One of the announcements coming out of Macworld last week was the upcoming release of Lightspeed 3.0, an update to the Mac Point-of-Sale software.
Lightspeed is a complete POS solution that covers both front counter and back office retail needs, and one of the few that runs natively on the Mac platform. I took an interest in this release because I used to own a small retail store and I know first-hand how painful Windows POS software can be.
Point-of-Sale the Macintosh Way
Lightspeed is clearly inspired by the iTunes interface and incorporates the familiar left-hand source/navigation list with the details screen on the right, and even a cover flow view of your products. The design choice is meant to connect the POS with the perceived elegance and sophistication of the Mac platform that motivated retailers to choose to purchase a Mac for their shop in the first place. If a boutique owner is buying a (relatively) expensive iMac to be on display in your store, this software will match the look that they are trying to create with their aluminum, black and glass hardware.
And just as you would expect, there is an iPhone web app for Lightspeed that lets you check in on how your shop is doing even when you manage to get away.
What’s New in 3.0
The big changes in version 3.0 are a new interface for the front counter to pick products and build orders, a button mode that is optimized for touchscreens, and better multi-site support. The new interface lets you build a list of products for an order and then “park” that order in the sidebar if you need to switch to another customer, or just to wait for the customer to make up their mind.
A greater number of features are available directly from the POS interface and the sidebar is customizable to match the way your store works. The button mode is there for retail locations where a touch interface would work well. You can buy an iMac customized with a touch sensitive screen by TrollTouch or another vendor and eliminate the (visible) keyboard and mouse on the counter.
All these interfaces leverage key Apple technologies like Core Animation to make a really beautiful and polished piece of software. The multi-site support allows for cross-store sales and returns, and gift cards that can be used at any store. The system will also push inventory descriptions and SKU numbers from a central site to the other stores so you can reduce duplicate administration efforts.
Another small, but significant, change is the added support for debit cards and PIN pads. The fees to accept these cards are often cheaper for retailers and a great convenience to customers. I saw a demo running at the Macworld booth with a fancy Hypercom pad with custom graphics displayed on the pad, just one more detail that helps create a very slick look for your retail store.
The final release date for Lightspeed 3.0 has not been set, but we should see it ship in the first quarter of 2009.
A Whole New Web Store
While Lightspeed 3.0 is still several weeks away, Web Store 2.0 should be ready much sooner in conjunction with a planned 2.8 release of Lightspeed.
Web Store 2.0 has been rebuilt from the ground up to use an SQL backend with PHP. The speed improvements over the previous flatfile-based approach are significant. The biggest change is in the customer-facing web interface.
The web interface has nods to the desktop POS software with drag and drop for products to the shopping cart, a number of animations, and a very sophisticated look. All the buzzwords are covered and the feature list has been greatly expanded to cover wish lists, cross-sell suggestions, online account management, order history, real-time credit card processing, real-time shipping calculations, and more. The demo I got at the Lightspeed booth was really impressive. You can build a great looking web store right from the inventory you’ve already entered in the desktop POS software.
You can choose to have Xsilva host your web store or you can use your own web hosting company as long as they provide MySQL, PHP5, and the required libraries. Xsilva wanted to make it really clear that they are not trying to lock anyone in to their hosting service, but they did want to make it easy for their customer to get online with SSL certificates and all that is needed to launch a site.
Build Your Retail Empire with Lightspeed
Lightspeed pricing starts at $749 and the Web Store license is an additional $899. The upgrade to Web Store 2.0 will be free for users that have a support and upgrades subscription.
If you are looking for new POS software, then Lightspeed is an excellent choice for the Mac user. If you already run Lightspeed, then the 3.0 upgrade will be interesting if you use it for front-counter sales or for multiple locations. For those people running Web Store, the new 2.0 version is just head and shoulders above the previous 1.x releases. You’ll love what you can do with your online presence and the sophisticated look that Xsilva gives you right out of the box.
If you have decided to run your store on the Mac platform, then you will certainly appreciate how Lightspeed works in a familiar way and supports the aesthetic of Apple’s carefully designed hardware.