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Summary:

As an active and enthusiastic Square merchant for my mobile business, I decided to compare notes with several other business owners who use iOS devices to ring up sales and manage their businesses. Here’s what I found.

You can start a "tab" with individual Square merchants via the Card Case app.

With the recent release of Square’s Register point-of-sale (POS) software, small business owners now have another way to turn iPads and iPhones into cash registers. In addition to Square’s Register, Ambur and Lavu leverage existing iOS equipment along with software for a complete POS solution.

I’m an active and enthusiastic Square merchant, and I love the system for my mobile business. I decided to compare notes with several other business owners who use iOS devices to ring up sales and manage their businesses.

Square Register (used at Sump Coffee, St. Louis, Mo.)

For businesses on a budget, Square’s Register software is the place to start. Sump Coffee in St. Louis, Mo., uses Square on an iPad. Square comes with a card reader for credit card swipes. The service also provides business owners with analytics, such as data on their top-selling products, busy times and overall sales trends. When I spoke with Sump’s owner Scott Carey, he said that the “simplicity and elegance” of Square fits with his business model. The software is free and he only pays the standard

Square fees for credit card processing (2.75 percent of each swipe).

Due to the limits of the iPad screen and because you have to manually choose individual items for sale, Square’s Register software doesn’t scale well for companies with large inventories. But it was a natural fit for Carey’s artisanal coffee shop. Plus, he can easily stash the iPad underneath the counter when he’s demonstratin
At businesses that use Register, customers can pay with Square’s Card Case app on their iPhone (and leave a tip if they like). To use the app, you first authorize Square to use Card Case at a supported business. The app then uses iOS built-in GPS and location services to connect you with businesses that support Card Case payments. When you walk into supported businesses, your Card Case app automatically opens a tab, and you can tell the vendor to charge it to your name. Carey likes that the app allows him to serve the coffee and charge the customer later, an important advantage when he’s busy trying to time the perfect brew.g brew methods. This portability “minimizes the barrier” between him and the customer, says Carey.

The notification you get when a Square merchant has closed your "tab."

From a customer perspective, Card Case is not perfect. When I tried to use it at Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis, my tab opened up when I walked into the pizzeria, but I couldn’t pay. The manager explained that they can’t use Square’s system at their brick-and-mortar shop because it doesn’t integrate with their legacy POS, which they use for both payment and order management. (On the plus side, he discounted our pizza as an apology.)

Ambur (used at Snow and Company, Kansas City, Mo.)

Server takes an order with an iPhone at Snow and Company.

On the other side of Missouri, in Kansas City, the specialty cocktail bar Snow and Company runs a completely Apple-based operation. Gerland Nevins, CEO and Head of Strategery [sic] and Customer Happiness, explained that he preferred Ambur‘s iOS-based POS over other solutions, because it had a one-time fee rather than ongoing costs. Although he considers himself non-technical, he set up the software and printers on his own. Nevins says Ambur’s support team is very responsive and the software provides him with data — including information on the performance of each server, peak times for the business and hot-selling products — that he needs to manage operations. Snow and Company’s food and drink menu changes often, and Nevins hasn’t had any problems updating and revising the menu items. Anyone who has used a traditional POS knows programming changes can be a real pain.

Snow and Company uses a Mac monitor for their menu board, and orders are taken on an iPod Touch. When I first visited the bar, I thought my server was playing with her iPod instead of taking our orders. Once I figured out that my server was working and not playing Angry Birds, I thought the system was very cool and completely transparent. The mobile ordering system fits with Snow and Company’s fun and social aesthetic too — since servers don’t have to run back to a terminal to enter orders, they can stay out on the floor and interact with customers.

Lavu (used by Flying Monkey, Topeka, Kan.)

The Flying Monkey cafe uses the Lavu system to ring up orders and take payments on an iPad. Lavu also includes such traditional POS elements as printers, cash drawers and other equipment options. Unlike Ambur or Square, Lavu has an initial setup fee and monthly hosting fees. Printers, cash registers and other hardware are extra.

According to Holly Bastin, spokesperson for Flying Monkey, they chose this particular iOS-based POS because it’s customizable. “It’s nice to have a system that integrates well with our smartphones and allows us to make changes or check in on the go,” Bastin said. “It offers the option of turning an iPhone into a terminal if need be, which has come in handy on occasion.”

From a customer perspective, it’s very similar to other cash registers, sans the bulk. Customers might not notice anything is different until they’re asked to use their finger to sign on the iPad screen (similar to Square) for a credit card purchase.

The bottom line

Which iOS-based POS system is best for your business? If you are currently using a stand-alone “dumb” register to ring up customers, Square is a logical choice. It’s cheap and easy and free to start off with. For more sophisticated operations, Lavu and Ambur are great choices. They can provide more sophisticated reporting, ring up sales with multiple servers and print tickets to a kitchen or bar.

  1. paul quickenden Thursday, March 15, 2012

    interesting. have you seen VendhQ.com? cloud based..

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  2. Robert Stoeber Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Another iPad POS system I’m testing right now is called Ring It Up. The advantage of this one is the way it imports and exports data so that I can easily integrate the iPad POS with our customer database systems.

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    1. Robert,

      With Ambur you can export all reports into CSV files, which easily transfer into Excel, so you don’t have to manually work through all your server’s sales and tips reports, among many other features.

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  3. VendhQ and ZingCheckout.com are definitely a couple of the front runners in the web-based Point of Sale world

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