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On the upper levels of an empty parking garage, a man and his business partner sit shotgun inside a shiny white Citroën Berlingo, France’s answer to the compact utility van.
“How long have we been working together? Six years?” asks the partner.
The man in the driver’s seat, looking very much like he’s got something on his mind, replies, “Sivin.” (That’s the New Zealander word for seven).
Such is the opening to this wholly entertaining YouTube video, and there’s a foreboding quality to the whole scene.
We, as experienced viewers of cinema, recognize the narrative grammar at work here. This is not going to end well for the partner, who is actually a talking cash register, already looking lifeless in the passenger seat as he reminisces about the good times they’ve had, lo these many years, in their retail operation. This video, entitled “POS doesn’t have to be a Piece of Sh*t,” is a promo spot for Vend, and it delivers more than the surface level message of ditching your cash register that’s revealed by the plot. To steep your technology company’s marketing materials in ironic references and a “We do things differently” type of branding has become so predictable that such efforts now have the opposite effect. Oh, you do things differently, do you? Get in line, so does everyone else. But Vend, I think, doesn’t just talk the talk, and that proof is found in a little bit of the dialogue contained in this excellent bit of marketing madness. Here’s where I knew that Vend really is forging its own path: the talking cash register is brainstorming ideas to drum up business and suggests keeping “a chick with a plump pair of boomerangs behind the counter at all times,” before going on to complain about the current cashier, Manuel, whose “crotch smells like a Chinese fish market.”
What, doesn’t everyone identify thought leaders in the business world by how juvenile and possibly offensive their marketing campaigns are?
Perhaps that’s a silly metric to base a judgment on, but the fact is that Vend isn’t only talking the talk; the crude dialogue is a nod to a “Nobody tells me what to do” mindset. 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. This is where those of you unimpressed by crotch jokes should tune back in: 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 build their popular travel booking site, Travelbug. After that, he appears to have invented the modern form of 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.
I was inspired by Xero, taking industries that have outdated software and innovating beyond that. The setup cost to retailers for a traditional POS system can be astronomical, tens of thousands of dollars and weeks of hassle before they’ve even made their first sale. With Vend, retailers can be up and running in minutes, for a low monthly fee. Plus, it’s software they actually love to use.
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 8,000 installations strong, 2014 would seem like a make-or-break year for Vend, if they didn’t seem to have already made it.
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 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:
- Extra Small – Free, 1 store, 1 register (maximum), 10 products, 1,0000 customers, 1 user account, Community support (meaning no email/phone support with Vend’s team, just access to Vend user forums).
- Medium – $69/month (or $59/month billed annually), 1 store, 1 register included (additional registers may be added at $39/month, or $35/month billed annually), 500 products, unlimited users, unlimited customers, 24/7 email support.
- Large – $99/month (or $85/month billed annually), 1 store, 1 register included (additional registers may be added at $39/month, or $35/month billed annually), unlimited products, unlimited customers, unlimited user accounts, 24/7 email support.
- Extra Large – $199/month (or $169/month billed annually), multiple stores, 1 register included (additional registers may be added at $39/month, or $35/month billed annually), unlimited products, unlimited customers, unlimited user accounts, 24/7 e-mail support.
For the Medium, Large, and Extra Large plans, Premium Support is available for an additional monthly fee of $19, and is billed annually. This level of support includes personal set-up assistance, ongoing training, and phone support (available 20 hours a day, six days a week).
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 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 (huzzah!). 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 cannot add a customer to a sale, or create a new one (though you will be able to retroactively do these things once back online).
- 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 till 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 OK. 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 as 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 out, and Vend does boast a few customers, like Agatha Paris, that have a few hundred stores each.
Ease of Use/User Friendly:
Vend has a very simple and clean design. It’s not too flashy, doesn’t sport any animations or sound effects, and that’s a good thing. Everything’s laid out in a logical fashion, with top level menus arranged across the top, and each category (Sell, Products, Customers, etc.) neatly divided into easy-to-understand subcategories. When you first log in, there’s a setup checklist–with each item linked to the appropriate page for configuration–that guides 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. I had a fully functioning POS within 15 minutes of logging in. There was no point where I had to consult help files, or reach out to support. Part of my job reviewing these things is testing out the responsiveness of the support team, and as I made my way through the Vend app, it became clear that all we had to talk about was facial hair grooming techniques (from Vaughan Roswell on down, the males on the Vend team appear to be as equally serious about their beards and mustaches as they are about their product).
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. You can mitigate that statement with the fact that I spent 15 years working in IT, with five of those years devoted to Software as a Service, and reach the conclusion that this sort of thing comes easy to me. But you must also realize that I turned 40 last year–I’m a month away from 41–and at this stage of my life I don’t understand how you kids can type so fast on a touch screen and I want you all to get off my lawn. I’m no longer a techno whiz-kid; I’m more like an Amish teenager on Rumspringa who’s just been given a cell phone. 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 Instagram account, there are plenty of pictures of young, attractive people having the time of their lives while eating donuts and juggling 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.
Hardware/Operating System Required:
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: in almost all cases it has to be Google Chrome (the exception being if you’re running a Mac, in which case Safari is also supported). This is because Chrome and Safari use WebDB–a variant of a SQL database designed specifically for web applications–to power Vend’s offline mode. Firefox uses its own, proprietary engine (open source, anyone?) that won’t work here, and Internet Explorer continues to be the longest running punchline in a joke about terrible web browsers. So, as long as your hardware can run Windows XP 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, Vend works with just about anything, connecting to cash drawers, barcode scanners, receipt printers, and card swipers. For receipt printers Vend recommends any Star or Epson USB receipt printer, but really any USB printer will work. As a test, Vend recommends trying to print a document from Word or Notepad with your printer. If it works, then your printer will work with Vend. For cash drawers, any brand is compatible as long as it has an RJ12 port. For label printers Vend recommends the Zebra brand. For barcode scanning any USB or Bluetooth scanner will work fine. USB card readers are also compatible with the system, but for integrated credit card payments one must have a merchant account that uses the Authorize.Net gateway (see details in “Compatible Credit Card Processors”). For the full list of hardware compatibility, check out this handy document from the Vend Knowledge Base.
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 things that I think Vend does really well.
- 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. As long as the balance owed is the same or less as the rewards balance, Loyalty becomes a payment option alongside Cash and Credit. So, say your customer has earned $5 in rewards, and you’re ringing up a $20 sale. She can hand over $15, you punch that in as a cash or credit transaction, and then the amount owed is lowered to $5. At that point, all you need to do is click the Loyalty tender type, and the $5 is deducted from their rewards balance, the sale is complete, and everyone’s happy. 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 available. 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 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
- Pricebooks – Vend can maintain multiple pricebooks, which you can use in a number of ways. You can maintain separate pricebooks 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 pricebook, 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 pricebook, beginning at the time you’ve specified, and then return back to regular pricing at the time you set it to end.
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.
- PeopleMine – This online application does data analytics on your customers and their spending habits. When integrated with Vend, PeopleMine automatically imports customer data to generate reports on specific customer spending habits like frequent purchases, frequent customers, and specific product sales figures in relation to total sales.
- 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.
- Swarm – Advanced analytics that help store owners understand foot traffic, conversion rates, loyalty, and more. By integrating with Vend, Swarm can identify patterns in your sales and opportunities for more.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
Vend can pretty much integrate (i.e. automatic notification to the POS from the swiper if payment was successful or not) with any credit card processor so long as that processor offers Authorize.Net as a payment gateway option. Since the majority of processors do offer Authorize.Net as an option, you’re good to go. Additionally, Vend will integrate with Element Payment Services, PayPal Here, and the Australian payment processor Tyro. Check out our highest rated processors here, or contact us, if you need help choosing one.
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. Any USB plug n’ play credit card reader is compatible with Vend (if you’re shooting for integrated payments, Vend will provide you with a compatible reader).
Customer Service/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 nearly 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 communciation is too asynchronous to be an acceptable frontline defense against unforeseen troubles. If you’re a shop owner, and you need help ASAP, you don’t want to send an email and then wait to find out if it was received and read by a person, let alone wonder whether that person is actually working on your problem. Thankfully, this is no longer the case. As I noted above in the Pricing section, Vend offers yearly contracts for Premium support on the three top level plans, with technical help just a phone call away 20 hours a day, six days a week.
In addition to phone and email, Vend has a very thorough and searchable database of answers to common questions. This database is compiled of frequently asked questions as well as questions posed by a community forum. Users are free to ask and answer questions, leave tips, or share stories. Furthermore there is also a searchable Vend blog with occasional updates on upgrades, new features, new integrations, how to use certain functions, businesses using Vend, and other POS-related articles.
Vend also has a YouTube channel with over 60 videos, including promotional bits (like the one I detailed at the beginning of this review), tutorials, quick tips, and long form webinars. They also maintain active Facebook and LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts. 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.
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:
- No Employee Management – Unlike its competitors, Vend has no feature for employees to clock in and out, track employee hours, figure employee sales commissions, or figure payroll.
- No Security Between Users – On Vend every employee has a username and password with which they log into the system, as well as a security level to regulate access to certain features (e.g. manager, cashier, sales associate). Anytime you switch over to a manager or administrator, you must enter the password–which is good! But switching between cashiers is possible without having to reenter any credentials, so one employee can switch to another’s login without being prompted to re-enter the password. This is a big issue maintaining internal controls with cash handling. Or it would be an issue with cash handling if it weren’t for the fact that there are…
- No Cash-Handling Features – The Vend developers have left out a vital POS element when building the system: cash-handling. The Vend system has no feature to account for petty cash, cash drops, float cash, or to aid in counting the drawer. This is a huge negative as there is no way for merchants to know what their drawer cash balance should be at any given time, making balancing the till virtually impossible, and increasing the possibility of theft. The developers have come up with workarounds—adding products to your inventory called “Cash Out” or “Float”—and ringing these up as “sales” to track cash movement. But when you first log in and fire up the “Sell” screen, there’s no prompt for entering how much and what kind of cash is in your drawer at the start of the day. Vend has stated they are currently in the works of creating a cash in/out feature. On the positive side the Vend “closing register” function under the “Sell” tab sufficiently aids in bank reconciliation of deposits.
- Sales With Negative Inventory – It appears several users have complained that the Vend system allows them to keep selling items even when they have zero or negative inventory. In this case, there’s the obvious problem of your system telling you there is no inventory left while a customer is at the counter with item in his hand. That aside, selling items out of stock could cause big problems with continual backorders and refunds, especially in online sales. Although Vend is justified in saying they don’t want to ever create a function that could potentially block a sale completely, they have said they are working on developing a warning system within the “Sell” screen that can warn users when a product is starting to run low at the moment it is being purchased.
- A Very Weird Way to Handle Change Due to a Cash Customer – If you’ve rung someone up for a $12.73 sale, say, and he pays you with a $20 bill, you enter $20 at the payment screen and then press the cash button. Here is where you’d expect the system to tell you how much change is due to the customer, but it doesn’t. Vend just prompts you to see if you want to email the receipt–you select Yes or No–then it prompts you to see if you want to print the receipt–and you select Yes or No. Then, when the sale is complete, you get asked “Have you issued the customer $7.27 in change?” If you select “Yes,” you’re all done. But if you select “No,” the POS proceeds as if you’ve already closed the drawer, and then rings up another transaction in the amount of -$7.27, and prints another receipt. Though cashiers can easily adapt to this way of doing things, it’s just a downright weird way to go about doing one of the most simple functions a cash register can do.
Several Vend testimonials can be found on the Vend site itself, as well as on the Vend blog under the tag “customer profiles.” Below is some of what the satisfied Vend customers have to say:
Vend’s beauty is in its simplicity. There’s no complicated maintenance and there are no expensive support contracts. It all just works, so we can get on with running our store. –Laurel Watson, owner of Petal Cupcakes.
Vend’s user interface is intuitive, smooth, and speedy. Going with a cloud-based POS has allowed us to scale and access our data from any location and smoothly integrate the eCommerce and retail experience. –Travis Becker of Mollusk Surf Shops.
Additional positive reviews can be found on the Shopify apps site, like:
Vend is a refreshing solution to the tired software-based POS programs. The easy inventory synchronization with Shopify is a bonus as it is already a superior product to other POS products I’ve researched and used in the past. Vend truly understand the independent business persons needs. This program is streamlined, efficient, and intuitive. Three things that are critical to helping our store and employees make sales rather than be POS experts. Plus, by logging in from any computer, it allows me to easily update/add products and check sales figures from home or on the road. I highly recommend this app. – http://laportegna.myshopify.com
On going support for Vend is incredible. The team are fast to respond and always on point. If you have a Shopify store and a brick and mortar store, Vend is a no brainer. – http://motooption.myshopify.com
The usability and the customer relationship management is super simple. All in all, I can’t recommend it enough. Their customer support is great and the product just keeps getting better and better. Lastly it is an inexpensive alternative to a lot of other POS systems and since all your information is stored on the cloud you won’t ever lose anything. – http://quiltedthimblecottage.myshopify.com.
Vend has a lot going for it, and it’s definitely in the top two or three 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’s also so easy to learn and start selling with makes it a must-try for any retailer looking to find a new POS.
It doesn’t have the scope of functions that its cloud competitors ERPLY and Lightspeed Cloud have, but neither of those will work during an internet outage. It doesn’t have the full offline capability that Shopkeep offers, 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 would be a 5 star product–no question about it. 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.