Cloud-Based POS: The Low Cost and Hassle Free Alternative to Traditional Point of Sale Software
After a hard day’s work, you fall into a peaceful slumber. In your dream, customers flood your ornately decorated and spotless business, raving about your products. A line stretches out the door as clients eagerly await the purchase of your merchandise. Life is good. Suddenly everything goes dark – your customers’ faces transform from expressions of keen anticipation to intense agitation. What went wrong, you wonder? Did a Marvel-style supervillain enter the premises? Is there a giant, man-eating spider loose? Has your store inadvertently become the epicenter of the zombie apocalypse? No, worse. You look down to see that your traditional POS system has crashed for the umpteenth time and – as always – at the most inopportune moment. You watch in despair as your customers storm off and the line dissipates. You jolt out of bed, sweat dripping down your face. It was all a horrible nightmare.
Or was it?
For those who aren’t well versed in the nuances of different POS systems, the scenario above might not seem like a big deal, so let me explain it to you. If you have a traditional POS system, otherwise known as a “legacy” or “on-premise” POS system, the data collected throughout each business day (inventory, accounting, employee hours, etc.) is stored on local servers and runs through a closed internal network. These local servers are highly susceptible to crashing, generally leaving you to gently goad the lifeless hardware back into working order while your customers wait impatiently. In this fast-paced world, delays can cost you not only the business of current customers but also the respect of potential customers. A nightmare indeed.
But never fear. Thankfully, due to recent advances in technology, there are now POS systems that do not rely on local servers. These systems – known as cloud-based POS’s (aka “online” POS’s or web-based POS systems) – often can continue to function even when offline, and are capable of allowing you to access your information from anywhere, at any time.
There are many other reasons to choose cloud-based software over traditional besides just the potential for server crashes (and the accompanying stress dreams). So without further ado, here are some of the benefits to selecting a web-based POS:
Table of Contents
Low Initial Cost
If you currently have an on-premise point of sale system, you are probably dreading the idea of purchasing a new POS. With traditional software, you must deal with costly upfront fees for hardware and licenses and pesky annual maintenance fees for upgrades. On top of that, extensive training is sometimes necessary to keep your employees and system up-to-date on new security features. That kind of thing takes time, and your time is money. And since legacy users have to maintain their own servers, you may anticipate having to expend a good amount of energy making sure everything is operating properly (nothing is overheating, backups are being downloaded correctly, the servers are communicating with the software properly, etc.).
With cloud-based POS systems, on the other hand, you pay a monthly subscription, but there are usually no upfront fees and the software is automatically updated at no additional charge. All you need is a computer or tablet connected to the internet and a credit card reader and you’re good to go. So instead of spending time, money, and effort on updates and training, you can focus on boosting sales, invest in upgrades to your equipment, and so forth.
With a cloud-based POS solution, you are no longer tethered to a clunky traditional system which requires you to be on-site to access your information. Since the software is hosted online, you can access it at anytime, from anywhere in the world. You can use your Mac or PC, iPad, iPhone- or Android-based smartphone to manage orders, process transactions, or whatever is relevant to your business.
How does this play out in real life? Well, for example, say you are running a booming bakery and there is a line out the door. A legacy POS system would only allow you to ring up customers one at a time as they reached the front checkout area. Cloud-based software, on the other hand, allows you to send out an employee with a tablet to the customers in the line while continuing to check out customers in the front with your terminal. This moves the ordering process along and boosts customer satisfaction.
The question of Apple or Android is enough to spark a lively debate in even the most non-technical of laypeople. Fortunately, depending on which cloud-based POS system you choose, you’ll have a wide variety of options. Some work with iOS devices, some work with Android devices, and some are purely web-based and don’t make you choose a side.
If you are undecided as to what system would best meet your needs, check out our comparison of Apple vs. Android.
The beauty of the cloud is that none of your data is stored on a local computer. This means that no tsunami, tornado, or computer virus can stop your business from being successful – at least when it comes to your POS.
You also don’t need to worry about security. The vendor is in charge of making sure their specific POS system is able to keep your data safe.
Online and Offline Functionality
What happens when your internet connection goes down? It’s not the end of the world! Most vendors have both online and offline functionality – meaning that if you don’t have an internet connection, you can still accept payments. Credit card information is simply queued until your connection is restored.
Although the services themselves aren’t free (with a few exceptions), most cloud-based POS systems offer some level of free support. Almost all of them will give you email support, and some even offer live chat and phone support for free as well. So, if you have any questions about bugs, errors, or how to set something up, you can contact support specific to your POS system instead of resorting to YouTube tutorials.
On the other hand, with most traditional, on-premise POS systems, support does come at a cost – which can be difficult especially when the systems do not update automatically. Not to mention that any bugs that need fixing may cost you a pretty penny.
Integration with Companion Software
Most POS software systems seamlessly integrate with at least some other complementary software, usually eCommerce, accounting, CRM, or email marketing solutions like Shopify, Magento, Xero, QuickBooks, FreshBooks and MailChimp. These integrations can be pretty darn important because they allow you to do things you couldn’t do with a standard cloud-based POS package (and which would definitely be out of reach with an on-premise POS system).
If you want to learn more about integrations, check out our article on API integrations.
So much for the general reasons to choose web-based POS software. Now it’s time to take it to the next level. The following are some cloud POS vendors I think are well worth a look…
Top 10 Cloud-Based POS Vendors
Founded in 2010, ShopKeep (see our review) is a New York-based POS vendor which caters specifically to small retail establishments or businesses that sell food and beverages. ShopKeep offers a reasonable monthly subscription service and is excellent for small specialty vendors (wine shops, toy stores, etc.) and informal foodservice applications (ice cream shops, food trucks, etc.). It also has the capacity to suit full-service restaurants. ShopKeep boasts extensive features, including inventory management, customer management, and reporting, as well as useful integrations with MailChimp, QuickBooks Online, and AppCard.
This New Zealand company (founded in 2010) offers extremely competitive pricing – their least expensive subscription option is actually free. Vend (see our review) specifically caters to retail, so other types of business may find it doesn’t suit them, but what Vend does, it does well. The software is easy to use, and product features include eCommerce functionality, a loyalty program, customer management, inventory management, and many more. Vend also offers a multitude of 3rd party integrations (Xero, Shopify, Perkville, and Stitch Labs, just to name a few).
Designed for use in retail and food service businesses, Bindo (see our review) is an iPad-based POS system which offers reasonable prices, uniquely based on the number of SKUs you have. Bindo also boasts free, unlimited customer service and excellent inventory management. Other features provided include credit card batching, staff management, loyalty programs, and custom gift cards; there are also several restaurant-centric features specific to the restaurateur. Presently, Bindo integrates with XERO and Quickbooks. One of the most understated characteristics of Bindo is that it is compatible with 99% of credit card readers and can process Visa, MasterCard, Discover, AMEX, China UnionPay, and JCB, amongst others.
Started in 2009, ERPLY (see our review) is an Estonia-based POS vendor whose name hints at the capability of its services (ERP is the abbreviation for Enterprise Resource Planning; basically, it does a lot of stuff). The ability of this software to handle multiple functions was engineered with small businesses in mind. ERPLY’s prices also reflect that mindset – this is a software system that won’t break the bank. ERPLY is designed for retail businesses in particular, and features include real-time reporting, shipping integration, automated reordering, and barcoding.
Based in La Jolla, CA in 2006, LivePOS (see our review) is dedicated to being a POS system for retail store chains and franchises. Subscription prices are based on the size of the business – ranging from “Starter” to “Franchise”. In contrast to Imonggo, which strives for simplicity, LivePOS may seem more rudimentary and less intuitive. That’s because its real strength lies in its features – 900 and counting (and they claim to add a new one weekly). LivePOS integrates with Shopify, MailChimp, Constant Contact, Perkville, and Groupon. It is also compatible with nearly every credit card processor known to man.
As can be inferred in the name, Lightspeed Restaurant (see our review) is geared specifically for restaurants. It was established in 2014 to augment Lightspeed Retail, an already established POS provider. Lightspeed Restaurant is aimed toward small to medium-sized business and boasts comparatively inexpensive prices. The app functions solely on iOS devices (iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch), and features include employee management, product management, reporting, and floor planning. Magento, Xero, and Protel are the integrations currently provided.
What makes Revel (see our review) unique is its adaptability. While most POS providers specialize in just a few types of business, Revel has somehow adapted itself to suit almost any sales environment – grocery stores, pizza parlors, salons, food trucks, and so on. Its pricing, therefore, is industry specific. Revel is custom-made for medium to large businesses and may be too much for smaller businesses. It works solely on Apple iOS devices. Real-time inventory, QuickBooks Integration, till management, and employee management are just a few of the features Revel offers.
This Canada-based company established its POS system in 2005. Shopify (see our review) was created specifically for retail and offers reasonable pricing. The POS itself is simple and accommodates small to medium businesses. Depending on the size and needs of your business, the hardware may vary. For smaller businesses, an iPad may be sufficient but medium-sized businesses will require a terminal to facilitate the import of inventory and export of reports. Features include gift cards, custom payment options, discounts, order histories, and inventory management, to name a few. Integrations can be found in the Shopify app store or you can create your own app.
talech (see our review), founded in Palo Alto, CA in 2012, offers two pricing plans. The Standard pricing, which is less expensive, is designed for cafes, fast-food restaurants, book stores, gift shops, and the like. The Premium plan is designed for full service restaurants and more complex retail stores. Like many POS systems, talech is engineered to operate on an iPad and is fairly easy to use. talech’s basic features include cash management, customer management, reports, etc., though there are more advanced restaurant features available specific to the Premium package. QuickBooks online, Xero, Shopify, and Magento are only a few of the integrations available to talech users.
Ideal for businesses where food is served, Toast (see our review) is a non-Apple tablet-based system founded in 2012. Toast is unique in that it is capable of handling anything from full service restaurants to bakeries and cafes to bars and clubs. Features include basic functions like ordering, tips, and menu creation, though add-ons, such as delivery, gift cards, and loyalty programs, are also available for an extra fee. Toast integrates with the following programs: Compeat, PeachWorks, CTUIT, CrunchTime, and PayTronix.
Being a small business owner is hard enough as it is, so the thought of losing precious sales due to something so trivial as a POS system can be an absolute nightmare. Happily, that nightmare does not have to be your reality. You don’t need to cling to your fragile traditional POS system, simply hoping it doesn’t crash and burn. There are so many perks to a cloud-based POS system – lower cost, multi-device access, online and offline functionality, free support, data protection, etc. – and so many diverse vendors that are willing to cater to your needs.
Don’t doom yourself to months of feverish dreams! Take charge of your business. Start by asking “What kind of business do I have and what do I need?” Then go from there. The perfect cloud-based POS system for you is out there – you just need to be willing to make the switch. And if you have any questions or are not sure where to start, let us know. We’re here to help.