A Tablet-Based POS App for Restaurants: Ambur

In 2009, a team of former restaurant owners and workers set out to create a point of sale system for the hospitality industry that would be easier and more cost effective than any other available. Two years later, the Ambur point of sale iPad app was introduced to the market.  It can be used with any Apple touch device, which increases flexibility and availability in a busy restaurant setting. It’s customizable—from creating a menu to meet your unique needs, to customizing receipts and payment options. The following features could make a nice solution for your mobile hospitality needs:

– Set up the customizable point of sale system according to your needs.

– Receive free updates and free support.

– Customize your reports with important details.

– Save and store your sales data on your mobile device, with free backup on Dropbox.

– View, print, email, or export reports.

– Organize your menu to meet your specific requirements.

– Set permissions for individual users.

– Store customer contact information.

– Keep reservation data in one place with the easy reservation system.

– Accept cards on any device with compatible card readers.

The team continues to adapt and update the POS app to meet the growing challenges of an increasingly mobile hospitality industry. Here is their story:

“Before the iPad was released in April 2010, few people realized all the different applications it would serve in just a few short years. iPads are currently being used in hospitals, restaurants, air travel, retail, and various other industries. In 2010, the point of sale (POS) market was still dominated by a handful of large companies, some worth billions of dollars. These companies had a stronghold on the market and yet were unable to solve many pain points for restaurateurs. The systems provided by these companies did not adapt to the needs of specific restaraunts, remained hard to use, and were expensive.

The iPad was the perfect tool to disrupt the market. Going into the iPad POS market, we knew what we were up against. The incumbents had a twenty-five year head start, strong reseller networks, and recognizable brands. We knew competition would be tough, but we also understood that restaurant owners needed an easy-to-use mobile POS system at an affordable price. That’s exactly what we set out to create!

Having years of experience in the restaurant industry, we realized that a large number of features do not necessarily make a better product. A POS system may be packed with dozens of features, butthey don’t provide much benefit to the user if they are difficult to access. Every feature built into our app serves a specific purpose and is easily accessible. As we grow and add more features, we make great efforts to make sure that we keep Ambur easy to use, so we don’t end up like the systems we want to replace. Another great advantage of an iPad point of sale system is the mobility. Wait staff can carry around iPads, iPad minis, iPods, or iPhones and access the POS system no matter where they are in the restaurant.

From the start, we knew we had a great product and getting it into the hands of restaurateurs would allow us to prove it. We decided to base our sales on a completely transparent model. Restaurateurs can download a limited version for free from the App Store and evaluate it at their own pace. In the evaluation stage, our sales agents can answer any questions the customer may have. We work closely with the customer to make sure that this is a good fit for their business. This model has served us well; since our customers are already familiar with Ambur before they purchase, they know it is the right solution for them. Newer POS companies have similar models, and we think it is a great trend. With the point of sale being the heart of a restaurant, the staff need to be fully comfortable with it.

Apple’s App Store has allowed us to reach customers in thirty countries! Such a big reach does have it’s own challenges. One challenge that we encounter every day is to make sure that we are able to support not only the software but all the corresponding hardware remotely. Extensive documentation, understanding customer’s needs, and great customer service allow us to be one of the most highly rated POS systems in the App Store.

From talking with thousands of restaurateurs, we came to understand that the most important aspect when choosing a POS system is the owner understanding the needs of their business. There are a lot of POS solutions on the market, and not all of them are a good fit for every business. Once a restaurant owner has outlined their needs, they should ask specific questions and make sure that the POS system can perform as needed. Restaurateurs should be wary of companies that don’t offer free trials or a 100 percent money back guarantee on their solution.”

An Instant Loyalty Program For Small Merchants

What if you’re a small merchant, maybe a single store operation or a small chain, and you want to offer a loyalty program because, well, loyalty programs really work.   However, the challenges of a loyalty program for smaller companies are well documented, numerous and not so easy to overcome.

To execute a loyalty program effectively, a business owner has to design one and stick with it.  It has to last for years, because it may take customers that long to earn a reward, and they will be angry and disappointed if you abandon the program before they’ve had a chance to get a reward.

Second, a business owner has to invest in cards or building an app (very costly and time consuming).   Also, customers are already loaded with apps, and key tags, and membership cards. The last thing they want is yet another card to remember.

A third problem is training employees on the program and even when you give out cards (like a frequent buyer card), the business has to take an extra step of asking for and then logging customer information.   It can cause employee frustration and management headaches.

Well, this is where AppCard comes in to make life simple.  AppCard is a program that any merchant can implement without tears.

I tried AppCard a few months ago.  I didn’t quite get it at first.  It took a while to get my arms around the idea, but once I read through their website, watched the video and played with the app, it totally clicked.

It boils down to this: AppCard is perfect for small chains and solo merchants who want the power of a real loyalty program without all the hassle.

Once a merchant signs up with AppCard, his customers can join by downloading the app, which works on Apple, Android and the web.   By using AppCard, the merchant avoids the pain of hiring  programming to build his own app and maintain it or support it.

A merchant doesn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to print up and give away key tags or membership cards – which many of us take home and quickly forget about.    No, it is very simple.  Once customers put the app on their phone, they can use their phone number to check in at the store.

AppCard can work in conjunction with Epson’s OmniLink printer and automatically capture points earned/dollars spent by a customer.  No other interaction is needed.

Other benefits I saw: small merchant associations – like a “downtown” merchant association, (here in Sarasota we have St. Armands Circle – a collection of high end small stores) can band together to help promote the same loyalty program, thereby encouraging the user to participate even more frequently.

Rewards are easy to set and end-users can be targeted for promotion.   The company offers 90+ reports for analyzing consumer behavior.

A Digital receipts feature allows customers to have a receipt emailed directly to them instead getting eight or ten inches of thermal paper.   This is surely the next big thing in retail.  I find myself getting about 100 feet of receipts a month and it’s truly absurd.  A solution like AppCard can save vendors money and earn customer respect by being progressive and “green”.

A few other features I found attractive:
– Merchants can reward customers whether they pay by cash, credit or debit card
– The app can display a digital storefront for each merchant.
– It’s a source of leads because customers who carry the app can find other businesses who participate right in the app.
– Can be set up in less than 20 minutes.

AppCard has an impressive group of lead investors including:  Eric Schmidt, Chairman of Google, Jerry Yang (co founder of Yahoo), Peter Thiel (cofounder and former CEO of PayPal and Yair Goldfinger of ICQ.

Starbucks Customers Bring POS Hardware to Retail

In a twist on BYOD , (Bring Your Own Device) for Point of Sale, customers have been bringing their own device to Starbucks for years now.   Since I use the app at least 15 times a month, and sometimes 30x a month, it seemed natural to discuss the other side of the retail counter for POS hardware.

The Starbucks app, for those of you who are not familiar with it, is a combination of a loyalty program, payment technology, store locator, reward generator and a “stay real close to the customer” technology.

It works well and gives customers a free drink for every fifteen they buy.   To use it, customers simply open the app and tap “Pay”.  A 2D barcode appears.  I would have included a picture of mine, but some jokers would be running down to Starbucks this morning, opening their smartphones to this article, and charging their latte’s on my account.  Since I have the automatic refill option turned on, which charges my credit card and fills the Starbucks card whenever a low balance is reached, this could become quite expensive, so, you’ll have to download the free app to see what the barcode looks like.  You can get the app at the Google Play store of course, and the iPhone equivalent.

The app includes a store locator – which is fast and easy to use.

The Starbucks app can manage multiple cards by the way, so if you have given a card to your teenager, or significant other, you can keep tabs on the activity and refill when you get that urgent text (Dad, can you please refill my card) – not the worst way in the world to make sure you hear from your college kids occasionally.

Rewards!!

For every fifteen drinks I buy, I get a free one.  This is not an insignificant thing.  My usual drink is a “short Pike” – which is about $1.70 or so, and I try to keep the caffeine to a minimum.  But for my rewards drink, Starbucks lets me order almost any size, so I will usually save the freebie for a day when I’m out on a long bike ride and then order a large Valencia or other refreshing flavored drink that costs around $4.00.  I feel like I am getting a great deal.  (Kudos to Starbucks for a great program by the way.)

starbucks-rewards-point-of-sale-news

The only drawback to the program is that I don’t ever use cash anymore, and consequently don’t throw my change in the tip jar.  The employees, who turnover quite regularly, have said they don’t mind.  I hope that’s true.  Starbucks has made a big deal out of taking care of their vendors in other countries, I hope their “fair-trade” practices extend to offering a competitive salary and benefits (including a health care option or option to co-pay) in the United States as well.   Charity begins at home, some say.

Summarizing – Starbucks has a great program that keeps customers coming back.  Other retailers would do well do match this program and soon.  There is a limit to how many of these apps I am willing to carry in my smartphone – and actually use on a regular basis, and I would guess that number is around ten or less.  Right now I only use Starbucks – and keep a few loyalty cards in my car for those businesses that stamp or hole-punch them and mentally, I can only keep track of a few.  So the next few that come along are likely to get some of my mindshare.

Small retailers would do well to make sure that any point of sale system has an option to add a mobile loyalty program – including ones like App Card, that supports many small businesses at a time.

Cutting Edge POS in Japan

When I think of Japan, two of the first things to come to my mind are sushi and cutting edge technology. Guess which one this article is about.

That’s right, sushi—I mean technology. Point of sale software to be more precise. Last November, Japanese company Science Works released a POS system called RealtimeManager, which was developed specifically for restaurant chains. Like many POS systems, RealtimeManager collects data in—you guessed it—real time. But there is one important difference between this system and the majority of others: RealtimeManager is able to analyze this real-time data in order to show customers using the company’s smartphone app which restaurants currently have seating available. This means that hungry would-be diners can peruse dining options not only by rating and menu before stepping foot into a restaurant, but also by whether or not they’ll be able to be seated right away.

This is fantastic. I am not currently aware of any apps that provide a similar service here in the United States (if you know of one, please let me know in the comments section below), but I feel confident that a similar app would be welcomed with open arms. I can’t even count how many times my husband and I have bounced restaurant to restaurant in search of immediate seating on a Friday or Saturday night—and I’m talking about chain restaurants, just like this app serves, the kinds of places where you expect to be able to walk in and get a table without waiting.

From a business perspective, RealtimeManager has some great attributes beyond its obvious appeal to consumers. For one thing, the POS software automatically analyzes incoming data to determine availability, so it doesn’t require any extra work by restaurant staff. Additionally, the smartphone app encourages customers to come when seating is available and not to further crowd the restaurant when it is already filled to capacity; a feature that as a former member of the service industry I’m sure is greatly appreciated by staff.

As I mentioned, Science Works is a Japanese company and RealtimeManager is only available in Japan. Currently, the service is available at about 400 restaurants, but according to Akihabara News the company intends to expand significantly over the next year.

Will they expand to the United States? I’ve found no indication of such a thing, but as someone who on numerous occasions has driven twenty minutes to an Applebees only to find an inhumanly long line trickling out the door, my fingers are crossed.

Square & Mobile Payments. What is it? How does it work?

Point of sale from your smartphone or tablet?

There is a lot of chatter about different mobile payment platforms these days, and sometimes we take it for granted that everyone knows what they are and how they all work.  But hey, let’s face it: mobile payment platforms have not yet become fully mainstream.  So today we’re taking an opportunity to explore one of the more popular mobile payment programs in greater detail.  Let’s learn a little more about Square.

Square, Inc. now provides an app for smartphones that converts them into a cash register or credit card terminal.

This app can be used on an Android phone, iPod, iPad, or iPhone. A free credit card reader comes with the app.  The square-shaped card reader is small enough to fit inside a wallet, and whenever a buyer wants to pay for a purchase or service, the credit card is swiped through the reader and the app processes the payment. Whenever the Square app is used, all the user has to do is plug the reader into the phone’s audio jack so that it becomes activated for credit card readings. The Square app is perfect for small businesses that have limited space and want to accept an alternative form of payment besides cash.

The app can be downloaded for free through the Square, Inc. website or purchased through the Apple store.  In some cases, a rebate is available. Once the app is downloaded, all the user has to do is link it to their bank account so that payments can be received immediately. Payments are deposited into the business’s bank account the following day after a payment transaction. To set up the app so that it is linked to your bank account, all you have to do is enter the routing and account numbers on the bank account page on the Square, Inc. site.  For security, the app deposits and withdraws a small amount of change into your account, which you must then confirm on the site.  By entering the correct amounts, you confirm that you are in fact the owner of the account. Once the bank account is linked to the app on your smartphone or tablet, you can use it immediately for business: selling products and services to customers and accepting mobile payments. The Square app also allows a business to maintain a customer list and manage inventory.

This app is perfect for small businesses that want to accept credit and debit cards for payment. It only takes a few minutes for the app to be ready for the first credit card payment when a user signs up.  Square, Inc. also accepts all major credit and debit cards. Having the Square, Inc. app can increase business opportunities for those who like to shop or go to special events but do not carry cash with them. What I like about the app is that it allows the user to customize the checkout screen with photos, prices and categories. On the payment screen, a field appears where the customer signs their name using their fingertip. A receipt can be generated by sending the customer a text message or email. The Square app also has a directory available that a business can be listed in. Being listed in the directory is at the discretion of Square, Inc.

There is a charge of 2.75% per swipe for credit cards, automatically applied for each sale. Square uses VeriSign Trusted and is Tier 1 PCI Compliant. Firewalls protect smartphone connections between networks to ensure privacy and security.

The Square app is very easy to download and use. Having a credit card reader attached to a phone is very innovative in retail technology as it replaces the need for a separate credit card terminal.  We can see potential for the Square application in small retail businesses who have brick and mortar stores as well as those that operate at smaller venues like seasonal events, festivals, and shows.