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In 2010, Vaughan Roswell led his team of software architects to create Vend, the world’s first web-based retail POS to use HTML5 and its offline cache capabilities. The architecture of this ground-breaking point of sale system allows it to be truly hardware independent. And despite being 100% cloud-based, Vend can 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 “Cloud-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 will be well.
Of course, there’s more to talk about than just Vend’s offline functionality. Since its launch, the company has developed an impressive inventory management system, an omni-channel sales approach with both in-store and online capabilities, an extensive list of integrations with third-party software, and an all together well-rounded retail management solution. Naturally, there are downfalls to Vend as with any system, namely its lack of purchase order management and an extra monthly charge for priority phone support. However, the general response to Vend since its inception shows that Roswell & Co. have absolutely filled a need. With a customer base spread out in 100 countries and now over 15,000 installations strong, Vend has proven to be more than just a fad in the POS market.
Read on to learn more.
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:
- 1 store
- 1 register (maximum)
- 10 products
- 1,000 customers
- 1 user account
- Community support (no email/phone support with Vend’s team, just access to Vend user forums).
- $49/mo ($39/mo billed annually)
- 1 store
- 1 register (maximum)
- Unlimited products
- 3 users
- Unlimited customers
- 24/7 email support.
Advanced $99/mo ($79/mo billed annually)
- 1 store
- 1 register (additional registers $49/mo ea. or $39/mo ea. billed annually)
- Unlimited products
- Unlimited customers
- Unlimited user accounts
- Retail dashboard
- 24/7 email support.
- $249/mo ($199/mo billed annually)
- Unlimited stores
- 2 register (additional registers $49/mo ea. or $39/mo ea. billed annually)
- Unlimited products
- Unlimited customers
- Unlimited user accounts
- 24/7 email and priority phone support.
Premium Support comes standard with the Multi-Outlet plan and is available with the Advanced plan for an additional fee of $19/month. This level of support includes personal set-up assistance, ongoing training, and phone support.
Cloud-Based or Locally-Installed:
Vend has its head in the cloud, so to speak. All aspects of operation occur within your HTML5 compatible web browser (or HTML5 iPad app). If you have a network outage, the cache takes over and runs things locally until the connection comes back. Operating during an outage does leave you with limited functionality, which does not make Vend most ideal solution for mobile operations with unpredictable internet connectivity.
Vend is suitable for retail operations of all stripes. Service and hospitality businesses will find it lacking—there are not item modifiers or features for table management and tipping—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, so users range anywhere from small stores to large chains. The affordability at the low end of the 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 with a few hundred stores each.
Ease of Use:
Once signed up for the free trial, you’ll have the opportunity to take a self-guided tour. Each category is linked to the appropriate page in the dashboard for configuration, and you’ll be walked through the processes of 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, though it’s all pretty self-explanatory given how intuitive the software is.
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. 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 because none of their customers have a problem using the software.
On to Vend’s eCommerce feature. 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 the 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.
There are presently only 17 themes available, many of which are practically identical. In short, while the interface is easy to use and everything is 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:
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 at least Windows 7 or Mac OS X 10.5, you’re good to go.
When it comes to peripheral equipment, here is what Vend recommends:
- Receipt Printers
- Star TSP100 (143) LAN
- Star TSP 100 USB
- Epson Tm-T88V
- Cash drawers
- Star SMD2-1214
- Star SMD2-1317
- Label Printers
- Dymo 450 Turbo
- Barcode scanners
- Honeywell 1400G-USB
- Socket Mobile 7Ci or 7Qi
- Motorola CS3000
You can check out a full list of Vend’s features by taking a “tour” on the website. Here, I just want to touch on a couple of Vend’s most notable features.
- eCommerce Functionality – One of Vend’s newest, and biggest features is its expansion into the Online Selling market. eCommerce is only available in the Advanced and the Multi-Outlet plans, but the good news is it’s included for no additional charge at these subscription levels. Vend offers 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. Anytime 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 to Loyalty, as usual, is to keep it simple. They’ve used a model where money spent earns rewards, but rather than adding 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 they earn a dollar in Loyalty rewards—the default setting is a dollar earned for every $50 spent, but it can be set to 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 the customer, how much they have 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.
- Customer Management – Vend maintains a contact list of all your customers. You can create the list by mass importing from a CSV file, or adding each name one by one via 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 email to new enrollees. This email contains 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 a specific group of customers (say, your Loyalty customers), or you can make them time sensitive. For example, if you want to have a weekend sale, all you need to do is create a copy of your default price book, apply discounts across the board (or individualized discounts for different products) and set the timeframe during which the new prices will be active. The new parameters will override your default price book (beginning at the time you’ve specified), and regular pricing will be restored when the sale is over.
- Gift Cards – This feature was recently added to Vend and can really give your store an advantage. You can create your own branded gift cards (redeemable on Vend eCommerce as well), increase your payment options, and avoid issuing refunds by offering store credit instead.
- Employee Tracking – Tired of employee errors, discrepancies, and theft? Vend now enables you to reduce these issues by tracking employees and their cash management.
- iPad App – Known as Vend Register, this app is optimized for use on an iPad. It comes with the ability to streamline and process sales quickly, has easily customizable quick keys, and includes features such as payment integration, layaways, on-account sales, and loyalty programs.
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 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 web store application syncs in-store and online inventory (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. Product changes you make in Vend (to item description or price) automatically update to Shopify.
- Perkville – By signing up with Perkville, merchants can create an online rewards program for their customers or create 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 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 – Vend doesn’t give you the ability to schedule your employees and manage payroll, but it does 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, Vantiv and PayPal are your options for in-store credit card processing. Vend also includes 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. The POS is EMV-enabled and setup 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:
Vend offers yearly contracts for Premium support on the paid plans, with technical help just a phone call away, 24/7. 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). And if you’re looking for a little extra help, Vend 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:
- No Purchase Order Support – I was a little disappointed to find that the in-store POS doesn’t have the ability to support purchase orders (this is a built-in functionality with an online POS, since every physical product sold online must be shipped). What happens when you display demo products, but ship merchandise from a separate warehouse? Or when you want to do commission-based work? Well, the only option is to accept payment upon delivery, rather than having the option of an upfront payment.
- Technical Support Costs – I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. It 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. Most customers actually seem completely satisfied with the support offerings, and I’ll admit the email help is 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.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Several customer testimonials can be found on the Vend site itself, as well as on the Vend blog under the tag “customer experience.” But there are many satisfied customers all over the web. Here is what most of them are talking about:
- Simplicity and Usability – “Simple,” “smooth,” and “intuitive” are all words 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 self-explanatory. 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, while not everyone is thrilled with Vend’s customer service, enough people are happy with it to justify putting it 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 thing 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 most software within the same price range, and could even compete fairly well with more expensive POS systems.
Vend has a lot going for it, and it’s definitely one of the top five (or so) POS systems I’ve tested, at least as far as user experience is concerned. What’s more, you get all the benefits of the cloud with Vend, and the fact that the software is also easy to learn and implement makes it a must-try for any retailer looking for a new POS.
Vend doesn’t have the scope of functions that some of its cloud competitors offer, but it has a further reach geographically and a clearer focus on retail. And while a POS system like Revel can boast full offline functionality, more advanced inventory management, and extensive hospitality/foodservice features, Vend has a much lower cost of entry while still 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.
Even without those features, though, Vend is one of our rare 5 star products and is more than worth the minimal investment required to get it up and running in your store. At the very least, take it for a spin. You know you want to.
If you’re truly just starting out, and even Vend has more features than you think you’ll need, you might also want to read our Vend vs Square comparison article.