What are EPOS Systems & How Do They Work?

Not sure what an EPOS system is or whether you need one? Not to worry, we'll tell you everything you need to know.

Business Advice
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EPOS Retail System

Over the past year, businesses across the UK have had to deal with significant change - socially distanced workplaces, staggered start and end times, even complete shutdowns. Small businesses in particular have had to juggle numerous demands and an ever-changing situation, with many moving to a digital operation in an extremely short space of time.

But even before the events of 2020, some of these changes were already bubbling, especially for the beleaguered retail industry. Indeed, retailers who hadn’t already started to embrace the need to ‘go digital’ were suffering long before Covid made an appearance. Some even say that the virus only served to accelerate trends that were already in motion and that growth in digital retail and e-commerce has been an inevitability. 

But ‘going digital’ can seem daunting - where do you start and how do you adapt? Well, a good place to start is with an EPOS system. In fact, even businesses who already have a degree of their operations digitised can benefit from EPOS systems. 

Let’s take a look at what an EPOS system is and how one works...

What are EPOS systems?

EPOS stands for Electronic Point of Sale. An EPOS system is therefore a single or multiple components that go into enabling electronic point of sale. The system is usually made up of hardware and software depending on your requirements. A typical retail store that only operates on the high street may have predominantly hardware, with some peripherals (e.g. card payment terminals) and then a basic software system connecting it all up on a central computing unit. A retail outfit that only operates online may have just software and will take payments via an online payment gateway. And an outlet offering both in-person and online purchases will have a complete works providing customers with a truly omnichannel experience.

EPOS System = Hardware (Payment Till, Barcode Scanners, Payment Screen, Receipt Printer, Card Payment Machine) + Software (Cloud Based Stock Management + Financial Information)

The best way to think of an EPOS system is a digital way of taking payments either in-store or online, with the software acting as the hub to connect all the components. In fact, the software also doubles up as a data storage solution, managing your stock, recording your sales and even helping you with demand and supply.

What is an EPOS system used for?

Again, this depends on your needs and how advanced you want to get with the overall system. 

At a very basic level, an EPOS system can be used to take payments - they’re especially good for in-person payments and online transactions.

Beyond that, an EPOS system can also be used:

  • To print out receipts and vouchers for customers, or email either depending on the customer preference.
  • To allow information and stock inventory to be stored, monitored and updated with each transaction.
  • To connect to a company website where an online store may sit.

And if you want to get really sophisticated, an EPOS system can also let you see what products are ‘in demand’, helping you simultaneously manage all your online and in-store stock and SKU, and even improving the way in which your business operates.

The benefits of an EPOS system

If you’re new to an EPOS system, then getting one set up can take a few steps, especially to define upfront what sort of system you require. 

That said, even the short term benefits greatly outweigh the initial effort.

An EPOS system will help:

  • Speed up the payment process, saving you time with unnecessary admin steps and paper-based processes
  • Reduce the possibility of theft and error by transacting and storing everything digitally
  • Make your payments and business operations more secure
  • Let you change prices more easily
  • Store your entire inventory digitally so you can keep up-to-date on stock in real time
  • Predict the stock levels you’ll need for future months based on historical trends and annual or monthly peaks and troughs
  • Report on sales reporting more quickly and more accurately so you can effectively monitor your overall sales performance and link this more closely to your business objectives

The last four points are crucial to any efficient retail or e-commerce operation... 

Imagine being able to change your prices at the touch of a button, or find out in a matter of seconds what your monthly or annual sales figures have been? Then imagine what you could do with all that new information! You could diversify your product range, increase your profit margins, even look to grow your business. The possibilities are endless!

EPOS Systems in retail

Retail EPOS System
Typical Retail EPOS System

It goes without saying that retailers who deploy EPOS systems reap the rewards many times over, even in just a few short weeks. So for those still on the fence, why should you consider an EPOS system and why now? Just remember that efficiency and insights into your customer behaviour will help you make better decisions far better than without an EPOS system.

Whether you’re looking to grow your business or optimise existing operations, an EPOS system has now become a critical component of any retail business. In part, this has come about through consumer demand - customers want to be able to pay quickly and easily and the trend is very much towards ‘contactless’ payments rather than old-fashioned cash. 

What’s more, customers want what’s called an ‘omnichannel’ experience, i.e. they want to be able to interact with you and your brand across different channels and devices. They may browse in-store, but then they want to buy online. Or they may do their research on the internet, and then prefer to buy face-to-face. Being able to offer these different options to a wide customer base is imperative.

We can even go a step further - customers want personalised experiences! In fact, a recent study by Accenture found that... 

‘91% of consumers are more likely to shop with brands who recognise them by name, remember their preferences, and provide them with relevant offers and recommendations’

And if you don’t have a central system storing all of this vital data and keeping a track of all your customer purchases, then how can you offer an omnichannel experience? 

Added to this mix is the increasing pressure on businesses themselves to be more efficient - whether that’s through cutting costs, reducing overheads, managing inventory better… the list goes on. 

Indeed, inventory databases via electronic systems can be a very powerful tool for small businesses - one that could give you the edge over your competitors!

Inventory databases are a great way to identify trends and forecast future demand efficiently and accurately. Say you’re planning a promotional campaign, perhaps a seasonal one at Christmas or during the summer. You can use the historical data and seasonal patterns identified in your database to ensure you have adequate stock to meet any additional demand. Further, you can analyse stock changes in the inventory database to identify the products that are selling quickly and the slow movers. All of this helps you to ‘take stock’ of the variety of products you have and to concentrate those that are more profitable.

EPOS Systems in Restaurants

Restaurant EPOS System
Restaurant EPOS System

Of course, EPOS systems aren’t just for retail. By extension, they work perfectly for the hospitality industry too, in particular for restaurants, cafes and bars. 

In fact, not only do EPOS systems help you to manage stock in restaurants as they do in retail, but they can also help you manage floor plans and track ‘time-at-table’, therefore optimising the way in which you handle customer flow and capacity.

Especially at the moment, an EPOS system in your restaurant is also a vital way of minimising touchpoints and ensuring you offer a safer and cleaner environment for both your customers and employees. Add to that the fact that an EPOS system helps reduce fraud and offer a more secure way to manage payments and the benefits all-round speak for themselves.

What is the best EPOS system?

So you may be wondering what EPOS system to go for and how to select the best one for your needs. 

It’s important to outline here that not all EPOS systems were created equal! And that you do need to select the right one for your particular business. 

💡 It’s highly advisable to go with a solution that’s designed for small businesses too - more on that to come!

Your best starting point though is the industry in which you operate. 

  • For example, are you a fashion brand that only deals online? 
  • Or a gift company that wants to increase your online orders? 

Then consider if it’s a current in-store system that you need to replace or if you’re starting from scratch.

From here, you can search online for suppliers who have delivered systems to businesses just like yours. 

Or you can click here to get matched with the best suppliers for your business. 

Find payment suppliers

 Once you have your shortlist, then you’ll want to find out more about each solution. Request a demo so you can get comfortable with the interface you may be using. Some solutions even offer demos on their websites, like this one from Lightspeed. Arrange to speak to a specialist and ask them these questions:

  1. How long have you been in business? 
  2. How do you install the system? 
  3. What is your refund policy? 
  4. Do you offer trials? 
  5. What training do you provide?
  6. What is your support policy? 

This last point is crucial for small businesses as you’ll likely not have a dedicated IT or ops person managing the system for you. Having an EPOS supplier who will be able to deal with your requests and issues quickly is important so make sure you opt for one that offers this as part of a small business package.

There are many EPOS systems out there to choose from but with the above steps, you can easily narrow it down to just a few and get a better feel for which one will suit your needs best. 

In a short space of time, you could be up and running with an EPOS system that not only saves you time and money managing your stock and data better, but that also lets you offer a more personalised experience to your customers… which of course will keep them coming back for more!

Cut down on the time it takes to research and find payment solutions with our EPOS Provider Finder.

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