What is an EPOS system?

the beginner's guide to epos software

What am I reading?

You’re reading the beginner’s guide to EPOS software features. This is the introduction – we’re going to take you through all the different things that EPOS software can do, right up to the next step – choosing your payment processing.

If you’re totally lost in choosing an EPOS system, and you don’t know where to start with software, this will help orientate you and tell you what to expect. It will describe everything an EPOS can do – and some things that it can’t!

 

How will this guide help me buy an EPOS system?

To buy an EPOS system on this site, first, you need to choose your software. Then, choose your payment processing. Last, choose your hardware.

If you’re lost, we can talk you through the different systems on the market and recommend one to you, and even help you set up a demo with them – but you need to get in touch. We typically make recommendations over the phone – although you can peruse this guide and get a sense of what you’re looking for right here and now.

This guide is to help you understand the software. Most software is customisable anyway – when you’re very small, you’re likely to want the free-but-basic software available from a FreePOS provider.

 

Introduction: what is an EPOS system? 

What is an EPOS System? An EPOS system is a machine designed to help you run and manage your shop or hospitality business. We sell full ones starting at around £595.

An EPOS system is fundamentally a till (or tills) – but it’s also the software that comes with those tills, including your login as a manager. You can understand how your shop is doing, where your inventory is, and how many of products X and Y you’re selling – all through your EPOS. You can even manage your staff, set hours, and integrate with things like your accounting software or online shop. 

An EPOS system is made up of three things: software, hardware, and payment processing. Most of the functions of the EPOS, including all of those described above, are dictated by the software. So it’s important to choose the right one! Then, the payment processing is a contract between you and a bank and moves money from customer cards to your account, for a fee. 

Finally, we – StoreKit – sell the hardware. Our hardware can be used with any cloud-based software, so if you don’t like the software you choose through us, you can simply switch. This is called agnostic hardware. Other hardware is proprietary, meaning that if you don’t like your EPOS system, you’d need to buy a whole new till. If you choose a micros or TISSL POS, or even EPOS Now – you’re choosing proprietary hardware, so there’s a higher sunk cost. 

Choosing can get complex! That’s why we also help merchants choose their software and payments, so if you’re not sure what you need, you’re in the right place. Each of those three parts is billed differently, so it’s tricky to tell what’s the right price.

 Billedas a...and it...
Softwaremonthlyflat monthly feemanages your business
Hardwarebought onceone-of-feesupports the software and payments
Payment Processingper transactionpercent of the transactionmoves money into your account

This guide is designed to list all the different things EPOS software can do from a software perspective. 

 

What does EPOS software do? 

The simplest answer to answering “what is an EPOS system?” is to give a list of the things the software can do. 

An important note – there’s a blurry edge to what an EPOS can do, because software can be programmed to do *anything.* We’d also recommend you use cloud software, for reasons unpacked in this article

Here’s a list of some of the features you might need for your business. If you’re about to buy, we’d recommend going through this with a pen and paper, and writing down what you think you’ll need in these features – then ask us for the right system on the phone.

 

Chapter 1: Front of House

chapter 1: front-of-house

Read front-of-house for retail.

Read front-of-house for hospitality.

At the front-of-house, EPOS software is designed so that you press buttons and sell items. 

With EPOS software, you should be able to easily “return items” and ring through discounts. You might need your software to “translate” between your output (e.g. quiche) and your input (e.g. eggs) via recipe creation, which means your EPOS will continue deducting items from your inventory when you’re selling things in different formats to how you bought them. If you sell items by weight, look out for software which is capable of handling the input/output mismatch.

The toughest demands of an EPOS system on the front-end generally come from the kind of places which have table service. Here, EPOS systems which are set up to handle table service generally have a map of tables which is visible on-screen. You might need “courses” which send through tickets to your kitchen printers with a delay instruction; or which send each part of the docket to a different kitchen workstation. You may then need to override course defaults as people ask for starters as mains. You’re likely to want modifiers such as “gluten free” to be clearly labelled so they can’t be overlooked by the kitchen. There’s also things like “mixed tenders” (cash and card) which cheaper POS software finds difficult; and the stitching of complex journeys from the bar, to a table, and perhaps pushing two tables together.  

 

Feature nameEPOS provider level
Product LibraryVery Basic
Product CategoriesVery Basic
Product Modifier/VariantBasic
Product search by SKU or barcodeBasic
Discount by percentage Basic
Stock availability checksBasic
Invoicing Basic
Easy refundsBasic
Sell products by weightIntermediate
Front-end product creationIntermediate
Loyalty cards/pointsIntermediate
Store credit Intermediate
Custom discountIntermediate
By one get one free Intermediate
Customer facing displayComplex
Scheduled pricing (sales)Complex
Gift aid Complex
Link to email marketing Complex
Input/output differenceComplex
Service-style features for staff Complex
FeatureEPOS provider required
Touch button to sellVery Basic
Product CategoriesVery Basic
Product LibraryVery Basic
Product Modifier/VariantBasic
Order notesBasic
Clear allergen labellingBasic
Order routed to kitchen printerBasic
Product Search by SKU or barcode Basic
Tip ManagementIntermediate
Cash ManagementIntermediate
Loyalty CardIntermediate
Bill splittingIntermediate
Custom Payment MethodsIntermediate
CoursesIntermediate
Recipe creation Intermediate
Customer facing displayComplex
VAT adjustment for eat-in/takeawayComplex
Table MapComplex
Bar tabsComplex
Set menusComplex
Override course defaultsComplex
Bundle / Composite productsComplex
Price scheduling e.g. happy hourComplex
Integration with delivery platformMay require additional software

 

Chapter 2: Reporting

chapter 2: reporting

The “reporting” functions are designed to help you analyse your business. Read chapter 2: reporting.

Reporting can get really interesting – so it depends how nerdy you want to get about what’s making your business successful. Every EPOS, including “freepos” software, should show you a simple log of what products you’ve sold and when. That said, you might find the cheaper software flexible with how it presents the reports, and it won’t break down what factors affect your product performance. Better software will. 

Let’s take a look at those factors. The most important lens through which software can report your performance is the sales data of the business. That means, in addition to price scheduling, it needs to be able to dig into how the price scheduling affects individual performance of individual items so that you can determine how profitable the sales are.

Equally, time of day obviously affects your business – but to what extent? How late would it be profitable to stay open for is the kind of question you can answer with a good EPOS system; and how peak is “peak”, really? When will you need extra staff based on the last time this festival was in town, last year? What kind of surge did you experience?

 

Reporting featuresLevel of software you required
Sales by... productbasic +
Sales by... custom category (e.g. brand) basic +
Sales by... employee mid-level +
Sales by... time of daymid-level +
Sales by... area/table/shelf sophisticated / enterprise
Rigid timeframesvery basic +
Flexible timeframesmid-level +
Throughput analysissophisticated / enterprise
Comparison (month on month) basic +
CSV export very basic +
budgeting tools sophisticated / enterprise
smart suggestions sophisticated / enterprise
Aggregated reporting Integrate with analytics software

 

 

Chapter 3: Inventory Management

Chapter 3: Inventory Management

If you have an inventory, you’ll need inventory management. The basic Freepos systems include a “count” of how many simple items you have sold, and how many items you have left in your inventory. Read chapter 3: inventory management.

At its most basic, it should be able to tell a front-of-house staff member whether something is “in stock” or not. 

You’ll need a slightly better system to handle inventory mapping, however. That should help you identify not just which items are on what shelves in your basement (essential, for anyone who’s ever had to maintain a basement)  but also, which items are available in which of your stores, or your warehouse, with staff permissions such that a staff member can redirect a customer to the other store, or request a transfer.

Also, a good inventory management system manages incoming stock. That could include creating a purchase order, for example, or in some cases, automatically reordering stock back to par stock level. Your system should notify you of any stock price increases – so that you can start looking for a different supplier immediately. You can sometimes schedule deliveries on a good EPOS system. 

Then, your system should help you reduce stock shrinkage, which is basically the unexplained disappearance of stock. This will include things like making it very easy for you to make a stock count – because you can use barcode scanners for example, or because it doesn’t force you to do things like input stock automatically.

 

Inventory Management Feature ListLevel of software required
Quick and practical view of the state of your inventory Mid-level +
Import from and export to .csv / .xlsxvery basic +
Product categorisation and tagging "depth" very basic - enterprise
Translation between in / outsophisticated / enterprise
Inventory Mapping mid-level +
Inventory search across stores mid-level +
E-commerce integration basic +
Create purchase orderbasic +
Low stock notifications mid-level +
Automatic reorder to par stock levels mid-level +
Cost of goods analysismid-level +
Supplier managementmid-level +
Stock count – manual very basic +
Stock count – scanner basic +
Stock count discrepancies report mid-level +
Constant updating (cloud) all StoreKit systems
Multisite stock transfermid-level +
Warehouse / Logistics management integrate with vertical software
Batching (time-bound inventory) sophisticated / enterprise

 

 

Chapter 4: Staff Management & Multi-Store 

chapter 4: EPOS staff and multisite

Why are these two together? 

Because EPOS staff management is fundamentally about permissions, and determining the hierarchy of who can view what.

Most systems have a log of who worked which day; and often there’s a clock-in clock-out option available so you can log who worked which times without dispute. There’s often limited features around the staff rota and calendar in better systems, but if you want things like “rota swapping”, you’d need HR software such as Deputy. 

Most systems will also have basic differentiation around permissions right down to some free software. In particular, you can limit what staff members can access your reporting set-up, including financial data. Multi-store systems are generally on the more complex end for obvious reasons; but expect a greater level of difference between the reporting screens here (usually accessible via online login) and the front-of-house, which will be downloadable apps for your tablet-based tills.

Read chapter 4: multisite and staff.

Multisite & Staff Permissions FeaturesSoftware level required
Different staff views & permission levels (rigid / flexible) basic - enterprise
Clock in / clock out by... card swipebasic +
Clock in / clock out by... fobbasic +
Clock in / clock out by... profile / PINbasic +
Roster planningsophisticated / enterprise
Staff trainingbasic - enterprise
Multisite in reporting mid-level +
Multisite in inventory mid-level +

 

Chapter 5: E-commerce and Marketing

Marketing & E-commerce

If you have an e-commerce store, you’ll need an e-commerce platform. You can think of this as a software which is as broad as EPOS in its scope, but is for online rather than in-store. 

Some software, such as airpos, or Vend, have their own e-commerce options. Usually these are available for a price. Alternatively, you can sometimes integrate your stock and reporting functions across another e-commerce platform, which you’d buy separately. 

There’s a discrete set of software which we’d usually use for marketing. That’s email marketing software, such as MailChimp. Most POS software gives you the option to send customers their receipts, and you can integrate this with your outgoing emails to customers.

Read chapter 5: multisite and e-commerce. (We also have a chapter in our payment guide dedicated to online payment processing.)

 

 

Marketing & Loyalty FunctionLevel of System Required
Loyalty Cardsbasic +
Gift Cardsbasic +
Per £ spent discountbasic +
Per purchase discountbasic +
Buy X get Y freemid-level +
Customer accountsmid-level +
Favourite products sophisticated / enterprise
Visit trackingsophisticated / enterprise
Link to email marketing mid-level +
Email receipts basic +
Custom receipt layoutsbasic +
E-commerce modulemid-level +

.Chapter 6: Integrations

C6 EPOS integrations

Integrations is when two softwares talk to each other. Most significantly, it might mean that your e-commerce software and your EPOS are integrated – that would mean they both pulled from the same inventory figures and that they shared data. Or you might choose to integrate your accounting software and your EPOS – that would mean your accounting software is constantly updating with new sales figures.

This is where we move from individual pieces of software to a software ecosystem.

Read chapter 6 – integrations.

Marketing & Loyalty FunctionLevel of System Required
Loyalty Cardsbasic +
Gift Cardsbasic +
Per £ spent discountbasic +
Per purchase discountbasic +
Buy X get Y freemid-level +
Customer accountsmid-level +
Favourite products sophisticated / enterprise
Visit trackingsophisticated / enterprise
Link to email marketing mid-level +
Email receipts basic +
Custom receipt layoutsbasic +
E-commerce modulemid-level +

 

Chapter 7: EPOS Features Checklist

EPOS features checklist

Are you ready to choose?

If you want a checklist of all the things you want your EPOS to do, which you can peruse – here it is.

Otherwise, give us a ring! Then, we can begin to suggest which softwares have the best features in each category; and the features you need to start your business.

 

Read Next: Choosing Payment Processing

Payments 101

Read an introduction to payment processing. 

Payment processing is the final, and most important, function of an EPOS system. In addition to the software you choose, you need to buy payment processing separately, which you may need to integrate with your software. 

There are two things to consider with payment processing. Do you want your payments integrated or non-integrated? Or do you want them to be contract or pay-as-you-go? 

Non-integrated payment processing is the type you often see when you go to a restaurant. If there’s a group of you waiting to pay, a waiter might come round and take your individual payments one by one, typing the amount into a card reader each time. This means you enter things twice; once into your card reader, and once into your EPOS terminal.

In contrast, integrated payments is when you’re cuing the exact price through the till. You press a button (“bananas”) and then another (“pay by card”) the price automatically loads on the card reader ready for the customer to pay. This is much faster, and except in the case of restaurants, we’d recommend integrated payments. 

Then, pay-as-you-go versus contract: 

Contract is the traditional way of taking payments. 

Contracts are provided by traditional processors. You’d rent an older-looking card machine made by a manufacturer like Verifone or Ingenico for around £15 per month; and your contract will be with a provider like Worldpay, AIB, or Bluebird. Your rate would normally be different for different cards, and would exist in a “percent plus” format, such as 1% + 2p per transaction. The contract normally lasts for two years and could need buying out of if you want to leave. You’ll also need to undergo identity checks. 

Pay-as-you-go is a new type of payment processing contract. 

A pay-as-you-go provider such as iZettle, Sum Up, Square, or some Barclaycard options will charge a flat percent on every card transaction before the money enters your account. You would buy your card reader outright from them – which will usually work out much cheaper than the rental fees of traditional processors. The card readers are the newer-looking ones. They would charge a flat percent such as 1.75% on every transaction, and you can start or stop taking payments whenever you like.

Overall, we’d expect that pay-as-you-go will be cheaper for merchants with average transaction size of less than about £6, such as coffee shops; or who turn over less than £6K per year. Otherwise, a processing contract would be cheaper – but you may still prefer the flexibility of pay-as-you-go.

Which you choose will affect the action you need to take:

 Pay-as-you-goContract
IntegatedCheck you payment and EPOS providers are integrated – then set up the integration through your EPOSCall us and ask about a payment application, which is the connecting bit of software you'll need. This could be a discrete fee.
Non-integratedUse pay-as-you-go processor and any EPOS software. Just buy the card reader, and begin!Use the cheapest traditional processor and any EPOS software. You'll need to undergo some credit checks before you can accept card payments, and it will take around a week.

If you’re using a traditional processor, we’d recommend executing a bidding process. What does this mean? 

 

What Next? 

ready to choose button