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ShopKeep is a simple, elegant piece of software. It is aimed squarely at small businesses and has carved out a space catering to food and beverage sellers (apologies for the pun). That said, most retailers, food-seller or not, will feel at home with this iPad POS system.
The company is the brainchild of Jason Richelson, an entrepreneur who became disillusioned with his poor-quality Windows POS software. His story is unusual in the sense that he was, and still is, a retailer, rather than a software designer. Most POS systems are designed by programmers with little experience of actually running a business. Richelson’s hands-on understanding of the problems faced by store-owners often shines through in certain unique features, such as top-notch customer service and an undemanding interface.
The first iPad version of the software was released in 2011 and it quickly established itself as a serious player. The company almost immediately won an RSPA/VSR Innovative Solution award and has since added a Red Herring Top 100 North America award and Technology Innovation of the Year Award from Electronic Transactions Association to its collection.
Add to that three consecutive years of Stevie Awards for customer service and it’s probably fair to say that ShopKeep’s virtual trophy cabinet is straining under the load.
ShopKeep recently released version 2.6.0 of its app, with a new design that offers improved ease-of-use, more dynamic features, and all around increased efficiency. Yet while the new version definitely performs as advertised– it’s quick and responsive – it’s not completely without its flaws.
If you’re looking for a new POS, or already using ShopKeep and wondering if it is worth it, read on.
You can call ShopKeep at 800-820-9814 or try a free trial of the ShopKeep software for 14 days at no charge (no credit card required). I did find the process of registering a little long-winded. After you’ve submitted your basic details you’re required to speak to a customer representative, who will then send you a link to set up your store on a separate platform. It’s not a major issue, but I found it to be a tad frustrating.
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:
It might be worth flagging the company’s price for additional registers as one possible area for improvement. A feature that I’ve seen (specifically in NCR Silver) is a per-sale charge on additional registers, which becomes static after a certain number has been reached. This means that retailers that only need an additional register for a few sales during peak times aren’t lumbered with an extra monthly fee. It’s not a huge issue but it may be something to consider.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
ShopKeep utilizes a hybrid setup. The app runs locally from an iPad and syncs data back to the cloud when there is an internet connection. In the event of an outage the app continues to run, with all features save integrated credit card transactions. Subsequent payments are queued until a connection is re-established. ShopKeep was among the first to approach cloud-based POS this way, and its implementation is seamless.
ShopKeep is best for small specialty vendors such as: wine shops, specialty food, gift shops, toy stores, concession stands, bakeries, cafeterias, and mall kiosks. It is also well-designed for use in foodservice applications, like small cafes, ice cream shops, coffee shops, and food trucks. Full-service restaurants might also be a good fit for ShopKeep since it recently introduced open check and sever-less syncing (open a check on one iPad, close it on another).
Specific Size of Business:
ShopKeep is ideal for small to medium sized businesses. Though it can handle multiple locations, it isn’t for the large retailer. 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 don’t attempt to be a large-scale replacement. The iPad register can only host up to 270 item buttons. The rest of your inventory, if it goes that high, can be rung up by barcode scanner or manual search.
Ease of Use:
I can usually make a snap judgement about whether or not I will enjoy using a piece of software. It seems to me that most user interfaces fall on a spectrum: lifeless and corporate on the one hand, warm and intuitive on the other. ShopKeep rests happily in the latter category.
The visual design of the iPad app is sleek and modern, with fluid animated flourishes. There are sound effects for the buttons but (fortunately) a mute option is located close by. It’s enjoyable to use and never a hassle to locate rarely-used functions.
When you first log in to your BackOffice, you’re guided through a comprehensive setup process. You are given a rundown of basic features and also the opportunity to define any basic details of your store (name, address etc.) that will be shown on receipts.
You’re then shown how to add inventory, either on an item-by-item basis or by CSV mass import, and how to add buttons on your iPad register. With these basics covered, you’re ready to go. As mentioned, it is a very intuitive interface and simply exploring the different menu options is enough to get you acclimated to the system and its features. Once set up, you will do all your reporting, employee time tracking, and inventory receiving on the web platform. Beyond that, most of your interactions are with the iPad app. In addition to the register functions, there are also handful of managerial actions that can be accessed from the iPad.
One of the bigger improvements ShopKeep made in version 2.0 is changing how the app handles managerial access. All users have certain level permissions, mainly to ensure cashiers can’t access the more advanced capabilities. Previously, however, a manager with higher access permissions still needed to enter separate codes to access the register and managerial tasks. For example, they would have enter a four digit manager’s code to open the shift and specify the money in the till, then 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.
Version 2.0 marked a significant improvement on version one, which was a chore to use. Version 2.6 continues to develop on the intuitive workflow.
Hardware and Software Requirements:
ShopKeep runs exclusively on iOS 7 (iPad 2 or newer), iPhone, and the iPad mini. As for peripherals, ShopKeep has an online shop with all the hardware that works 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 that the company supports. Peripheral compatibility with the iPad can get very specific, so it’s best to stick with what has been proven to work. ShopKeep does offer a few bundles, ranging from a starter kit, with iPad stand, cash drawer, receipt printer, and card swipe, to kits geared specifically for retail or quick serve establishments. Most are around the $1000 mark, so they won’t carve out a massive dent in your budget.
You can see a full overview of ShopKeep’s features here. The register’s capabilities are comprehensive: ringing up items, adding modifiers, taking payments, splitting tenders, quick discounting (item and order level), easy returns and refunds. As mentioned before, the in-app functionality is very intuitive and doesn’t require any additional expertise or training. Setting up your iPad button layout is also a seamless process, managed from your back office.
Staying on the back office for a moment, what’s truly impressive is the wealth of features included. Again, large businesses may find that it falls short of their needs, but a small business that operates one register will be paying $49 a month for some relatively advanced tools. The same is true for outlets with more than one register. For a low cost of entry you get access to a system that manages your inventory, your customers, and your employees’ time, keeps a record of all your transactions, offers a variety of reporting options for analyzing all this data, and provides unlimited technical support by phone, live-chat, 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 small businesses. Alongside keeping track of the quantities of each item, you can also set reorder points, utilizing a 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 this information. While this could be useful for a retail setting that bundles items together, its greatest value is for foodservice providers that need 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.
All this said, ShopKeep’s inventory features are not as advanced as some other implementations I’ve seen. Users aren’t able to define the unit measurement of 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 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, you would have to add up the costs and enter them in manually. I’ve seen stronger examples of this feature (POS Lavu), but they’ve come at a much steeper cost ($900 license fee up front). It’s fair to say that these minor drawbacks are more than justified by the pricing of the product.
Another recent addition worth mentioning is MailChimp integration. Though some POS systems do offer in-house email marketing, it’s often at the expense of features that only dedicated email broadcasting software (like MailChimp or AWeber) can provide. By partnering with a third-party, ShopKeep deftly sidesteps this problem.
Rather than spending more time detailing all the features ShopKeep has (they’ve probably got the one you’re looking for) it might be more useful to discuss one that is curiously missing. It’s curious because customers have been asking for years for the ability to define multiple tax rates. Retailers with local tax obligations (separate from state tax) will have to add extra tax at the item-level since there is only a single global sales tax. Given how much the software does, and how well it does it, the exclusion of this seemingly basic feature that adds one more calculation to the process is odd. It’s not a game-changer, and it presents a problem that’s fairly easily overcome, but it is worth a mention nonetheless.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
ShopKeep no longer integrates with LevelUp and Paypal, both of which it has dropped in favor of its own payment processor, ShopKeep Payments. Though this provides for seamless integration, I’m at a slight loss as to why they haven’t offered it alongside previous options. It looks a little like shameless profiteering to my cynical eyes.
Shogo (formerly Retail Intel) is a third party cloud service that can take all your sales data from Shopkeep and automatically book it into Quickbooks for true accounting integration. The service also offers a variety of reporting options to complement those available through ShopKeep.
Shogo’s readers are Apple Pay enabled and you can also buy custom gift cards now too.
As mentioned above, MailChimp is fully integrated.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
Though the company favors its own payment solution, ShopKeep Payments, a number of integration options for card processors are offered, and you’ll almost certainly be able to keep the processor you’re using, or find one that better meets your needs. ShopKeep recommend getting in touch directly to check if your processor is supported. 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 and Support:
Given the fact that the concept for ShopKeep emerged from a retailer’s frustration at having his software constantly break down and not having the required support available to get it back online, it makes sense that ShopKeep owes its success to the fact that it is a customer-centric operation. Unlimited support–by email, live chat, or phone–is included in the monthly price. The support microsite also offers clear and comprehensive articles and video tutorials on every aspect of the software.
Of course, there are the obligatory Facebook and Twitter feeds, but the content is relevant and engaging, mostly because it provides links back to the ShopKeep blog, which goes far beyond the standard corporate “blogorrhea.” There are the expected press releases and standard patting-of-their-own-backs posts, but there are also two other sections which are regularly updated with good content.
“Counter Culture” features the success stories and strategies of ShopKeep’s customers. Additionally, the blog is the point of entry to ShopKeep’s Small Business 101, a collection of business advice for the small time entrepreneur, with information on zoning, permits, licenses, a small business guide to social media, and tons of other material. I’m doubtful that most entrepreneurs will actually read the bulk of this material, but it does reflect ShopKeep’s intention to offer as much advice and guidance to their customers as is feasible. Also, in case you’ve forgotten about this from the beginning of this review, ShopKeep has won awards for customer service.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
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.
The other trend I noticed was that several of the complaints involved 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. ShopKeep offers a workaround for this issue, but it isn’t really satisfactory in my opinion.
As a final point I’d also add what seems to me the arbitrarily complicated trial sign-up process. You need to contact someone before they give you access to a trial. Apart from obstructing my need for instant gratification, it’s also a relatively pointless requirement.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
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 first time we reviewed ShopKeep, we gave it a 5 star rating. The second time, after the introduction of version 2.0, we knocked that down to 4.5, and I’m keeping it there. Though ShopKeep has moved on to version 2.6, the core functionality remains unchanged (and that’s not a negative). There has been some feature additions but all of the software’s good aspects have been maintained.
That said, there are still some features that I’d still like to see added. Specifically, a multiple sales tax option, greater accounting and email marketing software integration, and the inclusion of competing payment processor options (alongside their own tailor-made one).