Understanding EPOS Hardware
A review of what you need if you’re a clothing, sports or footwear retailer. Getting the right hardware is important because the wrong hardware will create problems and be unreliable.
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In general people use the term “cash register” for tills that are not based a standard computer – and these will normally not work with modern EPOS system software. For a till to work with a modern stock management system the EPOS till needs to be based around a modern programable computer, exactly the same as those at your home or office.
A typical EPOS till has five major components and while brands, specifications and quality will vary this article is not a list of makes and models – rather it is review of the types of hardware you will need to consider.
These elements generally come packaged in three different ways. Which brands and what specification we leave to you, but one way or another you will need the following:
EPOS till quick check list
(also known as “the processor”, “main box”)
This may be stand alone or integrated with the screen (and less frequently with a printer and barcode scanner as well). At heart the computer should be a very standard Windows, Android or Apple computer. If part of a modular solution this should be positioned beneath the counter.
(also known as an “EPOS touch screen”, “the EPOS monitor”, “till screen”, “EPOS touch screen till system”)
This is exactly the same as a normal flat screen monitor but with an additional touch screen capability (for modular solutions this requires an extra cable) and will be visible on your counter.
(also known as “barcode scanner”, EPOS scanner)
This can be connected to the computer by cable or Bluetooth (Bluetooth scanners are generally a bit more expensive and can be more easily misplaced/stolen). Most clothing/footwear shops can use single line scanners and do not need the more expensive omni directional variety used by big supermarkets. Like your till touch screen monitor, the barcode scanner will be visible on the counter.
(also known as “receipt printer”, “EPOS till printer”)
Like your barcode scanner, these can be connected to the computer by cable or Bluetooth (Bluetooth printers are generally a bit more expensive). Some printers are used as a link to the cash draw.
This is best positioned immediately beneath the counter so it is easily accessible when open, but not directly in contact with your computer (so the computer is not vibrated every time the cash draw opens).
Whichever combination of elements you select, to varying degrees you’ll have to allow for power cables, an internet connection and the data cabling between components. Many retailers will also want a credit card machine and possibly a customer display.
It’s worth noting that elements bought separately are not always entirely compatible with each other and there should be less to go wrong if you get the hardware from your EPOS system supplier, although this is not normally essential.
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The Modular PC till
Each component is separate and could be a different brand from a different supplier – being based around a full PC its speed and capacity is vast.
This is a good mid-range/advanced solution which looks best when the touch screen and scanner are designed well and are visible on the counter, while the other components are out of site beneath or behind the counter. As most of the components are standard PC elements, hardware support and parts are normally widely available from a variety of local sources.
The Designer PC till
The computer and touch screen are one unit and their colour/design matches that of the printer and ideally the barcode scanner, while the cash draw can be out of sight. Technically it may be no different to the modular PC till, but it is designed as a style/fashion statement in its own right, and so is visible on the counter as part of the retail experience. Because it usually incorporates a full PC its speed and capacity are vast.
This is usually the most expensive option, and as the PC and touch screen comes as one unit this means there will be a little less cabling between components. Hardware support is usually tied to the supplier/brand – so ensure you can get good hardware support from them. With some models a sophisticated customer display screen is built into the main unit, but this will not always be supported by the EPOS software you select and is not critical to core functionality.
The Tablet till
If the tablet is based on a PC then it is a fairly powerful computer – the same is true for many Android tablets. To form an EPOS till, the tablet needs to be mounted on a tablet stand and linked to a barcode scanner, with a receipt printer and cash draw out of sight beneath or behind the counter. For tablets, linking the peripheral elements in an elegant way, so that cables are not obvious, can be a challenge.
Tablets are not yet as powerful as full PC’s, so the thousands of size/colour combinations in a clothing or footwear outlet may result in speed/technical issues if the till is very busy, but in many cases the solution works fairly well and is highly cost effective. Apple tablets are fairly powerful and robust but are relatively expensive and have a more limited selection of printers and other hardware elements.
With tablets there is also the possibility of using them in a more mobile way by cutting back on the peripherals, effectively turning them into queue busters you can take anywhere (especially if the till software works off line). For example, there are mobile receipt printing that can be worn on your belt or your till software may support email receipts, some barcode scanners also support Bluetooth links etc.
PC and Android tablet-based EPOS tills tend to be a lot less expensive than those using Apple tablets, although they seem to have a shorter life. Ensure that the tablet supports the operating system needed for the EPOS software – your EPOS software supplier should be able to advise you.
EPOS hardware suppliers UK
There are scores of UK hardware suppliers although most parts are actually manufactured abroad and imported into the UK, sometimes under a variety of brand names. Design and quality will vary and the choice will be daunting unless you approach the task methodically.
Generally speaking, its best to select your software first, then take the advice of your chosen supplier with regard to the capacities of Modular PC tills verses Tablet tills (a Designer till option is purely a ‘look and feel upgrade’ to a modular PC till). If you already have modern hardware then your EPOS software suppliers can usually work with all or most of these components.
Frequently Ask Question
Can I integrate peripherals to my EPOS system ?
Normally yes, tills are basically computer systems with shop specific components eg a barcode scanner, specialist receipt printer etc.
Historically, tablets were limited in this respect but some of the new generation of tablets are far better. Most other EPOS hardware will support any modern peripheral you wish to attach, but as tablets are small and highly visible the number of peripherals required for a point of sale unit may be an issue.
To accommodate the peripherals, you can look at the Bluetooth/wi-fi possibilities verses direct cabling – although with cabling you should watch out for where the ports are positioned on the till unit as this will affect how visible any cables might be.
How much does it cost to install and maintain an EPOS system?
Most modern software packages are sold with software support built into regular monthly fees, but for hardware you will usually have the option to take out an annual hardware support contract or simply ‘paying as you go’ when hardware support is needed.
However, although most hardware comes with a manufacturer warrant you should probably consider the hardware support issue from day 1, despite the manufacturer’s warranty. This is because most standard warranties are “back to manufacturer” and for an EPOS till unit this is just not viable – generally you cannot manage without a critical till component for a number of days while the faulty element is evaluated by the manufacturer and a replacement part posted back to you.
So, you need to think about how you will organise your own support in an emergency or take out a support contract. On-site EPOS hardware support may be available from your supplier (critical if the parts you need are very brand specific eg for a designer till) or alternatively from a separate third-party EPOS hardware support company. The support itself can be based upon either an engineer turning up within a few hours or a ‘hot swap’ – where a suitable part is couriered to you as soon as the problem is reported. Alternatively, you can ‘do it yourself’ by making sure you know where you can get fast replacement parts (or even keeping a few spares to hand).
Generally speaking, our experience at Top to Toe has been that if you don’t have a hardware issue in the first few months then you’ll probably be ok for a few years, although that does not take into account little Fred, who decides that your barcode scanner is a great toy to swing on.
Over time though, as EPOS hardware has got cheaper and speedy spare parts delivery more widely available, a fixed, on site, hardware support contract has become less cost effective and ‘do it as you go’ has become more popular. Whichever option you choose there is the inevitability that when something breaks there will be some minutes or hours before that can be fixed. So it is vital that you have a fall back procedure for the occasional times when your till is partially or completely out of action (see separate section).
Whichever approach you take, you will need access to parts at some point and perhaps to some technical re-configuration skills; so ideally you need a software system supplier who can help and advise on a long-term ongoing basis.
How can my shop operate when my EPOS till breaks down?
This is one of the few areas in which clothing and footwear systems are easier than more general stock management systems.
This is because you will generally have used your stock management system to generate your own barcode pricing labels and this makes it easier to capture each sale manually. If your EPOS unit fails for any reason then you can simply fall back on manually keeping the barcode labels for anything you sell and then re-entering these into the system later when it is operational.
For garments, the swing ticket can be ‘easily’ removable as part of the sale. For footwear, if you have attached your own peel-able labels to shoe boxes, these can be easily peeled off by shop staff as a record of the sale when the till is not operating. Ensure you have a spare receipt book or cheap conventional till available for these very occasional emergencies, and that staff are familiar with the process.
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