In-Depth Review: MerchantOS SaaS Retail Point of Sale Software

by Kurt Milam on July 1, 2010
http://xioup.com/s/523

If you’re pressed for time, here’s the short story: We recommend MerchantOS to small and medium-sized retailers without reservation. The system excels in every area that counts: price, ease of use, features, ease of deployment, technical support, integration with third party hardware and software, support for special cases. You name it, MerchantOS does it right!

MerchantOS Screenshot

MerchantOS Screenshot

Note: This is our unbaised review of the MerchantOS Retail POS system based on several months of use by one of our customers in a real-world retail setting. There are no affiliate links in this review, and we do not receive any commissions, discounts or other incentives from MerchantOS (or anyone else) for writing it.

Price

As with most SaaS offerings, MerchantOS is a web-based service that charges a monthly subscription fee. There are several attractively-priced packages, with basic service starting at $49.95 a month. The monthly subscription price increases based on the number of registers, employees and retail locations in your organization. If you’re turned off by the idea of paying a monthly subscription fee for software, or by the idea of relying on web-based software, keep reading to find out why it makes perfect sense in this situation.

If you’re comparing the cost of POS systems, there are several things you need to keep in mind. There are often hidden costs that you may not be aware of or that may not be mentioned in price quotes from classic POS vendors.

How much will you have to spend on hardware?
With MerchantOS, the minimum hardware you’ll need to get up and running is a single PC with a reliable Internet connection and a modern web browser. That’s it! Of course, you can add bar code scanners, label printers, receipt printers, cash drawers, customer-facing displays and integrated credit card terminals, but you can add these things on an as-needed basis, rather than having to make a big investment, buying the whole package up front. You can either buy additional hardware directly from MerchantOS, or you can shop around and buy it from another vendor, if you prefer.

How much will you have to pay for recurring software upgrades?
With classic POS software, you’ll pay for the original software, but don’t forget about the upgrades! These are sometimes expensive and can be a nightmare to install. Some vendors require that you keep your software updated in order to qualify for technical support. You may also need to pay for support during upgrade installation, and you will almost certainly have to take your cash registers offline while installing upgrades.

With MerchantOS, upgrades are priced into the subscription fee, and all upgrades are done on the MerchantOS servers, meaning that you don’t have to think about them at all – they occur seamlessly without requiring any work from you. This means less trouble and lower cost for you, but it also means that MerchantOS can release upgrades (adding new features and improving existing ones) more often than a classic POS vendor.

How much will you have to pay for technical support?
This is an important one. Some classic POS vendors charge $85 or more, per hour, for technical support. I’ve even read about vendors who require you to buy an annual support subscription before they’ll answer any questions for you. Some of them don’t mention this requirement until you call them with your first question. Imagine how you’d feel if you’d just spent several thousand dollars on a POS system, only to find out that you’ll need to spend several hundred (or thousand) dollars more in order to get technical support for it!

With MerchantOS, technical support is priced into the subscription fee.

No contract and no hidden fees
Your first month with MerchantOS is free. After that, you’re billed once a month and you can cancel your subscription at any time. There are no hidden charges buried in fine print. The price you’re quoted is the price you’ll pay, and nothing more. This gives you the freedom to evaluate the system to see how it meets your needs without making a large, up-front investment, something that is next to impossible with most POS systems on the market.

Ease of Use

Not much to say here. The system is extremely easy to learn and use. Most of our retail customer’s employees are ladies from the baby boomer generation, and none of them really qualify as “techies.” They were concerned that MerchantOS might be difficult to learn, but without exception, everyone on the team was comfortable using the system from the very start.

Features

In addition to standard cash register functionality, the system offers inventory control, purchase order creation, work order management (in case you offer services in addition to products), customer loyalty and tracking programs, gift card support, data export for QuickBooks integration, sales, layaways, departments, register discounts, configurable reports, employee management features and much more.

One important feature is the collection of electronic vendor catalogs. MerchantOS has a central collection of vendor catalogs that you can access from your account. This can speed up the process of adding new items to inventory – rather than manually entering all of an item’s information, you can import the information from the central catalog. If you’re working with a vendor who has an electronic product catalog that’s not yet included in the MerchantOS collection, simply send MerchantOS a copy of the electronic catalog. They’ll add it to the collection, and you’re good to go.

The web-based nature of the service also offers some special benefits. You can log in to the system from your home (or from anywhere with an Internet connection). This means you can monitor store performance, generate reports and perform other management activities from at home or on the road. You can also easily put together a mobile POS system for use at trade shows, conventions or to sell your products at any other location outside of your stores.

If you have more than one retail location, you can quickly check the stock of your other stores. This is great if you run out of an item at one store. You can quickly check to see what other store still has the item, and either put it on hold for a customer, request to have it shipped to your store, or request to have it sent to the customer. No more calling around to your other locations to see if any of them has an item in stock.

The last feature I’ll mention is the size and color product matrix. This tool allows you to easily import similar items that only differ in size or color/pattern. Let’s say you’re selling shoes, and you have one model that comes in 3 colors and 10 different sizes. The size and color product matrix will allow you to quickly add all of the colors and sizes to your inventory without having to manually enter each one.

Ease of Deployment

I mentioned it earlier in this article, but all you need in order to deploy MerchantOS is a PC with a modern browser and an Internet connection. Since I assume that you’re reading this article on a modern browser installed on an Internet-connected PC, you most likely already meet the minimum requirements for deploying MerchantOS!

I also mentioned the fact that your first month is free. You can set up an account and familiarize yourself with the system without spending a dime. As far as I know, MerchantOS is the only POS vendor that allows you to do that. Sign up for your free account, log in to the software, and you’re up and running.

If you currently keep track of inventory in another system (QuickBooks, another POS), MerchantOS charges a standard $100 fee to import that inventory into MerchantOS. They’ll help you export your inventory in a format that they can read, and they’ll import it into your MerchantOS account for you.

It doesn’t get much easier than that!

Technical Support

I mentioned earlier that technical support is priced in to the subscription fee. What I didn’t mention is that MerchantOS technical support is excellent. The representatives usually respond quickly to questions and are very helpful. In addition, you can turn to the online forums to discuss questions and problems with other MerchantOS users. I’ve heard stories about other POS vendors who fail to respond to pressing, important support questions. I don’t mean they take their time to respond, I really mean there are some vendors who, at times, do not respond at all to tech support questions.

You will not feel alone if you’re a MerchantOS customer.

Integration with Third Party Software and Hardware

MerchantOS makes it easy for you to export your stores’ data in a format that can be imported into common small business accounting packages (eg. QuickBooks). If you’re used to using QuickBooks or a similar accounting software, you should be able to continue using that familiar software alongside MerchantOS.

Barcode scanners and printers, label and receipt printers, cash drawers, customer-facing displays, integrated credit card terminals – MerchantOS integrates directly with all of the pieces of POS hardware you might need. You can buy the hardware directly from MerchantOS, or shop for it on your own. If you decide to buy your hardware from someone other than MerchantOS, it’s important to note that they only offer support for the models they sell. That means, if you want to have MerchantOS support for your hardware, as well as your software, you should either buy your hardware from them or buy the exact same models they sell from someone else.

For your registers, you can use Windows PCs, Macs or Linux PCs – whichever you prefer.

Support for Special Cases

Our retail customer has a couple of special cases. While MerchantOS didn’t have specific support for these cases when our customer signed up with them, they were able to help our customer organize their inventory and departments in a way that would address our customer’s special needs.

Supposing you have a special case that your POS software can’t meet here’s what you can expect to deal with.

Classic POS vendor: Because these vendors generally have rigid release schedules, they may only release new versions very rarely. Let’s say your vendor releases a new version once a year. Supposing you can get in touch with the right person at your vendor, and supposing you can convince that person that your special case is one they should support in their software, you may have to wait a year or more to actually see that support show up in your software.

MerchantOS: Because all MerchantOS upgrades occur on the MerchantOS servers, updates and new versions can be released at any time. It’s easy to get in contact with MerchantOS support, so you only have to convince them that your special case is one they should support. Just so you know, they won’t agree to support every special case – it’s simply unrealistic to expect any software system to be all things to all people. But if you can convince them to support your special case, there’s a chance that support for the case will show up quickly. This is a real advantage of relying on web-based software. The release schedule is much shorter, meaning that you generally don’t have to wait as long to see improved and added features as you would with a classic POS system.

Links

Background

I’ve been chomping at the bit to write this review! I first learned about MerchantOS late in 2009 while exploring some of the truly neat Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings featured at The Small Business Web. At the time, xioup didn’t have any retail customers shopping for a Point of Sale (POS) system, but I was so impressed with the MerchantOS concept and free online demo that I filed it away in my head for future reference. I was hoping we’d have a chance to evaluate the system in more detail for an actual client.

Fast forward a few months. Pat Milam is part owner of The Crossing New Braunfels, a “boutique featuring unique women’s clothing, shoes, belts, & other accessories, as well as wonderful gifts & home decor.” She’s also my mom ;-) Her team had relied  on a makeshift, informal POS system at the store for several years, and she was looking to replace it with a professional, dedicated one.

If you’ve had to shop for a POS system, you know it can be a jungle out there. It’s hard to find good, unbiased information and reviews on the many different systems available. It’s not always easy to calculate the full cost of different systems, either. Pat ran into these problems and came to us for help. Fortunately, I still had MerchantOS filed away in my mental rolodex.

So we did our due diligence. Pat and I had a conference call with Ivan, CEO of MerchantOS to clear up some specific questions. Pat called several retailers who are using the MerchantOS system and heard nothing but rave reviews. After carefully weighing the pricing and features offered by MerchantOS, she decided to give MerchantOS POS system a spin. Now that she’s been using the system for several months, I felt that we were familiar enough with it to write this review.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin July 1, 2010 at 15:55

Kurt,
Thank’s for writing this extensive review. We really appreciate it!!
-Justin @ MerchantOS

Pat Milam July 9, 2010 at 17:17

Kurt, you’re SO right! I am very pleased, as are the ‘girls’ (he’s right–we’re all about the same age: 59-67, & a little wary of all things computer!). After talking w/Ivan & with some other retailers who are using the system (all of whom had used other POS systems in the past), I decided $100 investment to transfer my inventory from QuickBooks to MerchantOS to try the system for a month was a very good deal, as all the systems I was looking at were priced in the thousands just to get started! I also talked w/retailers who were using other POS systems & didn’t get glowing reviews from any! And, so far, the support has been great. When I do have a problem or question (of course, it’s always an issue w/the ‘operators’, not the system!), they’ve been very patient to work w/me & help me, & usually are very prompt with a reply or phone call. I use Quick Books for my accounting software & am happy w/the ease of exporting my necessary reports into QB. I’m still on the learning curve here, but so far, am very pleased w/both the results & the money saved!

Kurt Milam July 13, 2010 at 08:03

Justin: Thanks for dropping by. We’re always on the lookout for excellent products and services that we can recommend to our customers and readers. Keep up the good work at MerchantOS!

Pat: Thanks for your input. I’m glad you’re pleased with the MerchantOS system! I’m looking forward to hearing about the scanners and receipt printers that you’re looking to add soon.

Melynda February 25, 2011 at 00:58

I really and truly want to thankyou for your timely review for me to decide on a POS system. I wanted so badly to use one with a Mac system, and this was one of the few that did. I can’t wait to get started, as this is my very first venture with a POS and a small business and so I again thankyou for your research just for ME!! I’m in your mom’s age group, working with my son, so this was very informative for us both!

Kurt Milam February 25, 2011 at 07:57

@Melynda: I’m glad you found the review helpful! My mom’s been using MerchantOS to run her shop for almost a year now, and she’s still very pleased with it. I think you’re going to like it.

It would be great to hear your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to take it for a test drive.

Happy Sales!

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