NCR Silver Review
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NCR Silver is a cloud-based iPad POS system made by 150 year-old electronics giant NCR Corporation, the first point-of-sale company in the world. This software sets itself apart in a handful of ways and should be a serious consideration for small to medium-size business owners.
For some, the sheer size of NCR can be enough to dissuade them. Nowadays, we tend to gravitate towards the struggling, quirky startup rather than the (seemingly) soulless corporation. And NCR is a corporation in the traditional sense—a message that comes across in its six billion in annual revenue. Yet being the child of a rich parent does have its benefits. As a developer of various other POS systems—Aloha, which has been made specifically for restaurants, and Counterpoint, aimed at retailers—NCR is able to bring a level of know-how to the table that its competitors simply can’t match. This out-in-the-trenches experience genuinely shows in some of its features. NCR has also set itself apart as a company that responds quickly to new feature requests and market demands. Both of these attributes are made possible because of its size.
Staying on the same positive note, recent additions to NCR Silver’s subscription-based services have also added a little more of the personal flavor that many thought was lacking. They now include, for example, full 24/7 live support and a range of less-than-mainstream integration options . . . considered BitCoin, anyone?
All subscriptions come with a 14-day free trial, but beyond that NCR’s got a pretty unique pricing model, as far as software-as-a-service subscriptions go. There aren’t a range of plans that add or subtract POS features based on what level you choose. There are two options, the second one aimed specifically at restaurants.
- Silver Basic, $99/mo ($79/mo with annual contract) –Includes live 24/7 support, initial training and inventory/menu loading assistance, bi-annual training for new features, and hardware maintenance (only on hardware purchased from NCR). Only one device is covered. For each additional iPad or iPhone you’ll be charged $0.10 per sale with a cap of $39/mo per device.*
- Silver Pro, $169/mo ($149/mo with annual contract) – Includes all the options and support of the standard version plus some restaurant-specific features, specifically seat assignments and table layouts. Also includes free NCR hardware replacement, and each additional iPad will cost $50/mo.
*What’s great about this additional device pricing model is that there are plenty of small businesses that don’t need a second register full time (usually only as a back-up at peak times). In that case, paying a per-register fee isn’t worth it for how little use it would get. To have this kind of pricing flexibility is an attractive proposition.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
NCR Silver is a hybrid setup; the iPad app handles all the register specific tasks, with limited admin functionality. But for full control of your POS—detailed inventory tasks, employee time, customer rewards, reports etc.—you’ll need to access it through the web.
The hybrid architecture means that there’s a good amount of offline protection, and you can easily set up “offline credit” to accept payments during a connectivity outage. You do this at your own financial risk, because the system will queue up the charge for authorization, which happens long after your customer has left the building.
NCR Silver is surprisingly versatile, and could easily work with a variety of businesses. It’s the RuPaul of POS, changing its identity with ease and effectiveness. With features like remote kitchen printing, item modifiers, split payments, and tipping, it could easily fit in at a quick-serve style cafe or coffee shop. But with its inventory management, support for item variations (like size and color), and easy handling of returns, retails shops of all flavors would find a lot to like here, too.
If you’re a restaurant-owner then you’ll want to go with the restaurant-specific option. It’s becoming more the norm for POS software providers to offer a unique version, usually built on the standard one.
Specific Size of Business:
NCR Silver is aimed squarely at small to medium sized businesses, though I’ve been told that they support a couple franchises as well. Until fairly recently, Silver didn’t even have the ability to manage multiple stores under a single account. Even with this added feature, its prime audience remains unchanged, and NCR is wise to keep its focus where it is. Small business owners don’t normally get the kind of attention NCR is offering, and many will be happy to know that their POS system is not sharing support resources with larger companies who can afford better service.
Ease of Use:
NCR built its reputation by easing the pain of handling cash transactions. It would have been easy, then, for NCR to develop something quick and basic on the iPad, throw the heft of its name behind the venture, and boast at how far the company had come.
NCR Silver stands on its own, though; it’s well designed, with an intuitive interface that gives most tasks an almost weightless feel. I was able to accomplish nearly every task involved in setting up a store—adding inventory and customers, for example—without the slightest bit of assistance or forethought. This is how I do most things in my life—on my own and without a plan—so I felt right at home within NCR’s web interface.
Even mass imports were self-explanatory, using the CSV template NCR provides. The CSV is easy to find: click on “Import Items” and you’re presented with instructions on how to do it and a link to the template. When I did need help from the web console; selecting the “help” link from within the interface brought me to the appropriate document for that specific screen. You also have the live chat option, prominently visible in the dashboard area that can connect you with someone immediately. This is great for instant gratification.
Working inside the POS app was just as easy. The interface was beyond intuitive, and I knew how to use it before I even saw it. That sounds hyperbolic, but it isn’t. The app does what it was designed to do. Honestly, I’m starting to not want these things to work well or be well designed. It’s difficult to come up with a creative way to say, “It works really well!” How many ways can I express the attractive visual design? What’s a new way to explain how much difficulty I didn’t have? It’s a difficult job being a software reviewer.
Having tried it on both an iPad and an iPhone, I’d say count on buying an iPad. The iPhone screen is too small and there’s too much back and forth between pages—selecting items, seeing the full order, cashing out—which makes using the app cumbersome. It’s a complete 180-degree turn from the iPad app, which was easier to understand than Ikea furniture assembly instructions.
Hardware and Operating System Requirements:
The app itself will work on any iPad, iPhone, or iPod as long as you’re running iOS 6.0 or later.
As with any iPad app, the supported peripheral hardware forms a narrow list. But you’re not going to go broke buying these things. NCR offers some hardware bundles alongside some extra a la carte options. They don’t tell you the manufacturer for each item, instead quasi-branding each as “for NCR Silver.” It’s a semantic trick to get you to buy the gear from them. Even so, they don’t appear to be gouging you for extra dough. Here’s the breakdown:
- Register Only Bundle, $599 – This just a tablet with the pre-loaded software and a stand designed to encase (and hide) all of the necessary wiring. The biggest perk (over simply buying a tablet and stand yourself) is that the software comes pre-loaded in a closed POS-only system, meaning that your staff won’t be able to play games or surf the Internet (at least not with company property) when they should be working.
- Standard Bundle, $1099 – This comes with the same pre-loaded tablet and stand, in addition to a customer display, 13” cash drawer, and receipt printer.
- Retail Bundle, $1249 – This is the same as the Standard Bundle except that it also includes a scanner.
- NCR Swivel Stand, $99 –Fits iPad 2, 3, or 4. It tilts, swivels, and has a magnetic base so it stays in place on top of your cash drawer all while serving its main function of keeping your iPad vertical.
- iPad Air Adapter Kit, $10 – Since the Swivel Stand doesn’t fit the iPad Air, you get to pay an extra $10 for the adapter to make it fit. At least if you upgrade to the Air, you don’t have to buy a brand new stand.
- Countertop Receipt Printer, $285 –Can be connected to your router through the provided Ethernet cable or directly to the iPad over Bluetooth.
- Mobile Receipt Printer, $355 – A Bluetooth only printer, available for customers who don’t have Wi-Fi and don’t want to spend $70 less on the receipt printer I listed above, which also supports Bluetooth. This one’s a little smaller, so I guess that makes it easier to transport, but come on: is it really that hard to move a full size receipt printer?
- Cash Drawer, $109 – It is 13″ wide and has a removable till and if you’re still reading this sentence you probably expect way too much from a cash drawer. Really, it’s a drawer. It holds cash. Enough said.
- Cordless Barcode Scanner, $269 – Will scan barcodes cordlessly, as its name cleverly implies.
- Register Scanner, $149 – Though not cordless, it will still scan products.
- Credit Card Reader, $79 –Regardless if it’s for the iPad or iPhone/Pod, there are two options: the 30-Pin and Lightning connectors.
- EMV Reader, $229 – Accept chip cards with the EMV-enabled reader. It is even capable of handling contactless payments, though the software itself doesn’t quite have that ability. This just means you won’t have to upgrade your equipment again when NFC payments come into full swing.
- Customer Display, $209 – Give your customers something to look at as their sale total steadily rises so they don’t have to wait until they get their receipt to complain about how expensive your cashmere sweaters are.
- Mac Mini Server, $499 – You’ll need one of these if you want multiple devices to mirror activity (open a tab on iPad 1 and close it on iPad 2). Note that this feature is only available with the Silver Pro plan.
We’re getting to the point in the evolution of cloud-based POS systems when there are certain features you expect to see as a matter of course. NCR Silver does not disappoint in this regard.
- Fully Functioning Cash Register – Accept multiple tenders, including gift cards and Bitcoins. Pay cash in or out, run till counts, add and override tax amounts, hold tickets to be recalled later, and easily add discounts to transactions. Printer routing allows you to set items to print—or not—to a kitchen, bar, or prep area printer.
- Inventory Management – The inventory module doesn’t just keep track of how many items you have. It also tracks your vendors and costs, keeps track of reorder points, supports variations like size and color, and allows forced/optional modifiers for food-service establishments.
- Employee Management – Maintain employee profiles with customizable access parameters and user roles. Assign each employee a unique pin for login and to track labor hours with the time clock feature.
- Reporting Suite – You can get a general look at your store’s performance with the Activity Summary, which provides a snapshot of net sales, transactions, tips, taxes, returns, discounts, and the sales generated by email campaigns. For a closer look, there is also a sales dashboard alongside a customer dashboard. For even more in-depth analytics, Silver offers a basic swath of exportable reports on the finer points of your business.
- Multi-Location Functionality – With the new multi-store features, you can get a bird’s eye views of the entire operation or drill down to each site for specific details, whether for inventory, customers, employees, or sales. Too often I see systems with low stock thresholds that claim to alert you, but that alert only sounds when you sit down and run the low stock report. NCR Silver actually goes the extra mile and alerts you proactively.
- Offline Functionality – Full offline protection is now available, meaning you can run credit card transactions (at your own risk, of course) when there’s an outage, and NCR will queue up the authorizations until the system is back online.
- Email Marketing – NCR doesn’t stop at having a master list of names, numbers, and addresses. It’s not uncommon for POS software to email receipts, but how about a follow-up message the next day, thanking the customer with a special offer? This email functionality is one of NCR Silver’s stand-out features. You can manage your whole email marketing operation—broadcasts, newsletters, welcome emails—from within the member area.
- Loyalty Programs – If a customer is already in your database, a credit card swipe will cause the software to prompt the cashier with the matching name(s) to associate with the sale. There are also two ways to work a rewards program—by dollars spent or number of visits—as well as integrated social media marketing tools (Facebook and Twitter). As mentioned earlier, there are accompanying analytics so that you can track all of your customers’ responses (including a section for “Customer Notes”).
- Mobile Ordering – Through one of NCR’s most recent developments, customers can order ahead through the NCR Sidewalk app. With your business linked into this service, customers can search by location, place orders, and pay in advance from any mobile device.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
NCR Silver integrates with the following programs:
Though not an extensive list, I’ve been told that NCR Silver will be expanding their integration repertoire to include some eCommerce options in Q1 of 2016.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
Due to the size of the company, NCR Silver integrates with most merchant credit card processors. Elavon, PayPal Here, Vantiv, Chase Paymentech, First Data, Global Payments, Heartland Payment Systems, Mercury Payment Systems, WorldPay, and TSYS are all covered. You can also manually enter data if you need to use a stand-beside credit card swipe machine for those few merchant services that aren’t integrated.
You can integrate with BitPay if you want to accept Bitcoins, a currency that I still haven’t been able to understand. It also offers LevelUp for one-touch mobile payments. If you want to learn more about Bitcoin, click here (somebody clearly more intelligent than me has written a good introduction to the topic).
One thing to note here is that NCR is completely EMV-enabled, but if you want to use it, it’s going to cost you some extra dough each month. With EMV, you’ll add another $20 to your monthly subscription (no matter what plan you’re on) and the price for each additional register gets bumped up as well. Fortunately, you get a free reader with each terminal you pay for.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
NCR Silver offers the following 24/7 support options:
- Live Chat – You can chat with a sales representative Monday through Friday from the standard 9 to 5 business hours from the NCR Silver site. You can also get hold of tech support anytime through the back office web page within the system.
- Phone Support – Call or text the Customer Care Team at 1-877-270-3475. You don’t even have to sort through the automated menu options that normally accompany a call to tech support. You’re connected to a real live person the first time!
- Email Support – You can also email email@example.com for personalized help.
- Customer Care Website – The site has a comprehensive knowledgebase of articles, videos, and user guides.
- Social Media – Like most companies, NCR Silver maintains active Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Google+, and Instagram accounts.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
- Faulty Card Reader – I found a couple reviews reporting “finicky” credit card readers that are consistently malfunctioning and forcing merchants to manually key in credit card data, which compromises many of the safety features designed to protect against counterfeit fraud. Normally, I wouldn’t ding the software people for this, but NCR insists on supplying your hardware for you. If they’re going to make you buy the readers they pick out, they should at least make sure they work.
- Tipping Feature – One user said that the app doesn’t always add up the tip correctly, meaning that they have to go back and perform all the calculations by hand. This could simply be user error, but the process of adding credit card tips is more problematic. The only way to add a tip to a credit card transaction as it’s being rung up is to click this tiny button and select the percentage amount the customer wants to add. The button is very hard to see and unless you point it out to the customer each time (as the training video suggests), they’re probably not going to see it. One user reports his tips being 70% lower with NCR Silver than with another POS he’s operating in a separate location, and he blames it on the inability of his customers to see the tipping feature when they’re checking out.
- Extra Costs – Though NCR Silver’s pricing plan may seem pretty straightforward, there are actually a couple of hidden costs that you can’t really work around. For example, if you want to the tablet mirroring feature (start a tab on one tablet and close it on another) not only will you need to invest in Silver Pro, you’ll also need to buy the $499 mini server to support it. Also, if you want to be EMV-compliant, there’s another $20 a month tacked onto your subscription. Of course, you get a free reader with each terminal you pay for, but you’ll still be paying that extra $20 every month long after you’ve paid off the $250 you would have spent to buy the reader yourself. When it comes down to it, you’ll be paying almost $250 a month for two EMV-enable iPads with tablet mirroring, and that’s with an annual contract. Without the contract, you’re looking at another $40 a month, plus the flat $499 for the mini server. Compared to other POS systems with the same amount of functionality, NCR Silver is pretty pricey.
- Limited Advanced Features – The reporting suite isn’t nearly as robust as it could be and NCR knows this. They’ve even tried to supplement the system by integrating with CimpleBox, which specializes in extensive reporting, but even that’s another $20 a month for a service that really should be built into the software already. There are no eCommerce integration options—something that is almost inexcusable for a competitive POS now (especially one as expensive as NCR Silver)—and no purchase order or invoice management. You can’t scan inventory into the system, track inventory by ingredient, or even integrate a weight scale into the system. For a POS that is supposed to be optimized for most (if not all) food service operations, it’s missing quite a few advanced features.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
All that said, users who have downloaded the app and use it for their businesses are generally happy with NCR Silver. The App Store shows that most reviews are 4 or 5 stars, with customers heaping lavish praise:
“The smartest business app ever . . . Does everything you will need to not just manage your business but build it.” –Incognito2004
“Finally a real POS system that’s for even the smallest business, that’s not just affordable, but can actually make you money…even someone with no training could walk up and start using it . . . The alerts [are] great, for when you’re not in, [you] know when you’re having a wonderful sales day, or when something fishy is going on like extremely high discounts.” –Johnny B. Goode
“Keeps getting better…the new loyalty feature is simple but meets my needs. I was considering another loyalty option but now will not have to spend that extra $$$” –Mason3112
I know I said before that Silver is still missing some features (and it certainly is), but the functionality it already has is still impressive. The addition of a mobile ordering app (alongside impressive customer marketing and loyalty features) means you’re going to be able to get customers into your store more effectively without having to invest in the extra software that usually requires. Not to mention the fact that, once you have the customers in your store, you can make their experience as pleasurable and smooth as possible with an intuitive, well-designed POS system.
Our last review of NCR Silver was a largely positive one. We gave it high marks for ease of use, flexibility, and built-in marketing tools. All of these great features, together comprising the foundation of the software, are still there and working well. At this stage, any development is essentially going to be just elaboration on those basic features, adding more functionality and more frills. This is evidenced by the recent addition of an analytics dashboard and a cohesive email marketing area.
That isn’t to say that NCR Silver doesn’t have some serious room for improvement. They have small glitches to address with the faulty card readers and problematic tipping feature and then they have some more pressing concerns with their lack of advanced food service features (especially for the price). However, NCR Silver has done exceedingly well so far and of the functionality it already offers, it performs well enough to stay competitive.
In the end, all that glitters may not always be gold, but you could do a lot worse if it turns out to be Silver.