Last Updated: April 16, 2014.
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Thanks goodness for Shopkeep. This statement isn't intended as an endorsement of the software, though there's a lot to recommend it. More to the point, if I had to read one more POS origin story about some wunderkind software developer with a passion for retail operations, I might have gone full Marxist, rejecting all information as capitalist propaganda while wearing maroon turtlenecks under my corduroy blazer. But Shopkeep has offered me a reprieve from such inanity, refreshingly turning this iconic story on its head. The software developer turned retail savior story has been replaced by the retailer turned software developer story. Shopkeep, you see, is the brainchild of Jason Richelson, a retailer with a passion for not getting hosed by the software he runs his business on. As he tells it, his pivotal eureka moment happened in 2008. He'd taken his family on vacation, only to have his Windows-based POS crash in his absence and force his stores to temporarily close. "Essentially closed," is how Richelson describes it, which is closer to meaning "not closed" than "actually closed," but now I'm nitpicking. The real point here is that Microsoft makes terrible products, and no one should ever try and run a business that relies on a Windows system (unless your business is fixing Windows systems). I'm not alone in this opinion. Marking the end of Windows XP on the company blog a few weeks back, Richelson wrote not to praise Windows but to bury it:
Windows based point of sale was the bane of my existence as a retailer...The fundamental lack of efficiency and security in our Windows POS system cost me countless hours in my store and a no small amount of money.
The experience left Richelson bruised and ready to take matters into his own hands. An alternative solution was needed. Working with a developer, Richelson came up with ShopKeep in a few months, enlisted the help of friends and colleagues to test it, finally releasing a PC version in May of 2010. An iPad compatible version followed soon after and was released in January 2011. With Richelson conceiving of Shopkeep as a response to the very real issues he faced as a small scale retailer, it's no surprise that his POS took a quick hold with that segment of the market. In the wake of its release, the company won an RSPA/VSR Innovative Solution award for 2011, and raised $2.2 million in Series A financing in January of 2012. A second round of funding 11 months later raised another $10 million. More recently ShopKeep won the Red Herring Top 100 North America award and Technology Innovation of the Year Award from Electronic Transactions Association. ShopKeep also racked up a bronze Stevie Award for Best Customer Service in 2013, and then a gold one in 2014.
This year is looking to be another big one for ShopKeep; it started with 10,000 customers and a new office in Belfast, Northern Ireland to accommodate its growing European footprint. And early last week, Shopkeep released version 2.0 of its app, with a new design that claims to sport an easier ease-of-use, faster code, and all around improved efficiency. The new version was released while my trial was still active, so I got to have a nice before-and-after experience. And while version 2 definitely performs as advertised--it's super quick and responsive, and Shopkeep has made a few things easier to do--there are still a couple of basic features that I'm surprised Shopkeep didn't see fit to include. If you're looking for a new POS, or already on Shopkeep and wondering if v2.0 is worth it, read on.
New York, New York and Belfast, Northern Ireland.
You can try a free trial of the ShopKeep software for 30 days at no charge, no credit card required. ShopKeep is a no-contract, pay-as-you-go, monthly subscription service. There are no extra fees for maintenance and service and all tech support is included in the monthly charge. Shopkeep's pricing is simple:
- $49 per month, per register
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
Hybrid. The app runs locally from an iPad and syncs data back to the cloud as long as there is an active internet connection. In the event of an outage, the app continues to run, with all features (save integrated credit card transactions) available. Shopkeep was among the first to approach cloud based POS this way (maybe the first, but I'm too lazy to look that up), and its implementation is seamless.
ShopKeep is ideal for small, specialty vendors such as: wine shops, specialty food, gift shops, toy stores, concession stands, bakeries, cafeterias, and mall kiosks. It also has potential for use in foodservice applications, like small cafes, ice cream shops, coffee shops, and food trucks. Full service restaurants would do well to look elsewhere--the system lacks the ability to suspend sales (crucial for managing several tables' orders at once).
Specific Size of Business:
ShopKeep is ideal for small to medium sized businesses, and though it can handle multiple locations it isn't for the large retailer of box store. This is by design, and Shopkeep has done well to stay in this niche. The total inventory Shopkeep can handle has increased to 10,000 items, but the interface and back office functions aren't trying to be an EPR replacement. The iPad register can only host up to 270 item buttons--for quick access--the rest of your inventory, if it goes that high, can be rung up by barcode scanner or manual search.
Ease of Use/User Friendly:
To say that Shopkeep is user-friendly is an understatement. To say that Shopkeep is user-philic, that it loves you and wants very much for you to have a glass of lemonade and set for a spell while it plays soft music and nurtures your very soul, is an overstatement. Somewhere in between these two scenarios lies the truth, and it's not far off to say that Shopkeep goes beyond just being easy to use. The visual design of the iPad app is sleek and modern, with fluid animated flourishes. I could do without the sound effects, which are actually too jarring to be pleasing, but that's what the mute button is for. The point is that using the software is almost enjoyable (I say "almost" because, really, we are still talking about POS here), and never a hassle. And whether you're ringing up sales in the front end, or doing more admin-type things in the Back Office, if you're not able to wrap your brain around using this software, I feel confident recommending you get an MRI and further neurological testing, because the problem must be with you. Please note that all medical information provided here is for entertainment purposes only, and you should always consult your physician if you're having trouble using software.
When you first log in to your BackOffice, you're taken step-by-step through the main tasks required to get your store up and running. You're guided through defining your store's settings--like your address and phone number--which is then incorporated into customized receipts. Then on to inventory creation--either by adding items one at a time, or doing a mass import from a CSV file--and laying out the buttons on your iPad register, and you're off. Simply poking through all the menus in the BackOffice is enough to get you acclimated to the system and its features. Once you're all set up, the web console will be the place you do all your reporting, employee time tracking, and inventory receiving. Beyond that, most of your interactions will be with the iPad app.
In addition to the register functions, there are a handful of managerial actions that can be accomplished from the iPad. One of the bigger improvements Shopkeep made in version 2 is how the app handles managerial access. All users are created with certain levels of permissions--this is primarily to ensure cashiers can't access all the app's capabilities. But previously, a manager with the right permission still needed to enter separate codes to access the register and managerial tasks. For example, she'd have to sign on with her four digit manager's code to open the shift and specify the money in the till, then log out and log back in with a different three digit PIN to access the register. This clunky set up is gone--now a manager only needs to enter one code to access the register and other features. Using the register and adding customers to sales (or even creating them on the spot) have also benefitted from the improved interface--tapping your way through a sale has a more natural, intuitive flow to it than before. It's not like the previous version was a chore to use, which makes the improved setup even more impressive.
Hardware/Operating System Required:
Shopkeep version 2 was built for--and only runs on--iOS 7 on the iPad 2 or newer, and the iPad mini. As for peripherals, ShopKeep has an online shop with all the hardware peripherals that work with the software. You don't need to purchase your hardware through Shopkeep, but keep in mind that you do need to purchase the brands and models they support. Peripheral compatibility with the iPad can get very specific, so best to stick with what has been proven to work. Shopkeep does offer a few hardware bundles, from a starter kit--with iPad stand, cash drawer, receipt printer, and card swiper--to ones geared specifically for retail or quick serve establishments.
You can get the full skinny on Shopkeep's features here. The register does everything you'd want your register to do, and it does it all very well: ringing up items, adding modifiers, taking payments, splitting tenders, quick discounting (item and order level), easy returns and refunds--you name it and Shopkeep's register does it. That it does it so easily and intuitively for the user is what's most worth mentioning here. I frequently see the remark made about POS software that's "so easy a child could use it." This doesn't impress me. Children can use anything you stick in their sponge-like little hands. No, Shopkeep is so easy your grandfather can use it.
But what's truly impressive is the wealth of features included in the BackOffice web console. Again, large businesses may find it falling short of their needs, but a small business that operates one register will be paying $49 a month for some really fancy tools. The same goes for places with more than one register, but you get what I'm saying here: that's a low cost of entry to get you a system that manages your inventory, your customers, your employees' time, keeps a record of all your transactions, offers a variety of reporting options for analyzing all this data, and gets you unlimited technical support by phone and email.
The inventory functionality in particular deserves to be highlighted, because it goes above and beyond what you'd expect for a product aimed at meeting the needs of small businesses. Beyond just keeping track of how much you've got of each item, you can also set reorder points and quantities, and use the reporting function to generate a clear report detailing what, how much, and from which vendor to order any low stock item. Most impressively, though, Shopkeep is able to inventory items as raw goods, and then create assemblies based on it. This could be useful for a retail setting that bundles items together, but its greatest value is for a foodservice place that needs to manage inventory at the ingredient level. If you're making burgers, say, you're not keeping track of how many Patty Melts you have on hand; you need to know the quantities of each ingredient: the patty, the rye bread, the cheese, the onions. I just wrote myself into a Patty Melt for dinner, you should know. Shopkeep is able to handle all this--for the most part. It's not as advanced as other implementations of this that I've seen: there's no defining the unit of measure for each raw ingredient, so it's up to you to know that you're tracking potatoes by the pound and cheese by the slice. And oddly, though you can define the cost of each raw ingredient, when you create an item composed of those ingredients, Shopkeep doesn't total them up and auto-define the cost of the item. In the case of our Patty Melt, we've got to add up the costs and enter them in manually. I've seen stronger implementations of this feature (think POS Lavu), but they've come at a much steeper cost (think $900 license fee up front). It's fair to say that these minor drawbacks are more than justified by the pricing of the product.
Rather than spending more time detailing all the features Shopkeep has--they've probably got that one you're looking for--it might be more useful to discuss a few that are curiously missing. The first, as I've mentioned, is the lack of open tabs. It seems counterintuitive to have gone through all the trouble of creating features of immense use to foodservice--ingredient level tracking and remote kitchen printing--and then automatically exclude a large segment of that market (table service cafes and such) by preventing them from being able to manage multiple open orders. This is like developing a new gaming console capable of rendering the Pixar-style levels of detail in the graphics, but only making games that feature the Teletubbies.
Another missing detail is the ability to define multiple tax rates. Again, this hits the foodservice market harder, as they're more likely to be dealing with various tax rates (food vs. alcohol, say), but retailers with local tax obligations (separate from state tax) will find themselves having to bake the additional tax into the price and doing some extra math to figure out how much they owe. Given how much the software does, and how well it does it, the exclusion of this seemingly basic feature that adds one more X times Y math calculation to the process is odd. The fact that customers have been asking for it for quite some time--search through their community forums to see the requests and discussions--makes it downright weird.
Finally, even with the release of version 2.0, Shopkeep still doesn't have proper gift card functionality. Shopkeep's answer to this is what they're disingenuously referring to as a "hardware integration" with eCard Systems's gift card app. Here, the integration means that both apps use the same hardware (i.e. the Magtek swiper), but that's as far as them working together goes. It's like claiming spaghetti integrates with meatballs because you eat it with the same fork. The eCard app handles the creation, crediting, debiting of the card, and at no point is Shopkeep aware of how much is on the card, who bought the card, what transactions were paid for with the card, or really that there's even a gift card in the works here.
ShopKeep integrates with a few third party providers:
- LevelUp - LevelUp is a mobile payment-processing app that also offers customers rewards whenever they shop with a LevelUp affiliate. The app is designed to encourage customer retention and repeat visits.
- PayPal - ShopKeep also integrates with PayPal. If your business uses the PayPal integration option, anybody that has the PayPal app on their phone will be able to use it to pay for purchases in your store using their smart phone.
- Retail Intel - Retail Intel is a third party cloud service that can take all your sales data from Shopkeep and automatically book it into Quickbooks for a true accounting integration. The service also also offers a variety of reporting to complement what you get with Shopkeep.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
Shopkeep offers a number of different ways to integrate card payments, and you'll almost certainly be able to keep the processor you're using, or find one that better meets your needs. The software uses Bridgepay's network as a payment gateway, which is compatible with a large number of processors. Their support documents list Payment Revolution as their preferred processor, though the PayPal integration mentioned above also gets you the ability to take credit card payments.
If you need help selecting the best credit card processor for your business, then let us know. It's what we're good at.
Customer Service/Technical Support:
Given the origins of this company--stressed out shop owner constantly frustrated by terrible software and hardware and a lack of support causing him to have to temporarily shut down his operations--it makes sense that the continuing story of Shopkeep's success revolves around being a customer-centric operation. Unlimited support--by email, live chat, or phone--is included in the monthly price. Their support microsite offers clear and comprehensive articles and video tutorials on every aspect of the software. The microsite also hosts community forums that are frequented by members of the support team and an active user base. Of course, there are the obligatory Facebook and Twitter feeds--Marketing 2.0--but the content is relevant and engaging, mostly because it provides links back to the Shopkeep blog, which goes far above and beyond the standard corporate blogorrhea. Sure, there are the press releases and standard patting-of-their-own-backs posts, but there are two other sections which are regularly updated with good content. There's Counter Culture, which features success stories and strategies of Shopkeep's customers, and which as often as not has nothing to with the POS. Additionally, the blog is the point of entry to Shopkeep's Small Business 101, a collection of business advice to the small time entrepreneur, with information on zoning, permits, licenses, a small business guide to social media, and tons of other material that I didn't really look at, but seemed so boring I assume it's totally legit.
Reviews of the Shopkeep app at the iTunes store and elsewhere are overwhelmingly positive. I took a look at the negative reviews at the app store, and noticed two trends. The first is that many of the negative reviews seem to have been written by--and I'm speculating here, based on the quality of writing--people who were frozen in blocks of ice some time during the early Pleistocene epoch, thawed out and awarded low interest loans during the Greenspan Era, and are now running hipster clothing boutiques in Brooklyn, selling t-shirts that say "I walked upright before it was cool." These aren't terrible bright people, is my point. The other trend I noticed was that several of the complaints involved the lack of features that are now part of the app: onscreen tipping for credit transactions, no split checks, and no kitchen printing.
There are still a number of people quite vocally unhappy about the limitation of a single sales tax, and several others complain about not having true gift card functionality. Shopkeep offers workarounds for both of these issues, but neither is satisfactory in my opinion. All of these features, it should be noted, are now in active development, with open tabs and gift cards topping the priority list.
Even people that find fault with ShopKeep are quick to point out how happy they are with the overall product--especially when it comes to customer service. The software is currently being used by many satisfied small businesses across the U.S. You can check out some testimonials on the ShopKeep website or visit the Apple App store to see what other users have said (the app has a 4 out 5 rating based on 416 ratings).
- Positive Highlights - Most positive reviews highlight the worry-free offsite data storage, easy-to-use interface, great tech support, and easy tracking of sales.
The last time we reviewed Shopkeep, we gave it a 5 star rating. I'm using the royal "we" here, because the review was posted before my time. And I wouldn't have given it that high a rating back then because of the lack of more than a few features. Based on what Shopkeep was lacking in version 1, I'd have given it 4 stars. I only mention this so that the new 4.5 star rating has more context: Shopkeep version 2 is an improvement and deserves an improved rating, not a drop. But a 5-out-of-5 star rating implies perfection and the last time I checked, perfection included multiple sales tax rates and gift cards. So 4.5, it is, and that's nothing to sneeze at.
The bottom line is that Shopkeep is too compelling to be overlooked if you're a small business. It's lean, fast, and affordable--tailor made to fit right in to your operation. And with development continuing on the heels of the app's bona fide success story, it's only a matter of time before Shopkeep gets to the last of these little features it missed--and tacks on a few others. For any retailer or quick serve cafe owner doing her research out there right now, Shopkeep deserves a look and a try.