Running a retail business is never easy, particularly if you juggle multiple titles: CEO, chief accountant, sales manager, and janitor. Intuit's QuickBooks Point of Sale Solution for Retailers, priced at $1,499.95, is a comprehensive and powerful software and hardware package that gives retailers the tools to automate many small-business management tasks. If you don't require the complete setup, you can purchase the software ($799.95 for Basic version) or hardware separately. The hardware peripherals include a receipt printer, a bar code scanner, a credit card reader, and a cash drawer. The good news: They're a breeze to install. The bad news: The Point of Sale software might take several days to configure correctly, particularly if you plan to manually enter inventory, customer, and vendor data. Once configured, though, Point of Sale saves you time by streamlining the day-to-day activities of steering your retail ship. Point of Sale isn't your everyday, plug-and-play Windows application. Be prepared to spend a weekend--or longer--fine-tuning the software and hardware until it's configured perfectly for your needs.
Hardware installation is easy, thanks to a handy setup sheet that leads you through it. You'll have to turn off your PC, unplug the keyboard cable, and attach it to the credit card reader's connector, which in turn attaches to the bar code scanner. All three components share a cable that plugs into your computer's PS/2 port. The cash drawer plugs into the back of the receipt printer, which connects to the PC's parallel port. Honestly, it sounds more complex than it really is, and we installed everything in about 15 minutes.
Now comes the hard part: configuring the Point of Sale software. Once the hardware is installed, you reboot your PC and load the Point of Sale CD. Like most Intuit programs, Point of Sale has a first-rate setup interview that guides you through the lengthy process of entering your company's data, including whether you have 1 or multiple (up to 10) stores, the type of retail business you operate (for example, sporting goods store), employee access rules, and so on. The Point of Sale interface is intelligently organized, with a top row of clickable icons that take you to the program's main modules, including inventory, purchasing, reports, and more.
Be sure you're alert during the interview, however, because the choices you make could create headaches later on. For instance, we accepted the default selection for printing price tags--Intuit internal printer. However, when our tags kept appearing as PDF documents on the Windows Desktop, we reran the setup interview and changed the selection to the Star TSP600, the receipt printer that ships with Point of Sale. The Point of Sale hardware is professional-grade equipment well suited to a rough-and-tumble retail environment. We'd like to see a wireless option for the bar code reader, however, as the approximately six-foot cable makes it difficult to scan large items without removing an item's bar code label and bringing it to the reader. The cash drawer is sturdy and opens via a keyboard command or by clicking the Open Drawer button on the Point of Sale interface. The Star TSP600 printer is great for receipts and bar code labels, but not for standard business documents, which you probably won't be printing at the register anyway.
Once you're set up, beginners will likely spend most of their time in the Practice module, which allows you to learn basic tasks, such as how to add a vendor or an inventory item, without mucking up your company file. We like the fact that "Practice Mode" flashes at the top of the screen, leaving little doubt that you're not altering any vital records. A nice feature is Point of Sale's ability to exchange data with , allowing the two applications to share sales, inventory, and customer information.
Another strength is the Data Import Tool, which allows users to import lists of customers, vendors, and inventory items, rather than having to reenter this information manually. If you have hundreds of retail items in stock, the Data Import Tool is a lifesaver. You open the Data Import Template in Excel and, using cut-and-paste tools, copy the information you want to transfer into the template. The Import Tool automatically inserts the information (for example, customer, inventory, and vendor data) into the appropriate fields in your company file. This feature worked well in our tests, but we were disappointed that the Import Tool isn't accessible via the main interface. We launched it by double-clicking its EXE file in Windows Explorer, as indicated by instructions in the Point of Sale manual. Intuit provides a wealth of technical support but charges a steep premium for phone help. Point of Sale provides about a dozen Show Me instructional videos (found within the program) that demonstrate how to print tags, add inventory items, accept credit cards, and so on. The program's main interface includes a link to Intuit's support site, where you'll find troubleshooting advice, product updates, and a knowledge base for fix-it-yourselfers.
Phone support costs plenty. Service plans range from a 60-day program for $199 to an annual contract for $879. Phone support hours are Monday through Friday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT. Intuit offers free support for installation issues and guarantees you'll get your software and hardware installed correctly (for instance, the cash register drawer opens, the printer prints, and the scanner scans), but you'll have to purchase a support plan for additional help. They're not joking either. When we called for help with importing Excel data into Point of Sale--a setup problem, in our opinion--an Intuit support representative told us to buy a service plan first.