Learn what features to look for when choosing a mobile point-of-sale app for your SMB.
- A mobile POS, also known as a point-of-sale app, runs on a smartphone, tablet or dedicated wireless device and performs the functions of a cash register or electronic POS terminal wirelessly.
- Using a mobile POS system for business transactions offers many benefits for your company, including efficient transactions, improved customer experience and increased sales.
- Merchants should focus on finding a mobile point-of-sale app that offers inventory management, a user-friendly interface, high security, low transaction fees, system integration and good customer support.
A point-of-sale (POS) system is a set of hardware and software paired to enable businesses to accept customer payments, in addition to many other operational capabilities. As consumers become more mobile-centric, the POS industry has followed suit, offering mobile POS systems.
What is a mobile POS system?
David Mitroff, a business consultant and founder of Piedmont Avenue Consulting Inc., said a mobile POS, also known as a point-of-sale app, is an app that runs on a smartphone, tablet or dedicated wireless device and performs the functions of a cash register or electronic POS terminal wirelessly. Merchants can create a mobile POS system using their own tablets and basic peripherals, like a receipt printer and cash drawer. They can also build on to their system as needed, adding hardware like tablet stands, kitchen printers, barcode scanners and scales.
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Currently, in the POS industry, the best POS systems are mobile or web-based. Although mobile POS apps used to be considered less powerful than legacy POS terminals, the software is improving at exponential rates. Mobile POS systems are generally smaller, cheaper and more convenient than legacy systems. Since mobile POS apps are software as a service (SaaS), they are constantly updated, giving merchants access to the latest versions.
There are many reasons why a business would choose to use a mobile POS system as their point-of-sale option.
"They are ideal for retailers with limited space, busy retailers wanting to avoid long queues and retailers who operate with portable premises, such as food trucks," said David Ewart, partner and director at Pavilion Broadway.
The benefits of mobile POS solutions
There are several benefits and few risks to using a POS mobile app, and the pros often outweigh the cons. We spoke with Ewart and Mitroff to find the most beneficial aspects of mobile POS systems. These benefits are specific to mobile POS systems as opposed to legacy POS systems.
Shorter consumer wait times: As the cultural need for instant gratification grows, consumer patience decreases. Ewart said that customers have limited tolerance for queuing times, and mobile POS can drastically reduce the wait.
Increased sales: By simplifying and speeding up the transaction process for consumers, you can prevent more customers from reneging and balking. More transactions equal more money in your pocket. This is always a win for your business.
Efficient and accurate transactions: Mitroff said meeting your consumers where they are, whether that be on the store floor or at a farmers market, boosts the efficiency and accuracy of your transactions.
Easy mobile wallet payment acceptance: Since mobile payments are becoming more common, Ewart and Mitroff both listed this feature as a benefit of using a mobile cash register. Most mobile card readers have near-field communication (NFC) capabilities, so you get support for Apple and Google Pay out of the box with no expensive upgrades.
Email receipt capabilities: Ewart said that customers are increasingly expecting digital receipts for accounting and personal bookkeeping purposes. If this is the case with your customers, the option to email receipts to them can be extremely beneficial for business.
Improved customer experience: According to Mitroff, the convenience features of a mobile POS can improve your customers' experience with your brand. A consumer who has a seamless checkout experience with a company is more likely to come back.
- Higher sense of security: Mobile POS systems enhance the sense of security for consumers. When consumers have complete control (and sight) of their credit cards – for example, paying for a meal at their table instead of handing over their card to a server who takes it to the register in another room – they feel more secure in their payment transactions.
The risks of mobile POS systems
Although there are many benefits to using mobile POS devices, merchants should also be aware of the risks they take by using these systems. Mitroff gave an example of the potential for unauthorized access to a POS application. To mitigate this risk, you should only allow authorized employees to access the mobile devices you use for your POS system. The devices and the POS app should be secured with passcodes. The app should allow you to assign a unique user ID and passcode to each of your employees.
This is emphasized by the fact that most data breaches in companies of any size do not come from remote attacks. A study by CompTIA showed that the single biggest risk to companies comes from "end user failure to follow policies and procedures." The primary risks occur when unauthorized users can access company hardware directly and when employees unwittingly participate in unsafe behaviors. Both of these situations can apply to mobile POS systems, doubling the need for strong authentication practices and solid training to help employees avoid unnecessary risks.
Mitroff also said businesses that use a mobile POS run the risk of disruption due to a poor internet connection, which may result in the unavailability of POS applications. This can be especially challenging for fast-paced businesses that need constant access to their POS. Ensure you have a stable and secure internet connection before using these systems for your business.
Another great risk that Mitroff mentioned is the chance of a cyberattack against your POS app's back-end system or malware targeting your POS app. Security is an important factor, which is why you should only choose a POS software company that takes great measures to ensure your information is safe.
Ewart said that, although there are still security vulnerabilities with magstripe versus chip and PIN or contactless card readers, these risks also apply to traditional payment systems, so you'll want to use an EMV-compliant and NFC-enabled card reader rather than just a swiper. He added that the fears of proximity attacks are largely unwarranted with newer mobile POS systems.
Features to look for in a mobile POS system
The features you need in your mobile POS system depend on many facets of your business, like industry, size and speed. Mitroff said that these features are what distinguish a mobile POS system from traditional solutions; however, not all mobile POS software is created equal.
"Finding the right software for your business means investigating each potential solution's features and choosing the one that is the most suitable for your particular business," said Mitroff. "For example, if your business strictly sells goods and services to individuals, your mobile POS app should have an inventory matrix feature that allows you to precisely manage back stock and know how much product is left in stock."
These are the standard features you will likely need in a POS solution:
- Order-taking (and sending to kitchen, if necessary)
- Payment processing
- Employee management (function and data access)
- Inventory tracking
- Data recording and reporting
A mobile POS system grants you access to many other features beyond these general POS functions. Mitroff said you should look for these additional features in a mobile POS system:
- Inventory management
- Cloud-based data
- Multistore functionality
- User-friendly interface
- Payment flexibility
Ewart recommends finding a mobile POS system that offers low transaction fees, integration with your existing systems and a high level of support.
"We know of many horror stories where companies have invested big in a new mPOS system only to find it didn't connect with their existing booking system and had to fork out a small fortune on building a custom API," he said. "It pays to be diligent."
The best POS hardware
In order to take advantage of your POS system's features, you need the right hardware. A mobile POS system requires a mobile device to operate. Additionally, your smart device needs hardware that can scan barcodes and/or read credit cards.
Barcode scanners are primarily only necessary for systems that have a proprietary barcode system or deal in large volumes. There are mobile software systems that can enable the device's camera to function as a barcode scanner. The drawback is that this is often less reliable for large-volume scanning.
Surveys conducted by Digital Trends have shown that Square, Shopify, PayPal, Payanywhere and Intuit have the most-used and highest-rated credit card readers for mobile POS systems. These readers come with apps, many of which are the best-rated (and reviewed below) for small and medium businesses.
Square has the overall best rating. The reader is compatible with iOS and Android, and it accepts all major credit cards. The hardware system includes a card reader made by Magstripe, and the quality of the reader is a large part of what earned Square such a high rating.
All of the top five readers can be expected to work with the vast majority of systems. Differences include how the reader communicates with the smart device, credit card processing fees, how the reader itself is designed and how software interfaces with your device.
Each reader is also designed for different swiping volumes, and those volumes may impact the other metrics of the reader's performance. These differences, particularly processing fees, can help determine which reader is right for your business. In any case, sticking with the best will ensure that the reader is reliable and fast.
The best POS app for your business
The best mobile POS system for your business will depend on your specific needs. If you only need basic POS features, there are several great apps and readers for mobile credit card processing to choose from, like Square and PayPal. If you need advanced POS features, keep in mind that all of the best POS systems, like Epos Now and Vend, have mobile and web-based capabilities. Find a system that can support your current business needs and scale as your business grows.
"It pays to invest in a company that is agile and futureproof, with connectors to newer technologies, as it will save you money in the long run," said Ewart.
Weigh the pros and cons of using mobile POS software for your business, and pay close attention to the specific features each mobile POS app offers. Also, if you prefer to use a specific platform, check for compatibility. Although the best point-of-sale apps can be used on iPads, iPhones and Android devices, some are specific to one platform, and keep in mind that stepping away from iOS and Android may severely limit your options
Most providers offer free trials or demos for their apps, so test-drive them to ensure the mobile POS system does what you need it to do. Otherwise, you may need to switch systems or incorporate pricey add-ons down the road.