If you’ve clicked around this website and you can’t find your own EPOS, that’s not necessarily an accident. The systems on this website are a curated list, and we’re not comfortable working with every single EPOS system out there. This blog will explain how we choose EPOS to recommend and why we choose the EPOS we do.
A Very Very Rapid History of EPOS
Back in the 1990s, two or three companies swept into stores and built the first widely-available EPOS systems. Companies like McDonald’s bought them. Rich, forward-thinking, and rich.
Fast-forward 20 years, and the only new customers left were independent stores – everybody else had an EPOS already. So some companies began to bring out simple and affordable generic systems designed for them to win those customers. Those are the ones we recommend.
The other half decided that it would be more lucrative to try to find ways to make money out of existing customers – generally by finding creative ways to bill them more. Those are the ones we don’t.
You might be tempted to assume it’s not as black and white as that, but systems tend towards one pole or the other. All EPOS systems can be frustrating, but there’s definitely right and wrong answers.
If you’re considering software that isn’t on this site, we’d love to hear from you. Either we know why we don’t recommend it; or you’ve struck upon something new which we’d love to hear about.
How to run a Very Very Bad EPOS Company
To rip somebody off, it needs to be difficult and expensive for them to leave you.
So if you’re an EPOS provider, at the outset, you should tie cheaper fees to extremely long-term contracts. You also want hardware on which you can only use your software so they’d need to buy new hardware to leave.
These, in strategy terms, are called a moat. Like a castle’s moat. You don’t have to fight your enemy (or competitor) if they’re on the other side of a moat.
Then, you make your fees as complex as possible. Make sure that you include only some of the fees in your quotes, so that existing customers will think they’re paying less than they are. Jam in even more hidden costs for non-specific stuff and random acronyms. For bonus points, you should enforce exorbitant installation costs if they want an extra till. Pop in the smallprint of an earlier contract that any further installations have to be done by you.
Third, you ratchet up the cost of upgrades. That one’s easy. But you need to drive people to really badly need those upgrades – which you can do by eliminating services supporting the older software, and not doing any maintenance work. If it’s expensive enough for them to go elsewhere, and the old software is glitchy enough, they’ll upgrade.
Then, to make things worse, you need to make sure that your EPOS system has what’s called a “closed API” (API = application programming interface). This means that all the levers in your software are a closely guarded secret that developers from other software companies can’t mess with.
Why is that bad?
Because when somebody buys something, you probably want it to automatically deduct the item from your stock, add the money to your bank account, update your sales record, and let your accounting software know that you’ve sold something. The whole point of EPOS is that it’s the business “heart” of a store, and a heart is significantly less useful when it won’t connect to the other major organs. Integration means that something happening in one bit of software will affect the other. So, can you integrate with your accounting software? Can you integrate your own choice of payment processor? Can you integrate with your online shop?
This is often possible with closed APIs – for a price. This is where the hidden fees really kick in, because some providers will charge thousands and thousands of pounds for an integration. The more you charge your customer, the more invested they will be in your software, and the more you can charge them. Rinse and repeat.
That’s a worst-case scenario. It’s also extremely common. Software like this is not only expensive, but because it’s uncompetitive, nobody is bothering to make it easy to use. Sometimes software makes your life easier, and sometimes makes it harder. If you’ve used both kinds, you know which is which.
We’ve sat and tried the ones on our website, and we’re always keen to hear user reviews.
What makes a good EPOS?
1. It’s open software
I go through how “closed software” works above – so “open software” normally comes with a bunch of free integrations. That’s why we tend to think about everything you’re buying at once – if you want our advice, we’re happy to chat through some of the different software-types on the market and whether they can integrate with software you own.
In some cases, you can buy an integration from a third party. They will always charge (there are some businesses which build integrations and sell them – and that’s their whole deal) but we generally recommend choosing an EPOS with plenty of free integrations the company have done themselves. Then, you have lots of software to choose for which can plug in to your existing stuff.
2. You can use different hardware or devices
Specifically, it can use “non-proprietary” hardware – hardware designed to work with any software. Most of the best EPOS systems work with a tablet as the main computer – iPad, or Android.
Most of the best EPOS systems out there can work with any tablet as the main computer. They do this because they can just wrap the software into an app which anybody can download and buy. We like that – it means it’s easy to go elsewhere and you probably already have some of the kit you need.
(This is with the exception of card readers, which are always specific to their payment processor. Some EPOS systems have payments built-in, so they would require a specific card reader.)
3. They’re easy to set up
Another side-effect of using commercially-available hardware this is that installation fees are optional. Our favourite EPOS vendors are designed to be easy to set up – and most of the companies have customer service hotlines included in their price who can talk you through a set up if you need help.
4. Your contract is only as long as your billing cycle
Software-as-a-Service (or “SaaS” if you’re cool) means you’re billed monthly or annually rather than per upgrade. The reason we recommend this isn’t that it’s inherently better to be billed monthly; it’s that products in this bucket are generally more competitive on price and quality than their predecessors. It happens that nearly all the open software is also SaaS, because it’s seen as “the” way to do business nowadays.
If you’re curious about how the maths checks out here, we can talk you through this versus a proprietary example over the phone. The cheapest SaaS EPOS on the market is free.
5. They tend to use the cloud
A cloud is made out of data centres, which are large, physical things, full of bits of information. The data centres are put in secure locations (underwater, underground, space) all over the world, and your info is stored on a few data centres. If you use Google Drive, or a Facebook account, some of your data is already on the cloud.
They put it there because:
A. You can access the cloud from any device with WiFi. Practically, that means you can log into your EPOS backend at home from your smartphone.
B. It means you don’t have to buy and maintain an internal server yourself. Which is expensive, a hassle, and might need to comply with data protection laws. (You can read the law in question here.) These laws were brought in in part because there were too many hacks going on – generally because of locally stored card data.
C. It’s easier to make your software “open” if it works via a cloud.
6. They have simpler pricing
Simple pricing means that you can simply compare; which means that more expensive providers have to justify that extra price.
They also have far fewer hidden fees. We’re trying to sniff out where the hidden fees are and where they’re not. If you’ve been hit by a hidden fee from one of the vendors on our website, let us know. We take this sort of thing into consideration when we’re recommending EPOS systems to people like you.
7. They have better customer support
The thing about EPOS is that it’s so vital to a shop that if it goes down, you go down with it.
In the pay-per-upgrade model, that’s leverage. You want people to upgrade; therefore you want it to cost more to be on the older system; therefore you want it to fail occasionally. If you’re paying monthly or annually, that’s an extremely bad thing so the bigger ones all have 24/7 call centres available if something screws up.
If customer service is important to you let us know in a call and we’ll relay feedback about the different vendors.
8. They’re aimed at more specific groups of people – like you
The older software is more likely to be one-size-fits-all, with some custom changes for each installation. You have to buy hardware X, pay for the installation, promise to use it for forty years, and have a consultative customisable session where everything gets built around you. That suits a huge company; but not an independent store or chain. It’s expensive, and you don’t always know what you need.
The new entrants in this market are designed for widespread adoption by lots of small stores. It’s a closer product-market fit. At the very least, they tend to be aimed at either retail or hospitality (except at the bottom of the market) but it gets more specific. Some of them are better suited to cafes, or QSR, or large restaurants – so you can find one with the right functions, based on what other people need.
And that’s more or less it.
We work with a curated list of vendors we’ve picked out based on our experience. Our CEO used to work as a payments consultant so he knew what was out there well before he started StoreKit. Now, we’re beginning to index them on the site, and we’re focused on building out more voices from people like you to help determine which is the best software to recommend.
Beyond this, different providers are better suited to different needs – e.g. really sophisticated table categorisation, or rapidity, or complex reporting. If you want to learn in more detail which EPOS to choose we’d recommend you give us a call.
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