Recently, I looked at Checkout, a straightforward, easy-to-use POS software for small businesses. However, Checkout can have its limitations and if you are a large retail business with several different stores operating, Checkout may not help you entirely. This is where Lightspeed comes in. It is aimed towards much larger businesses who are already well established in the retail sector.
I downloaded the trial (more information below) and had a look at it for myself. Here are my thoughts…
Before you commit to buying Lightspeed, you can download a 30-day free trial from their website, which is good for up to 5 users. Bear in mind, though, that you also have to install Lightspeed Server (included in the installation file) and, if you are using Lightspeed on more than one Mac, you will have to define a computer as the server.
Once you’ve got everything up and installed, click on the Lightspeed icon in the Finder and log in with the default-provided user name and password (if all your Macs are on the same network then there is often no need to set up your server). You will be prompted to register your copy of Lightspeed (or the demo, if you have signed up for this instead) and then afterwards you are greeted with the Browser, which is reminiscent of iTunes and its Cover Flow feature.
From the browser you can access your customers, products, suppliers, purchase orders and so on from the side menu. A toolbar also pops up (you can hide this by pressing ⌘T) which gives you quick and easy access to the features of Lightspeed that you will probably use most often, such as your quotes, suppliers and the POS system.
Lightspeed is priced towards the higher end of the market and may be too much of an expense for a small businesses. A single user licence costs around $1,098 for the cheapest package (savings are available if you buy more than one license). Lightspeed packages come in three different forms: Good (which includes technical support from the Lightspeed team), Better (which includes the hardware needed for Lightspeed) and Best (which includes technical support, Lightspeed hardware and an eCommerce store).
There are many different add-ons available for Lightspeed (such as integration with an iPhone or iPad) so to make sure you’re getting the best detail for your retail business, get in contact with Lightspeed directly and discuss your needs with them.
There are plenty of features nestled within Lightspeed that make it a POS system well worth considering. Let’s take a look at a few in a bit more detail.
Lightspeed has borrowed a lot of inspiration for its interface from Cover Flow in iTunes and OS X’s Finder, which makes it considerably easier to navigate through the products you offer in your store. With the Products view, a list of your stocked products appears along with a little indicator indicating the product’s current stock count. Clicking on the product gives you a bit more detail about it, including how many are reserved for other customers, how many are on order and the item’s inventory history (when it was last purchased/ordered).
You can easily change any existing information about the product in question by simply clicking on it (for example, if the item is currently on sale) and Lightspeed can also reorder the product automatically when stock gets low (the reorder quantity is defined by the administrator). If products are sold by size (for example, shoes) then you can define a master product (known as a Matrix Master Product in Lightspeed) and tailor your products from that (meaning you don’t have to create a new product for every single size you stock!).
One of the best features about Lightspeed is its fullscreen POS mode, which allows you to carry out transactions without any distractions or awkward clicking around. The POS mode is available in two formats, the Scan mode (if you’ve got a barcode scanner connected) or the Button mode, which allows you to click on the products sold. Seeing as I haven’t got a barcode scanner, I will demonstrate the Button mode for this review.
In the POS mode you can choose from your range of products (which are arranged by category) or by searching for them either by their item code (which is defined by you) or their name. You can also enter basic information about the customer (such as their name, phone number and zip/postal code) or, if they are an existing one, select their name from your database.
When it comes to settling a transaction, you can do it either via cash, check, credit or debit card, a loan or a lease. Lightspeed is not (yet, anyway) compatible with card readers so you’ll have to enter the authorization amount from the card manually into the system. In the POS view you can also put transactions on hold and enter more detailed information about the transaction, such as the sales assistant who helped (if your assistants work on a commission basis), any discount to be granted and the tax rate.
Orders and Invoices
If you are primarily a mail order business, then you can use Lightspeed not only to manage your in-store retail but also your mail-order business. The program will manage any orders you’ve taken and whether or not they have been shipped and invoiced. To create a new order, you simply head over to the Orders section of the program, click on New and enter the customer information and the product information.
Thanks to the built-in inventory feature of Lightspeed, it automatically recognises if an order can be shipped or not. Any order with the status Partially Received means that the customer is still waiting for an item of the order to be shipped (if, for example, you do not have it in stock just yet).
Once a customer has received the products then it’s time to invoice! From an order, you can click on the button Invoice which will transfer all information from the order (such as the products ordered, quantities, prices and customer information) onto the invoice, meaning all you have to do tweak a few final details (such as the payment terms and payment method). You can email or print off invoices and once it has been created, it pops up in the invoice list so that it can be tracked.
Lightspeed can also handle the purchasing side of your company by managing your suppliers, products and purchase orders. What is clever about Lightspeed is that it tracks your inventory and, depending on the settings you have defined in the product’s options, will alert you to reorder that particular product.
You can automatically create a purchase order from one of these requests and all the necessary information concerning the product is carried over. Once the PO has been carried out then Lightspeed tracks its status (i.e. whether it has been received, processed or invoiced) and automatically books the products into stock on arrival. It can also keep a track on the invoices your suppliers have sent you thereby avoiding any nasty reminder letters!
Lightspeed is a fantastic example of a well-thought through POS and retail management program and it has been designed with one thing at heart: simplicity. The whole program is extremely easy to navigate and doesn’t take long to get used to and you’ll soon find that it can really work wonders for your retail business.
However the hefty price tag may put a lot of people off it at first start and seeing as there are cheaper solutions out there on the market, it certainly isn’t a possibility for smaller businesses. If, though, you’ve got a well-established retail business with the need to manage orders, in-store transactions and purchasing, then Lightspeed is the perfect solution for you and can really help your business in the long run.
To see what a mean, head over to their website and try it out before committing to buy. I’m sure you’ll be impressed by the results!