Mom or Dad probably told you there’s no such thing as a free lunch. (If not, surely you heard it somewhere else.) Attaching the word “free” to anything tends to raise conflicting emotions: you’d love to get something for nothing, but that cynical voice in your head asks what the catch is. If you have the opportunity to get a free point-of-sale (POS) system, should you?
This will help you understand the pro’s and cons of a free point-of-sale system. Although it’s probably not what you want to hear, the answer is “It depends.”
First Steps in Understanding a Free POS System
First of all, make sure it’s really free. Scrutinize the semantics of the offer. Are you being offered a “free POS system,” “free POS software,” or something else? Sometimes what’s promoted as free technically is, but you only get it by buying something else. Point of Sale software is a good example. Maybe a manufacturer will provide the software free if you buy their hardware, and maybe the hardware pricing puts the total system cost well above what you might pay elsewhere if you just bought both software and hardware outright.
The “free” software (or hardware) may come with strings. Maybe you have to use certain credit card processing services at a premium price. Maybe the system comes with an expensive—and mandatory—service or support contract. Maybe pricey installation is required. (You do realize that those products advertised on late-night TV that “double your order free” are covering their costs—and more—with the “handling charge,” right? These are just different versions of that basic premise.)
As always, you’ve got to read the fine print. A rather dastardly variation on this theme is to provide POS software with no user guide or other documentation. Oh, you have questions? Oh, you’re not sure how to do something? Oh, you’d like to know what error code A513F6 means? Well, we’ll be glad to help you out once you purchase our very reasonably priced support plan….
Are You Missing Out on “Full-Service” Features?
A second possibility is that what you’re getting is genuinely free—and there’s a reason for it. Think about free apps. In some cases a free app just comes with built-in advertising, but usually it doesn’t provide all the features of the paid version. POS systems can be the same way. Certain features may be “locked” and unavailable unless you pay. Missing features may not be a concern for you if you don’t need them, but if you do it can represent a serious issue.
By now, you may be wondering when the good news is coming. Well, there are legitimately free POS systems out there. You may sacrifice some functionality, but particularly in a new business this isn’t all bad. Using a free system for a while gives you a chance to see what it does that you do need, what it also does that you never use, and what it doesn’t do that you wish it did. This can be valuable guidance in purchasing a paid POS system.
A free system can also get a new business over the hump into positive cash flow. The price tags for POS systems typically start out in the thousands of dollars, so this is not a small investment. Even if a free system doesn’t do everything you wish it could, it may well be enough to get by until you have the funds available for a paid system. You’ll also have some insight into exactly what bells and whistles you should actually pay for based on your experience.
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch…
Approach an offer of a free POS system just as you would anything else that might be too good to be true (and frankly, any other business decision). Read the fine print, ask questions if anything is unclear, and make sure you fully understand both what costs (if any) you’ll incur in order to use your “free” system and exactly what you’re getting. After all, sometimes there is such a thing as a free lunch—like when that salesperson who’s courting your business takes you out to eat.
If you have had a good or bad experience with free point of sale systems or software, we wold love to hear from you! If you are in the market for a new point of sale system either for a brand new business or to replace your existing software, let us know. We can walk you through the “pro’s and cons” of free point of sale systems as well as leased and purchased point of sale systems. Just call us at 866-949-7267 and we would be more than happy to answer any questions that you may have.