EPOS systems FAQ

EPOS basics image

EPOS Systems FAQ

This page is designed to answer some of the more common questions we get about EPOS systems.

What’s the difference between EPOS Software and Payment Processing? 

A EPOS system is composed of three elements. Hardware, EPOS Software, and Payment Processing.

EPOS software is the software which helps you manage your business. So you download an app, and then in the app, there’s a screen where you tap buttons to indicate that somebody has bought item X. Then it does things like add the money to your accounting balance sheet, deduct the item from your inventory, and send you reports which tells you what you’ve sold in this week or quarter. You can keep track of how your inventory is looking, understand your performance better, manage your staff, and keep track of orders, using EPOS software. If you had EPOS software but no payment processing, you’d be able to run your business to a tee – but not accept cards. You’d use all the hardware except a card reader. You’d normally pay monthly.

Payment Processing is a financial contract plus a card reader. The cost is the cost that your payment provider levees to move money from the customer’s wallet to your account. You have a choice between pay-as-you-go or a long-term contract here. If you had a payment processor without EPOS software, you’d have to manually enter each amount you wanted to buy on the card reader, and as the customer tapped the card, it would accept the money to your bank account – but you’d have no way of keeping track of what you had and hadn’t sold.

An integration is when your payment processing and your EPOS software talk to each other. You’d press the button to indicate that somebody is about to buy an item via your EPOS app, and then your card reader would automatically display the correct price for someone to pay with their card. When payment is complete, your payment processing would tell your EPOS – and that would cue the EPOS to update. We advise you choose EPOS software first and then payment processing which corresponds to your software.

Some systems provide both payment processing AND EPOS software in one go. These are known as Freepos, and you can read about them here.

 

ElementBilledExample
SoftwareMonthly Rate per Till£19 per month
PaymentsPercent of card transactions1.75%
HardwareSingle cost for all hardware£625

 

 

What’s the difference between cloud and “fixed till” systems?

In short, the older systems are not likely to be “cloud-based”, which has a bunch of implications. A “cloud” is just a huge computer owned by a technology company. If you store your “data” on the “cloud” rather than on a computer (“server”) you own yourself, it has lots of implications. You probably already use the cloud: if you have a Facebook, or a Google account, some of your data is being stored on a cloud already.

With cloud-based systems:

  1. You can log in to your account on any device

On older systems, you may only be able to log-in to your account via a computer connected to the computer (“server”) you keep all your information on. That may mean that you cannot log-in to your account from, say, your personal laptop; so, if your server is kept in the pub or bar, you won’t be able to view your account information from your home.

2. Everything updates automatically across all devices

On older systems, at the end of the day, you may have to link up the different terminals and load all the data out to the main server, meaning that the figures on each device may not be accurate in real-time.

3. You don’t have to worry about data protection

If you keep a server yourself, you’re liable for the maintenance and protection of that server, and if that server is stolen, you may have to email all former customers to inform them of a data breach. (Full law here). In contrast, if you use a cloud-based service, your cloud provider (probably Amazon or Google) is responsible for the upkeep of their server.

4. They’re hardware-agnostic

Finally, the best thing about the newer systems is that you only need to buy your hardware once. (That said, do be careful about exactly which receipt printer you buy – and give us a call if you’re not sure which one you need). Theoretically, you can buy any hardware for any system – which is mostly true! But there are some asterisks, so do give us a quick ring before pressing “order” and we can make sure you have the right thing in your basket.

 

Is an iPad as powerful as a “fixed-till” system? 

This is something which often gets cited by salespeople for fixed-till systems.

This is technically correct, but is sometimes used to imply something which is not true – that iPads will be slower or less able to execute a job than fixed-till systems.

First, let’s understand what the words mean. Usually, ‘powerful’ refers to the technical specs of a CPU (the “core processing unit” is the brain of the computer).

There’s two technical specs which are most important here. The first is something called clock speed, which is measured in MHz or GHz (1GHz = 1000 MHz) and determines the number of operations a CPU can execute in a second. The second is RAM, (“random access memory”) which functions as a halfway house where data is stored between being used by the CPU and being fetched from (in the case of cloud computing) a remote server across the sea. Think of it as the amount of space on a desk to put different files. Eventually, when you start performing enough tasks, you run out of space.

On hard technical specs, it’s true that iPads are less ‘powerful’ than a fixed-till. For example, the iPad Pro (the newest iPad) runs at 2.16 GHz and has 2GB of RAM. A laptop, by comparison, is likely to have something like 2.5GHz and more like 4GB of RAM. So it’s correct that an iPad is less powerful than a PC, and we’d expect most fixed tills to use PC-style hardware.

But what’s implied – that this will mean your POS will run slower – is false, and the argument is misleading.  First, measuring power in this way has lots of caveats. Some computers run multiple CPUs at lower clock speeds; Apple is very good at achieving high speeds on low technical specs, because they build the hardware and the software so it translates very efficiently. Instead, the new way of testing is a “benchmark test” where the performance of iPads and computers tends to be closer, albeit with laptops still ahead.

More importantly, with cloud-computing, the heavy lifting of computing – in terms of data retrieval, calculations, and general processing – is likely to take place in on a server owned by Google or Amazon. That server is going to boast much higher technical specs than a run-of-the-mill commercial laptop, or the kind of hardware used in a fixed-till system. That means that all the iPad is responsible for is accessing a single platform, for which 1 GHz is well below what you need.

iPads and theft

iPads are not tills, and it’s understandable to worry that iPads will be a theft risk.

But you can take several precautions to mitigate the risk of theft:

  1. Lock the iPad down using a secure stand bought via StoreKit
  2. Move the iPad to a secure location at night
  3. Take general iPad precautions, including a password, and find-my-iPhone software

Do all of the above. We sell stands which can be effectively bolted to a till. Such stands can also be unscrewed at the end of the day so that iPads can be taken to a secure location and locked away. Some, like our cheaper Heckler range, require you to buy a separate lock, called a Kensington Bolt Lock, to secure it inside. Others encase the iPad entirely so that it’s impossible for it to be quickly “swiped”.

Finally, find-my-iPhone can be installed on iPads, and there’s similar software available for Android and Windows tablets if you shop around. This will enable you to check where the thief has got to with your iPad and will be useful in police correspondence!

Cloud-systems and the internet

EPOS systems which use the cloud require an internet connection in order to work.

The speed of the internet you choose is only likely to be a factor if you’re running multiple devices and software off of one internet connection. Even a modest internet speed such as 2mbps should be OK unless you have unusually complex requirements, or other things are sharing the bandwidth. The stability of the connection is much more important than its speed.

Some cloud-systems are “cloud-only” which means they cease to work when the internet cuts out. In a few cases, this means you cannot open them at all. Some of these will have partial use available.

More cloud-systems describe themselves as “hybrid” and having “offline mode” which means that partial use of the system is available when the internet is down.  During a demo, if a system is touted as “hybrid’, make sure you get a full answer out of your sales rep about exactly what functions will and will not work without internet; there’s a full spectrum here.

One technical bit worth wrapping your head around is that the “internet” is different to “WiFi”. Think of WiFi as a network of roads between your different devices and a router. Think of the internet as the motorway which runs into the town and through the router as its gateway to the town. Many “offline” modes will assume that the internet “motorway” is not coming into the town “road system” WiFi; but that that road system will still exist and the devices are still connected. Therefore, some functions in hybrid may still require “WiFi”, because functions which work across multiple devices need those devices to be connected, whether they’re connected to the outside world or not. If your printer is connected to your device via WiFi, you will need WiFi to print, which you may still have when the internet is down. (As an aside, in this metaphor, the “town” is often called a local area network, or LAN).

How to prevent internet outages

In the case of an internet outage, it’s important to take preventative measures. These will be “lines of defence” which can help you back-up your internet connection.

Your main internet connection should be via router, which you can connect to via WiFi. If you’re specifically concerned about the WiFi connection here, it is possible to buy an extra adapter which can connect your iPad to your router via an ethernet connection, which is physical, and more secure. As explained  in the previous section, your WiFi is not your internet and this will only solve an issue which relates to your WiFi.

If your internet goes out, one second line of defence could be a SIM card which uses 3G or 4G internet which you can insert into some iPads. (For market traders, this will usually be the first line of defence). At the point at which your internet breaks, you can set your device to default to this internet in order to continue working and processing payments.

The third line of defence could be a 3G or 4G internet dongle which works in exactly the same way as a SIM, but plugs into the router. If you have the wrong kind of iPad to insert a SIM, this can work as a second line of defence too.

A fourth and final line of defence would be a SIM embedded inside your card reader. A quick reminder: payment processing and EPOS systems are not the same thing. (EPOS = software for all things pub; processing = the financial, legal, and telecoms system which moves money from their card to your bank). For hybrid and fixed-till systems which ‘work offline’, you will be able to quickly and easily accept cash payment, but you still may not be able to accept payment.

Assuming your processing is integrated, card readers work off the same internet as your EPOS system so losing internet for your EPOS will also affect your ability to accept cards. But the same does not apply in reverse; when relying on a card reader SIM, you’d have to manually enter every purchase value into the card reader – which may not be appropriate for a high throughput pub.

Assuming that there’s absolutely no way you can access the internet, it’s still theoretically possible to accept card payments, but we’re getting into specialist equipment and scenarios. The London Underground, and international flights, both use offline payment processing. In both cases, the fee is only leveed to the cardholder’s account some time after the transaction has taken place, which means that the merchant takes on additional risk. If you’re interested in this kind of payment processing, contact our specialist payment experts who would be happy to advise.

iPads and wet/messy hands

iPads will break if you get them wet enough.

How wet? We’ve not done wide-scale testing, but generally we’ve been surprised by how few customers have reported breaking their iPads due to moisture from the work environment. Usually, staff are fluent with the principles around getting iPads wet, and this is a manageable risk but which nonetheless requires attention.

There’s a few quick principles you can employ to mitigate this risk:

  1. Give staff an easy way to dry their hands next to the iPad station
  2. Fix the iPad in a stand on a dry part of the bar; and in a stand which is elevated from the bar itself.
  3. Insert a tempered glass screen over the front of the iPad.

Why am I paying a monthly fee rather than just buying a bit of software? 

Cloud-based systems tend to be “Software-as-a-Service” rather than proprietary software, which just means that you rent them, like Spotify or Netflix. For many shopkeepers this is an unwelcome change, who felt more in control with the system when they bought the software outright.

There are some great things about SaaS you can compensate yourself with, however. Software from SaaS companies is likely to be better software. This is because non-SaaS companies tend to produce different versions (1.0, 1.1, 1.2) and invite you to pay for upgrades, which means that they cease investing in fixing problems with the old versions, allow the old versions to get glitchy, and in the worst cases, actively make the old versions worse to encourage people to pay for upgrades. (This happens with hardware, too, with some mobile phone operators promising not to degrade the batteries in their older phones to prompt people to upgrade.) Paying monthly means you’re always on secure, fast, up-to-date software.

Also, Software-as-a-Service means what it says. The “service” element of SaaS EPOS is superior to fixed-till EPOS support. Especially at the top range, you’ll find these software companies have 24/7 support teams who can help you get set-up or troubleshoot.

 

Why am I paying monthly rather than just getting free software?

This depends on how much you want out of a system, and how much you need.

We do sell “free” systems, and if a free system is right for you, then you can get one through StoreKit.

But the word “sell” is correct – free POS systems are not really free. They don’t charge a monthly bill, but they do typically charge around 1.75% for payment processing. That’s market rate for small merchants, but for larger merchants (like pubs) that’s an expensive rate. In addition, free software tends to be very basic. It does not include inventory management, for example.

Whether or not you need the extra features which come with better EPOS is a decision for you – if you’re a pop up, or a market stand, we’d certainly recommend a free system. For pubs, £30 per month is about three hours work for one of your staff members who earns £10 per hour. A bigger system is very likely to save more than three hours. Or put another way: £30 per month is one 2 ltr bottle of vodka. Without inventory management software the scope for tracking purchases like this easily disappear. We strongly believe that good software is worth the extra money, when you reach a certain size – and that size is probably smaller than the smallest pubs.

The final free POS software which does not do payment processing is Loyverse. Loyverse (uniquely) run a freemium business model. Some very basic functions are free, but they generally scale with the market in terms of extra functions. Loyverse do not have a customer support line.

Do I have to use iPads?

That depends on the system. If you’re looking to use an Android or a Windows tablet, or your smartphone, just ask one of our experts and we can let you know whether the system you’re interested in will work on the tablets you have.