It was a hot summer’s afternoon in Shoreditch, and dixie bikes and polaroid cameras cast long shadows across the dusty tarmac. Hipsters smoked shirtless on the kerb outside coffee houses with strange names in the hush of 1 PM. It smelled of tobacco and EPs.
I had arrived in my trenchcoat and deerstalker hat and was sweating. There was a reason for this: I was doing detective work. I had come to answer a question.
Which EPOS is the coolest?
I mean, sure, no EPOS is really cool. But I had always sort of imagined that iPad-based modern EPOS systems are cooler than their fixed-till predecessors. Apple is one of the coolest companies in the world, and all of the software companies talk about usability and sleek design.
That’s why I had come to Shoreditch. “Cool” is something greater than a business strategy for the stores here: it’s a reason to exist at all. Some of these places are effortlessly cool; others clearly put in lots and lots of effort. So I wanted to ask the merchants what was what, and what they thought.
Folk Coolness Score: 9/10
Lightspeed Coolness Score: 5/10
Folk is a clothing store, which has, according to their website, ‘laid back style.’
Behind the counter was an extremely-trendy looking man wearing the laid-back style of the company; patterns of pastel colours on his trousers; glasses; a moustache.
His name was Johnny, and he worked as the store’s retail manager. This shop was the second of three locations – all in London – and Folk has a substantial e-commerce operation.
Folk use Lightspeed. I asked him what he thought of Lightspeed and he told me that he didn’t like the system.
“We just switched over to lightspeed from TouchRetail, in the premise that it’s going to be all smooth running, and be fancy, and do everything that we want it to do.’
‘And in most ways it does, but what with it being an American system it doesn’t generate the reports that we want.’ For the report style they’d tried to get, he explained, ‘you have to pay for another package. But it’s only available in the US, not the UK.’
He’d found the whole experience pretty frustrating.
‘We use Shopify for our online business, and they do a POS system, so we’re going to look at that really. In the next month, month and a half.’
Lightspeed Retail is one of the EPOS software products available through StoreKit, which we’d associate with larger retail stores, especially with service elements. Although Johnny had a bad experience, it has around four stars from other reviewers there.
But after this, I can hardly describe Lightspeed Retail as the coolest EPOS! So we’ve given it a cool score of 5/10. I wondered whether Johnny thought I looked good in my deerstalker, or what it would retail at on Folk’s website.
Suvlaki coolness score: 6/10
TISSL coolness score: 4/10
I turned onto Brick Lane, which is in the news – the vanguard of gentrification, where curry houses give way to emergent hipster coffee shops and cereal bars designed to serve the new middle class residents of Bethnal Green and Hackney.
Suvlaki is a Greek restaurant with two locations. One on Brick Lane, and one in Soho. Here, the white steel door gate, and the flat stone exterior with graffiti by the door give it the appearance of a genuine Athens restaurant, and a cool hideaway in the intense afternoon sun. Greece, I thought, is pretty cool.
I was greeted by a waiter who did not own the store. I asked him whether he agreed Greek food was a cool cuisine and he nodded in polite agreement.
Suvlaki use TISSL, which we’d think of as a legacy POS. On this website, we sell tablet-based POS systems – in Suvlaki, there was a till which looked like it had been bought specifically to use with TISSL. That meant that there was a high sunk cost, which can make people reluctant to switch to a different system.
We generally prefer the new generation of POS software. But that’s not to say TISSL is a bad system – and it looks like they have made some in-roads modernising their system. For example, it’s now possible to make TISSL cloud-based.
The waiter seemed pretty happy with TISSL. He hadn’t used another POS before and he was not involved with the choice.
Do you ever get frustrated with it? I asked.
I asked a few more questions with similarly short answers. What did he think of the features? They were ok. Did he find it easy to use? Sure. Had he ever wanted to do something with it he couldn’t? Not really.
The conclusion? TISSL is fine but difficult to make conversation about. I don’t know whether that makes it cool or not. It didn’t stir strong emotion – but then maybe it isn’t the duty of a good cool EPOS to stir strong emotion. Whenever I’ve encountered really strong emotions about a POS system, it’s been anger. TISSL gets a 4/10 for cool.
3. Darling & Gold/Shopify POS
Darling & Gold coolness: 6/10
Shopify coolness score: 7/10
Darling & Gold is a store which, from the website, ‘is for the modern vintage lover.’ The Shoreditch branch is the second of two branches, the original being on Chatsworth Road in Clapton, which is also quite a cool road.
I met the owner of both shops, who was stood sorting stock in a moment of quiet.
‘We use Shopify POS’, she said, which she was happy with. ‘The best thing about it is that it fits with our website, and our inventory, and we have so much stock – so many different products – that without it we couldn’t run a business.’
‘My only complaint is that the actual machinery you get for the card is a little dated.’ That’s Shopify’s “tap, chip and swipe reader” for their POS product – not as modern-looking as iZettle’s card reader, or Square’s flagship “square” card reader. It’s still arguably better looking than a traditional Verifone reader that comes with a long-term processing contract, though.
‘We looked at Vend for a little bit – but it was going to cost us for the equipment and the training – it was more money to essentially do the same thing, so why bother?’
She had been using Shopify for three years. ‘The year before that we used iZettle, but they don’t track stock. That’s why we switched.’
‘I like that if you don’t like an aspect of what they do, you can get a plug-in and change it,’ she added.
We agree that integrations are something that are really important. That’s because lots of software brands advertise themselves as swiss army knives – they say they do every function possible, and really well. In our experience, software for your business works a little better as a tool kit – where lots of different software products do different functions. But for this to work, they all need to integrate with one another. And bigger companies like Shopify generally have larger numbers of integrations available.
That said, they do sometimes incentivise you to use their preferred partners in annoying ways. For example, with online payment processing, you have to pay a fee to Shopify per payment if you don’t want to use their own.
4. Greenhouse/Sum Up
Greenhouse cool score: 10/10
Sum Up cool score: 9/10
I could tell Greenhouse was cool because I had no idea what they sold, even after I entered the store. It was a botanic wonderland: plants everywhere. There were iPads, and a bike made entirely out of wood.
I spoke to Philip, who managed the store. ‘We’re using Sum Up because we were looking for something quick’, he said. ‘It didn’t have a long onboarding process – there’s a few like iZettle and Square. Some of the others take weeks to get started.’
Sum Up, along with iZettle, and Square, are two-in-one solutions which means they do free EPOS along with payment processing. The big advantage of two-in-one solutions versus traditional payments companies like worldpay is that they’re much faster to set up – you can start and stop processing whenever.
Philip was ambivalent about the EPOS software – “it does the job” he said – but he appreciated the flexibility. They were a new store, and he hadn’t wanted to get trapped in a long-term processing contract he didn’t need. Better to start with Sum Up and see how he got on.
5. E2 Vapes/iZettle
E2 Vapes cool rating: 7/10
iZettle cool rating: 8/10
I used to vape, but I decided the average vape user was much cooler than me, and felt too self-conscious to continue. Today, stood in my Sherlock Holmes outfit, I realised that a vape is the modern descendent of the pipe. It’s very cool.
I had to know what EPOS software one of Shoreditch’s vape shops were using. E2 vapes was the second store that the original E1 vapes had opened.
When I entered, I immediately spotted the iZettle card reader. I could tell it was new, because it had the green button – meaning they were using the iZettle card reader 2, which was launched this year.
Behind the counter, Ronnie, who managed this store, explained that it was a new shop. “Yeah, we have no complaints. Of course, it’s a new business, so it’s going to take time. We don’t do loads of card transactions at the minute. In the first branch we were using a card machine from Verifone.”
“[iZettle] is pretty easy to be honest, you can send the receipt by email which is better. Saving the environment.”
6. Flashback Records/FileMaker
Flashback Records cool rating: 10/10
FileMaker cool rating: 8/10
Flashback Records is a chain of three record stores in Islington, Shoreditch, and Crouch End. I was stood between dazzling collections of Pink Floyd, and Aphex Twin – in a basement with no windows while other weekday shoppers fingered the different collections. I realised I had found it – the coolest place in Shoreditch.
I hadn’t heard of FileMaker, which made me think it wasn’t a POS system in the traditional sense. Or perhaps this was the prerogative of the record store manager – perhaps he had found a talented software house which hadn’t yet become mainstream.
Looking online, FileMaker describes itself as a ‘workplace innovation platform’. This is classic B2B marketing speak, and when you see something super vague like this, it usually means “our software can be anything you want it to be.” And sure enough, closer inspection reveals you can create “custom apps’ with FileMaker for all your different work needs. If you prefer, you can download app templates on the platform which work for specific functions, such as CRM, or invoicing.
That means most of the functions we’d associate with a POS – invoicing, reporting, stock management – can be done through FileMaker, although we’d expect fewer payment integrations to be available. We can’t comment on its effectiveness because we’ve never used it – so in a sense, the second option was right. The record store owner had found the alternative choice.
When I asked whether he liked it, he said:
‘The problem with FileMaker is that the owner of the business has created the way it works. It’s just a bit of a blank template and you set it out how you like it. So I can’t blame the actual system itself for its shortcomings – I can blame my boss for the way he set it up. So I can’t blame the system for the way it’s set up – it’s my boss’ brain.’
I said it sounded like he wanted to criticise it – even if “it” was his boss’ brain, and not the platform itself.
‘Considering the specific things we do here, he’s done quite a good job of setting it out,’ he said. ‘And the good thing about it is it’s very easy to edit, and if I have a problem with it, and a suggestion, and he thinks the suggestion is a good idea, it’s easy to ask.’
‘I have used the same thing in a different environment – at a distribution for a record label tracking their stock – and it was completely different.’
Most software for business exists on a spectrum, from bespoke to templated. The bespoke software tends to be a hassle and more expensive. The templated software tends to be cheaper but inflexible if you want something really specific.
Every software house would like to be able to deliver bespoke features to each individual company which are cheap and no hassle – but that isn’t how it works. Companies like Lightspeed are a great example of software we’d think of as fairly customisable with a lot of features; but they clearly didn’t have the exact right feature for Folk. For other merchants, they would be too customisable, and Lightspeed would be a fairly hefty price tag for a bunch of features they’d never use.
Merchants starting out like E2 Vapes or Greenhouse are making a great choice with two-in-one solutions (sometimes called “payfacs”) which are among the least flexible from the perspective of their POS software. But they’re cheap, easy to set up, and you can stop whenever. If you outgrow their POS but want tocontinue to use them for payments, they have lots of integrations available.
But for that reason, iZettle and Sum Up have won the competition to become the coolest EPOS.