How to Choose the Right POS Platform
By Ian Goldman
There are many reasons retailers find themselves shackled by point-of-sale platforms that no longer meet business needs. Whether software restricts growth in emerging channels or lacks compatibility with new standards like EMV, any technology that inhibits forward momentum, must be addressed in short order. It is not uncommon for retailers experiencing growth in scale or strategic direction to outgrow solutions that made sense when initially implemented; that’s when it’s time to reevaluate existing infrastructure and consider alternatives.
To update or upgrade, that is the question
When an existing POS platform iteration is reasonably current and the vendor offers support, updates can sometimes adequately address new needs. Because this solution is generally the fastest, easiest and most cost effective option, the current vendor is almost always the best starting point when researching a platform upgrade. Perhaps an available update addresses every new business need. If so, a comprehensive platform overhaul can be avoided.
If the vendor does not have an appropriate update, or worse, does not support system updates at all, a new POS platform will be necessary. The biggest takeaway from this situation is: Make certain to select a vendor that is progressive and provides frequent updates to accommodate changes in the retail environment. It is almost always less expensive to update retail platforms than it is to replace them. Further, because of the speed at which retail evolves, a platform that never updates cannot be expected to experience a useful life span that exceeds three years.
Finding the features that matter
Evaluating POS solutions effectively requires insight into the bread and butter of specific retail operations. Any system on the market will handle on-site cash and credit card sales out of the box, but the devil is in the feature details. Some platforms excel at integrating inventory and sales between owned ecommerce and brick-and-mortar channels while others are capable of fully integrating catalogs with partners like Amazon and eBay. Thus, understanding the importance of ecommerce isn’t enough; instead, it’s vital to know precisely where sales are coming from.
Similarly, platforms come with varying technological configurations that fit different infrastructure strategies. Thin clients that are web based and independent of operating system make sense for retailers without large IT resources, whereas companies that wish to advance their platforms independently using internal IT teams benefit more from systems that operate on open databases.
Answering questions like “what will be my technology needs after 3-5 years of steady growth?” and “for what customizations will I rely on my vendor?” help in selecting a platform that makes sense and aligning with a partner equipped to best suit future needs.
Plan for the most likely future
Future proofing any technology is a fundamental impossibility because of the unpredictability of what lies ahead, but there are certain predictions that are highly likely to affect all, or at least most, retailers. For the immediate future, we know that the EMV deadline is looming, so any new implementation should absolutely have built-in compatibility with those standards. But what else is on the retail horizon with implications for management technology?