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Nice knowing you, Cap’n Crunch.
Mascots are a thing of the past, relegated to sports teams and breakfast cereals. Apple started it. The antiquated marketing trope of boisterous cartoon characters in commercials gave way to the products themselves being anthropomorphized. Computers were the new friendly face, promoting themselves, saying hello from your desktop. But even this trend may have run its course. Now, companies are defining their entire brand with personhood. Such is the case in this wholly entertaining YouTube video, where Vend erupts into the POS market with un-ignorable personality.
The impressively mustachioed founder of Vend, Vaughan Roswell led his team of software architects to create the world’s first web-based retail POS using HTML5 and its offline cache capabilities. The architecture of Vend is such that it is truly hardware independent and, despite being 100% cloud based, will continue to ring up sales during an Internet outage. This is the big selling point of HTML5: it saves a mirror copy of the POS app, and most of your data (just most? see “Web-based or Locally Installed” below) in your web browser’s cache, so you will still be able to complete sales even when the Internet connection is down. Once reconnected, all transactions made will sync up to your online Vend account and all is well.
Founder Rowsell’s career began in telecommunications. He developed New Zealand’s first tele-voting system before moving on to become CTO of the online travel company Vianet, and extended his expertise to assist Trade Me in building their popular travel booking site, Travelbug. After that, he appears to have invented the modern form of the technological origin story, where a “dabbler in all things” tech has an epiphanic moment of what his true life’s work is to be. Rowsell says he became obsessed with “cloud” applications and began a mission to try and prove that a functioning and successful POS can move entirely into the cloud and still meet the demands of business owners.
The response to Vend since its inception shows that Roswell & Co. have absolutely filled a need. By 2011, one year into the mission, Vend secured a $1 million investment from Europe’s Point Nine Capital, a venture capital firm based in Berlin focused on early-stage investments in SaaS (“software as a service”) and eCommerce companies. Two years and 6,500 customers worldwide later, Point Nine kicked in another $2 million during a round of funding that saw Vend bring its total amount up to $10 million. This funding came on the heels of Vend winning two 2013 New Zealand Hi Tech awards. This money has proven to be an invaluable resource in mitigating the growing pains any startup faces as it really starts to catch on. Near the end of 2013, Vend opened offices in Toronto, Canada and Melbourne, Australia, and hired former Intuit executive Anton Commissaris as President of their U.S. operations. With a customer base spread out in 100 countries and now over 15,000 installations strong, Vend has proven to be more than a fad in the POS market.
All subscription levels come with a free 30-day trial (limited to 200 products and weekly erasure of sales data). As with other web-based POS services, there is no contract and you subscription is paid monthly via credit card. If you prepay for 1-year, then you’ll receive a discount on the monthly price. Here are Vend’s plans:
- Free – 1 store, 1 register (maximum), 10 products, 1,000 customers, 1 user account, Community support (meaning no email/phone support with Vend’s team, just access to Vend user forums).
- Starter, $69/mo ($59/mo billed annually) – 1 store, 1 register (additional registers $39/mo ea. or $35/mo ea. billed annually), 500 products, unlimited users, unlimited customers, 24/7 email support.
- Advanced, $99/mo ($85/mo billed annually) – 1 store, 1 register (additional registers $39/mo ea. or $35/mo ea. billed annually), unlimited products, unlimited customers, unlimited user accounts, eCommerce, retail dashboard, 24/7 email support.
- Multi-Outlet, $199/mo ($169/mo billed annually) – multiple stores, 1 register (additional registers $39/mo ea. or $35/mo ea. billed annually), unlimited products, unlimited customers, unlimited user accounts, eCommerce, 24/7 e-mail and priority phone support.
For the Starter and Advanced plans, Premium Support is available for an additional fee of $19/month. It comes standard with the Multi-Outlet plan. This level of support includes personal set-up assistance, ongoing training, and phone support.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
Vend has its head in the cloud, so to speak, with all aspects of the operations happening within your HTML5 compatible web browser (or HTML5 iPad app). As long as you’re online, the web app will communicate with Vend’s servers at every turn. If you have a network outage, the cache takes over and runs things locally until the connection comes back. This approach has its upside and downside. On the upside, you never have to miss a sale because you’ve lost your Internet connection. On the downside, and unlike a hybrid approach (which runs things fully locally, and only syncs transaction data back to the cloud), operating during an outage does leave you with limited functionality:
- You can access your entire product catalog and sell items, though there have been some remarks made in the user forums that they run into trouble with particularly large databases. I wasn’t able to find specifics on what “large” might mean, or what these troubles are, but this would be a good question to ask if you’re considering Vend.
- You won’t be able to switch users, or close the register, or take credit card payments (if you’ve integrated that into Vend).
- If you use Vend through a web browser but haven’t logged in before the outage occurred, you will still be able to access the app in offline mode, assuming you haven’t cleared your browser cache since the last login. But if you’re using Vend on your iPad, and haven’t logged in yet, you will not be able to use it until you’re back online.
If you’re operating in an environment where your connection is reliable, and outages are brief (if they happen at all), none of these caveats ought to concern you. Mobile operations with unpredictable connectivity would do better to look elsewhere, though.
Vend is suitable for retail operations of all stripes. Service and hospitality businesses will find it lacking—there’s no table management, tipping, or item modifiers—but that’s okay. Vend does what it does very well, and I always like it when a software company doesn’t try to be all things to everyone.
Specific Size of Business:
With Vend there are no limits to the number of stores a business can have. Size can range anywhere from a small store to a large chain. The affordability at the low end of their pricing spectrum and the cost savings of having the whole system in the cloud, make Vend an easy fit for smaller businesses. That doesn’t mean it won’t scale up; Vend does boast a few customers, like Agatha Paris, that have a few hundred stores each.
Ease of Use:
Once signed up for the free trial, your dashboard will be populated with a self-guided tour. You can jump into whatever you are most interested in learning about. Each category is linked to the appropriate page in the dashboard for configuration, and they guide you through adding products and customers, setting up taxes, and customizing the register quick keys, among other things. It’s a great way to get oriented to the system, providing those direct links from Vend’s Dashboard helps you to learn where everything is located. Each heading will also link you to very New Zealand-ish videos demonstrating the related functions of Vend, as well as brief descriptions and articles in their Knowledge Base. These tutorials can be toggled on and off throughout the course of your 30-day trial.
Comparatively, Vend is about average among its competitors for on-boarding assistance. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen much worse. But that’s not a dig against them; to be completely fair, they don’t necessitate a lot of on-boarding assistance. Their system is very easy to learn, and the few times I got hung up (or thought a feature didn’t exist) the solution was easily found in their Knowledge Base.
Even as you get into some of the more peripheral functions of the POS—the loyalty program, inventory management, that sort of thing—Vend is ridiculously simple to use. I’ve investigated every nook and cranny of Vend and just can’t seem to be confused if I try. If you poke around Vend’s Pinterest account, there are plenty of pictures of young, attractive people having the time of their lives whilst eating donuts and playing with their dogs. My guess is these are all members of the support team, who have little to do each day while none of their customers have a problem using the software.
On to their eCommerce. Upon logging in for the first time, I didn’t even have to attempt navigating anywhere before I got the sense that this is a very new, very unrefined addition to the Vend system. To get you started, there’s an unremarkable link to their Help Center, and a 3-step checklist for setting up Shipping, Payments, and Taxes.
Under Shipping, the only options are for flat-rate fees and a “first + each additional item” approach. No percentages or “percentage plus,” no weight-based calculators, no integration apparent for Fedex, UPS, DHL, or anything else. No item specificity. On to trying to design the thing. There are presently only 17 themes available, many of which are practically identical. In short, while the interface was easy to use and everything was laid out in an organized manner, this tool still has a long way to go before I can call it a full-fledged and legitimate feature.
Hardware and Operating System Requirements:
Because Vend is a web app, the hardware platform isn’t as important as the software you’re using. The strictest requirement for running Vend is the web browser you use: it has to be Google Chrome. But as long as your hardware can run Windows 7 or above, Mac OS X 10.5 or above, or just about any current flavor of Linux with a GUI, you’re good to go.
When it comes to peripheral equipment, here is what Vend recommends:
- Receipt Printers
- Star TSP100 (143) LAN
- Star TSP 11 USB
- Epson Tm-T88V LAN
- Star 650II BTI
- Cash drawers
- Star SMD2-1214
- Star SMD2-1317
- Label Printers
- Dymo 450 Turbo
- Barcode scanners
- Honeywell 1200G-2USB
- Socket Mobile 7Ci or 7Qi
- Motorola CS3000
You can check out a full list of Vend’s features by taking their “tour” at the website. Here, I just want to touch on a couple of Vend’s most notable features.
- eCommerce Functionality – One of the newest, and biggest, features of Vend is its expansion into the Online Selling market. It’s only available in the Advanced and the Multi-Outlet plans, but the good news is that it is included for no additional charge at these subscription levels. They offer hosting, an integrated website builder, design help through a selection of Responsive Themes, live sync with your in-store inventory, and the ability to tie in your own domain name. One of the best things about this eCommerce tool is its Responsive Design—the ability to automatically display correctly on any sized screen: phone, tablet, or desktop. As for other noteworthy features, Vend eCommerce has a fairly slick Content Management system, which allows you to add products, add pages, rearrange design elements, and add functionality without knowing a jot of code. Having said that, the store is also HTML and CSS friendly, if coding is totally your thing. Purchase orders made through the online store are automatically emailed to the admin, so order fulfillment is in real time.
- Loyalty Program – It’s becoming commonplace for a POS to include some kind of Loyalty engine, and for good reason. Any time you can create an incentive for customers to keep shopping at your store, you’ve got a leg up on the competition. Vend’s approach, as with all things in the POS, is to keep it simple. They’ve used the model where spending money earns rewards, but rather than add a layer of complexity with a confusing point system, it’s simply a dollars to dollars scenario. You specify how much a customer has to spend before she earns a dollar in Loyalty rewards—the default setting is a dollar earned for every $50 spent, but it can be whatever you want. The great thing about this is that those earned dollars are available to use on the next purchase; there’s no need to reach a minimum amount of points before your customers start saving. The balance is viewable from the payment screen at the time of checkout (assuming you’ve attached this person to the sale). You’ll see clearly how much this sale will earn them, how much she has available, and how much is owed on the current transaction. The Loyalty program also makes its way into other areas of Vend, and with some creativity can be used to really drive sales. For example:
- Customer Management – Vend maintains a contact list of all your customers, which can be done as a mass import from a CSV file, or added one by one through the web console or even in the POS interface at the time of sale. You can customize the fields you want for your customer list with things like address, phone number, email address, website, customer group, Facebook account, and Twitter ID. Vend uses the Loyalty program to entice your shyer customers into giving up their info. When you enable the Loyalty program, there’s an option to create and send an automatic e-mail to new enrollees, and the email can contain a personalized link to a Customer Portal where people can give you their full contact info in exchange for bonus loyalty dollars. This makes adding customers at the time of sale quicker and less invasive—you only need to ask for their email address, and then let them know to wait until they get the email so they can earn more rewards. The link they receive is tied directly to the account you just created, and can only be used to redeem for rewards once (meaning if they fill out their info and get their bonus, the link will then expire to prevent double dipping).
- Inventory Management – With Vend you can easily add, remove, and edit inventory items. You can also include images of products, as well as keep track of stock levels and any special taxes, costs, or prices for certain products. Prices can be set differently based on location or customer type, or by creating special promotional discounts. Additionally, inventory can be imported/exported from/to a CSV file. The system also has the ability to import, create, and print barcode labels for easier inventory management. And any product can have an individualized Loyalty earning that overrides the default spend-to-earning ratio, which is especially helpful if there’s a particular product you want to push.
- Price Books – Vend can maintain multiple price books, which you can use in a number of ways. You can maintain separate price books based on store location, or by a group of customers (say, your Loyalty customers), or you can make them time sensitive. Maybe you want to have a weekend sale—it’s a simple matter of creating a copy of your default price book, applying discounts across the board (or individualized discounts for different products) and setting the timeframe that it will be active. It will then override your default price book, beginning at the time you’ve specified, and then return back to regular pricing at the time you set it to end.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
Vend offers a ton of integrations with third party software. You can view the full list here, with some highlights listed below:
- Xero – This is an online accounting system which, when integrated with Vend, imports daily sales automatically for easy bank reconciliation, creates customized invoices and statement balances to send to customers, and imports stock orders as accounts payable invoices to keep track of/reconcile purchases. Additionally, you can import your Xero customer list easily into Vend or vice versa.
- Shopify – This is a web store application that, when integrated, syncs in-store and online inventory with each other (i.e. same products, pricing, and stock levels). That way inventory is automatically updated in both systems whether a purchase is done in store or online. Even product changes in Vend in description or price automatically update to Shopify.
- Perkville – By signing up with Perkville, merchants can create an online rewards program for their customers, rewarding them with purchase points redeemable for free items or discounts, or creating special coupons for referrals to their friends and family. Integrating with Vend allows customer lists to be transferred and synced between the two systems.
- Stitch Labs – Vend offers some basic inventory management functions that are well suited for smaller operations. If you’re running multiple stores, juggling several vendors, or in any way finding that your inventory control is getting the best of you, Stitch Labs can integrate with the POS to really extend your ability to manage stock. From in-depth reporting, to order fulfillment, and delivery management, Stitch is a recognized leader in this area of retail management.
- Deputy – Because Vend doesn’t offer the ability to schedule your employees and manage payroll, they instead integrate with the cloud-based employee management platform, Deputy. Take care of your scheduling, time and attendance, task delegation, employee communication, and more with this service.
- Timely – This is a service scheduling application that will allow you to set up appointments with customers for the various services you offer. Sync your products, services, and customers with Timely, then pull appointments back into Vend to be rung up as sales.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
In the United States, MercuryPay and PayPal are your options for in-store credit card processing. They also include Stripe, PayPal, Authorize.Net, and Payment Express as eCommerce gateway options, which basically means you can integrate with any processor you want on your web store. Vend is also EMV-enabled and is set up to accept NFC payments like Apple Pay.
Additionally, since Vend is a multi-national company, they offer different processing options for different countries. Canadian merchants can use Moneris Solutions. Australians have got Tyro and PayPal. Europeans can choose between iZettle and PayPal. Smartpay is reserved for New Zealand. And all other regions can use iZettle.
And, of course, the system can also be used without integrated payments simply by completing the sale manually within Vend after a successful credit card swipe.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
One of the upsides of Vend’s success and recent funding has been their ability to expand their support offering. When we last looked at Vend over a year ago, Vend had no phone support whatsoever. It was either email or community forums. And while many users had good things to say about Vend’s technical support—even back then—and while the software itself is so easy to use that general questions will be minimal, email communication is too asynchronous to be an acceptable frontline defense against unforeseen troubles. Thankfully, this is no longer a problem. As noted above, Vend offers yearly contracts for Premium support on the paid plans, with technical help just a phone call away 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
In addition to phone, email, and live chat, Vend has a very thorough and searchable database of answers to common questions. This database is compiled of frequently asked questions, video tutorials, and the option to submit support tickets or suggest new features. Even more impressive though, is Vend University, a site hosting a whole swath of training tools and business resources: everything from retail guides and trend reports to webinars and articles filled with helpful tips. Even then, if you’re looking for a little extra help, Vend also offers professional services such as one-on-one training, launch services, and eCommerce setup assistance.
Vend also has a YouTube channel with over 60 videos, including promotional bits (like the one at the beginning of this review), tutorials, quick tips, and long form webinars. They also maintain active Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Twitter accounts, along with a blog. Finally, Vend has created its own website called We Love POS as a place for people to share their POS horror stories on the web, as well as to insert funny anecdotes, pictures, and videos related to POS. Anybody interested in sharing their POS story on the We Love POS site, whether they’re a current Vend customer or not, receives a free month of Vend.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
Vend’s simplicity is a selling point, for sure, but it does come at a certain cost. Some features, already standard in many of its competitors, are lacking here:
- Limited Cash Management – Vend has recently added the ability to enter starting and ending till amounts at the beginning and end of the day. You can also perform basic cash-in/cash-out functions, but there’s nothing more advanced than that. Without the ability to run till counts between shifts, it is difficult to maintain security between cashiers, especially at high-volume stores. Even the end of day report includes a limited amount of information that some users have found notably lacking.
- No Purchase Order Support – I was a little (ok, more than a little) disappointed to find that the in-store POS didn’t have the ability to support purchase orders. What happens when they display demo products, but ship merchandise from a separate warehouse? Or when a business wants to do commission-based work? Well, if they want to use Vend, the only option is to accept payment upon delivery, rather than having the option of an upfront payment. However, this is a built-in functionality with an online POS, since every physical product sold online must be shipped.
- Technical Support Costs – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. It just irks me when a POS company charges their users for support. Maybe it’s the principle of the thing. Maybe I’m just high-maintenance. Because most customers seem completely satisfied with the support offerings, and I’ll admit the email help was fast and reliable (and free), but almost all of the top POS systems offer free 24/7 support with their plans, and if Vend wishes to stay competitive, they’ll probably have to follow suit.
- Overall Fairly Basic System – I’m going to qualify this by saying that the majority of Vend users are very happy with the system so the general lack of capabilities and customizations is not necessarily a bad thing for all merchants. In fact, a system like Vend can be a great way to start a business without all of the clutter of more feature-rich interfaces. My point, though, is that it’s probably not a great option for specialty retail stores that need to be able to customize inventory, reporting, shipping, tax rates, etc. Vend is getting there, but at this point, it probably doesn’t have what more specialized businesses need.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Several Vend testimonials can be found on the Vend site itself, as well as on the Vend blog under the tag “customer experience.” But tons of customers from all over the Internet are gushing about how much they love Vend. Here is what most of the them are talking about:
- Simplicity and Usability – “Simple,” “smooth,” and “intuitive” are all words that you’ll repeatedly see people using to describe this system. And I can’t argue with them. It’s virtually impossible to get lost in this system since every function is just as self-explanatory as the next. Even start up hiccups appear to be minimal.
- eCommerce – Especially for the price, people don’t seem to mind that Vend’s web store platform isn’t all that advanced or customizable. It looks like Vend is very popular among those do-it-yourself merchants who just want a simple way to sell online without the hassle of integrating with third party software like Shopify or Magento. To each his own, I guess.
- Customer Support – Based on the reviews I’ve read, not everyone is thrilled with Vend’s customer service, but enough people are happy for it to be put in the “pros” category. But if you’re more inclined to trust real numbers than people’s opinions (which may or may not be tainted by the general negativity of the Internet), Vend has a real time feedback tool that displays the current customer satisfaction rating based on the last 100 ratings. Needless to say, you’ve got to be pretty confident in your customer service ratings if you’ve got them out there for the whole world to see.
- Affordability – Another notable mention about Vend is its affordability. It is definitely on the low end of the pricing spectrum as far as cloud-based POS software goes, but this doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of the product. I’d say it is pretty comparable with much of the software within the same price range, and could even compete fairly well with the more expensive POS systems.
Vend has a lot going for it, and it’s definitely in the top five (or so) of POS systems I’ve tested as far as ease of use is concerned. By now, it would be redundant of me to list all the selling points of cloud based software, which is why I refuse to once again mention that cloud services save you the time and money of maintaining an entire IT infrastructure just to support your point of sale. And I simply won’t mention that you don’t have to worry about backups or data loss, and frankly we’d all just be bored if I reiterated that you’ll never have to perform a software update every time a bug needs fixing or a feature is added. I won’t do it, so don’t ask me. But even though I won’t go into all that, it’s important that I stress that the benefits of the cloud are all there with Vend; the fact that the software is also so easy to learn and start up makes it a must-try for any retailer looking to find a new POS.
It doesn’t have the scope of functions that many of its cloud competitors offer, but it has a further reach geographically and a clearer focus on retail. And while something like Revel does all these things—full offline functionality, more advanced inventory management, and extensive hospitality/foodservice features—Vend has a much lower cost of entry while satisfying a great many of a retailer’s needs. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, none of Vend’s competitors show the same commitment to making unironic facial hair acceptable in the workplace again. An important issue.
Were it not for the missing features I noted above, this might be one of our rare 5 star products. Even without those features, though, Vend is more than worth the minimal investment you’d need to make to get it up and running in your store. At the very least, take it for a spin. You know you want to.