Running a small business isn't easy, and especially so for retailers, restaurant owners, and others who have a brick-and-mortar storefront. Managing purchases and cash flow, keeping inventory stocked, making sure your employees are happy, and above all else serving your customers needs requires dedication, a solid business plan, and a bit of luck to be successful.
In between all of these demands, it can be difficult to dedicate the time to fairly evaluate solutions to various business needs, including software. For businesses with a retail component, your choice of point of sale (POS) system may be the most important technical decision you make, and yet, an overwhelmingly confusing one.
There are simply so many choices on the market today, and no one decision is going to be right for every business. Do you want a point of sale system which ties in with your inventory management, or do you just need to keep track of purchase numbers? Does it make sense to host everything locally, or would a cloud-based solution work for you? And if it's cloud-based, what happens when you inevitably lose Internet connectivity from time to time?
As if these kinds of factors don't make the decision difficult enough already, it's also worth considering what kind of support you need. Do you know the technical know-how to fix a system if it breaks, or customize it when your business needs change, or do you need that support from a vendor? And, importantly, if your tech support vendor disappeared tomorrow, would you be able to find a new one tomorrow? Is your system open enough for a new vendor to easily take over and fix problems and make changes?
For these reasons, open source point of sale systems might be a good option to consider for some businesses. In particular, they may appeal to those with some technical knowledge on staff who are looking to save costs by managing their own systems, as well as businesses who may need or desire significant customization from their system's default which require source code access to modify.
So what are the open source options available for retailers looking for a new point of sale system? There are a quite a few, and they vary widely in their features, maturity, and size of community. Let's take a look at a few options that might fit your business needs.
Odoo, which we've looked at before in our roundups of SCM, ERP, and project management tools, also provides a point of sale system solution. A part of Odoo's integrated solution, their point of sale system connects directly with the Odoo inventory and ecommerce tools, as well as their marketing and sales solutions, and runs on both Windows and Linux. It is web based, and while it can be used as a stand alone solution, the real power comes from its integrations.
Open Source Point Of Sale (“OSPOS”) is an aptly-named web-based point of sale system, which can be installed locally or remotely, and is packaged with Docker for easy installation, and will even run on a Raspberry Pi. It has many features in addition to basic POS operation, including customer management, barcode printing, numerous reporting tools, and the ability to help track inventory.
OSPOS is written primary in PHP with a MySQL backend, and is made available under an MIT license.
SambaPOS is a point of sale system specifically designed for restaurants, and supports multiple languages and currencies. While a newer commercial version is available which is unfortunately proprietary, the slightly older SambaPOS 3 is available as open source under a GPLv3 license. Written in C#, SambaPOS 3's source can be found on GitHub. Targeted at a Windows platform, it seems like it may be a good choice for businesses with relatively simple needs.
WallacePOS is a web-based point of sale system, written in PHP, which is designed to be compatible with standard POS hardware like printers, cash drawers, and barcode readers. Since it's written to run inside of a browser, it should work with any modern operating system.
In addition to these four, there are many other open source point of sale solutions:
- Unicenta, a web-based point of sale system with multiple options for database hosting and several reporting options.
- Floreant, which focuses on restaurants and is designed to work across multiple platforms.
- Chromis, which including a kitchen display screen system.
- Apache OFBiz, which we've reviewed elsewhere, also include a point of sale module.
These are far from the only options out there, and the right choice for your business could be wildly different from the choice that makes sense for someone else.
Do you have existing hardware you need to support? Are transactions at your business generally a few expensive items or many cheap ones? Do you need to be able to handle returns quickly? Are most of your customers using cash or credit cards? Think carefully about the exact demands your business has for its point of sale needs before making a decision.
Have you used any of these open source point of sale systems before, or perhaps a different one? What was your experience, and what advice would you give to others? Let us know in the comments below.