What to look for in a retail system


Point-of-sale (POS) software is more than a cash register. The software takes care of sales, stock, inventory, customer and supplier information and many of the other key issues you – as a retailer – have to deal with.

As an integral part of your retail business, it’s imperative to ensure you choose the right point-of-sale software; one that specifically suits your needs and helps you manage and build a more profitable business.

With this in mind, here are a few of the key points you should look for when considering point-of-sale software.

Processing sales – the things to look for:

  • Sales processing should be “intuitive”, i.e. you should be able to figure out what to do without the need for a manual. On screen prompting is useful. Ask yourself this: Can a new staff member be trained how to sell within 10 minutes.
  • A customer – or staff member – should never have to wait for the system. In other words, it should be waiting for you. Information required to process or negotiate a sale should be available instantly, as well as stock availability, cost prices, and customer history information.
  • The speed of a system includes both searching for an item and committing a sale. When checking for speed ensure the system can maintain performance with a very large stock file (20,000+ items) as you never know what direction your business may take. Good systems should be able to handle 50,000 items or more.
  • Depending on your business, the software should support keyboard, scanner, mouse and touch screen operation. It should have the smarts to integrate with commonly used EFTPOS terminals.
  • Lay-by sales (if you offer this option) should be a simple operation. Make sure the software is technically correct from an accounting perspective. Some POS software force the treatment of lay-bys as an account sale, thus profit and stock is adjusted as if the lay-by was finalised.
  • The same goes for sales orders and customer deposits made on these. The accounting treatment must be right.
  • The system should be able to generate quotes and convert quotes to actual sales.
  • The software should be able to create new items “on-the-fly”. This is very useful when a customer wants to purchase a product that has not, as yet, been entered into the system.
  • A huge advantage would be the ability of the software to be able to accept and track a customer’s special order at the point of sale and track it through until the order arrives into the store, a special order being an item not normally stocked.
  • How many sales can be put “on hold”. Can you also put on hold other transactions such as Receipting goods.
  • How simple is it to re-print a transaction should the paper get chewed up or the customer requires a copy of a lost receipt?
  • How quick is it to look up a previous docket – searching must be quick and easy
  • How quick and easy is the end-of-day cash up process?
  • Does the software have a web-store option? 

Stock management – the things to look for:

  • Is the software designed specifically for retailing or is it just an extension of an accounting program? Retailers require far more specialized stock information than most accounting programs provide, so be careful. Does the point of sale system allow stock to go negative? Sell before receive. The difference between good and bad inventory control could ultimately mean the difference between the success and failure of a retail business.
  • The inventory system should support bar code printing particularly when goods are received into stock.
  • When stock arrives from a supplier can the stock be received through the sales terminal or are you forced to use a separate terminal. This is particularly important in smaller shops with only 2 or 3 staff, as one staff member may have to leave the sales environment to receive stock.
  • Does the system support the returning of stock to suppliers? (Sale-or-Return/consignment)
  • How easy is a stock-take to perform? In good POS software, this process should take around a quarter of the time of the pen and paper method. Check for search functionality and the shortages report that it produces.
  • Is a complete audit trail maintained for all stock movements and how easily can the transaction be looked up and reviewed (to check for mistakes etc)?
  • No stock should be able to enter or leave the system without a traceable transaction. Deletions not a good idea in a retail environment.
  • Do you need the system to build kits like : Gift Pack = 2 x soap + 1 x body cream + 1 x bath towel + 1/2 x ribbon + 2m plastic wrapping
  • - Do the reports cover all aspects of the stock including, movements, indent-orders etc.

Managing your staff – things to look for:

  • As you would know, it’s a challenge finding and keeping good staff. The right point-of-sale software can help you keep track of staff performance and more.
  • Would you like to tag every transaction with a staff member’s I.D.?
  • Is knowing the profitability of a staff member important?
  • Can you report on any discounts given by a staff member?
  • Do you want to pay your staff a commission based on their gross profit or their sales?

Customer management – things to look for:

  • Acquiring new customers can be costly and time-consuming. The right POS software enables you to access information on your existing customers, making it easier to know more and sell more to your regular customer-base.
  • To be able to perform a simple survey on your customers and track the results.
  • The ability to be able to track a customer’s purchase history.
  • A system to be able to offer special prices according to a customer’s “grade” or loyalty level.
  • Analyse your best and worst customers by sales, profit, number of visits or other measures
  • Produce price lists according to a customer’s grade and therefore price.
  • Produce mailing labels for your customers according to postcode or profitability.
  • Keep email lists by group (type) of customer.
  • Email customer statements

Reports – things to look for:

To run a successful retail business, you need access to retail-focused reports, as opposed to pages of figures and data that will distract you from the information you really need to know. Reports should be exportable to other programs such as Ms Word, Excel, or PDF for emailing.

Following is a list of the type of information you’ll need your reports to create:

  • Stock/Inventory Report
  • Make sure reports cover all aspects of sales including payment methods, discounting, profit by customer and staff etc.
  • Sales reports with a customer/staff/supplier/category etc split
  • Profit reports
  • Discount reports
  • Customer reports for sales analysis and marketing/mailing purposes
  • Stocktake reports to analyse shrinkages
  • Debtors and Lay-by reports (if these functions are used)
  • Supplier reports

Accounting connectivity, multiple shops and cloud?

  • The ability to integrate the cashups to the accounting system so each day the sales/cash/cost of sales/inventory figures feed to the accounting system (transparently with no user intervention)
  • Ability to bring over the the accounting system all supplier invoices (transparently with no user intervention)
  • What about multiple shops? Does the system have the ability to update stock at many shops and to consolidate reports to the back office?
  • How important is 'cloud'? It depends on speed and functionality. Cloud software is less snappy and the other potential issue is connecting hardware. A hybrid solution using desktop and cloud based might be best.
  • Most of all is software support. Be sure that the software you choose has excellent support ideally from NZ. With POS software you can't afford to wait for an email response days later. 24/7 phone support is ideal.

Where to from here?

When it comes to choosing the right point-of-sale software for your business, you need to do your homework. Because every retail business has specific needs, it’s important to compare whether the features offered by one POS will really benefit your business. Don’t just shop on price. Sacrificing features for the sake of a few dollars could have a significant impact on your business in the long run.

Lynley Averis

Lynley is an MYOB Certified Consultant & has been involved in training in New Zealand since 1985. She's written various accounting & MYOB workbooks including co-authoring “Bookkeeping for Dummies”. She has consulted on all versions of MYOB Accounting, Retail and Payroll over the past 18 years and has previously worked for MYOB. She currently consults to NZ businesses on all aspects of business systems - her mission for clients is for them to spend as little time as possible doing accounting!