Your next choice will be the type of "printing technology" that you use. Your options include:
Cost and Other Considerations
Before you make your final decision, you have a few more features to consider...
I recommend finding a receipt printer that allows you to quickly and easily change paper rolls. Nothing is more frustrating than struggling to replace a paper roll while your customers are waiting. Most of the new thermal printers are pretty easy to use but you should double check before you buy.
I also recommend a name brand, reliable printer with a good warranty. Your printer will get abused all day long and you want it to last a few years.
Budget is always an issue and costs vary depending on the technology and quality of the printer. A typical receipt printer will cost around $175 to $350. And the high end receipt printers will cost up to $800.
If you want to learn more you can check out a couple of manufacturer websites:
As I mentioned earlier, if you repair equipment or sell large ticket items, you’ll need to print a lot of information. In this situation, your best option is a larger printer that prints full size invoices on 8.5 x 11 in. paper.
Before you purchase an invoice printer, you need to decide if you want a "dot matrix" or a "laser" printer. Dot matrix printers are popular because they last a very long time, they’re cheap to maintain (ink ribbons only cost a few bucks), and they allow you to use multi-part paper for extra invoice copies.
However, laser printers produce much better print quality and they’re quieter than dot matrix. Lasers would be the perfect choice if they weren’t so expensive to maintain.
Another consideration is the use of pre-printed invoices. Most POS systems allow you to use pre-printed invoices which look more professional than plain paper. You can print your color logo and graphics on pre-printed invoices and then run them through your printer. Any local print shop can provide you with pre-printed invoices but you should check with your POS software vendor and find out their requirements first.
A typical invoice printer will cost $300 to $600. However you could pay well over $1000 for a high end laser printer. If you choose a dot matrix model, I suggest an Okidata or Epson model. For lasers, HP and Okidata printers are popular choices. When choosing a laser, one of your biggest concerns will be the cost per page, reliability, and time to print the first page (warm up time). Some laser printers can take 30 seconds to warm up which means each customer will have to wait longer. I suggest looking on the internet for help with your laser printer choice. Both of these websites include the latest printer reviews and helpful information:
Bar Code Scanner
Bar code scanners increase efficiency by reading barcode information much faster and more accurately than you could type the same information manually. Scanners are great tools that will help you...
Simply put, bar code scanners translate barcodes into numbers and letters and send the data to your computer. The actual bar code consists of a series of narrow and wide lines printed on a label or tag. Each "bar" represents a character for a bar code scanner to interpret. The scanner measures the widths of the bars and spaces, then translates the different patterns back into regular characters, and sends them to a computer or portable terminal.
In order for your scanner to work properly, it needs to support the bar code symbology (standard) that you use. The symbology is a standard that defines the width of the bars and the technical details of a particular type of barcode. For example, the UPC (Universal Product Code) is seen on almost all retail products in the USA and Canada. EAN-13 is a common code used on European retail products. And you might see UPC-A on the back of a cereal box.
Most scanners auto-detect different types of symbologies. However, you should double check and find out which symbology you’ll use before spending your hard earned money.
How to choose your scanner...
First, you can choose from 4 different technologies:
Scanners can plug into serial ports, keyboard wedges or USB ports on your computer. In order to decide which connection to use, you should contact your POS software provider and find out what type of connection they support. You also need to make sure that type of connection is available on your computer.
Once you choose the scanning technology, you have some other options to consider including...
All this information will help you choose the right scanner but you still need to call your POS software provider and ask what they recommend. You best bet is to find a good POS provider that can help you choose the right scanner and configure it for you. (Sometimes scanners require some programming in order to work with your POS software.)
There are lots of manufacturers that offer bar code scanners. HHP, Metrologic and Symbol are popular choices. HHP offers an affordable yet very reliable hand held scanner that uses linear imaging technology. Metrologic and Symbol offer some nice omni-directional scanners.
Bar Code / Label Printer
If you plan to use bar code scanners then you might need to print your own labels and apply them to bins, shelves, booklets and merchandise that don’t include UPC tags.
Bar code labels can be printed with standard dot matrix or laser printers but results can vary. These printers aren’t the ideal choice because scanners require crisp bar codes with at least 300 dpi in order to work reliably. Laser printers also require sheets of paper which make it difficult to print one or two labels at a time. In addition, they cannot produce chemical or water resistant labels that will last a long time.
That’s why most people use thermal label printers. They’re designed to produce high quality labels that last a long time. They also allow you to print one label at a time (instead of an entire sheet).
With thermal label printers, you have two basic choices:
Cost and other considerations
When choosing your printer you need to consider label usage and size. For example, if you need to print 500 labels per day then an industrial printer should be considered. If you print a couple hundred labels per day then an entry level table-top printer will do the trick.
In addition, some label printers only handle 2” labels and others handle 6” labels. If you only need to print 2” labels then you can save some money by purchasing a smaller printer. However, if you need to print larger labels for things like shipping or UPS then your might need a 4” or larger label.
If you’re wondering about the price of these devices - entry level thermal printers cost around $400 to $800 depending on the technology and size. Industrial printers can cost around $2000 to $5000. For more information you can check out some popular manufacturer websites:
Portable Data Terminal (PDT)
Sometimes you need to bring your computer with you, so you can scan bar codes and update your POS system from any location in your store. A portable data terminal (PDT) is a programmable hand held computer that can be very useful in these situations – especially for counting inventory.
A PDT will allow you to move around your store, scan the bar code of an inventory item and enter the stock quantity. Once you enter this information, the PDT can update your POS software through an upload (batch) or instantly (via wireless RF).
PDTs are powerful tools that vary in features, size and flexibility. To help you decide which PDT is right for you, here’s a review of your main options:
First you must choose an integrated or external scanner option. You can choose an “integrated” terminal which includes a bar code scanner permanently attached to the top of the PDT. Or you can choose an “external” version which includes a hand held scanner with a cable attached to the PDT. The most common choice is the integrated scanner option. (It’s easier to carry a single integrated unit.)
The display screen comes in various sizes. Typically, the display will support 4x20 or 8x20 lines. You can also choose a "character-based" terminal or a “graphical user interface”. The character-based terminals use plain text to prompt the operator for data input, which can come from the bar code scanner or the keyboard. Some terminals require a graphical user interface and a stylus (or pen) to operate the software. The newer units look similar to the PDA (Personal Data Assistant) displayed at your local electronics store. In addition, some manufacturers support backlighting of the display to improve the readability.
PDT keyboards come in various shapes and sizes. Keyboards can be numeric or alphanumeric, with or without assignable function keys. To maximize the size of the keys on the hand held unit, some manufacturers use shift keys to combine two values per key.
The information you collect with your PDT must be sent back to the computer hosting your POS software. This can be accomplished in one of two methods – “RF” or “batch”. RF (radio frequency) uses wireless communications to instantly update the information in real time. Batch systems store the collected information in the PDT until you transfer the data to the host computer with a cable. The batch data collection method isn’t in real time - but it’s much easier to implement and less expensive than RF.
PDTs use a variety of operating systems including DOS, Windows CE and proprietary systems. The PDT’s operating system determines the programming language - such as Basic, C or Pascal. I suggest contacting your POS software vendor or reseller about their preference. Hopefully they can help you choose and program the PDT.
Cost and other considerations
PDT's can be expensive devices ranging from $500 to $5000 depending on the technology used. A standard batch system for counting inventory will cost around $1000. If you want to carry a PDT (like the UPS guys) so you can create invoices and update inventory in real time, you'll need a more expensive and advanced device.
PDT's also require programming and configuration to work with your POS software. If you're a small to medium sized retailer I suggest finding a good POS vendor or reseller that can recommend, program and teach you how to utilize a PDT for your specific situation.
If you’d like to learn more, here are a few manufacturer websites for you to check out:
You should consider replacing your standard keyboard with a good POS keyboard. Why? First of all, POS keyboards are built to take everyday retail abuse. They include spill resistant materials and heavy duty material that will last longer. POS keyboards also include programmable keys much like the traditional cash register. The keys can be setup to do one-key functions such as total, produce, soft goods, discount, etc. In addition, you can integrate credit card swipes and scanner ports to save space and add convenience.
When choosing a POS keyboard, you have several options to consider...
Most keyboard manufacturers offer "compact" or "full size" keyboards. It’s important for you to measure your counter space to make sure the keyboard, cash drawer, mouse, monitor and all your peripherals will fit.
Integrated Credit Card Swipe (MSR)
Sometimes the most convenient place for your credit card swipe is at the top of your keyboard. Integrated swipes are nice because they save precious counter space and they don’t easily move. If you’ve ever used the credit card swipes with Velcro you’ll know that it’s nice to have the swipe attached to a fixed object.
POS keyboards allow you to program the keys to do almost any function you’d like. This can help you save time by creating keyboard shortcuts that anyone can figure out. Each POS keyboard has a different number of programmable keys, so you’ll need to decide how many you want - and how you want the keys laid out.
Integrated Touch Pad Mouse
If your counter space is limited, then you might want an integrated touch pad mouse. The touch pad works much like laptop computers so you can throw out your bulky mouse pad and mouse.
POS keyboards offer optional scanner ports and integrated bar code decoders. This is important -- if your POS keyboard has a built in decoder then your scanner doesn’t need one. And if your keyboard has a built in scanner port, you scanner doesn’t need a keyboard wedge kit. Now that most scanners offer integrated decoders and keyboard wedge kits that are affordable, these features aren’t very important. However you should be aware of the options so you can make sure all you devices work together.
Costs and other considerations
POS keyboards also offer advanced features like integrated smart cards reader, finger tip identification and other security features. Depending on the features you choose the keyboards will cost between $100 and $500 dollars. If you’d like to learn more about these features check out these websites:
A cash drawer is an essential item that opens when you ring up a sale – just like a cash register. You can get locking cash drawers, plastic inserts to separate your bills and coins, slots for your credit card slips and much more.
Here are your main options to consider:
When looking for a cash drawer it's very important to consider the size of the cash drawer. You need to decide whether you want the cash drawer on the counter or underneath. If the drawer is under the counter, you need to drills holes for the drawer wiring. Then you'll need to measure your counter space or the opening underneath. Cash drawers come in various sizes from 11 to 20 inches wide, 12 to 24 inches deep, and 2 to 4 inches high. If you decide to place the cash drawer on your counter, it should be large enough to place the printer, keyboard and monitor on top of it.
You can choose two connections types – “receipt printer driven” and “direct-connect”. The first requires a receipt printer with a cash drawer port. The port looks just like a telephone jack. The port on the printer sends an electrical signal to the cash drawer that pops the drawer open. “Receipt printer driven” drawers are more popular because they’re less expensive.
Direct connect drawers use the serial or COM port on the back of a computer to fire the drawer. These are commonly used with the larger laser or dot matrix invoice printer. These drawers are generally more expensive.
You can choose a drawer with or without media slots. They’re for slipping checks and credit card receipts in the drawer without exposing the cash.
Number of bill and coin trays
If the drawer only has 4 coin trays, you’ll be mixing coins. Remember that half dollars and Susan B Anthony Dollars are still around. You may also want some extra room for rolled coins and coupons.
Most cash drawers come with locks but not all of them. You should get a drawer with a lock so you can open it without power and lock it for the night.
You can choose thin metal, heavy metal or plastic – Heavy metal will obviously last longer and make it more difficult to break into.
Space for hiding wires
Some drawers provide additional space behind the till for tucking in those loose wires from the printer, pole display, keyboard, mouse, and monitor. These drawers will typically have an additional deck or organizer to accommodate the peripherals. They may also provide a pass-through hole in the bottom to allow the cabling to emerge from the bottom of the drawer, through the counter and then to the computer.
Costs and other considerations
Price is always a consideration and cash drawers generally run around $100 to $400. Your biggest concern will be the size and connection type of the cash drawer. Then you can choose from loads of features. You should also consider the reliability of the drawer. Look for things like solid slide wheels and track, quality release mechanisms, and solid construction. Remember the drawer is going to get slammed thousands of times. When the drawer is shut it should easily re-load - and not have to be shoved.
Big retailers like Wal-Mart and Target use customer displays for a good reason… Displays improve customer satisfaction. If your POS software supports displays, then maybe it’s time for you to get one.
When choosing a customer display you have a several options including...
Table or pole display
This depends on your counter layout. You can get a "pole display" which, as the name implies, includes long poles that stick above your monitor so the customer can see it. When choosing a pole display, consider the length of the pole. Use a tape measure to figure out the optimal height at your counter. If you don’t need the added height, then you can get a table display. They simply sit on a flat table-top surface.
You can choose from 5mm to 12mm character sizes. Bigger characters are easier to read but you can’t display as much information. Consider the distance between your customer and the display. In addition, consider the screen size and the number of characters you need to display. There should be a happy medium.
Most displays have 2x20 screens. However you can get bigger screens with 3 or more lines. Displays also vary in brightness and screen type. Some use fluorescent lighting and others use LCD. When deciding on your screen size, think about the merchandise that will be displayed. How many characters will you need? Do you want to display additional messages on the screen?
As most peripheral items you’ll need to choose a connection type. You options include USB, serial and parallel.
Cost and other considerations
It’s hard to choose a pole display without seeing it. Next time you’re out shopping pay attention to the displays and decide what looks best. You’ll notice other options including double sided displays and some that even display graphics. Displays run from $200 to $600.
Have you considered the type of monitor you should buy? This may not seem important, but most retailers end up wishing they bought different monitors (usually smaller monitors or maybe touch screens). Before you buy any old monitor, here are a few options for you to consider:
Touch screens allow the mouse cursor to be controlled by touching the screen with your finger instead. Touch is one of the simplest, most instinctive human actions – making it very simple for the user to interact with the computer. In some instances touch screens allow you to completely eliminate the mouse and keyboard – which saves space and simplifies training. That’s why touch screens are extremely popular in restaurants and bars.
In addition, touch screens are useful when your walk in customers need access to a computer. For example, touch screens are often used with public information kiosks, wedding registry kiosks and self check out stations.
When choosing a touch screen, durability is important. The screen needs to endure thousands of touches, scratches, dirty fingers and possibly spills. Touch monitors often include software that emulates the mouse click -- so you should check with your POS software vendor and ask if this type of system works. Here are a few manufacturer websites to check out:
CRT (Cathode ray tube)
CRTs have very attractive price tags – however they take up a lot of precious space. If you’re on a tight budget and space is not a concern then a CRT might be your best choice.
Flat panel or LCD (Liquid crystal display)
LCD monitors have finally taken over CRTs in the marketplace. In fact, LCD monitors work great for the point of sale because they take up very little space. Not to mention, LCDs are better than CRTs because they consume less energy; the image is crisper; they reduce eye strain; reflect less glare; and finally they look high tech and more professional!
Your biggest drawback will be price. LCD monitors still cost a few hundred more than CRTs. But prices are getting better and there’s a good chance that your next monitor purchase will be an LCD.
Monitors come in a variety of screen sizes – from 9” to 22” screens - or even larger. For most business and home uses -- the bigger, the better. However in the POS retail environment, counter space is a commodity and you should consider a smaller screen size or a flat panel. Most new computers come bundled with 17” CRTs or 15” flat panels. The 17” CRT might be a little bulky for your counter, so make sure you get out the tape measure before you go with the bundled package.
The screen size is specified in terms of the diagonal measurement of the screen. However, LCDs have a larger viewing area because the whole screen area is active. Consequently a 15” LCD can give the equivalent area of a 17” CRT, and a 17” LCD is the equivalent of a 19” CRT.
There are countless monitor manufacturers all fighting for your business. To avoid warranty issues, I suggest a name brand company that won’t go out of business. To learn more about monitors, here are some great websites that include buyer’s guides and helpful information:
Mag Strip (Credit Card) Reader
The magnetic strip reader (MSR) provides a way of reading credit cards and sending the information to your POS software -- so you don’t have to type the information by hand. MSR’s are simply devices that plug into your keyboard and send information to your POS software when swiped. In order to make your POS software and the MSR work together you need to configure the software – which is the most difficult part.
Most POS systems require third party credit card authorization software like IC Verify, x-charge or PC charge. In addition, you’ll need a credit card merchant account. All parties need to be configured to work properly. Your POS software vendor or reseller should be able to help choose and configure all the software you need.
When choosing an MSR you only have a few options. First you need to find out which tracks you need (1, 2 or 3). Track 1 normally encodes the cardholder’s name, card number and expiration data. Track 2 contains data redundancy on the card which includes the card number and expirations date. And track 3 is normally not used. Your POS software vendor can tell you which tracks you need.
You can also choose the “full size” model or the shorter “mini” version. And finally you need to choose a connection type – USB, keyboard wedge or serial. MSR’s normally cost around $60 to $150.
Most POS systems give you the option to use check readers which scan the MICR information from bank checks. These devices can help you reduce exposure to fraud and bad checks.
Check readers are generally simple devices that can include integrated credit card swipes or different mounting options. Your biggest challenge is to figure out where to put your check reader and all your POS devices.
Grocery stores have widely adopted scales into their POS software operations. You can use electronic scales to automatically input the weight as a sale quantity in your POS software.
Electronic scales can offer advanced features including variable items such as meat and cheese, automatic price and print barcode labels and more.
To learn more about your options check out these websites:
Pin pads provide an extra layer of security against credit card fraud. Your customers simply swipe their own card and enter a pin, if needed. Most pin pads also allow the use of smart cards which can help you increase customer loyalty.
You’ll need to contact your credit card merchant and POS vendor for information about utilizing a pin pad at your point of sale. However you can check out some pin pads at these websites:
Signature Capture Pad
Some POS systems allow you to use signature capture pads so you can save signatures and receipts on the computer. Signature pads usually include an integrated credit card swipe so the customer can swipe their own card. You can learn more at some of these manufacturer websites:
If speeding up customer check outs and reducing change errors is important to you -- then you might want to add a change dispenser to your arsenal. They automatically distribute the correct change, so your cashiers don’t have to worry. Most change dispensers work through a serial interface. You’ll also need to find one that works with your type of currency (US, Canadian, etc).
For more information check out:
If you’re looking for maximum reliability and a space saving design then a POS Workstation might be your best choice. POS workstations are specially designed computers that include a variety of POS peripherals tightly built around the computer. All the components are designed to fit together, resulting in a very compact, space saving design.
Beneath the surface, POS stations include durable components that are built and tested for the demanding needs of the retail environment. As a result, they usually last longer than a standard PC. In addition, POS stations allow you to quickly open the case and upgrade or repair components without the use of tools - making it easy for almost any retailer to upgrade components or fix the computer.
Another nice feature is the option to use a built in UPS (uninterruptible power supply). The built in UPS will save a lot of space while keeping the computer running and regulating power fluctuations. POS stations also give you a tremendous amount of flexibility by including more serial and USB ports than a standard PC. So you can use a variety of new or old scanners, printers and other POS peripherals.
With all the advantages of the POS workstation comes a price higher than the standard PC. A typical POS station will cost around $2000 to $5000. However, if you have very busy check out lines, then a POS workstation will be well worth the investment.
When choosing a POS workstation it’s very important to consider the service, support and longevity of the company that manufactures the workstation. You will rely on them to send upgrades, replacement parts, and help you fix the hardware when you have problems. To protect your investment, I recommend a reputable company that will be around for a long time.
You’ll also have a variety of options when choosing a POS workstation. Many of the options include features for peripherals like printers and cash drawers which are discussed in the sections above.
Whether you choose a POS workstation or a standard PC, you’re probably going to need someone to help you program and configure your scanners, credit card readers, PDTs and other equipment to work with your POS software. You also need someone to support you when your PC or printer stops working.
You should always purchase these items from a reputable source that will be around for a long time, stand behind their warranty, and give you great support. For example, some companies will give you fast telephone support, offer next day replacements, or send loaner equipment so you can get up and running quickly. This can be a life-saver when you’re having problems.
For the small business owner, it’s usually better to buy your POS software and hardware from one reliable and reputable source. If you buy hardware and software from different companies you could run into some frustrating situations. For example, when you have a problem and call for support, the 'blame game' could begin. The software company will blame the hardware company, the hardware company will blame the software company, and your problem never gets solved! You might pay a little more overall, but it's worth it if you have a problem. Plus they can pre-configure the computer system and save you time!
To learn more, check out The POS Software Buyers Guide.
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