Retail point of sale systems have come a long way from clunky software and giant servers, but not all retail POS systems are created equal, and not all of them are a one-size-fits all solution.

There are many varieties of retail businesses and each one has its own set of needs. This can make researching for a POS system mind numbing, with the actual purchase decision being even harder. There are, however, several things that every retail merchant — from pet shop to clothing boutique owner — should look for when determining if a point of sale is right for their business. To make your shopping more enjoyable, here are 6 must-have features to look for in a quality retail POS system

1. Speed/Ease of Use

The retail business is one that requires speed. If your retail point of sale doesn’t improve the checkout experience for both customers and employees, it’s nothing more than a glorified cash register. According to a 2015 study from Harris Poll, 88% of U.S. consumers want a faster checkout experience. A slow POS system can be maddening to both customers and employees. That’s why an intuitive layout, reliable hardware and lighting fast software are necessities for all merchants. A few seconds here or there can make a huge impact — good or bad — on the speed, experience, and ultimately the profitability of a store.

SEE ALSO: Your World if Point of Sale Systems Didn’t Exist

2. Inventory

We know, merely mentioning inventory is enough to give you an immediate reaction – for most, it is one of dread. However, investing in a properly implemented POS system can improve inventory control and tracking as well as minimize the amount of unsold items in your store. Sure, inventory is not the most glamorous side of the business, but it is an absolute necessity for merchants who want to stay on top in today’s competitive retail environment. A quality point of sale system can integrate with your inventory management so you can easily import and manage large inventories in bulk, identify when items are low and effortlessly pinpoint top selling items. This kind of control not only puts back hours in your day, but is invaluable for keeping an eye on margins. If you’re interesting in learning more about POS systems and inventory, checkout our post on 5 Simple Ways Your POS Software Can Help Control Your Inventory.

Clear containers of loose leaf tea stacked on a metal shelf.

3.Reporting

Numbers do not lie. All businesses should get actionable intelligence from their reporting and retail businesses are no exception. Having a system where an owner or manager has numeric insight into their business is absolutely crucial. Sales by department, item, hour, labor costs and how many new customers have come through the door are just a few of the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that a good retail POS should be able to render. Another thing to consider is that cloud-based systems definitely have the advantage in reporting KPIs, as they can do all of this in real-time and from anywhere in the world with internet access.

Business owner checking store sales on the go with ShopKeep POS Pocket app.

4. Marketing

For years, larger retailers have been using business intelligence tools to improve merchandising and marketing efforts. Thanks to advances in technology, many of these tools are now available to local retailers. Marketing for retail businesses is now squarely based on your online presence. It all starts with a well-done website that offers pertinent information to your visitors — including hours, menus, contact information and links to your social media accounts. These social sites are the heart and soul of an effective marketing campaign. A well-done Facebook, Instagram or Twitter page allows owners to stay engaged with new and returning customers 24 hours a day. Having other people go out and share your story with fellow customers in the market is priceless and virtually effortless. Another effective approach is to gather customer information — especially email addresses — for future email marketing opportunities. The ability to market to your entire database of customers in real time is huge for making an immediate impact on your business. Most point of sale systems now offer an integrated marketing component. However, when choosing the one that’s right for your business, make sure it simplifies the process of capturing customer information so that you can stay top-of-mind and increase customer loyalty.

SEE ALSO: Small Business Marketing Techniques that Slaughter the Competition

Woman checking her social media on her phone.

5. Technical Support

The importance of good support from your POS provider can’t be overstated. Anybody who has worked in a retail environment knows the panic that ensues when the system suddenly goes down or you accidentally lock yourself out. But the reality is, that no matter how awesome your point of sale is, life happens. But when it does, getting someone on the phone that can troubleshoot the system (hopefully) 24 hours a day, goes a long way. Cloud-based POS systems have a huge advantage here since, in worst case scenarios, support team members can access your data and immediately begin the triage. Good support staff should also be there for the non-panic times like initial setup, credit card help, software upgrades and ongoing training, to name just a few. While often overlooked — despite the advances in technology — nothing beats reliable and responsive support from a live human.

ShopKeep customer care representative on the phone with a merchant.

6. EMV and NFC Capability

Adopting a POS system that accepts EMV credit cards and near field communication is a great way to future-proof your business. As long as you’re making the investment in a cloud-based POS system, it makes financial sense to choose a system that enables EMV payments and limits your liability for fraudulent transactions, as well as supports emerging contactless transactions like Apple Pay. Most POS systems that are EMV-enabled also support NFC, so in reality you’ll be killing two birds with one stone. NFC-enabled mobile wallets add an extra layer of protection against fraud. They use tokenization, which means card numbers are stored and transmitted as random numbers, or tokens, which are meaningless to fraudsters. Adopting EMV and NFC will not only help safeguard your customers’ information, but will protect your hard-earned profits as well. To learn more about both EMV and NFC, checkout our video featuring small business technology expert Ramon Ray: Fear or Opportunity? Navigating Changes in an EMV World.

A man using Apple Pay to purchase a cup of coffee.

From automating tedious day-to-day processes to enabling more effective communication with customers, the many benefits that a quality retail POS can bring to your business are undeniable. And while the needs of every shop and boutique are different, the 6 items presented here are absolute necessities in increasing prosperity and profitability.

About the Author

Sara Sugar is ShopKeep point of sale’s in-house Content Marketing Specialist. Sara uses her distinguished journalism background to boil down topics like POS system technology, payments, and payment security for small business owners.