Research shows that most small business retailers know so little about Point of Sale, they'd rather do things the hard way than make a purchasing decision they might regret. In fact, as of May 30, 2013, when you look up Small Business Point of Sale on Wikipedia, here's what you see:

"A retail point of sale system typically includes a computer, monitor, cash drawer, receipt printer, customer display and a barcode scanner, and the majority of retail POS systems also include a debit/credit card reader. It can also include a conveyor belt, weight scale, integrated credit card processing system, a signature capture device and a customer pin pad device..."

A Small Business champion steps in
We asked Michelle Baker, Senior Marketing Manager at Intuit, Inc (makers of QuickBooks Point of Sale) to help us define point-of-sale (POS) for small retailers, once and for all—so they can make better decisions about whether or not it makes sense for their business.

"What holds the average retailer back from taking the leap and getting Point of Sale products?" we ask.

Without hesitation, Michelle holds up one hand, palm out. With rapid-fire delivery, she ticks off the five fallacies she hears most:

Myth #1: It's a kind of cash register.
Myth #2: It's expensive.
Myth #3: You need an MBA to figure it out.
Myth #4: You need all kinds of new equipment.
Myth #5: Customers don't care whether you have it or not.

Myth #1: It's a kind of cash register.

"Calling Point Of Sale a cash register is like calling your mobile device a phone," says Michelle Baker, Senior Marketing Manager at Intuit, Inc. "Of course you can use it to call your Mom. But you wouldn't pay that kind of money for it if that's all you could do with it."

POS automates your entire To-Do list—from ordering inventory to managing your staff to delivering the ultimate shopping experience to your customers. And, yes—of course it can help you ring up sales. Even better, it can process credit cards right in the system.

Says Ms. Baker: "Any Point of Sale system worth its salt will be Command Central for your shop."

Point of Sale comes in a huge variety of flavors. Before you shop for one, use the following checklist to determine how much (or little) you need:

Basic Capabilities
Even at its most basic, Point of Sale is designed to improve efficiencies in the following areas:

  • Ring in sales
  • Wrangle inventory
  • Track customers
Bonus Features
The technology has come a long way. Some versions of it, such as QuickBooks POS, can do some impressive things:
  • Accept credit cards right in the system
  • Sync with mobile checkout
  • Run gift card and Customer Reward programs
Business Boosters
A really good Point of Sale system will actually help you run your business more profitably, with the ability to run reports like these:
  • Top-selling products
  • Customer activity
  • Best and worst sales days & hours
  • Top-performing sales associates
Got an accounting system? Look for "integration."
If that fancy POS system can't transfer all your store data easily to your accounting software, keep looking. Double entries and duplicated transactions are two very easy ways to lose time (and money).

A good example of integration: QuickBooks Point of Sale data can be transmitted to QuickBooks accounting software instantly.

Myth #2: It's expensive.
Retail packages typically include software and hardware—which, of course, take some moolah. A combination hardware/software package for a single store with one register can be anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000, depending on the capabilities you want. Not exactly chicken feed—but there are ways to save money:

  • Use your existing computer (caution, though: While POS systems don't require a big supercomputer, you do need to be sure your rig is upgradable).
  • Certain Point of Sale systems also accept credit cards. It's a seriously smart way to avoid the expense and hassle of a separate terminal—and you may just get better swipe rates. 
  • Shop for deals. Right now, Intuit is offering QuickBooks Point of Sale 2013 free for 30 days. And if you're interested in buying it, they're throwing the hardware in, free. 
The tough truth about retail: There are too many people with too much access to too many things for you to keep your eye on all of it. POS can actually help you in a few ways:

Shrinkage control (internal theft / damage / waste)
Statistics prove that, when employees are required to log in using passwords (and know that their transactions all appear in a store log) they are significantly less likely to try to game the system.

Accuracy assurance
The good news: Most employees are honest, well-meaning people. The bad news: They're human. POS capabilities like bar-coding eliminate the need to manually enter item numbers, prices, descriptions, etcetera.

Time crunching
One-step credit card processing has proven to save US retailers literally millions of dollars in time spent dealing with input errors. X and Z-out reporting is done in a fraction of the time. POS also does a great job in pretty well every lumbering task: Inventory counting comes to mind, here.

Myth #3: You need an MBA to figure it out.
"It's a shame the term "Point of Sale" conjures up images of high-tech, impossible-to-understand wires and machines," says Michelle Baker of Intuit.

"The whole point of our system is to make it user-friendly. We believe that should start from the second you order it, through set-up, and with every single transaction you complete."

As user-friendly as Point of Sale can be, shopping for it takes some legwork. One very helpful first-stop: Your accountant or bookkeeper. They have their finger on the pulse of your business and can help you determine what you need (or don't).

And yes, implementing a POS system takes time and attention—so the object of the game is to get through that bit as quickly as possible. A few pointers on the subject:

1. Be clear about what matters to you.
  • One-stop shopping vs multiple vendors
  • Training for you and your staff
  • Level of tech support you need over time
  • Immediate price vs Total Cost of Ownership (TOC)
  • Equipment "footprint" (space / electrical / internet at your cash desk area)
2. Seek professional help.
If you don't think you have time to really look for the best deal, consider going through a Value-Added Reseller (VAR) or Distributor. They're steeped in knowledge on the subject, they know what deals are available, they can do the shopping for you—and they'll help you get going (often at no charge to you). Best of all: They're local.

3. Shop for deals. They're out there.
Another way to save money: Support. Don't kid yourself; you'll want it. And on a busy Saturday, you'll need it. Companies like Intuit provide two months of training and support for free. After that period, they provide a full year of support, included in the purchase price.

Myth #4: You need all kinds of new equipment.
There are some standard elements of a Point of Sale system you just need, to make it worth your while:
  • Computer 
  • Monitor 
  • Cash drawer 
  • Barcode scanner 
  • Receipt printer 
  • Credit card terminal
  • Internet connection
Some companies might want to sell you the same computer you could get at Best Buy—so if you're cash-strapped and your current computer isn't from the Stone Age, choose a system that enables you to use what you have. QuickBooks Point of Sale is a good example of that.

Then, there's the reality of retail today: Credit card acceptance. Taking credit or debit cards is almost mandatory if you want to stay in business. Some POS systems offer a card swiper you just attach to your computer. Without a separate terminal, you have less to buy, fewer things on the cash desk and a whole lot less to manage. Besides, it significantly reduces the time it takes to ring up a sale—and eliminates the inevitable mistakes people make when they have to duplicate an entry.

Emerging imperative: Mobile. Even if your store is the size of a small living room, being able to ring sales on the spot and accept credit cards on your iPhone, iPad or Android has proven to save sales, reduce lineups at the cash register and just generally make the little guy look a little cooler.

If this is on your radar, check out the Mobile Sync feature of QuickBooks POS—you can use your existing mobile devices with it, and it updates your inventory with every sale you make, so you don't have to do it manually on your desktop POS machine.

Myth #5: Customers don't care whether you have it or not.

Ms. Baker chuckles. "Consumers rarely say, "Why don't you have a fancy barcode scanner or iPad thing." But they do care about their overall shopping experience. They never forget a good one, and they will talk loudly and often about a bad one."

Why POS matters to consumers: 
Efficient process:

  • Pricing is competitive 
  • Product is in-store during high demand
  • Check-out is faster

Credit card acceptance:

  • Convenience

Mobile capabilities:

  • On-demand customer service (price / inventory)
  • No waiting in line to pay 
Customer tracking:

  • Personalized service
  • Rewards program benefits
Says Michelle: "When you can greet customers by name, use their purchase history to suggest products, invite them to special sales and remember their birthdays? Oh, yes. They care a lot.

And for a small retailer, the ability to provide that kind of personal touch is often the difference between failure and success."

We recommend you do your own research before you invest in any kind of Point of Sale system. Right now, Intuit is offering their QuickBooks Point of Sale 2013, free for 30 days. Definitely worth the download. They've also got a great free hardware offer when you buy the product and sign up for Intuit Merchant Service.

Download the free trial today or call 866-379-6636 to learn more and speak to a Point of Sale expert.