The old saying, "the best things in life are free," might be a nice thought and make a great song, but it doesn't translate well to business. Yes, of course, we all want to save money and improve profits in our businesses, but at what price? There are many free POS software offerings floating around the internet right now, and it can be tempting to snatch one up and start using it right away, but this is one time where patience and caution pay off more than what money you might save in the beginning. Research is key, and if you don't arm yourself with knowledge before committing to free POS software, you may pay a hefty price down the line. That price may come in the form of unexpected financial costs or even your brand's reputation. Your POS system is vital to the success of your business; a free POS system is not the place to look when trying to cut costs.
In business, nothing is every truly free and comes at a cost. Below we discuss the truth behind free POS software, how to decode those "free" offers, and what that all means for your business.
Certainly, there will be times when the free item is free, and it won't impact you in a negative way. Free pens at the bank or a free piece of candy from a friend are both great, but when it comes to business and your POS system, free often comes at a huge price later down the line. Finding ways to save money, lower operating costs, and improve your bottom line are fantastic, and every manager should focus some time on these aspects. However, using a free product or service is rarely ever truly free. It may not have a financial cost right away, but if that free POS software you're using for your restaurant means you have to spend more manpower teaching employees complicated software or the system breaks often, that means more downtime or extra cost to replace it. It's frustrating when the software doesn't work like it promises or it simply lacks the features you need. In those cases, you haven't saved any money, have you? All you've done is waste a lot of time and resources on something that just can't perform.
A good rule of thumb for free POS software is "if it's free, it's probably free for a reason." Whether it's full of faulty code, it comes with a steep learning curve, or it's just so basic and featureless that it's useless, you've just wasted your time on something that can't help you grow your business. Wasting time is wasting money. So, ask yourself, "Why is this free?"
Some common answers to this question are-
1. It's a brand-new company desperate for customers. Offering the product free is a common practice for new and unknown companies. It seems great on the surface, but there's a darker side. They give the software away for free to try and gain supporters early on, which doesn't sound awful. In some ways, it's a good practice. While it's not inherently bad to offer free POS software, you have to wonder where the money for software updates will come from if they're giving the product away. How are they paying their software coders? And what about regular business costs—where does that money come from if they're not selling anything? Almost always, there are no upgrades coming, and they likely lack the kind of support and improvements your business needs. That usually means there's no future for this product—or at least not one that will come fast enough to help yours grow.
2. It could be a company testing a potentially faulty product. This is another common practice, again, typical of new companies. They give the questionable free POS software away and let unsuspecting businesses test it for them. They use your feedback - and by "feedback" we mean panicked phone calls and emails when the free POS software stops working - to decide whether to continue developing the product or to scrap it and start over. They get free beta testers, and you get headaches, downtime, and possible security issues. No matter the outcome here, you've risked the security of your customers' data and opened the door for failing software to slow you down, and that can damage your brand.
3. It was done as a hobby or school project by inexperienced software coders trying something new. Even if they have the best intentions, giving software away for free usually means the company has no intention of supporting its users. Without customer support, when things go wrong, you're out of luck.
4. It's just a bad product that nobody is willing to pay to improve. This is the most underhanded of tactics we've listed here, but it's very common. The company doesn't want to put any further time, effort, or money into their faulty product, but they'll try to improve their brand name by just offering their free POS software and hope for the best. Nobody wins here, but it doesn't stop these companies from leaving that free POS software out there for others to download.
No matter which of these categories the free POS software falls into, do you want your business to be the guinea pig or test subject? We didn't think so.
The exception to our warnings here is the offer of a free trial. There's a big difference between free POS software that's free forever and software that gives you an opportunity to try it for free. When a company offers their product for free for a set amount of time, instead of screaming desperation for people to use the product, this offer shows confidence. The company is so confident in their product's features, usefulness, and value, they're willing to let you try it out for free. It’s even better when they don't require any credit card or bank information to give it a whirl. If you see a free trial on a product, and you don't need to provide any financial information to give it a shot, it's a pretty safe bet that company believes in their product and won't leave you hanging.
We hope you've found this information on free POS software useful, and that you feel better prepared to find the right POS system for your business. While you’re at it, why not take a look at another stellar article that we’ve published on crafting the right retail strategy for your business.