3 Questions You Should Ask When Selecting POS Hardware for Your SMB
Making the decision to invest in a new point of sale system for your retail chain is committing to a major purchase. When selecting both the software and the POS hardware, retailers have to be attentive to how good of a fit the package will be, both now and years into the future. The ideal point of sale hardware will suit a retailer’s needs for many years after the initial purchase, and will also have a physical longevity that ensures it doesn’t need to be repaired too often or replaced too soon.
There is a lot of conventional wisdom and many new trends to consider when selecting the hardware for your point of sale. The common considerations are things like cost, support, mobility, and ease of use. These are all extremely important check boxes to fill as a retailer is doing their research and learning about all of their different options. Any number of guides and articles can assist with the core questions of what a retailer looking to buy point of sale hardware ought to be asking.
Sometimes, however, this means that some of the more obscure considerations get overlooked. There are a few insider secrets for getting the greatest value out of your point of sale hardware, planning for a setup that will last longer and cost less. That inside knowledge on retail hardware, direct from thirty years of experience working with a wide variety of hardware suppliers in the industry, translates into some questions that retailers can be asking to make even more informed decisions.
Does my point of sale really need the fastest processor on the market?
At first glance, it seems self-evident that a better processor in a point of sale means faster CPU and therefore better performance. Investing more money into the processor for your hardware should provide an equivalent return in the usability and functionality of your point of sale.
That isn’t necessarily the case. Ten years ago, the more processing speed you had, the better. Technology today, however, has reached a point of diminishing returns. The difference between a mid-tier processor and a top-tier processor in a piece of retail hardware is really no longer distinguishable, because the mid-tier is already so good. The thing to remember is that the highest level of technology available is largely intended to be used for tasks like running graphics-intensive video games, or editing and compressing creative projects like large video and audio files. These are demanding tasks for a computer that really benefit from the best CPU – and it’s quite unlikely a retail POS will ever need to do anything quite so intensive.
In some ways, going to the most expensive processor available for your POS hardware is a bit like installing a jet engine into a midsized sedan: with what you need that car to be able to do, you really don’t need that kind of power, and ultimately it just weighs the whole car down without providing any tangible benefit.
In fact, having a faster processor in a device that doesn’t need it can negatively impact performance. Especially in more compact devices, the extra power of the processor means that the hardware runs at a higher overall temperature, which can reduce performance, lower battery life, and in extreme cases cause crashes. So not only do you not see much improvement for the increased cost of the more expensive processor, sometimes it actually provides worse performance than a mid-tier processor would in the same hardware.
What kind of physical durability should my point of sale have?
Knowing how long a piece of hardware will last can be difficult to determine. All hardware suppliers will make ambitious claims about the longevity of their products, and all will say they’re designed for durability in the retail environment. For retailers who want to invest time into ensuring they’re making educated, informed choices and not missing any pieces of the puzzle on which hardware will best suit their needs, it can be valuable to seek out third-party studies of hardware performance.
The importance of durability is obvious – there’s no sense in investing in hardware that won’t last a long time or will need frequent repairs. Any downtime of your POS negatively impacts customer experience and sales, so retailers should exercise due diligence in choosing hardware that will be reliable and long-lived. When a hardware vendor claims their product is durable, retails should ask specifically about:
- Electromagnetic compatibility: radiated immunity and radiated emissions
- Electrostatic discharge
- Environmental: thermal and humidity
- Dust/lint and debris
- Spill and drip
- Impact, drop, shock, and vibration
Many retailers are unaware, for example, of the large role that dust accumulation plays in hardware failure. Hardware supplies know this and go to efforts to dust-proof their designs, but some do it better than others, and this shows in lab-tested studies that determine how well hardware continues to perform in highly dusty environments like retail stores. If dust does manage to accumulate inside the POS device, this raises its overall operating temperature which, as mentioned before, decreases performance and increases the likelihood of a hardware-related crash.
Does it matter if point of sale hardware is built specifically for a retail environment?
Not all hardware has been specifically built to serve as a point of sale, and not all point of sale hardware has been specifically built to serve retailers. There are some suppliers who use the same hardware for all sorts of enterprise hardware setups, succeeding by being generalists with largely multi-purpose technology. Whether this should matter to retailers is some subject of debate, but it’s worth being aware of the differences so that the individual retailer can make that call themselves instead of making a purchase with the false belief that all point of sale hardware is purpose-built for retail.
Hardware makers who focus in on the retail vertical are more likely to be paying attention to and investing into concerns like dust-proofing, how design impacts customer experience, and physical integration with printers, scanners and payment processing devices. Point of sale hardware derived from non-retail technology can tend to look old and boxy, or corporate and bland. For retailers seeking more modern, aesthetically pleasing hardware, it can help to be aware which of the suppliers are generalists and which ones architect specifically for the retail experience. If design isn’t a major priority, the question of suitability for the retail environment in terms of performance should still be important to the retailer. Making a point of asking whether the device is purpose-built for retail can turn up some good information that will help in making a final decision.
Talk to some experts before deciding
There’s a limit to what can be gained from online research. Ultimately, the best way for a retailer to ensure they’re making the best possible match with their POS hardware and software is to make a connection with an expert in the industry willing to be a consultative partner that speaks from experience and is willing to talk frankly about the strengths and weaknesses of all options available to the retailer. A good software vendor with a large number of hardware suppliers will bring a highly informed and largely unbiased opinion to the table when talking about the pros and cons of each system.
Before committing to any one set of hardware, a retailer should feel totally confident that they have all the facts and know exactly what they’re looking for.
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