These days, if you’re on the hunt for a new point of sale (POS) retail management system, you can get overwhelmed pretty quickly. There are hundreds of options online, each boasting all sorts of features. It can leave you asking yourself, “What do I really need? What extras will help me grow?”
Allow me to help and walk you through the features you should be looking for in your new POS (and which extras will actually help you grow).
To start, let’s stipulate that even if you’re running the banana stand from Arrested Development, these days you’re not just looking for a plain old POS (by which I mean a cash register). You’re looking for a retail management system.
In today’s world, your POS software should be a part of a larger solution that helps you run and grow your business end-to-end.
As such, I’m going to walk through the features you need, as well as the features you may not need but may find very helpful. I’ll be breaking them into the different overarching components of your retail management system: point of sale, inventory management, customer management, and reporting.
Let’s dive in!
Point of sale (POS) features
Let’s start with the features you should look for in the POS portion of your retail management system. This portion will cover the capabilities that you’ll typically need at the checkout counter.
1. Quick keys and/or product lookup
Quick keys are shortcuts within your POS system that allow associates to hit a single button for a commonly sold item.
Meanwhile, the rest of your catalog should still be easily accessible. Be sure to go with a POS that lets you quickly search or lookup products when ringing up sales. Ideally, this search feature is right on the sell screen so your cashiers won’t have to jump into another screen just to look up an item.
2. Multiple payment methods/split payments
Go beyond traditional payment methods like cash and credit cards. Look for a POS that allows you to take mobile payments. You also want to be able to split a payment in case a customer wants to spread their payment across a few gift cards, an Amex and cash.
3. Returns, refunds and store credit features
Ironically, a store’s return policy can be vital to its success, as consumers increasingly prefer stores with shopper-friendly policies.
To that end, you should ensure that your POS system can help you create the ideal return policy for your store by providing you with flexible options to return items for both refunds or store credit.
4. User accounts and permissions
Unless you’re a one-person operation, chances are you’ll have multiple people working your registers. You need a system that allows you to create a user for each of them so that you can track the sales every person makes. This feature will ultimately allow you to set sales goals (or see if one of your employees is perhaps being dishonest).
You should also be sure to get a system that allows you to password protect each user, as well as gives you the chance to choose whether or not you want to have a user log-in for each new sale they make.
That choice is, of course, dependent on the way your store is run. For instance, at big box stores like Target, an employee logs in once and remains logged in during their time at the register. This is because employees are stationed at a register for a lengthy period of their shift. Whereas at many mall stores, employees log in with each new sale, because they are expected to move out from behind the desk once a sale is over.
5. Mobile Registers
It’s the digital era and at this point, you can’t afford not to have mobile registers. Typically, you’ll want to look for a cloud POS system that has a mobile app so you can run your software on mobile devices (such as iPads).
Mobile registers are fantastic because they allow you to ring someone anywhere in the store — preventing queues. You can also take them on the road and create pop-up shops! But even if you plan to never move your registers from behind a desk, tablets are simply cheaper and less bulky than traditional desktop registers.
6. Customer-facing display
A customer-facing display means that as a customer is being rung, they can watch the transaction happen on a (usually secondary) screen that faces them. Customer facing displays allow customers a high level of transparency into the transaction and can make it easy for them to point out if there are mistakes in the order before it is placed.
This feature is certainly not necessary if it ends up being out of your price range, but should definitely be considered if you have the budget.
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Inventory management is the next segment that you should look for in a retail management system, whether you have 5 products or 5,000. As its name suggests, the inventory component of the system will keep track of all of your products and even help you see which products perform well and which don’t.
7. Bulk product imports
Be sure that whatever retail management system you go with allows you to upload all your products in a bulk upload. Unless you have only a few items on sale, manually uploading each product you have will get tedious and is a waste of your time when you can just get a system that will run a bulk upload.
8. Product variants and composites
Look for a system that allows you to create variants of products. Think about a clothing store, for instance. If they sell the same shirt in six colors, the system should be able to record that as the same shirt in multiple colors rather than as six different shirts.
Composite products are a similar idea. A composite product is a product made out of your pre-existing products. For instance, a wine store might want to be able to sell a case of wine as an item because they provide a 10% discount on cases. Rather than ringing each of the bottles and doing the math to take the discount, their inventory system could allow the associate to ring up a case as an item itself at that lower price.
Your inventory system should be able to print barcodes (or other labeling methods) so that you can keep each of your products neatly tagged and trackable. That barcode allows the inventory system to know exactly where the item is in your system. You’ll use barcodes to scan when an item enters your stock, when you ship it to another store, or when you sell it.
10. Stock and auto-filled orders
Your inventory management system should also make it a snap to order more stock for your store. You should be able to both create the stock order in your system and then send it out to your suppliers through the system.
Some businesses will also benefit from a system that can automatically generate orders for them. If you have some items that are perennial, an auto-filling feature will save you a lot of time.
11. Inventory counts
Inventory counting is tedious but necessary, as you need to track your stock and check for loss. Not only should you use a system that makes your inventory counting easier, but you should use a system that will allow you to use a scanner so you can count digitally rather than manually.
12. Stock Transfers
For a store with more than one physical location, a stock transferring feature is essential. Stock transferring will make it easy for you to transfer items between stores so you can easily move stock from one location to the next.
You may need to run promotions or discounts to move your inventory. Choose a system that lets you do this easily, so you won’t have to worry about manually updating prices or product info when you’re discounting.
A good retail management system will have a pared-down CRM, or customer manager, as a part of its solution, so that you can track all your customer data.
There are fewer features here to talk about because you essentially want a vamped-up address book. You should look for:
14. Searchable customer database
You’ll need your employees to look up a customer each time they ring someone. They’ll attach the sale to the customer’s name so that….
15. Customer history is attached to each profile
Your contact manager needs to record the purchase history of each client. This will allow your associates to return items when the receipt was lost, or even check in and see what a certain customer likes to buy. From a wider view, the purchase history will help you with such things as marketing and merchandising decisions.