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- Austin, TX
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Despite what you may have heard, the life of a software reviewer is not all champagne and caviar. Sometimes it’s a bowl of store-brand Crispy Hexagons topped off with Mylk (warning: may contain dairy). I’m not complaining. I like generic foodstuffs as much as the real thing, inasmuch as the real thing contains things like tiny marshmallows and some processed grain-based flake and/or nugget. You’ll never see a generic apple, though, and this is why the no-frills food experience doesn’t necessarily feel false: the Cap’n Crunch and Admiral Munch formulas were developed by the same renowned food scientists working along the industrial stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike. So why not pay half price for the one with the ugly box?
Such is the case with the cloud-based POS, Zing, which feels like the store-branded Square Shaped Corn to Vend’s Chex. In a feature by feature comparison, they both come out looking pretty even, though you’d likely being paying more for Vend. But when you look at the whole package—that sort of intangible experience of using the software—there’s a definite feeling that you’re getting what you pay for in both cases. Part of that reason is that software, unlike breakfast cereal, the look of the “packaging” is part of the experience. It’s not a shallow act to reject an application because it doesn’t look good. After all, you have to actually look at the thing to use it. But this goes beyond mere aesthetics. There’s a big difference between “minimal” and “minimalism.” The former means that there’s not much going on on your screen, a reflection of the lack of thought that went into its design. The latter, on the other hand, is a choice, and often quite a bit of effort and planning go into an efficient and effective interface without too many visual distractions. Zing falls somewhere in between these two extremes. Actually, it hits both of them simultaneously (more on that in a bit, in the Ease of Use section).
To be fair, whatever its shortcomings, Zing has come a long way from where it was a couple of years ago, when everything was done through a web browser, on a website that looked like a retro throwback to the websites of old, with their glitzy frames and CGI scripts. Somewhere along the line, though, Netscape called and asked to have its history back (kids, ask your parents what Netscape is). This past summer, Zing made a major update to its backend, and released a new iPad app to act as the front end register. The backend look is improved over the old one, and as long as that’s the only thing the company’s 6,000 customers are comparing it to, Zing ought to be fine. There’s still an off-brand no-frills feeling to the whole thing—it’s not that it’s lacking in features, so much as some of the features are lacking—but it’s getting there. The iPad app is where Zing’s POS takes leaps and bounds away from its former self, transforming from a register that looked kind of like a kindergartener’s HTML project to one that’s attractive and snappy and easy enough for a senior citizen to use. Zing is not my favorite POS I’ve reviewed so far, but it could be a lot worse, and there’s a definite niche it could admirably fill—that niche being the (very) small business. If you’ve been looking for a cloud-based POS but don’t want to spend the money on one of the more popular brands out there, Zing might be a good fit for you.
Table of Contents
- Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
- Specific Industry:
- Specific Size of Business:
- Ease of Use:
- Hardware and Software Requirements:
- Product Features:
- Integrations and Add-Ons:
- Compatible Credit Card Processors:
- Customer Service and Technical Support:
- Negative Reviews and Complaints:
- Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
- Final Verdict:
This review is coming only days in advance of a pricing change for future customers of Zing. Existing customers will have the cost of their existing plans locked in for the life of their account, as well as for anyone who signs up before October 1 (meaning September 30 is the last day). The two levels of subscription available till then will be:
- Free/forever, for the smallest of businesses. Cash only, 50 Products, 200 monthly transactions, one user, one location, and other things which you can read for yourself here.
- $49/month, which includes unlimited of all the things I mentioned above, plus the other things I said you should read, plus even more things that you should also read, conveniently located at the same link above. If this pricing was going to be around for even a week, I swear I’d put more effort into describing it. But, alas, here we are.
As for the new pricing, Zing’s done something a little different by placing limits on the number of integrations you can use at each subscription level. I’ll go into each integration more in-depth when we get to that section, but for now here are two good things to know: First, integrating credit card payments do NOT count as an integration–this is basic functionality available at all levels, because–well, duh: credit cards. The rest of the integrations fall into four categories–Loyalty/Gift, Email Marketing, Ecommerce, and Accounting. Effective October 1, the new pricing, described here with great gusto and vigor (not like that phoned-in hack stuff above), looks like this:
- Entry ($49/mo billed annually, or $59 month-to-month) – Single location, unlimited registers, 1 integration, email support.
- Standard ($79/mo billed annually, or $89 month-to-month) – Up to 3 locations (additional location billed at $49/mo), unlimited registers 2 integrations, email Support
- Pro ($129/mo billed annually, or $149 month-to-month) – Curiously, the Pro subscription allows you to operate Unlimited Locations, but after that it’s a cost of $79 for each additional location. Just sit on that one for a moment. OK? OK. You also get unlimited registers (and each additional register is FREE!), up to 4 integrations, and email and phone support.
I feel like I should acknowledge that this represents a significant increase relative to its previous pricing, but I also think it’s a fair jump. There have been significant improvements to the app all around–though it still isn’t perfect–and it falls where it ought to relative to some of its competitors.
Web-Based or Locally-Installed:
Zing has taken some significant steps away from its 100% web-based past—steps for the better, in the case of offline protection. The new iOS register app is designed to connect to the web-based back end, but once the data syncs to the device Zing’s well prepared to withstand an outage. You’ll lose credit card ability, but can continue ringing up sales otherwise.
Zing’s flexibility to handle multiple industries is a selling point. Or a deficiency, depending on how you look at it. The inventory function has modifier sets and item options, covering all food and retail bases. I found the implementation of these to be fairly simple—I didn’t have the degree of flexibility that a size and color matrix would give, and I wouldn’t necessarily feel great if the field I’m using to add extra cheese can also increase the price for a XXL t-shirt. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily ill-suited for either, just that if you recognize your business as having some special needs or quirks, you might be better off going with something more specific.
Specific Size of Business:
Zing’s design towards no specific industry forces their sweet spot into the small business segment, I think. Though their pro plan supports unlimited locations, registers, users, etc., the lack of specificity in its functions isn’t going to appeal to large- and some mid-sized businesses. Small businesses, on the other hand, would really benefit from having Zing as their POS: it’s low-budget, pretty easy to use, and has a host of features previously unavailable to this market segment.
Ease of Use:
The interface for Zing is a mixed bag–the front end register app is very well designed, while the web-based back end leaves much to be desired. Visually, the backend is a whole lot of white–there were bits of color thrown in for navigation, but staring at the screen made me think of that video John Lennon made for Imagine, where he’s sitting in a white room, playing a white grand piano, while Yoko, in a white dress, opens the window shades and white light pours in and I started to sing the song to myself until I got to the part about imagining no possessions and I thought I ought to get back to work. I don’t blame Zing for my wandering mind, but the point is it’s whiter than the U.S. Senate. More importantly, though, it isn’t exactly generous with its feedback to the user. Many of the screens don’t offer much in the way of guidance or explanation. It isn’t that difficult to use once you acclimate yourself to the system, but you should expect several early trips to the help files to better understand what you’re looking at. Also, the simplistic configurations don’t always achieve the best results: though you can add modifiers and options to your items, there’s no way to break down your stock numbers accordingly. If you’ve got ten green t-shirts, and three of them are Smalls, four are Medium, two are Large, and one is X-Large, Zing only tells you that you’ve got ten green t-shirts. Sell a Medium, you’ve got nine green t-shirts.
It’s a completely different story with the iPad app, though. If the web site is minimal, then the app is minimalist. It’s been designed with much more care, and navigating around as you’re ringing up sales is a breeze. The categories and options you fumbled with while setting up the back end are presented to you here in a clearly organized fashion, and it’s easy to select your way to an item, and then its modifiers and options. It also helps that the app is quick to respond to taps and gestures. Ultimately this is what matters most, and it’s a good sign that Zing got it right here. Especially when you take into account that signing up for any of the plans gets you free “Onboarding,” which I thought was banned by the Geneva Contentions but turns out to be a nice little service Zing offers to help get you started. But this service means you can look forward to spending most of your time looking at the app, and only have to jump in to the back end for the odd change or to run reports.
Hardware and Software Requirements:
Right now, you can run Zing with any computer or tablet that’s running a modern browser. Come October 1, though, the existing Zing Checkout product goes legacy (existing customers will be supported), and Zing Register will be the only offering. At this point, that means you have to have an iPad to run the register app, though a Laptop/Desktop version is on its way. Zing offers a few hardware bundles–peripherals only, BYO iPad or computer–depending on your platform of choice:
- PC/Mac Hardware Package, $699 – Includes Star Micronics TSP143 receipt printer, APG Vasario cash drawer, ID Tech MiniMag credit card swiper, Motorola LS2208 USB barcode scanner, all required cables, and a roll of receipt paper.
- iPad Hardware Package, $999 – Includes the same receipt printer and cash drawer as above, ID Tech Shuttle credit card reader, Motorola CS3070 Bluetooth Barcode Scanner, @Rest iPad Stand from Heckler Design (you can upgrade to Heckler’s Windfall for $76 [iPad mini] or $80 for all others), all required cables, and a roll of receipt paper.
- Android Hardware Package, $999 – exactly the same as above, minus the option of upgrading the Heckler stand. Also note that the list of recommended Android tablets is a short one: Google Nexus 7 (2013 or newer), Nexus 10, and the Motorola Xoom.
The old ZingCheckout website has a really helpful full feature list that covers all the basic software functions, and all of these features carry over to the new product, as well. There are two things that differentiate Zing and are worth highlighting here: The first is the “Social Listing” feature. Essentially, every store set up with Zing gets its own landing page with vital info: business hours, location, a map, a guestbook, and links to your other web and/or social media presences (like Facebook or Twitter). When you email or text receipts to your customers, they contain a link your customer can click on to share your social page with their friends and followers. It’s really a cool feature, to basically have this engine that accelerates word of mouth advertising included in your POS. All you have to do once it’s set up is be awesome at running a store so people will want to help promote you–you were planning on being awesome, weren’t you?
Another highlight for Zing is its BigCommerce integration. It goes far beyond the normal expectation of basic inventory tracking item quantities. Every bit of information about your products is shared between your Zing and BigCommerce accounts. If you start with Zing and add an online store after, all the item names, options, price change rules, categories, customers, images, and SKUs will be populated into BigCommerce. If you’ve already got an online store setup, then BigCommerce will replicate all that information over to Zing when you connect the accounts. It feels less like an add-on, and more like each of these products are integral parts of the other.
Integrations and Add-Ons:
My gut reaction to limiting the number of integrations a customer can use based on subscription level was not a positive one. But, now that I’ve thought about it, I have to say: I still don’t like it. Apart from the number of allowable integrations, the number of locations is really the only differentiating/deciding factor on the different plans. So it seems odd to tie the number of available add-on features to the number of locations, as if one had anything to do with the other. Let’s look at the integrations that Zing offers, and then I’ll get into why the pricing model needs a good tweak. Integrations are offered in four categories:
- Accounting – Zing actually doesn’t currently offer anything in this category, but their website states a Quickbooks integration is coming soon. In the meantime, reports and other data can be exported to CSV.
- Ecommerce – Bigcommerce integration is available—no mention of whether any other platforms will be supported in the future.
- Email Marketing – They’ve got an integration MailChimp, and Constant Contact is “coming soon.”
- Gift/Loyalty – Zing integrates with Sparkbase for gift cards and loyalty, and will also work with Mercury Gift Cards, too.
Why restrict a small shop with a single location to only one integration? I’d argue that in the case of Accounting, Email marketing, and Gift/Loyalty, all of these companion apps are of greatest benefit to the smallest of operations—the ones who need to minimize the time and money they spend on these extra-curricular efforts because they don’t really have employees to take care of these things for them. But a shop owner with a single location has to buy into the same plan as the owner with 10 locations at $129 a month. Imagine buying a car and being told you can have one of the following: a CD player, air conditioning, sun roof, or a rear mounted camera. If you want two of those options, you’ll need buy two or three cars, and if you want them all you have to buy at least four cars.
Compatible Credit Card Processors:
It’s a safe bet that whatever you’re using now will work with Zing, which supports Authorize.net, Clearent, First Data, Merchant Warehouse, Mercury Payments, Payflow from PayPal, and USA ePay. If you’re somehow not covered with all these options, you’re encouraged to give Zing a call to see what they can do for you. Most of our top rated processors will integrate with Zing, so if you need help choosing one, check out our comparison page.
Customer Service and Technical Support:
The only way to get phone support–Monday through Friday, 9 AM to 5PM, Austin, TX time–is by subscribing to the Pro plan. There’s no way to purchase phone support as an add-on. Their email support, I was told, is 24/7, though I have to wonder if it’s another one of those situations where a company labels your ability to send an email at any time of day “24/7 support.” I did my contacting during business hours, and had a good experience–a prompt reply, with my question answered clearly. You know, the kind of thing you’d expect from support (but is actually really hard to come by). I was also pleased with the low-pressure but responsive nature of the sales rep I worked with. Some of the companies I’ve dealt with make it either a hassle to try things out, while others don’t respond so quickly. Then there are the aggressive ones who call every day and leave messages for months until you finally have to pick up the phone and make it clear that you’re just not that into them. And occasionally, there are some companies that don’t relent even after that (I’m looking at you, Lightspeed). I had no such problem with Zing–the sales rep was approachable and friendly, checked in now and again, answered my questions when I had them, but otherwise left me to my own devices.
They’ve also got a comprehensive knowledge base at their support website, though there’s a bit of confusion as to what their website actually is. The soon-to-be legacy product, Zing Checkout, is found at zingcheckout.com. The soon to be official product, Zing Register, is at zing.co, but there are no help files or listing of supported hardware at the new one. That info is still on the original site. They also have a Facebook feed to stay in contact with their customers—their Twitter presence seems to have disappeared.
Negative Reviews and Complaints:
Honestly, it’s hard to find any negative comments online about Zing, which is astounding when you consider that the internet is a 24/7 Open Mic night for disgruntled humans. The worst thing I found was this little gem of criticism: “It’s a circus run by a pommie clown that needs a new ringmaster at the helm.” But–full disclosure–this critique was aimed at Zing Restaurant in Queensland, Australia, which is apparently having some managerial issues with the foul-mouthed Andrew, an outsider brought in to improve operations who only seems to be alienating the kitchen and wait staff with his crack-the-whip leadership style. I’ve no idea what POS they use.
Zing Checkout (aka “old Zing”) fares much better than Zing restaurant with its customers. There isn’t really much feedback one way or the other for the new iPad based makeover. Where I could find negative comments, the criticism was usually sandwiched in between lots of praise. The most frequent complaints I encountered were from people who mostly love the system but wish the reporting could be better, and then some disappointment around the lack of native gift card support. Apparently, it’s sometimes cumbersome to drill down into transaction histories. Oh, and one other user stated that the software was very “glitchy” when it came to syncing data. Again, I have to state that not to find anything in ALL CAPS, threatening suit against the Worst. Company. Ever. is an achievement unto itself. It’s the internet.
Positive Reviews and Testimonials:
Overwhelmingly, Zing customers love them some Zing. They like that it’s uncomplicated and pretty easy to use, and there are enough reviews out there that go out of the way to commend the “friendly attitude” of the staff as a huge plus. Here are some reviews from users:
Zing is truly a turnkey operation. I was up, running, and entering my inventory in no time at all. Best of all, whenever I have any questions or concerns, their top-notch staff replies immediately. –Heather from OhmFit Activewear
The customer service at Zingcheckout has been tremendous in every way. I know I can count on this product and the people behind it. —Stacey from Shopping for a Change
Overall, our experience with ZingCheckout has been nothing but great. The support staff is very helpful and courteous to our needs. They even included a few little features we mentioned we would like. I couldn’t recommend ZingCheckout enough! –Donald from Alive Boutique
Overall, Zing is a good system that delivers on its promise of a low-cost, functional POS. Unfortunately for Zing, it’s the first app I’ve reviewed that must be judged based on what I’m calling the “Quetzal Curve.” Quetzal focused on one very specific business segment for their POS and nailed it. Zing, with its wider reach, suffers a little under its own ambitions. A clothing retailer would appreciate Zing’s feature to create options for size and color, but wouldn’t like her inability to get an instant stock count for each size and color combo. And while a full service restaurant would be glad to know Zing supports remote kitchen printing, the lack of a table layout or ingredient level tracking might be too much of a compromise for the price. Zing wants its POS in nearly every conceivable retail situation, and on that goal it falls short of the mark.
But for the small shop–the boutiques and cafes trying to minimize overhead–Zing is an excellent fit. It’s lightweight and portable, and doesn’t feature a bunch of complex features to confuse things. And the social listing feature is an invaluable, if not ingenious, little addition that gives even the tiniest of businesses a big boost for their online presence. It seems to me they need to go in one of two directions: really pimp out the feature set so that it rivals any high end legacy system, or scale back and celebrate its smallness. My vote would be with the second option, because trying to be all things to all businesses only dilutes the value of the product if all those things aren’t done perfectly. With only a minor course correction, Zing could improve itself as an app and a brand. Heck, I’d even play up that generic angle–rename the product to something like “Mobile Computing Point of Sale,” give it a dumb slogan like “It works!” and maybe develop a feature chart to show how it stacks up against the brand name competition. There’s a lot to like about Zing if you’re running a small business—Zing may be the one small business that hasn’t figured that out yet.
To learn more about how we score our reviews, see our Point Of Sale (POS) Software Rating Criteria.