This article is courtesy of Idealware, which provides candid information to help nonprofits choose effective software. For more articles and reviews, go to www.idealware.org.
Point of sales, or POS, systems help manage the transaction between a buyer and seller and typically support physical rather than online storefronts. Far more than just a cash register or credit card terminal, POS systems consist of various combinations of software, hardware, and services to keep track of everything from items, prices, taxes, sale date and time, discounts, and payments.
They can also handle returns and voided transactions, and some POS software will support related needs, ranging from inventory management to sales and accounting reports.
Transactions can't live in a vacuum — they've got to be tracked to keep your books balanced, and many POS systems connect or report out to separate accounting software. Some have their own built-in e-commerce systems or can connect to your existing system to allow your NGO to integrate point of sales information with online storefronts.
Part of the appeal of POS software is that it can run on a variety of computer hardware, from standard desktop systems and laptops to mobile devices like Android phones and tablets, iPhones, and iPads, making it a viable and affordable choice for small businesses, nonprofits, and charities.
Some POS systems can be combined with cash drawers or price display monitors to make them more "customer-friendly." They're often sold as "all in one" or "integrated" systems that contain all the hardware needed to process sales, including a computer, a touch-screen keypad for data entry, a receipt printer, POS software, a cash drawer, bar code scanner, "price poles" that display prices to customers, and a credit card terminal.
You don't need a POS system to take credit card payments — some card readers, like the Square, plug in directly to your smartphone or tablet, and there are a number of other ways to accept credit card payments. (For more information, see A Few Good Methods For Processing Credit Cards.) But if you want to use your POS system to take credit card payments, you'll need a payment processing service and merchant account to collect money from customer accounts and a credit card reader, or terminals, to swipe cards on site.
There are several options to consider: cloud-based services, which are the least expensive and the most limited in terms of features; services specialized for nonprofits, which offer lots of potentially useful features and also cost more; all-around POS systems, which are not specialized for nonprofits but may have additional features of interest; and open-source systems, which require more technical expertise but may be attractive due to cost or ideological reasons.
Cloud-based solutions are becoming increasingly popular for the ease of setup and affordable, predictable pricing they offer. These systems offer easier integrations with multiple storefronts, social media promotion, and support for mobile devices.
Posterita is a newer cloud-based point of sales solution, offered for free to clients. They profit through means other than licensing to clients, including e-commerce integration, customizations, support, and app development fees. They use preferred payment processors to complete payment transactions — nonprofits may need to switch payment processors.
ZingCheckout is a simple POS system with a free version that's appropriate for cash-only, single-store, single-user storefronts. To use ZingCheckout to process credit card payments through the vendor's preferred payment processors, additional licensing is required at $49 per month.
Cashier Live starts at $20 per month for a single store with up to three registers and unlimited users. The vendor offers hardware bundles that work with the service, including stationary and mobile POS register systems.
POS Systems Specialized for Nonprofit Needs
A few systems stand out for their efforts to support POS processes common to many nonprofits.
Blackbaud's Altru is designed to comprehensively support museum management, one component of which is storefront POS, including museum gift shops, ticketing, and facilities reservations. In addition, Altru serves as a constituent management system for managing a museum's donor and membership management, volunteer management, mass email marketing, and more. The system starts at $10,000 per year including unlimited users, setup, and training and can increase in price depending on the level of configuration or customization support required to meet specific needs.
Cougar Mountain has developed the DENALI suite of software targeting accounting and POS needs for businesses. The POS system software integrates with Cougar Mountain's DENALI accounting systems and connects with its DENALI FUND accounting system for nonprofits. The POS system lets nonprofits designate products to apply to specific funds, which can help in cases where restricted grants require specific tracking of sold items. Cougar Mountain offers hardware bundles as well, providing the touch screen, computer, price poles, scanners, and receipt printers needed to complete a POS system. Cougar Mountain software and service is tailored to each client's needs, and they do not offer predetermined pricing. Pricing for a single register software system starts at $5,000, including accounting integration.
All-Around POS Choices
A popular all-around choice, the Intuit POS solution provides an easy user interface that makes it one of the simplest systems to adopt. It integrates with other QuickBooks products, making it easy to import from or share with QuickBooks account systems, and supports inventory management with alert features to signal when inventory is low.
QuickBooks POS tracks customer data at the point of sale. When coupled with the customer rewards system built into the Pro version, it can also track loyal customers and provide them with incentives to return. Intuit provides a turnkey credit card payment processing solution, making it easy to get a payment processor and merchant account system in place.
QuickBooks POS comes at three price points — $1,100, $1,600, and $1,800 per license — and is installed locally rather than hosted. The least expensive, basic package lacks some features for managing employees, shipping integration, customization for price tags, and more, but it covers the core POS needs required for most stores. The most expensive package supports multiple store locations that require centralized management.
Microsoft Dynamics bills itself as an "Enterprise Resource Planning" (ERP) software suite and contains several packages for managing both constituent and transactional information. Both Dynamics POS system and Retail Management System (RMS) are designed to support store transaction information, though Dynamics POS is the more affordable of the two, targeting critical point of sales needs for smaller stores.
Less customizable than the more advanced RMS solution, Dynamics POS features support for running a single storefront, including sales reports, purchase orders, and receipt generation, customer purchase history, role-based security, and time tracking. Additional features include inventory management and integration with Microsoft Office Small Business Accounting and QuickBooks. Dynamics POS costs about $1,400 per license.
Dynamics RMS is better suited for multisite store support and for nonprofits that may need additional software customizations and integrations to improve the efficiency of the entire POS process. RMS includes options for customizing reports and receipts, more advanced integration to support connections to e-commerce solutions for online storefronts, and the ability to manage more complex sale items — for example, clothing with size and color information that affects pricing and inventory. Dynamics RMS integrates with a variety of accounting systems including MYOB, Sage 50 Accounting, and Blackbaud products. Dynamics RMS costs approximately $3,000 for the first two licenses and approximately $500 per license thereafter.
Many open-source solutions may be appropriate for nonprofits if they have a strong technology development team, as significant customization will be needed to support a unique POS process. One open-source solution, Openbravo, is a mature and well-adopted free ERP software package with a strong POS component. Developer teams can implement their own system using Openbravo or work with a service provider using a professional version of the product. Expect to pay about $10,000 and up for 10 users.
How to Choose
When choosing a point of sale system, it's important to first look closely at your specific point of sales process and define what you expect of POS software and hardware to provide the greatest efficiency for your needs.
Create a plan to help you understand your goals for your new software, and have the funds available to invest in implementation, training, and support. Identify what you will you need in the way of reporting — customer receipts, purchase orders, or sales and inventory reports — and make sure the solution you choose supports it.
If you're not buying an all-in-one package and plan to use your own hardware, be sure the POS system will work with it. Make sure it will also work with any other transaction-related software you plan to use, including e-commerce systems and your current accounting software.
A good POS system will make transaction-related tasks easy, allowing you to focus on the bigger picture of managing your nonprofit's retail presence and interacting with customers.
Thanks to the following nonprofit technology professionals who provided recommendations, advice, and other help:
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