he wants the LeafPresenter to act as the hardware end of a large Leaf platform with different applications for businesses, customers, and developers. As a custom hardware device, the out-of-the-box LeafPresenter interface has a number of imaginative features including interactive receipts that allow customers to give feedback about their shopping experience and connect with Facebook and your business website. Other features like loyalty programs, digital punch cards, and automatic charity contributions are in the possible feature lineup a little further down the road.
The second piece of Leaf is LeafBusiness--the online management dashboard that syncs with the LeafPresenter. You can login to LeafBusiness with any device that has a wireless connection and an internet browser. Inside the dashboard you can manage inventory, products, orders, employees, reports, etc. It's beyond the basic functions where Leaf gets truly creative. LeafBusiness can work with multiple stores in any industry (retail, quick serve, restaurants, bars, services, and facilities) and later this spring Leaf has plans to roll out an app store where third party developers can design apps specific to the different types of businesses that use Leaf (i.e. a reservation app for Leaf restaurants or a scheduling app for Leaf therapists). Most giant E-commerce platforms offer a large directory of software apps and add-ons, but this is one of the first examples of low-cost, cloud based POS systems attempting to build on the same model--for their own Android hardware no less. It's ambitious, but it also has a lot of potential.
To top it all off, Leaf has a third area of development--an app intended for the customers of Leaf businesses. Right now it's marketed as a digital receipt management app, but it does a lot more than that. The digital Leaf receipts allow customers to manage and store receipts; rate purchases; provide feedback on staff and overall experience; and share their purchases on Facebook. The app is symbiotic in that it offers a great service to both customers and businesses.
It's obvious that Leaf founder Schwartzkopf has big plans for Leaf. In a January 2013 interview he mentions that his investors wanted to "kill him" for going forward with a custom commercial tablet. He must be doing something right with over $4 million in venture funding and approximately 500 tablets in use by a variety of businesses in the Boston area and beyond. There are big possibilities for Leaf's hybrid platform of custom Android hardware, cloud based POS software; interactive applications for customers; and an app store for third-party developers. If Leaf can pull it off, everything an owner needs to run a small business will be housed under one roof at a very competitive price.
Read on to find out if Leaf might work for your business.
Leaf pricing is very straightforward: it's $50/month. You don't have to sign a contract and you can quit at any point without any fees.
The $50/month price includes unlimited 24/7 support as well as software updates.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
Leaf is completely web/cloud based.
Leaf can work with just about any industry that requires a checkout. As more third party apps are developed for different industries, it will become even more versatile and multifaceted. Leaf is ideal for retail environments across the board. You can also tailor Leaf for the service industry: restaurants, bars, and cafes as well as to-go and quick serve. Leaf can be used by services and facilities too, like massage therapists, pool technicians, lawn care, ice skating rinks, bowling alleys...and so on and so forth. Leaf is cloud based and mobile which means it can work anywhere with a WiFi connection.
For mobile businesses, Leaf recommends creating your own WiFi connection by converting your phone into a wireless hotspot or purchasing an "on the go" WiFi modem provided by companies like Clear.
Specific Size of Business:
Leaf is aimed at small to mid-size businesses.
Ease of Use:
Usually I'm able to rate the ease of use of a POS interface by directly downloading and testing the demo on my iPad. This wasn't possible with Leaf because their software runs on the custom LeafPresenter hardware. Leaf is in the process of expanding their product availability beyond their initial homebase in Boston (12 new cities have just been added to the list). Because of the expansion the demand for the LeafPresenters is high and I was unable to do a hands-on demo of the software and hardware. That being said, I went through a demo of the product with Leaf staff and I also read through the user guide which is full of screenshots that give a great overview of the software. Here's what I can tell you based on my "virtual" demo.
Aesthetically Leaf has one of the best designs I've come across in a POS system. Both the management area of the front end LeafPresenter and the admin dashboard for the Leaf Business back end look really, really good. Leaf has a modern look with an attractive, intuitive layout. The conclusion I came to after reviewing LeafPresenter and Leaf Business is that the entire interface has been thoroughly and carefully designed to meet the various needs of small businesses in a very user-friendly way. Leaf offers a wide range of management options but they are intuitive and won't be a headache to figure out. The LeafPresenter allows you to run regular transactions in addition to creating open tabs, to-go orders, and delivery orders. Employees can clock in and out right on the device and their hours, pay, and access levels can all be viewed and modified in the Leaf Business back end. The Leaf Business reporting functions are also excellent with a shiny sales overview panel and a real-time news feed (it even displays company Facebook content) among many other core reporting options that will help you manage and develop your business. Leaf gets a high grade for usability.
Hardware and Software Requirements:
As I've mentioned, Leaf runs on a custom Android tablet that is only available through Leaf (or its resellers). The credit card swipe is built into the LeafPresenter. You'll also need to have a WiFi network setup wherever you use the LeafPresenter. Leaf recommends an internet connection speed of at least 5Mbs Download/ 1.5Mbs Upload. Here's a list of the hardware options for Leaf:
- LeafPresenter - The LeafPresenter is $250 and includes a charging station. Each LeafPresenter comes with a 1 year warrantee.
- Barcode Scanners - LeafPresenter is compatible with Honeywell barcode scanners, which can really range in price depending on the model. You're looking at anywhere from $125-$400.
- Printers - Print receipts with Star Micronic printers TSP100 and TSP143. These both average around $225.
- Cash Drawer - Leaf works with the Valu-Line cash drawers and you can pick one up for about $100.
For a full breakdown of Leaf features please see here. I'm going to briefly cover a few of the stand out features that distinguish Leaf from other POS systems, including interactive receipts, the recently released Leaf app store, and Leaf's flexibility.
Leaf's interactive receipts are one of the most innovative features I've seen in a POS. When a customer completes a transaction they have the option to receive their receipt in three ways-- via SMS text message, email, or printed receipt. The receipts have a prompt to download the Leaf digital receipt management app and they also include a link to your business Facebook page and website. The Leaf customer app allows customers to privately rate their experience with your business. They can rate overall experience, products purchased, and quality of service received--all in real-time. Customers can even post products they purchase directly to their Facebook page from the app. The interactive receipt offers unprecedented feedback and promotional opportunities for business owners while also providing customers with a useful management tool and a forum for sharing their opinions. Obviously the more businesses that use Leaf, the more clout the receipt management app will have.
Leaf is in the process of unveiling their app store. The app store is another service that has huge potential for small business owners because it will allow them to customize the LeafPresenter with add-ons that compliment their business and industry. Right now Leaf is in the process of opening their API to a select group of developers with plans to expand in the future. Potential apps include integrations with payment providers, customer loyalty programs, and administrative tools. Apps can be designed for the LeafPresenter itself or for the Leaf Business back end. The app store already has two apps developed in-house which you can read more about below.
The final note I want to make about Leaf is the fact that it really is capable of being customized according to industry. Some of the other POS apps I've reviewed claim to be an across-the-board solution for restaurant, retail, and service industries, but are actually incapable of delivering on that promise. Leaf has enough well-designed features in place that it really could handle almost any type of small business. Restaurants, cafes, and bars can take advantage of tip options, takeout, and delivery functions, and advanced product modifier options. Retail setups can benefit from employee tracking options that show sales performance and features like Express Payments and the ability to sign for receipts directly on the tablet.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
You can expect many more apps, integrations, and add-ons as Leaf expands their app store over the next year. Right now Leaf has integrations with two companies:
- Paypal - Leaf has developed a custom app for integration with Paypal.
- Level Up - Level Up is a payment processing platform that allows clients to pay for purchases with their phone while earning rewards. Businesses can use Level Up as a payment processor with a flat 2% fee per transaction.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
Leaf is payment agnostic which means that you can accept credit or debit payments with just about any payment processor. If you already have your own payment processor you can simply connect it to your Leaf account. All your rates will remain the same. If you are a new business and need to establish a payment processor then Leaf can make recommendations.
Here at Merchant Maverick we also specialize in helping you find the best merchant account with the lowest processing rates for your business. If you'd like help, let us know.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Leaf has some great customer service options. My experience with the Leaf staff was very satisfactory. They were responsive and friendly and it was clear that helping small businesses is at the core of what they do. The $50/month subscription fee includes 24/7 support. Here are some of the other ways that you can tap into Leaf resources:
- Phone - Give Leaf a call at 617-301-8211
- Email - Contact support via email at email@example.com.
- Free Consultation - Request a consultation about Leaf here.
- Support Page - Find articles on specific questions about Leaf in the support area.
- User Guide - I found the Leaf user guide to be helpful in getting a general overview of its capabilities.
- Installation Guide - The installation guide is a really comprehensive introduction to getting started with Leaf.
- Blog - This is one of the best blogs I've seen on a POS website. There are Leaf-related entries alongside some great general resources for small businesses.
- Youtube - Check out the Leaf Youtube page for a couple of introductory videos on how Leaf works.
- Facebook - Here's the Leaf Facebook page.
- Twitter - Take a look at Leaf's Twitter feed.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
Leaf is so new that there isn't much out there in the way of feedback yet. There are 16 reviews relating to the customer receipt management app on the iTunes store. 2 of the reviews mention difficulty with bugs while the other 14 are overwhelmingly positive. After reviewing Leaf, I only have a couple concerns:
- New Product - Leaf is just getting started with a product unlike anything else on the market. With any new boundary-pushing venture there's a certain degree of risk involved. All signs indicate that Leaf could be very successful, but it's also hard to make the call on overall performance until it's more established and a little farther down the road.
- No Demo - The drawback to Leaf's custom Android tablet is that you can't whip out your iPad and take the Leaf demo for a spin. There also isn't a lot of marketing (i.e. Youtube videos) that could substitute for a thorough virtual demo, though it's likely that Leaf will develop this in the future.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
- Bang for the Buck - Leaf pricing is very competitive within the small business POS world. On top of that, the LeafPresenter is at least $100 cheaper than the average iPad price. Leaf offers a lot of incredible features with it's $50/month fee and there's also the promise of many new features as development continues through 2013.
- Innovation - From the interactive receipts to the app store, Leaf is thinking ahead. One of the Leaf reps I spoke to mentioned that Leaf has intentionally designed a "future proof" product that will evolve as technology advances. No one knows what payment processing is going to look like in 10 years, but Leaf is prepared to grow alongside new developments.
- People-Oriented Product - I was impressed with the responsiveness of the Leaf staff as well as their strong emphasis on developing a product that really meets the needs of small business owners. If you browse through Leaf's blog and Facebook you'll also notice that they support charities and local communities. During the initial testing phase several Boston-area businesses received free LeafPresenters to help raise money for local charities.
If I owned a small business or restaurant, Leaf would definitely be a top contender for my POS, especially 6 months down the road from now once it is more firmly established. Leaf is an innovative product with a user friendly, feature-rich interface and it has the potential to be a major player among point of sale systems. The only drawback is that you can't test the product before you buy it, which is the advantage of a lot of other iOS apps. Still, even if you signed up for Leaf and found it didn't work for you, your initial investment would be very low--not a huge risk. Take home message? If you're a small business and want a robust and cost-effective POS with huge potential I would encourage you to check Leaf out.
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