NCR Silver Review
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NCR Silver has a bit of a different origin story than your average tech startup trying to break into the cloud software market. For one, they’re no startup. Silver is an offshoot of NCR Corporation, the first POS company in the US, beginning in 1884. That was a few years after the National Manufacturing Company bought the patents for a mechanical cash register from a very shortsighted saloon owner named James Ritty. Ritty tried to manufacture the registers himself, but became overwhelmed by running two businesses on his own. He hung on to the bar, selling the whole register business to John and Frank Patterson, the majority stakeholders in National Manufacturing. In 1884, the company changed its name to National Cash Register and grew to epic proportions. NCR became the Microsoft of its industry; their registers were to retail shops what Microsoft Word is to the modern office. Interestingly, both companies are also seeing a new challenge coming from the same tablets. People are abandoning cash registers in favor of iPads, and though there’s a long way to go before NCR feels anything resembling a dent in their business–they also specialize in the hardware and software for ATMs and other self-service kiosks–they’re smart enough to be proactive about it.
Hence, NCR Silver, an iPad app that syncs to the cloud and is as modern and intuitive as the name is terrible—and, yes, the name is terrible. It’s as if it’s the lesser product in a suite of them, second in line to NCR Gold, except there is no NCR Gold, giving a new meaning to the phrase “second to none.” Fortunately, Silver doesn’t live down to its implied secondary status. It’s no surprise, because its not as if NCR doesn’t understand Point of Sale. NCR Silver is a bit like the mobile stepchild of a couple of other NCR products: Aloha, for restaurants, and Counterpoint, which is geared towards retailers. Both are the kind of hardware dependent legacy POS systems that the little upstarts in the cloud have been challenging. Silver seems to have taken a few things from each of these solutions and repackaged them for smaller businesses, so it’s not as if NCR is competing with itself. It’s still a long way off from Ritty’s Original Mechanical Casherator, though, and a couple of years ahead of some of its competition.
Silver offers the customary 30 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 just two options, and they don’t even advertise the second one. I found out about that when I stumbled upon the phrase “depending on what kind of subscription you have” in one of the help docs. I called in to the sales department to find out what that meant.
- The first plan, at $59 a month, gets you everything that Silver does, plus live, 24×7 support.
- The second plan, at $79 a month, feels more like an upsell opportunity than anything else. It’s the same as the first, but you also get free next business day hardware replacement in case any peripherals you may have purchased from NCR malfunction. This is just the peripherals, and doesn’t cover the iPad, so you’d be spending $20 a month to protect equipment that could be replaced for a few hundred bucks or less.
These only cover one register, though, and I like how NCR priced the subscription for two or more. Instead of paying a flat monthly fee, you’re charged 10 cents per transaction, with a cap of $29 a month. What’s great about this is there are plenty of small businesses that don’t need a second register full time–maybe a couple afternoons a month they see a rush and need back up. 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 a few admin things here and there. But for full control of your POS–detailed inventory tasks, employee time, customer rewards, reports–you’ll need to access it through the web. The hybrid architecture means that there’s an inherently decent amount of offline protection, and as of the June 30 update, users can now even process credit card sales during an outage. You do this at your own financial risk, because the system will just queue up the charge for authorization, which happens long after your customer has left the building. But this puts Silver in a fairly small group of developers that offer this feature. Unfortunately, for all of Silver’s advanced protection during an internet outage, there’s was one pretty big flaw: it only works if the connection goes down while you’re already logged in. If you haven’t opened the register and logged in before the outage, you’re stuck.
NCR Silver is surprisingly versatile for what it is, and could easily slip into a variety of businesses. It’s the RuPaul of POS, changing its identity with alarming 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.
Specific Size of Business:
NCR Silver is aimed squarely at small to medium sized businesses—anything bigger and Silver competes with NCR’s Aloha or Counterpoint. Until last October, it didn’t even have the ability to manage multiple stores under a single account. Even with this added feature, NCR’s prime audience remains unchanged, and NCR is wise to keep their focus here. Small business owners don’t normally get the kind of attention NCR is offering, and many will be happy to know that they’re not sharing support resources with larger companies who can afford better service.
Ease of Use:
Long ago, NCR built its reputation for easing the pain of handling cash transactions, but keeping inventory was still a pen and paper job. And, in 1884, direct customer marketing was still associated with witchcraft and devil worship. It was tough to build a business, and most of the tools available to help you do so weren’t so easy to use. It would have been easy 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 (if such a description even makes sense). I was able to accomplish nearly every task required for setting up a store–adding inventory and customers, for example–without the slightest bit of assistance or forethought. This 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 (and 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). I only ran into a bit of trouble when setting up a customer rewards program. It wasn’t that the options for rewards were so complicated, but when it came time to set it up in Silver, the on screen explanations for what each attribute meant weren’t written so well. It was the standard problem of what happens when you ask a software engineer to write instructions in English, and the issue crept up here and there. For the most part, though, using NCR Silver was a breeze to use. When I did need help from the web console; selecting the Help link from within a screen brought me to the appropriate document for that specific screen. It was no effort at all to find the right help page on their website.
Working inside the POS app was just as easy (on the iPad, anyway: more on that later). The interface was beyond intuitive, and I knew how to use it before I even saw it. That sounds hyperbolic, but it isn’t. 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 hard out there for a software reviewer. The app does what it was designed to do
Hardware and Software Requirements:
The app itself will work on any iPad, iPhone, or iPod running iOS 6.0 or later. Having tried it on both an iPad and an iPhone—I’d say count on buying an iPad. The iPhone screen is too small, or maybe the design of the app isn’t great, but there’s too much back and forth between screens—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.
As with any of these iPad apps, the supported peripheral hardware forms a narrow list. But, as with any of the peripheral hardware, you’re not going to go broke buying these things. NCR offers a bundle and some extra a la carte options to add to it; they don’t tell you the manufacturer for each item, instead quasi-branding them as being “for NCR Silver.” It’s a semantic trick to get you to buy the gear from them, but whatever: they don’t appear to be gouging you for extra dough. Here’s the breakdown:
- Countertop Receipt Printer for NCR Silver, $285, can be connected to your network over wi-fi, or directly to the iPad over Bluetooth.
- Cash Drawer for NCR Silver, $109, which is 16″ 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.
- NCR Swivel Stand for iPad, $99, fits iPad2, 3, or 4, and presumably the Air. It tilts, swivels, and has a magnetic base so that it stays in place on top of your cash drawer all while serving its main function of keeping your iPad vertical.
- Cordless Barcode Scanner for NCR Silver, $269, will scan barcodes cordlessly, as its name cleverly implies.
- Credit Card Reader for NCR Silver, $79, regardless if it’s for the iPad or iPhone/Pod.
- Mobile Receipt Printer for NCR Silver, $355, is 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?
- NCR Silver Register Bundle, $499, includes the Countertop Receipt Printer, Cash Drawer, Swivel Stand, and Credit Card Reader.
We’re getting to the point in the evolution of cloud based POS systems, where there are certain features you’d expect to see as a matter of course. NCR Silver is no different in this regard: fully functioning cash register with multi-tender support, easy discounting, some measure of inventory and customer management, remote reporting, and employee timekeeping. What puts NCR a notch above other entry-level apps (or, at least, apps priced at that level) is the depth of functionality within each of these areas.
The inventory module doesn’t just keep track of how many items you have. It tracks your vendors and costs, keeps track of reorder points, supports variations like size and color, and modifiers for food-service establishments. Advanced printer routing allows you to set items to print–or not–to a kitchen, bar, or prep area printer. With the new multi-store features, you can get 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 tiny and simple bit further of alerting you proactively. 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 for when it’s back online. For customer loyalty, NCR doesn’t stop at having a master list of names, numbers, and addresses. It’s not uncommon for a POS to email receipts, but how about a follow up message the next day, thanking the customer with a special offer? If a customer is already in your database, a credit card swipe will cause the POS to prompt the cashier with the (or a list of) 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 Twitter and Facebook marketing tools to make sure customers stay engaged with you.
At each turn, I was surprised to find out how much NCR Silver does–this is partly due to expectations, but also partly because they don’t really have a handy feature matrix giving you the skinny on everything.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
NCR Silver integrates with Retail Intel, the online retail analytics tool that integrates with Quickbooks (local or online). This is useful for customers who are using Quickbooks for their accounting, which at last count included everyone, ever. Sales and other data are transmitted to Retail Intel, which books the nmbers directly into Quickbooks for you. Since it’s a separate service, you’ll need a subscription to Retail Intel, as well.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
There’s no shortage of options in this department. NCR partnered with three different processors–Elavon, PayPal Here, and Vantiv–though it’s unclear what this partnership means for you, the consumer. With PayPal, at least, you’ve got the option to sign up and configure the whole thing right from the POS console. Integrated credit card payments are also supported with these other, non-partner companies: Chase Paymentech, First Data, Global Payments, Heartland Payment Systems, Mercury Payment Systems, WorldPay, and TSYS. You should check out our reviews (follow the links in the last sentence) if you’re in the market, but with a list like this you’re bound to find something that will work. And if you don’t, you’re encouraged to call the sales team to see if you can’t work something out.
If you need help navigating the world of credit card processors to find a good rate, then please let us know.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
When we last reviewed NCR Silver, one of the biggest complaints was its high price point coupled with a lack of 24-hour support. Such is the massive power and influence of Merchant Maverick that NCR Silver has apparently heard our displeasure and kneeled before Zod. Sort of.
The monthly subscription fee is now $20 less per month and includes seven day a week, 24-hour phone support. As I mentioned before, though, you can still get the $79 a month plan, which back then and still does include the hardware replacement option. Still, this seems a fair trade off. The most expensive item of hardware–remember, they’re not selling the iPads–is not exactly going to sink most businesses if they go without the extra protection and something breaks. Additionally, offers setup assistance–including a “personalized phone conference” with a “Silver Guru” and full setup of your store–for $299. It should be noted that a “personalized phone conference” with one person is what most folks would refer to as a “phone call.” Also, I don’t care what the dictionary says; I’m tired of people using the word “guru” to mean an expert with all the answers. A true guru only unlocks the answers we already possess within ourselves, and the whole experience is tax deductible.
As for the quality of the support, I can say that my own experience was pretty impressive. I live in a small town in Vermont, and if I call my local food co-op to find out if local rhubarb is available yet, I have to sit through a very long list of options before I can get to the Produce department–the whole process to get to a person can run up to 2 minutes. But I called NCR Silver support on a Monday, in the middle of the day, pressed 1 for English, and was talking to one of the 23,000 live human beings that work for NCR Corporation in under 30 seconds. I didn’t see any negative reviews of the support anywhere, either. Even in the violently hyperbolic bad reviews of the software that every app has at least 10 of, the focus was on features–not support. One user highlighted support as the primary reason for choosing the software, noting that,
“The NCR Silver team genuinely cares about helping our business flourish. The customer support team and developers have visitied us on location to see how NCR Silver could be tweaked and deployed more efficiently in a quick-serve, mobile food truck environment.” -Tex’s Tacos
In addition to phone and email support, there’s also a Customer Care website, with a comprehensive knowledgebase of articles and fairly active user forum, which NCR technicians respond to regularly. Additionally, NCR maintains the standard Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube outreach efforts, both of which are active and are being used effectively.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
The right to complain vociferously is one of the first ones guaranteed to U.S. Citizens in our Bill of Rights and, presently, there is no greater proof of how cherished this American liberty is than on the consumer forums of the internet. So, it’s no surprise that, in spite of my very positive experience with NCR Silver, there are some people who’d like to see the developers and heads of NCR burned alive for their sins against humanity.
Many of the negative reviews from users I could find centered on a lack of functionality that’s since been added: cash management, employee timeclock, no support for multiple sites, no Quickbooks integration. I came across a couple of reviews that complain of it being horribly buggy, but these, too, were older reviews.
If there’s one thing to pick on NCR for, though, it’s the Offline mode. Yes, if you lose your connection while running the app, you can continue to make sales. And, yes, you can even run offline credit sales, which not every app can do. However, all of this supposes that your outage occurs while you’re logged in and running. If your connection is down before you’ve even logged in, then tough: you’re not getting in. This is downright confounding. There’s no good reason why authentication couldn’t happen at the app level, rather than in the cloud–at least none that I can think of. If any one can tell me why this is, please inform me, so that I may tell you why you’re wrong.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Users who’ve 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 on it:
“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
We last reviewed NCR Silver a couple years ago, and gave it high marks for its ease of use, flexibility, and built-in marketing features. All of this is still there, and then some, as new features have been regularly added to each update, with no reason to believe that NCR won’t continue growing the app with more features. I’d recommend for it almost any type of small business, from retail to quick-serve foodservice (to even a full service restaurant that’s small enough to do without a table layout). NCR Silver rivals some of the most feature rich–and more expensive–competitors out there. The difference is, those competitors (I’m thinking of systems like Erply or Lightspeed) start small but are designed to scale to much larger operations, and this is reflected in the price tag. NCR Silver, on the other hand, is catering specifically to small businesses, and offering them big-business functions and service at an entry-level price. I was all set to give NCR Silver five stars until I discovered that Offline mode didn’t work if you weren’t already logged in. This is something that needs to be addressed, but their track record suggests it will be, if it isn’t being looked at already. All that glitters may not always be gold, but you could do a lot worse if it turns out to be Silver.