Emphasizing the POSitive: Tablets and Apps for Small Business Point of Sale

Tablet computers and mobile-enabled POS systems have revolutionized the way small businesses handle debit, credit and ePayment transactions. mPOS, or mobile point of sale, combines the portability of tablets with cloud-based solutions so you can serve customers anytime, anywhere and have easy access to your business data from any location.

Yet data from Austin-based Software Advice™, a website with POS system comparisons and reviews for retailers, shows that 21 percent of small business owners still operate without a POS system, relying instead on spreadsheets, paper ledgers or handwritten receipts. Not surprisingly, 42 percent are looking to replace their current POS for something better. Are you one of them?

Here are some key considerations for choosing a tablet for POS, and some recommendations for mPOS apps.

Tablets & Readers for Payment Processing

When searching for a tablet to serve as your POS terminal, evaluate these factors:

  • Security. While the new EMV card readers [AS1] add extra layers of security, your tablet needs to be secure, too. Select models with secure login (fingerprints, voice, retina) and on-board encryption for the data you do store.
  • Processing Speed. Nobody likes waiting in line, so buy as much processing power as you can afford. Make sure to check your mPOS provider’s recommendations for minimum system requirements.
  • Durability. “No matter how careful and well-trained retail staff may be, human error will still happen,” notes Justin Guinn, market researcher at Software Advice. “For this reason, it might be worth looking into ruggedized tablets or ruggedized tablet cases that are built to withstand drops or wear and tear. These ruggedized tablets provide a little extra insurance on these valuable assets.”
  • Important Extras. “Look for devices offering long battery life…native USB and port support for managers, and native support for a keyboard dock or stylus,” notes Peter Han, vice president of worldwide OEM marketing for Microsoft®.

As for the card readers, Guinn says “although most offerings have improved their readers, some iPad® and/or iPhone-based card readers can be very fragile and not very dependable. One of the key benefits of these systems is streamlining the point-of-sale process by conducting transactions where the customer is. However, having to swipe the card multiple times or adjust and readjust the card reader isn’t very conducive to this streamlining.” Check with colleagues and trade groups, as well as online reviews, to find a model that can stand up to your business.

Apps for Payment Processing

The Software Advice research found that 78 percent of businesses want systems that offer “sophisticated inventory management capabilities”, and 49 percent desire functions like customer relationship management (CRM) and loyalty programs.

Amad Ebrahimi, founder of Merchant Maverick, an Orange, CA-based firm that provides reviews, ratings and comparisons of merchant services and POS software, offers this quick overview of popular POS options to help you choose:

  • Square appeals to many small business owners because it charges no monthly fee and its rate of 2.75 percent is very affordable. It also supports inventory tracking, invoicing and CRM.
  • Flint is a good general mPOS solution. “They have solid customer support and offer the ability to accept debit payments, which is something that most mobile processors don't offer,” Ebrahimi explains. “They also have good inventory management features and direct integration with QuickBooks®.”
  • Shopkeep is popular with small brick-and-mortar retailers. “They offer everything you need to run a retail shop, including the ability to print and scan bar codes, inventory management, gift cards, loyalty/rewards and QuickBooks integration,” Ebrahimi says.
  • Vend and Shopify, which support eCommerce, are better solutions for etailers or brick-and-mortar shops with some online business.
  • TouchBistro and Revel “were created with the restaurant owner in mind,” Ebrahimi says. “They offer the unique features that only restaurants would need like floor management, online reservations, print-to-kitchen, split payments, etc.” Smaller coffee shops and cafés might prefer Shopkeep or Square, which have fewer specialty features but are easier to use.

“The fact that tablets are cloud-based means managers can add and remove features as needed, via simple app store interfaces,” explains Russell Harty, senior vice president, key account and partner channels, for Merchant Warehouse, a Boston-based customer engagement solutions developer. “The flexibility of these options means merchants can adapt and adopt in real time to meet their customers’ needs.”

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