Hi there, I'm a new Lightspeed user, from England (UK), Installed the demo and have been playing with it for a while now. I just thought I would write about my POS journey, possibly blog about how I get on, hopefully this post (and any follow ups) will be of use/mildly interesting to some people who stumble upon it. I'm sorry if this is more of a ramble than a short and sweet post, but hey, im a techy, not a writer... A bit about our company: I work for a company called Design-a-cake, We are a specialist sugarcraft retailer in the UK, We currently have one retail outlet, and we sell online (shipping internationally), you can find out more about us at [url=http://www.design-a-cake.co.uk]Our Website[/url] We are growing year on year, and are currently in our 15th year of trading, growing from two blokes in a small industrial unit to a company with 25 employees spread over two buildings, with plans to expand furthur still this year! A bit about my POS journey so far So far here at DAC, as the shop and website has grown, the till point has been ignored. Completely. Even when we moved to bigger premises the till was ignored. we've been selling in store for 15 years, and we've went through a couple of tills, but they have all been roughly like this: Some form of Casio electronic cash register. The only programming the till has had was to program our receipt to have our address on it, and to have a VAT and nonVAT categories. Pretty basic stuff I'm sure you can agree! it's done for 15 years, but now with a shop selling over 5000 products, and with the website selling another 2500 products on top of that, it's about time we got some form of stock control, and gained some real sales stats from what we sell. So, I was tasked to look for an EPOS system that would give us the ability to sell stock through the till quickly, efficiently and most importantly, give us some real data back to show what we are selling in store (currently all of our sales stats come from our website, sales in the shop are a bit of an enigma!) I started off, naturally being a PC user, looking at PC based systems. I contacted some "pre built" system suppliers, who were going to charge us up to £10,000 per till unit (we are looking at having two, ideally). Alot of them would also charge very high yearly fees on top of this too. Making this a very very costly endeavour, and not giving us very much control at all over the resulting product. After this I decided I would look for a system I could build myself, after looking at systems that would cost £10k+ each and ONLY function as a till, I decided that I would look at the complete other end of the scale, and go for the cheapest build I could get, I started to source second hand pieces of equipment, built a cheap PC unit for £100, and tried out using the Ubuntu operating system to keep costs even lower (its a free operating system). Here is where I met my first set of problems, and I'm very glad that I did. I started to find that second hand equipment is usually second hand for a reason, and that reason is generally that it doesn't work very well. Or, is very near the end of its life. I wasn't really trying to be "cheap", and didn't expect this stuff to work in my final system, the second hand equipment was more that I was experimenting, and I didn't want to pile money into an experiment that could possibly come to nothing. The Things I found from this were, Ubuntu, while a fantastic operating system in it self, has very little support for POS systems, the software is few and far between, and is either wildly expensive (which is rediculous seeing as it's built for an open source operating system), or it simply didn't have any features at all, and was written by people who have no clue about what shops need even as basic features. So, I moved onto Windows. Initially I wanted to stay clear of these systems, as, I felt that paying for an operating system that was an expensive part of the build was unnessasary, Windows also has many versions which are currently available. Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, these all also come in both 32bit and 64 bit versions. Most POS systems built for windows are built for windows XP, which, I found has no support any more from microsoft (extended support is ending in 2014). Vista, was a horrible operating system which I wouldn't touch with a shi..... *ahem* so, windows 7, while being the most current OS available, is not supported by many of the POS systems available, and while some may work, others do not, This problem is compounded when you start looking at the 32bit and 64 bit versions of the software. Again, moving back to hardware now, I realised that in our office we have around 8 PC's... each one is completely different. different specifications, manufacturers, not one component is the same over all these machines. This could prove a problem when building a till system, while the initial purchase might be easy enough to buy multiple units that are the same, we are planning on expanding the business very soon, even in 6 months time it maybe impossible to buy units which are the same, never mind if a unit fails and needs to be replaced. Which may cause problems with compatibility with ancillary units (scanners, receipt printers etc), in a small company we simply don't have the time nor money to spend testing many different products before actually using them "live". This then led me to look at a mac based system (finally I hear you cry!), Looking at the releases of macs over the years, the releases have ahd a natural progression, each year (or couple of years) new macs have been released, but they seem to be very similar in terms of compatibility, and you know where you are with a mac. Also, the platform seems to very stable. While being mainly a PC user (and i use linux as well as windows based systems), I also use macs, and very very rarely hear of one failing, they just. work. This is a major selling point to me. The less time I have to spend fixing tiny little problems the better, and with Mac support being so readily available, and, being so GOOD, if anything does go wrong, a system can be back up and running very very quickly, with very little fuss. So, I started looking at Mac software. As we are all mac users here, its no surprise to say that we are in the minority when it comes to releases of software, although over the years as macs become more mainstream this gap is narrowing, and we are getting more and more software available to use. However, it doesn't look like the POS market is quite there yet! That being said, it looks like the quality of the software available for macs is higher than that of the stone age varients available for the PC. I came across a piece called "checkout" which was initially looking very good, I found it on the apple website, and it came in a pack, very reasonably priced and included a receipt printer and scanner. I took a trip to my local apple store (Metrocentre, Gateshead), mainly as a recce (recon for you Americans..) mission to check out the mac mini, but I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that they actually had a copy pre-installed on a macbook air, and I could make an appointment to get a demo! I found this absolutely incredible, it can't be often that people need to purchase POS software, especially off the shelf in a retail store, so I was extatic to find that they had trained staff who were more than happy to help me out. I had a nice long chat with the gentleman who was trained on the software, and had some hands on time with it in the store, unfortunately it was lacking some vital features that we require. The search continued... Luckily, when googling "checkout", Lightspeed also pops up. So, after looking from afar, and doing some outside research I finally bit the bullet and downloaded the demo version of the Lightspeed package. I also purchased a few bits and pieces (which I will list further down the page), pretty much everything so far has just worked, straight out of the box, with minimal setup. I've been working with it for the past couple of weeks now, and can confidently say that I have found nearly every feature we need to use. With many I have yet to explore. I'm pretty pleased with the software so far, it looks fantastic, and it works very well. The workflow is a little different to what I am used to, compared to other sales software, but this could be because it is primarily aimed at a US/Canadian market, where I am based in the UK. Still though, we've found workarounds for most things so far, and I am quite confident that we will be buying full versions of the software (along with some more shiny new hardware) very soon. Our Setup So far The current "test" machine, which is a fully functioning unit, running demo software is as follows.
  • Base unit:2011 Mac Mini
  • Monitor19" widescreen monitor -connected via apple Display port to VGA adaptor(in live model will be a touchscreen)
  • Keyboard:Apple wired Keyboard (with numeric keypad) - connected via USB
  • Mouse: Apple wired mouse - connected via USB
  • Receipt printer: Star Micronics TSP143 USB printer
  • Barcode Scanner: MS9520 Voyager Scanner - connected via USB
  • Cash Drawer: KAMI Cash Drawer - Black - Economy Range 24 Volt RJ11
  • Optical drive: External DVD-RW usually not plugged in.
  • Office printer: just our standard wireless printer, available over the network
Problems so far So far I think I have only had one major problem, being the Cash drawer would not open. I have seen a few people asking about this who have had varying degrees of success with dealing with the issue. Bascially, The cash drawer in question is a cheap unit, purchased new, off ebay long before I was considering getting a mac based system, I had no idea how to use it, and it came with no instructions, it really is the simplist and most basic cash drawer ever. It plugs into a receipt printer via an RJ11 cable, however the receipt printer I had was broken (would sit doing nothing, then when asked to print, would start spewwing random characters continuously until the unit was turned off or ran out of paper..) The reason why it would not open, I have since found out is that when connecting a cash drawer via RJ11 cable to a receipt printer, the computer sets the cash drawer to "Do not open" as a default. This can be changed quite easily, if you know where to look. I first managed to get the drawer to open when turning on "print with dialog box". When you then get to the point in a transaction where this box pops up you can change the settings, using the "printer features" menu, then changing the "feature sets" menu to "cash drawer controls" and change the "do not open" to "open drawer 1 and 2" To do this: First start in "station setup" and find this dialog box Then go into the POS mode (either button or scan), make a sale, and when you get to the print dialog box it should look like this     change the options so they look like the options in the picture below:     As you can see, I saved the preset with a very "non PC" name, I recommend saving this info as a preset, on a live system I wouldnt recommend using my suggestion... This will then open the cash drawer when this preset is used, but ONLY if you use the printer in "print WITH dialog box" mode. As this isnt a very nice way of working, I wanted a way to make it work when the dialog box was turned OFF. This is how I did it.. Go to http://127.0.0.1:631 This takes you to your CUPS menu. As you can see in the image below, there is a meu along the top, click "printers" then click on the name of your receipt printer   Next choose the "Administration menu" and change it to "set default options"   Click "cash drawer control (shown in blue) then change the option to "open drawers 1 and 2" from "do not open" There might be an easier way to do this, this might not work for everyone, but this has worked for me. I hope this helps someone if they kind their cash drawer is not opening! Things I cant seem to be able to find Firstly, I would love to test the web store, is there any demo version of this? we currently have a website that works very well, but will be incompatible with the lightspeed system, we have very specific needs (in terms of postage, and discounts), and would love to find out if the various web stores are compatible with our needs. None discountable products, I have seen a few people asking for this now, and seen a couple of work arounds, but not got one to work just yet (i think i need more hands on experience with he program to get my head round it. but basically, I want to have some products which will NOT allow a discount to be applied to them, so we can offer say a 10% discount on the basket as a whole, but the products marked as non discountable will be ignored and still sold at full price. Can someone explain to me how this can be done? and/or could this be considered as a feature request for a future version of the software? The next feature we don't like (although I can live with it), is that the system allows you to finish the transaction and still owe money. This maybe a welcome feature to some establishments, but for me, it just seems like an opportunity for things to go wrong, in our shop, we only ever sell things which are wholey paid for in one transaction, giving the sales assistant the ability to finish the sale and still owe money is a problem for me, no matter how much we train our staff, simply hitting £10 instead of £100 and then clicking finish is a mistake anyone can make easily, but in the current situation might not be picked up on until its too late. Not going to happen often, but it could. I would prefer if we could turn this option off. Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I hope it has been useful to someone, if you have any thoughts regarding what I have posted, then please feel free to add your comments below, or send me a message. EDIT UPDATE: I've now also purchased a 22" touchscreen monitor to use with the setup. The one I used was the http://www.iiyama.com/gb_en/products/prolite-t2250mts-1/ I bought it (in the UK) from ebuyer.com, cost me £213. The manufacturers website states in their F.A.Q section of their website that : [quote]The newer Mac systems (PowerMac and newer) can always be used in combination with our monitors. [/quote] This is in fact a total lie. the monitor functions as a monitor, however its touch function does not work. they claim that it is a monitor, and it functions as such. I didn't buy a monitor, I bought a touch-screen. Anyway, after speaking to Iiyama's technical support, who laughed at me (seriously) and told me it was impossible to get it to work with a mac. I found a driver. the company who produce the driver is called touch-base.com, they make touch screen drivers for many, many different touch based devices. This driver did cost me £138. However, the cost of the monitor and the driver combined came to less money than the next available touch screen that said it was natively compatible with a mac system (even though this one said it was!) So, I may have spent more money than I had hoped, but, I still spent a lot less than I could have, and I now have a working touch screen which I am very happy with, and is working perfectly with lightspeed.   Another update Been using lightspeed for a couple of weeks now (full license), setting it up in a testing environment, along side other stuff I'm working on. The touch screen is now functioning perfectly, its a little fiddely to use to exit windows, and for scrolling using the scroll bars in browsers, but other than that its absolutely perfect. It works very very well with the POS screen in button mode on the till, and general use like dragging files and folders its brilliant. I don't see this novelty wearing off any time soon! I wouldn't want to use it permanently though, as a computer, I think there will always be a place for keyboard and mouse. But having the function there, It definitely has its uses! Importing Products This has been surprisingly easy, with only minor errors that I've been able to fix through updates, so far nothing major has gone wrong. We have over 7500 products on our current MsSQL database for our current website. It took a bit of creative SQLing to get our data to match up to the required fields (mainly decifering what we called things as opposed to what lightspeed calls them!) but after a bit of playing we got it sorted. One thing that is rather irritating, is that the Photos importing only finds files through one level of folders, as you can imagine with 7500 products we like to keep our product images in a few sub directories, lightspeed just did not like that at all, which meant that we've had to dump all the images in one folder, then upload them, not a major issue, but it would have been nice to just say "all the images are here. here is a file path" and it find them, however, no such luck. Other than this we pretty much got everything in on the first attempt. Starting with one small section of around 40 products, then another of around 200 just to make sure everything worked. Families, classes and POS categories This is where we started to run into "problems", families and classes weren't so bad, once we exported these out of our current website into a text file I could copy and paste the entire document into the "new" box, and as long as each one was one a new line it worked wonderfully. POS categories however were another completely different matter. Each one had to be copied and pasted in individually, clicking "new primary" then "new secondary" and so on, this took AGES. Considering how much of lightspeed is automated or at least has some form of import/copy+paste feature, i was surprised to find that there wasn't an easier way to add in the POS categories, assigning the values to the products was easy enough, we did this as part of the import, but actually assigning the actual categories has been a total nightmare. Overall I'm still really happy with the software, and we are learning more and more each day. We should have a "live" system whic we can send into proper beta testing (i.e. mega amounts of dummy transactions). All fun and games! Non-Discountable products update After trying for a few weeks to get this feature to work, I finally gave up and contacted Xsilva Support, who suggested I try a few different things, eventually we came to the conclusion that this is actually lightspeed that is broken. This feature doesn't work if you use tax inclusive pricing, which here in the UK we have to use. If you DO NOT use tax inclusive pricing, then it works just fine. So until this gets fixed, I cannot use this feature. Which to be honest, is rather upsetting as this feature was one of the main selling points to why I went for lightspeed, without this feature it's going to make my life extremely difficult. Especially seen as I was told it works, and now find out it doesn't. Hopefully this will get fixed shortly, and I don't need to wait very long for the feature to be "back" up and running. label printing As well as failing to get the Non-discountable products to work, I've also had some issues with label printing, part my fault, part lightspeed's and (possibly) part dymo's. I have a dymo Labelwriter 450 turbo, which when connected up worked straight out of the box. easy set up, very happy. Although They probably shouldn't include so many clip art icons in their own software, while "testing" I think I spent half a roll of stickers printing clip art labels to stick on colleagues, amusing, but not productive! Anyway, I experimented with the label feature in lightspeed, its a bit clunky, but it works pretty well once you get used to it, I imagine that I'll end up creating a few different types over the next month or so, then probably never have to use it again, so I'm not too worried about it's features only being about 70% user friendly. What is rather irritating though is when you create a label on screen, then print it out and it looks completely different in print, I created a very neat looking label on screen, then printed it out and it was a total mess. To fix it, I had to mess up the way each element is displayed on screen now, some parts look like they actually overlap, but in print it comes out looking just right. And its consistant too, so I can save my "messy" label, and it does just what I want it to do. It would have been nice for it to have printed what it looked like, but, its done now, I now know how it works. I wont loose any sleep over it! Printing UPC's though, I might just lose sleep over!! I don't really get why when lightspeed prints a UPC, it "looks" like a barcode, but no barcode scanners will read it? Yet I can print a product-id, which prints as a barcode, and is read perfectly? why cant they both just be printed as actual barcodes? it would seem that printing a UPC is infact pointless, as nothing can read it? if thats the case, why bother including it as a feature? Label sizes, While I'm pretty happy with the way the dymo label printer performs, and I'm pretty happy overall with the labels I can customise within lightspeed, there seems to be a very disappointing number of options for label sizes available. I haven't looked too deeply into this yet, so I may be proved wrong here, but it seems that the label printer will only print labels that are of the fixed sizes that dymo produce. is that correct? Ideally, I would like my labels to be around 32mm x 25mm in size, this gives me enough room to fit on a barcode (product ID), The product ID, and product code as well as price and description. Which is ideal for the amount of info I need on my product labels, as well as the size fits just about all of my products. not too big, not too small. However there doesn't seem to be anything near this in terms of actual label size. 51mm x 19mm is the closest workable size, although really its actually far too big. I would use the 25mm x 25mm square labels but everything is just too squashed on at that size, and some of my product descriptions can be quite large, meaning it'll get cut off at the bottom. I will probably have to make do with the larger 51mm x 19mm labels, which will be ok, but not ideal. It's not all doom and gloom! I've been rather impressed by the receipts I can generate with lightspeed (although my main header image comes out very pixelated?), But I am very happy with the way the discounts are displayed, as well as the level of customisation I seem to have with the receipts. I recently also started playing with the Purchase Order function, we have massive PO's here at DAC, and lots of them are done pretty manually with paper and pen, its a long and time consuming process and it seems that (once I get all the supplier costs updated) lightspeed I can easily generate and process PO's, it's taken a bit of getting used to, but I think with a little practise this will will be a big time saver for the business, again, another selling point of this software that I'm just getting a chance to get to grips with now! I have hit a few snags, but generally, I think I'm progressing to the point where I am not too far away from a completely workable system, especially if Xsliva fix the known bug with tax inclusive pricing + discounts.  

9 Responses

  1. Steven O'Mara

    Great article, thanks for sharing it. We’re venturing into the world of Lightspeed ourselves in the coming days, moving on from a PC based antiquated POS system. The demo so far has been quite good so here’s hoping!

    Reply
    • Chris

      Glad you enjoyed the article! And also Lightspeed! It’s a great piece of software, it’s missing lots, but it’s probably one of the most complete out of the box solutions out there at the moment. At our shop, most of the users are PC users too, so its a big step for them, but it’s worthwhile! If I can assist in any way in the future I’d gladly help. Just let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try my best to answer. Thanks. Chris.

      Reply
  2. Ross

    Great read, Really interesting to see the snags and shortfalls. I was wondering whether the label on screen to print misalignment could be down to the printer not being the exact model Lightspeed expects.. I’d be surprised if its that fussy, but could be.

    I’m looking at purchasing it at the moment for our musical instrument retail business and my main concern is whether i’ll have to completely redesign the website. I’ve got the data already i suppose so it wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen but I’m intrigued to see how the eCommerce side of Lightspeed integrates and whether there’s many website back end management features..?

    Reply
  3. Benny

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for sharing this. Are you still using lightspeed and has there been any improvements on the issues you were experiencing?

    Looking at using this system as it looks as if can be easily integrated with magento eCommerce but was concerned with it not being a UK based product, hows the support been from them?

    Reply
    • Chris Sutherland

      Hi Benny,

      I actually left Design-a-cake a year ago, and we never got to the point where we had a production ready system. Honestly, it was the best POS system we found on the market in terms of its out of the box features compared with it’s price. However the “none discountable products” feature that was broken really was a deal breaker. Not just because the feature was broken,
      but because of the service we got from Xsilva.
      We paid for a one year support licence (which wasn’t cheap!), the fact they’re in a time zone that’s quite a lot different to us was rather annoying, but still managable.
      The issue we had was actually a broken feature in the software. Not a user error. So the support staff simply couldn’t help. All we got was “it’s in a que for a bug fix, we’ll let you know when it’s fixed”, after reporting it, and a whole year of ringing and emailing, it never got fixed. I’m 100% sure that this was because the feature worked in the US timezone, so they simply couldn’t care less about whether it worked outside their domestic market.
      I think Xsilva sees oversees sales as a bonus, not as an actual market they want to help and support.

      Still though, I am not put off Lightspeed as a product. I still think it’s fantastic. Especially for the price. I just wish they would give us Brits some real support.

      If you want to see a Lightspeed install actually in-situ, I woudl highly recommend checking out Stormfront (find their stores here: http://www.stormfront.co.uk/contact/). While looking for a UK retailer of lightspeed I found those guys, who had a store local to me, They use lightspeed as their actual POS system. When I went in, the very helpful staff showed me it in operation, and I got to talk to some of the staff who use it every day.
      Feel free to email me if you have any more questions. Although I’m not using the system all the time now I might still be able to help.

      Chris

      Reply

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