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How to buy Electronic Point of Sale (EPoS) for your shop

Selecting the right EPoS system for your shop can be confusing, baffling as well as just plain difficult. David Mackley shares some thoughts on how to make the right decision on your retail PoS system first time and outlines some of the common pitfalls.

A note on impartiality

When starting Intelligent Retail I looked at other EPoS systems and couldn't believe how complex the buying process is for a retailer. There is no quality impartial advice available, no WHICH? EPoS! I write about EPoS for several retail magazines in the hope the information I provide is a useful service to retailers with the side benefit of course being publicity. I honestly do my level best to remain impartial. And I sincerely hope you will find this of some use.


There appear to be few things as difficult or complex as buying an EPoS system because there are so many ways they can help your business. So it's easy to get overloaded with facts and figures.

These days even simple EPoS systems become your till, stock management, and take over many of the processes in your shop. They are packed with ways to improve your productivity, improve your customers' experience and improve your profitability. The more recent ones will also run your website. Yet a bad one can have a really negative effect, not least on your enjoyment of the business.

I have been working in the IT industry for more than 20 years and when I look in detail at the plethora of different EPoS options available, I find the choice quite bemusing. This is not helped by well meaning, enthusiastic sales people demonstrating feature after feature which all too easily cloud the important aspects with too much detail.

Five top tips for buying the right EPoS system

So, how on earth do you find an EPoS system that will suit your business and deliver true benefit? Here's a guide to help.

Choose an EPoS partner not a supplier.

Head and shoulders the number one priority is to find a partner you are comfortable with. This is not like buying a television from Comet. It will not be a one-off transaction, you are actually selecting an IT partner for your business. A good partnership should result in your IT partner being available to advise on how different technologies can further improve your business.

So, gaining an understanding of the company is important. Find out who will be your contacts there. You should have an account manager who is very accessible, someone who has your interests at heart, not just someone who wants to flog another computer system. Secondly who is your technical support contact? Try calling the helpline, how easily you can get through? Thirdly and most importantly who will be your technology adviser, the person helping you move your business forward, offer you fresh ideas through technology; and this should not always end in another sale!

You cannot be an expert in everything. If technology is not your area then get a good partner. A strong partnership with a technology company that understands your business needs will be highly valuable asset.

Be clear about what you want

The key to selecting the right system first time is to write down a prioritised list of what you want to achieve with your EPOS system. I strongly suggest you do this before you talk to any vendors. As you talk to potential partners you may add new ideas to the list and re-prioritise, but it's important you start with your own list. You know your business better than anyone and your EPoS software should complement it - not necessarily reinvent it.

A few examples for your list might include; reduce stock holding, speed up customer transactions, manage returns efficiently, create and manage a website to sell 10% of my stock, track average sale value daily for each sales assistant.

Software selection

Once you feel comfortable with a company and have your list to hand, now look at their software. Ask the supplier to structure a demonstration around the needs on your list. This has a few advantages; it structures the demonstration around YOUR business needs, it stops the sales person going off on a well-meaning but confusing waffle, thirdly it helps you understand the software better.

It is important that you feel comfortable very quickly with the software. If you need a manual to understand it, walk away. These days computer software should be very pleasant to look at and intuitive to use. Just with a quick overview you should be able to do the basic functions, particularly the till. Simplicity here is vital.

Because EPoS looks after many of your shop processes, one size does not fit all. You should be able to find software that meets 95 percent of your needs. I suggest looking at systems that are used by retailers in your sector. This means the vast majority of functions should fit and few, if any enhancements will be required.

Finally, check for all ongoing costs and how charges are made for enhancements if required at a later date.

At this stage if you are in any doubt about your potential partner, walk away.

Hardware selection

Your hardware decision really boils down to a consideration of cost versus features and durability.

Actually, your main decision is likely to be whether you buy a standard office PC or spend a few hundred pounds more and buy a retail PC. Here are a few points on each:

Standard Office PC

  1. Lower price.
  2. Faster and more powerful.

Retail PC

  1. Robust design to withstand the bangs and knocks of retail life. Shops rely on their till being operational far more than a typical office worker with their PC. Retail PC's tend to be specifically designed with reliable components.
  2. Covers and lockable cases designed to stop staff or customers touching switches and ports. This improves reliability as failures occur from fiddling.
  3. Specific ports on the back to connect the special till peripherals like receipt printer and customer display screen.
  4. Smaller, designed to be installed as a till with cash drawer.

Whilst a standard PC may initially look attractive, the retail PC's generally offer good value for money over their lifetime.

When selecting additional components, simplicity is key again. Particularly look at how easily you can change till rolls, the best ones allow you to just drop a till roll in and shut it, taking about 3 seconds.

Cash or lease

A final choice may be to lease or pay up front. Many businesses lease computer equipment nowadays which is an efficient way of paying and can be spread over the life of the equipment. Most leases allow you to purchase the equipment for a nominal sum at the end of the lease period. Simply put, you will be using the system for years, so why not pay for it over the period rather than all up front. If the interest payments put you off, we often hear that the tax advantages of leasing counteract the interest.

Three common mistakes when buying EPoS

Buy hardware first

Buy hardware first and then 'just' look for the software to go with it. The problem with this approach is that some software requires specific hardware. Even though it may work it is much better to stick with one set of equipment from one supplier which has all been properly tested and used on other sites.

Develop a website first

Develop a website before buying EPoS. The very latest EPoS systems can now integrate your stock in your shop to the stock on your website. There are huge benefits to doing this and it is usually a lot cheaper as well. Many retailers waste thousands on websites that are not integrated with their other in-store systems.

Buy the cheapest hardware and software

Some retailers only look for the cheapest hardware and software on the market. So they purchase unreliable hardware and software that puts their business at risk. Quality technology costs money and you'll get what you pay for. Buy with the next two or three years in mind and buy the best technology you can afford. Expect to spend 1-2% of your annual revenue on technology. Buying the right system will easily pay this back.