ISVs in the retail point of sale (POS) space are facing an increasingly complex market where new payment solutions are emerging every year that cater to a wider array of merchant scenarios (mobile payment, pop-up stores, line busting). There are also new entrants on the hardware side, many of them new to the retail industry, offering low-cost terminals and receipt printers.
When selecting which thermal receipt printers to offer and which vendors to partner with, that commodity view of the hardware ultimately won’t serve your customers or your business plan. Partnering with a printer supplier that can help you provide better solutions to your retail customers quickly, while also offering the right level of support, can help improve your product portfolio and generate new business growth.
Finding the best hardware vendor partner requires not only evaluating the hardware provider’s products, but their business practices too. Below I’ve listed a few tips to help guide your hardware vendor selection strategy.
Select a vendor with rich SDKs.
Most vendors offer some software development kit (SDK) support, but many of these platforms are meant for very basic POS operations and may require a significant amount of training and know-how to utilize.
A well-designed SDK should take the burden of learning low-level development languages off of the ISV so that they can code at a higher level and create better solutions. A rich SDK also leads to shorter development times and a faster time to market.
What defines the richness of the SDK? That comes down to how many printer features the SDK can expose. A basic SDK may let you print text on a receipt, for example, but a more robust SDK will also allow you to print images.
Evaluate vendor support offerings.
Receipt printers play a mission-critical role for most retailers, and downtime can adversely affect their operations. Robust support is important, and the printer vendor should have the resources available to effectively service the ISV and the end customer. Does the vendor only offer support via a call center? Is their support center located in another country, or do they have a team that’s geographically close so you can meet someone face-to-face if necessary?
The ISVs own team will also need help integrating the printer with their software. Make sure the vendor can provide that support, preferably in person.
Having North America-based support can help overcome any language barriers as well as major time zone differences that would otherwise complicate or delay problem resolution. Overseas support centers can cost a half day or full day of communication between the ISV and vendor and erode the customer’s confidence in the solution provider.
Look for a vendor partner that offers a multi-tiered support strategy. Epson, for example, offers on-site support free of charge. If there is an issue during the solution design or deployment phase, the support process starts with a call to the call center but if the ISV is still struggling with a problem, an Epson engineer will make an on-site visit to help with the software integration and make recommendations regarding coding updates or even customizations that can be made so the software works seamlessly with its products.
Choose a vendor that offers customization.
In a crowded POS market, offering customized print solutions is a good way for an ISV to differentiate itself from competitors. One example: An ISV could configure the receipt printer to record transactions in journal format so that they can be retrieved later. Unlike the old impact printers that printed on two-part forms and required manual data entry, the printer can be configured and customized to capture information automatically and electronically, which saves time and reduces data entry errors.
Choose a partner that can help future-proof your software.
The POS market is in flux, and merchants are deploying a wider array of hardware options than they did in the past. An ISV may initially develop its software to be used on a traditional PC attached to a desktop-style printer. In time, however, the end customer may expand its POS footprint with mobile devices or other configurations. Selecting receipt printers that have the versatility to work with a wide range of device types and platforms (e.g., Android, iOS, Linux, Windows) reduces the cost for the end user as well as the ISV’s software development burden. Make sure the receipt printers can grow along with your merchant customers’ evolving needs.
Look for a strong warranty program that favors the customer.
Take a look at the details of the vendor’s warranty program, and if possible, ask some existing customers about their warranty experience. Does the vendor honor the warranty? More importantly, how aggressive are they in their efforts to nullify the warranty? Retailers will often skirt warranty requirements to reduce costs – cheaper receipt paper, for example, can wreak havoc on printheads, causing device failures. If there are some “gray areas” in the warranty claim, a good printer partner will give the customer the benefit of the doubt while providing additional education on the proper care of the printer. There should obviously be limits to that goodwill, but in general the vendor should put more effort into strengthening the customer relationship than they do in searching for reasons to deny a claim.
Vendors should help the ISV move up the value chain.
The vendor shouldn’t just view their ISV partners as box pushers; a good hardware partner recognizes the value an innovative ISV can bring to the channel. Investigate the vendor’s channel program and find out what co-marketing opportunities exist. Vendors may invite ISV partners to trade shows to demo their software and increase industry exposure. Marketing support and development funds may be available to help extend the business. Others have programs in place to team ISVs with established channel vendors to help them grow more quickly.
Approaching your relationship with a receipt printer vendor as a true partnership – one that encourages collaboration, lead sharing and innovation – will not only help improve the vendor’s hardware, it will open up new opportunities for your company’s growth.