Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Affordable, Full-Featured Harbortouch POS - Reliable Testimonials Speak Volumes

Harbortouch continues to offer one of the more compelling full POS systems on the market. While I am a proponent of software like PhoneSwipe / PayAnywhere and Registroid, which work on tablets and offer considerably better pricing for the use of the software and hardware, there are times when a business simply needs more muscle under the hood. Whether this is a retail situation, a high volume coffee shop or restaurant, or even a hotel, Harbortouch can be configured to offer best-in-class service that provides over 80 customized reports while managing everything from consumables in stock to employee hours and a customer's preferences. It is a very fluid system that works through the cloud, offering a complete backoffice experience from anywhere with an Internet connection, keeping multiple stations in sync and even has the ability to tie in a roaming station that can take tableside orders or payments. Plus, the equipment costs are folded into the service agreement at about the same (or lower) cost as other comparable services without the thousands of dollars those other services might expect up front in hardware purchases.

But what I really like about Harbortouch is that the company is starting to show a bit more proof about their customer satisfaction. Most of the big players have plenty of high profile clients. Squirrel, for example, doesn't need to convince anyone that their equipment works, because they have a pretty substantial slice of the pie, as does Halo. However, an upstart like Harbortouch which is offering a radically different type of pricing approach and the promise of "Free Hardware" (in quotes because, frankly, nothing is free -- here you have a time commitment of five years to make it worth their while and cover their costs, which is only two years more than most other companies sign merchants up for even when they buy the equipment upfront), needs to be able to show merchants who might not be able to attend a hands-on demo that the system is worth jumping into. No sensible merchant wants to rely on blind faith, even if there is a "trial" window available. So it is pretty impressive that Harbortouch has been slowly releasing testimonial videos from some of their clients.
Up until now, these have often been small businesses that are only known regionally. But this past week, a video went live with a testimonial from Gino's East Pizzaria in Chicago. While it could still be considered a small regional business, the fact remains that Gino's is known all over the world. The pizzaria is arguably one of the most famous and recognizable restaurants in Chicago. (To see a high def version of the video, click here, or watch in standard def below.)


Just from a pricing perspective, I want to look at a few competing options and show why Harbortouch stacks up so well. I'll also toss in Clover, PayAnywhere Storefront and ShopKeep as examples.

First of all, here is what Harbortouch costs: each system (defined as a single station, essentially each computer with a cash drawer) is $69 per month. If the establishment has two registers, that is $138 per month. If there are four or more stations, then one needs to be a bit more powerful to act as the brain and costs an additional $10 per month, and there are other potential monthly "rental" fees such as additional printers, food scales, kitchen video systems, etc. The base package includes a POS computer (with keyboard and mouse, though it is a touchscreen system during practical use), cash drawer, printer, and for retail also a barcode scanner. There is also a quarterly service fee of $59 per merchant location. These costs cover the equipment and software license, which we will learn more about in a moment when looking at how other companies might charge. I also want to note: this is not the cost of processing credit cards, this is the cost of operating a POS system. You still need a card processing agreement and some systems allow for various companies to program the equipment -- Harbortouch is not one of those, as it is owned and operated by a processing company. Still, savvy merchants will find that they are able to get rock bottom rates if they work with a good agent and the POS system itself can be leveraged for a better processing deal that benefits the merchant over the long run.

The Leaf POS is probably among the least expensive options that actually handles employee hours and allows modifiers, etc., but it still seems quite pared down compared to its fully loaded brethren. Leaf is aimed squarely at the boutique retailer or cafe, with tablet-based hardware (with single built-in card reader) sold at $250 per station, not including the cost of cash drawer or printer which would be additional, and a solid $50 per month. Leaf integrates with other processors (monthly fees will vary), including PayAnywhere (and presumably Phone Swipe). However aside from employee hours and slightly improved inventory controls, it does not appear to offer much added value over the PayAnywhere service, which itself has fairly robust software. 

PayAnywhere Storefront runs $12.95 per month and includes a tablet with built-in card reader and a counter stand, as well as an additional audio jack card reader for a second tablet or phone. While the costs of a cash drawer and printer are also extra, this is the complete monthly cost for the system. And, unlike most of the other options, this is ALSO the monthly cost for the processing agreement. PayAnywhere Storefront (as well as the other versions of the program that do not come with hardware) offers a decent amount of options for reports to track sales and performance of the sales personnel and even compatibility with QuickBooks through a data export. It does not track consumables, however, or hours, and the interface is definitely geared toward quick service with limited inventory.

Bank of America has a tablet based system called Clover which offers flat pricing based on sales volume for the processing side (with rates much higher than the PayAnywhere Storefront solution), and offers a simple tablet with cash drawer and printer for sale at $999 or leased monthly at $49.93, plus a monthly service charge of $49 for the first station and $25 for each additional station. Remember, EACH station is going to cost $999 upfront or $49.93 per month (with a three year commitment). Plus not all of the functionality comes built in for that price, as there is a Clover Marketplace from which additional functionality can be downloaded, presumably for an additional cost.

ShopKeep has a simple app for the iPad at $49 per month per register, but the merchant has to also purchase all the equipment to make the system. At a bare minimum, this is an iPad and a compatible card reader (in this case, the much more expensive $99 iDynamo). A starter package of equipment costs a mere $649 for a single station, though this can quickly balloon to over $1,400 depending on the retail set up and merchant's needs. That is pretty steep for a single register, though admittedly a lot of the components could be purchased from a third party to save some money. On the up side, ShopKeep works with many payment processors and does have backoffice and dashboard compatibility with multiple device types (while the customer facing register must be an iPad). It handles inventory management and modifiers, employee hours and offers QuickBooks integration, but it lacks the power and added features of bigger systems while still costing about the same.

A more appropriate comparison for Harbortouch would be a system like the Squirrel in a Box POS, which starts out for a comparable station (computer, printer and cash drawer) in the range of $5,000. Apparently there are financing options available "starting" at $160 per month with a $2,000 downpayment, but the cost of the system does not include the cost of the ongoing service agreement. The price also only includes a one-year warranty on the equipment. With Harbortouch, the warranty is good for as long as the merchant uses the service (it's included in the cost of the quarterly billings). Halo, Aloha and Micros all offer well-known systems, but finding pricing on their web sites is always a bit of a trick (if even possible at all), as most of their systems are done through a custom quote situation. This is because, while monthly service fees may vary from none to too much, the initial equipment outlay is quite high per station, just like Squirrel.

When considering that the cost of a single Harbortouch station comes to around $1,000 per year, and the second or third stations would come out somewhat less expensive (just over $820 each for the basic units), it becomes quite clear that getting into what is arguably among the most robust of these systems is much easier and potentially more cost effective than might initially be presumed.

Not every merchant needs a full POS system, and for those who want only basic inventory functions or QuickBooks integration, there are good options available. If a merchant does not need all the bells and whistles or employee tracking built in, the most inexpensive software options are probably fine (and may even offer the most cost-effective processing options). However, when all those bells and whistles are going to benefit the company, make business smoother and save plenty of time (all of which can translate to higher profits), Harbortouch offers a way to get the value of a $10,000 to $20,000 system while spending considerably less upfront and maintaining a greater level of investment security through the life of the system.


  1. Here is another video provided by Harbortouch from the Spike TV program Bar Rescue: http://vimeo.com/harbortouch/review/94448587/dcb43c826c

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