Lightspeed Retail Review
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Note: There are two separate Lightspeed POS products, though the distinction isn’t always clear. Lightspeed OnSite (formerly called Lightspeed Pro) comprises software that is installed onto your desktop Mac and is available in most countries. Lightspeed Retail (formerly called Lightspeed Cloud) is a cloud-based POS system that is only available to US and Canadian, and UK residents. This review looks at Lightspeed Retail.
Lightspeed, the Montreal-based software company whose POS solutions are now used by over 26,000 people, set several major benchmarks in 2014. It secured $35 million in investments, continued to develop tailored solutions for restaurateurs, and launched a host of new services, chief amongst them Lightspeed Cloud (later to become Retail), Lightspeed Web Store, and Lightspeed Payments. Now a year later, Lightspeed has picked up another $61 million, bringing the running total raised by the company to $126 million.
Software engineer Dax Dasilva, a developer who began writing programs at the age of 13, founded Lightspeed in 2005. In 2002 he helped create store-management software for Apple and kept improving on that initial attempt until Lightspeed OnSite, the forerunner to Retail, was born. During this period, the company received a hefty retinue of awards and accolades. It won the Retail TouchPoints Next-Generation Retail Award in the Payments/POS category. Additionally, OnSitefit Magazine put the company on its Hot 50 startups list in 2010 and placed them on OnSitefit 200 list for 2011 and 2012.
So, with all of the recognition and growth that initially surrounded Lightspeed OnSite, what do we make of its cloud-based cousin, Retail, a product that evolved out of the 2013 acquisition of MerchantOS? The first thing worth pointing out is that most of the features that made OnSite such a well-received product have remained intact. The software is still characterized by depth of functionality and the ability to tailor the infrastructure to meet specific needs. The second thing that marks an improvement over OnSite is Lightspeed Retail’s well-balanced and beautifully minimal interface—no small feat when viewed in light of the myriad of functions offered. Finally, and most vitally, the software is cloud-based. This is important because it’s the direction that most retailers are moving in.
Though Lightspeed Retail is certainly not without its faults (see “Negative Reviews and Complaints”), it is a robust system with a reputation for functionality that cannot be easily dismissed.
Read on to learn more.
The good news for prospective users of Retail is that Lightspeed has simplified and reduced its pricing model, though the array of add-ons can still be a tad confusing. As you’ll see later on, cost-of-service constitutes one of the biggest criticisms of Lightspeed, past and present. The old model was based on a traditional upfront fee for user licenses and then included additional costs for optional modules, so the new pricing rollout has been a welcome change. Unfortunately, prices are still on the high end when compared with similar POS systems, and there are still a few extra costs that seem difficult to justify when there are so many competitors offering similar products at a slightly lower price.
- $89/mo ($76/mo if billed annually).
- 1 register.
- 5 employees.
- $149/mo ($128/mo if billed annually).
- 2 register.
- 10 employees.
- $259/mo ($222/mo if billed annually).
- 4 register.
- 20 employees.
- $51/mo for each additional register (includes 3 employees).
- $9/mo for each additional employee.
- $59/mo ($51/mo if billed annually) to add web store with a limit of 2000 products.
- $25/month ($21/month if billed annually) for “Advanced Reporting.”
Happily, all plans include unlimited products, customers, and transactions, software upgrades and premium technical support. Retail also has a 14-day trial that you can use to check out the software for yourself.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
Though Lightspeed Retail is technically cloud-based—meaning that your information is stored in Lightspeed’s servers and synced over the cloud to your platform—I would say the system itself is a hybrid because of the fully-functional iPad POS app. Retail is browser-based so you don’t have to install any programs on your computer, but you do have the option to install the Retail POS app on your iOS device. With the introduction of HTML5 caching, you can make sales during Wi-Fi outages (during which time card transactions will be queued and then processed when an Internet connection can be reestablished). In this case, the system offers most of the benefits of a locally-installed system without the bulky and expensive hardware or on-site software updates.
Lightspeed Retail targets (you’ll be surprised to hear) retail settings. It also offers extensive features for selling services alongside physical products. With the ability to create estimates/quotes, service and repair orders, and define labor costs, the software is useful in a variety of settings, from oil-change shops to Brooklyn storefronts. One of the standout areas in this software is the amount of register functionality offered, something not readily available in similar POS system providers.
Note: If you’re a food-seller, then have a look at our Lightspeed Restaurant review; Retail won’t be suitable for your needs.
Specific Size of Business:
Any size business will work happily with Lightspeed Retail, though the target market seems to be medium-sized businesses or those that require custom elements and added flexibility. That said, the software is so feature-rich—with functions to support every part of the retail cycle, from ordering and purchasing to stocking and selling (as well as extensive CRM capabilities and employee management)—that it appeals to even the largest of big box retailers.
As for cost, Lightspeed is pretty pricey compared to other iPad providers with a similar target market (ShopKeep and NCR Silver both have a price range of around $50/month with all the add-ons included). If you’re a small to medium-sized retailer it’s likely that one of these better-priced alternatives will meet your needs adequately. All of the functionality Lightspeed boasts—solid inventory management, deep analytics reporting, and marketing campaign management—is offered to some extent by similar providers. The only difference is that these other POS systems aren’t as flexible (likely why boutiques, who often need custom options, have gravitated towards Lightspeed Retail), which is something to consider when you are making a choice. You should ask yourself whether you need nuanced functionality or if something more generic would work equally well.
Ease of Use:
Both the front and back-end of the software are extremely intuitive. The initial set-up, completed in the in-browser software (though you can manage it from your POS), is a step-by-step process including a catalogue of items with which you can populate your inventory. There is also a wizard that will guide you through every part of set-up if you need it.
The organization of the management area is basic in the best possible way. All of the functions are grouped into categories on the left-hand side, and the most commonly used options are the most prominently displayed. This might seem like an obvious thing to do, but you’d be surprised how many POS dashboards hide away the most vital functions. You can start, continue, or refund a sale with reasonable ease, create special orders and even set a lovely customer display for when you’re away from the register.
All of the functions are accessed through simple, large buttons and once you’ve got the hang of Lightspeed Retail you’re not going to forget how to use it (bar an interface re-design of course). There’s a high degree of inventory customization, reporting options, and customer tracking—all of which are incredibly easy to access and use—manageable from a single page (so you don’t have to cycle through different screens). Similarly, the management of your customer database is a breeze.
Accessing reporting is a little bit more complicated, with dozens of compiled reports to choose from. Still, it’s nothing that can’t be understood with a little bit of devoted time.
One final point: the iPhone app is very basic, so don’t expect too much from it. It is essentially a dashboard application designed to allow you to scan items and view the amount of sales made over a pre-defined period. The iPad app, on the other hand, can perform every function that the web-based solution can (excluding label printing, because the printer requires a USB connection), making it a great option for small storefronts with limited counter space.
Hardware and Operating System Requirements:
The Retail App and associated hardware will work with any 3rd generation or above iPad or iPhone, though bear in mind that you can’t make sales through the iPhone; you must have an iPad. The in-browser option will obviously run on any computer with an Internet connection.
Lightspeed sells all peripheral hardware themselves and offers two bundles:
- iPad POS Hardware Kit– Includes an APG cash drawer, a Vault Simplicity Base iPad stand, a Bluetooth socket scanner, a LAN receipt printer, and receipt paper. The actual iPad is not included.
- Desktop POS Hardware Kit– Includes an APG cash drawer, a Lightspeed USB scanner, a USB receipt printer, and receipt paper. The computer itself is not included.
Any of these peripherals can be purchased separately if you don’t need a whole bundle. For models and pricing, check out Lightspeed’s hardware page here.
The main issue I’ve raised so far is Lightspeed Retail’s comparatively higher cost, but even a cursory look at the features will show that there is a justification for the extra $30 or so you’re charged every month.
- Multi-Tender Options: All payment types are accepted: cash, credit, debit, check, gift card, and store credit (either from exchanges or established house credit accounts). You can print and/or email receipts (and gift receipts) with product descriptions and notes. Gift certificates/cards also have a barcode for ease of use and can be reused (their balances can be changed). The option to apply discounts is readily available through the register and you can hold and suspend sales and return to them later, or transfer them to another device. You can also place items on hold for customers to pick up at a later date. Adding new/existing customers to a sale directly through the POS interface is seamless. Performing returns and exchanges is equally easy.
- Inventory Management: The options for inventory management can go fairly deep depending on your particular needs. The basic process—adding descriptions, category management, and reorder points—is relatively simple. Amongst the more advanced features are customizable tags (so that you can essentially create your own inventory taxonomy for searching for items), multiple attribute matrices (large, black, leather, etc.), and the ability to assembly items into bundles, including serialized items. You can also manage items that are typically bought in bulk, but sold individually (i.e. a 12-pack of soda that is sold by the can).
- Purchase Order Management: You can track vendors, complete PO’s across multiple vendors and items, and receive or return orders. Return to Vendor (RTV) is actually a new feature that allows you to manage merchandise returns due to damaged products, incorrect shipments, customer warranty returns, etc. Retail also allows you to track unit costs and shipping fees to accurately calculate your profits and margins. For selected vendors there are more advanced options, such as direct catalogue ordering from within Lightspeed.
- Employee Management: There is a basic time clock for employees, operated through an easy-to-set up pin, as well as a log of employee sales and inventory changes. You can set up customizable roles from within the management area.
- Work Order Management: You can create work/repair orders, track repair progress, and print claim checks and service labels. The labor option also allows you to time and bill work orders based on time worked. You can schedule appointments for services and turn quotes/orders into invoices/sales too.
- Customer Relationship Management: The ability to add customers to your database is available on both desktop and iPad. You can track contact information, credit limits, and transactions. Other great features include the ability to set up different customer categories to offer specialized discounts, track outstanding balances and past-due accounts, track all your print statements, apply payments to invoices and balances, or use credits against future sales. Integration with MailChimp is now also available for email marketing management.
- Reporting: There are over hundreds of pre-set printable reports. Customized reports may be filtered by day, week, month, or year. View your profits by total revenue or margin to understand what your inventory is costing you and which items are most profitable. You can also use reports to track the effectiveness of promotion, strategically schedule and task your employees, and track end of day accounts, among other things. Advanced reporting includes responsive widgets that provide you with a visual dashboard of the more important elements in your store. There’s also a desktop browser export feature—any report lists can be exported to Excel in spreadsheet format.
- Multi-Store: Lightspeed allows you to transfer inventory between locations, and provides full visibility of all inventory from stores and warehouses (you can look-up to see if another store has the product a customer wants). Another cool feature is the ability to set different prices for the same SKU on a store-by-store basis. You can also take your show on the road with the Retail iPad app, capable of handling temporary storefronts like pop-up stands or trade shows.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
QuickBooks Desktop and MailChimp integrations are both included with any subscription to Lightspeed Retail; any others are third-party integrations that are available as add-ons. The Add-Ons page lists several applications and services, including:
- QuickBooks: This integration exports files from Retail into the QuickBooks Desktop .iif format to meet your bookkeeping needs. QuickBooks Online and Xero are currently in beta testing and should be available soon.
- Customer Management: Retail integrates with a couple different CRM-related programs and services that allow you to create and track customer rewards programs, along with contact and sales data for email and online marketing purposes. These integrations include: Perkville, MailChimp, and Thirdshelf.
- NimbleSchedule: Use NimbleSchedule to schedule and track employee hours over the Internet, allowing employees to request time off, trade shifts, and clock in or out from anywhere.
- Booxi: Booxi is an online scheduling and clientele management program. Clients can create appointments and receive email confirmations and SMS reminders through booxi. Then you can create sales in Retail from the appointments made in booxi because your customers, employees, and services are all synchronized with Lightspeed.
- eCommerce: If you are currently using your own web store or aren’t interested in using Lightspeed’s Web Store (as it is fairly basic), you can sync the data between Retail and your eCommerce platform using Accumula, SkuIQ, or Kosmos eSync. It looks like it will cost you about $75 to $100 a month for one of these programs to sync the two systems.
- Customer Management: Unless you are content to use MailChimp, any other CRM services will have to go through MailSync (about $25 a month).
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
It’s important to remember that Lightspeed has three different POS solutions and they all offer different credit card processing options. Lightspeed Retail specifically integrates with Mercury Payment Systems and Cayan (formerly called Merchant Warehouse).
As far as EMV compliance goes, Lightspeed is actually ahead of the curve as one of the few companies who had integrated an EMV-certified terminal by the October 1st deadline. Even now, most companies are scrambling to integrate with credit card processors who offer EMV-enabled devices. At this point, you have the option to use Cayan’s Genius terminal—which is fully compatible with the browser-based solution and the mobile iPad app—or you can go with Mercury. Mercury’s EMV terminals are still in the process of being certified (something that is Mercury’s responsibility, not Lightspeed’s) and probably won’t be ready until early 2016. In the meantime, Mercury has agreed to cover all fraudulent EMV-related chargebacks for Lightspeed users. So you really can’t go wrong with either processor, which makes it easier for merchants to shop around for the best rates.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
Since Retail is priced with a subscription model, premium technical support is part of the service. Various kinds of support are available as follows:
- Phone support is available 24/7.
- There is a searchable support page with a database of troubleshooting and “How-To” articles.
- You can also chat with a representative from virtually any page on the Lightspeed site or leave a message with your email address if no one is available. This feature is about to be built into the iPad app as well.
- A community forum is also said to be in the works.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
As of the last couple of months, customer responses to Lightspeed Retail have spiked, largely in response to Lightspeed’s server and API-related issues. Many of these problems have been addressed, and customer reviews have reflected that, but in the spirit of full transparency, I’ll outline the issues that Lightspeed has only just recently resolved.
In February, Retail started reporting API-related processing delays that affected the system’s communication with services like Shopify and resulted in “slower than usual response times.” This pattern continued through March and into April when Lightspeed experienced major system outages due to overloaded servers. Depending on the severity of the outage, anywhere from 20% to over 50% of Retail customers were left unable to operate their POS systems for up to an hour at a time. Several failures were reported over the course of four months until August when the company was able to regain control. Even then, the only way Lightspeed was able to keep the entire system from crashing again was to temporarily disable various functions (reporting, exporting, integrations with Shopify) during peak selling hours. Despite these efforts, “performance issues” continued to arise, including the fact that access to Retail’s API and the ability to import purchase orders were disable in the middle of August, and have only just recently been restored.
It was during this period when several customers complained of thousands of dollars lost due to the downtime, and to make matters worse, it seemed as though Lightspeed’s customer support was nowhere to be found. Several people reported going days without returned calls or emails and spending multiple hours on hold to speak with support personnel who couldn’t offer much help.
Since then, Lightspeed has confirmed that the system is now operating on full capacity, which means that operations should be going back to normal. Only two minor API-related “potential performance issues” have been reported since then and they were both resolved within an hour or two (you can read the reports here and here). The company is also implementing various measures to bolster their support options. They have recently added a call-back feature so that you don’t have to wait on hold until a representative can assist you. The online user guide has been revamped and support specialists are receiving more extensive training. There is also an in-app support chat feature and an online community help forum in the works.
Certainly, many more positive reviews are coming in from this month and last, but it is too soon to tell if all of Lightspeed’s problems have been permanently addressed. They have certainly given it their best go and their customers have noticed the effort, but I will say that even some customers who rate Retail highly are still reporting fairly long wait times for support, which can be really detrimental to merchants who run into problems during peak selling hours. I certainly wouldn’t note any of these problems as reasons to completely dismiss a robust system like Lightspeed Retail, but it is something that potential customers should be aware of.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Despite Retail’s problems, it still has a loyal following of satisfied customers. For example, Colin from Gateway Church lauds Lightspeed Retail for its excellent customer service and functionality:
“The best thing Lightspeed has going is their service. If we have a question or issue, we can call or chat with someone almost 24 hours a day. They are constantly updating and improving the system. Bugs are fixed regularly, and features are often added monthly. They listen to suggestions about product features, and the ability to work from anywhere is incredible. The system is simple to learn, and there are video trainings for almost everything. The system is cross-platform. Importing products from their catalog system makes ordering special items much easier. We use a central warehouse for receiving all of our product, and then distribute to our stores from there. This system is best in class for that. A good web developer can integrate Lightspeed with many other sites and software.”
Jeremy from NanaMacs Boutique agrees:
“Great reporting, easy to use simplicity. Constantly improving the software, interface, features, etc. It is superb for inventory management. Gift Cards are easy to use, re-use, re-charge, etc. Customer loyalty programs are being integrated, once more are integrated, this platform will be far above the competition.”
Lightspeed has one of the most robust and easy-to-use solutions in today’s POS market. Lightspeed Retail is good. Very good, in fact. For small to medium-sized businesses that want to balance a simple, intuitive interface with strong functionality and a data-driven approach, it’s a definite contender.
Of course, there is always cause to be wary of any system that has experienced major system outages (just a couple months ago) and then taken another month to recover from them. However, considering how well the company has done since then and the obvious efforts they have made to remedy technical glitches and customer service, I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss Lightspeed just yet. In light of the company’s recent issues, I am keeping their rating at a 4 for the time being, but I have seen other companies survive much worse and go on to cultivate a lasting reputation of reliability, functionality, and usability. Retail is well on its way to doing just that, and is recovering well from this latest hiccup. I intend to reevaluate the company again in a few months and see if things have changed enough to merit a higher rating.
For now, I recommend that you take Retail for a trial run and see what you think. There are more than enough satisfied Lightspeed Retail customers who would encourage you to do the same.