When it comes to point-of-sale systems, the purchasing process almost always includes buying new hardware through the point-of-sale provider. Sales reps will take you through their suite of hardware products, starting with terminals and kiosks and ending with mobile handhelds, specialty printers, kitchen display systems, and more. Then they’ll throw a bunch of add-ons at you, like adapters, routers, wifi access points, standalone card readers, you name it. Companies like Toast, who consistently tout their point-of-sale system as “built for restaurants by restaurant people,” sell weight scales and barcode scanners as hardware accessories.
By the end of the sales process, most owners find themselves paying thousands of dollars for hardware, just to get access to software, which costs additional money, usually in the form of a recurring subscription. The idea that you have to pay money upfront just to access the tools you actually need to operate, which themselves cost money, is ridiculous. Today’s point-of-sale players maintain an outdated and predatory hardware-first business model to get money upfront and lock merchants into long and inflexible contracts. It is in part why some small businesses simply could not adapt fast enough to stay afloat during the pandemic.
TableTab flips this model completely upside down. Rather than selling point-of-sale hardware to use our point-of-sale software, we only sell point-of-sale software that merchants can plug into any existing hardware, like tablets, printers, smartphones, and more. Square merchants can even integrate TableTab into their existing Square point-of-sale hardware, like the Square terminal or Star Micronics printers! In other words, TableTab is "hardware-agnostic."
Being hardware-agnostic was an intentional decision made in our very first days. We fundamentally believe that merchants, especially small businesses, should have maximum flexibility in their purchasing decisions, and spend as little as possible, both in money and in time, to achieve their operational goals. In a world where premium hardware already exists through trillion-dollar companies, it is silly to see point-of-sale companies spend egregious amounts of money to develop their own hardware, and then charge merchants obscene prices to cover costs of production and turn around larger profits. It’s a wasteful business model that handicaps the very businesses these point-of-sale companies were built to serve.
In this blog post, we’ll explore five reasons behind TableTab’s decision to create a hardware-agnostic, software-only point-of-sale platform. A true merchant-first point-of-sale platform.
Reason #1: Tech companies already specialize in producing great hardware
It didn’t make sense to us, especially as a startup, to invest money towards making hardware when great hardware already exists. Not only does great hardware exist, but it is also actively iterated on, manufactured, and designed by some of the largest and most talented companies in the world.
Companies like Apple and Samsung constantly roll out new versions of their hardware products, at least annually. Their hardware also functions on their own operating systems, like iOS and Android - to provide end users with the fastest, smoothest, and smartest user experience. These companies invest billions of dollars annually, employ hundreds of thousands of workers, and have products people clearly love.
And yet, legacy point-of-sale systems like NCR's Aloha and modern point-of-sale systems like Toast have both still create their own hardware. It’s not because they believe industry-specific hardware doesn’t exist; rather, it’s because there’s a lot of money to be made through hardware. Point-of-sale companies selling their own hardware do it to make more money, and lock-in lengthy contracts. But it comes at a cost, literally, operationally, and contractually to merchants.
TableTab seeks to disrupt this model. We won’t sell hardware. It’s an expensive and risky investment that requires us to hike up our prices. TableTab offers merchants the best of both worlds: leading point-of-sale software that is compatible with the world’s best hardware products.
Reason #2: By not focusing on hardware, we can focus on developing industry-leading software
Continuing off of the previous reason, our decision to be hardware-agnostic allows us to focus solely on developing amazing, world-class software that is practical, smart, and reliable.
A lot of our software would be incredibly difficult to build if it were dependent on our hardware. Building your own hardware forces constraints on your company’s software capabilities. Instead, by developing our software around world-class operating systems (i.e. iOS and Android), we can build amazing features and capabilities not available on any other point-of-sale system.
For example, our focus on software positioned us to build the world’s only collaborative point-of-sale system, where merchants can collaborate with other merchants to cross-sell to the same customers. All a merchant has to do is create a TableTab account, share their catalog with other merchants, and download our app to take payments. It’s quick, easy, and far more affordable.
Check out what else our software can do by visiting our website.
Reason #3: Point-of-sale software untethered to hardware provides more flexibility for operators.
When the pandemic hit, it took point-of-sale systems far too long to provide QR code ordering. That’s because it was difficult for hardware-based systems like Toast to develop customer-facing QR code ordering software that could integrate into their terminal systems, KDS screens, and more.
It exposed a huge vulnerability point-of-sale systems have today, one that threatens the success and survival of every business: because conventional point-of-sale systems require merchants to purchase hardware and software together, an merchant is only as strong as the company's weakest product. Put another way, point of sale companies are forced to work on both software and hardware in unison to provide customers with what they need. That requires time and money and…more time.
This is concerning. If point-of-sale systems themselves cannot be quick to adapt due to the inflexibility of their products, how can anyone expect merchants to adapt themselves? If merchants cannot adapt quickly, their chances of survival are significantly diminished.
To that end, point-of-sale software untethered to its hardware provides more flexibility for operators. For example, imagine a TableTab merchant only takes transactions via staff at the table using our Staff App (which can be plugged into any smartphone). What if that merchant can no longer make such payments, due to social distancing, being understaffed, or some other reason?
Thankfully, that merchant can add the Staff App to an existing tablet instead and set up a counter station to take orders at the counter. Alternatively, or in parallel, that merchant can stand up TableTab QR codes on tables so customers can do the ordering themselves. Adopting either option or both could be done in mere minutes, without needing to contact support, purchase new hardware, or spend more money. Within a day, that merchant can fully transition and embrace new service models or transactional workflows to maintain product output, generate sales, and turn a profit.
Reason #4: Forcing merchants to purchase hardware puts them in a difficult position contractually
Purchasing hardware from point-of-sale systems is a big investment. Not only because it’s expensive (more on that later), but also because it can typically involve a long-term contract.
This works well for point-of-sale companies: they secure a large chunk of revenue up-front, and comfortably walk away knowing you’ll have to use them for at least a year or two. And, to be fair, why would you walk away, especially after spending a large sum of money on those new terminal screens, printers, and other add-ons?
Well, things change. Service models change. The priorities of a business change. Operations change. When these changes occur, merchants should reassess all aspects of their business, including their point-of-sale system.
The problem arises when a merchant wants to make such a change - one that may include switching their point-of-sale system to something better fit for their business needs - but cannot. There could be a hefty termination fee for breaking a contract. Or more simply, switching systems requires the business the have to purchase more hardware! And so the cycle repeats itself.
The end result is a merchant that encounters a lot of friction and spends increasing amounts of money simply because they want to evolve as a business. This runs counter to every point-of-sale system’s mission to “help” their customers. Companies who truly want to help should make it as easy as possible for their customers to succeed. If a customer no longer needs that company’s services, they should not be held hostage for it. It’s just bad business.
One way for point-of-sale companies to avoid holding their customers hostage is to simply not force merchants to purchase hardware. But most point-of-sale companies simply can’t do that. If they can’t sell their hardware, they cannot make enough revenue to survive as a point-of-sale company. Consequently, today's point-of-sale business model necessitates contracts that inherently hurt businesses.
This was one of the biggest reasons TableTab chose to be hardware-agnostic. We did not want our business model to result in limited flexibility for our customers. By being software-only, businesses can adopt TableTab at a minimal cost without locking into long-term commitments.
Reason #5: Software is cheaper than hardware
By now, this reason should be self-explanatory. Because TableTab doesn’t provide its own hardware, we don’t need to invest large amounts of money into hardware development, which would be funded in part through higher pricing. Instead, our partners can plug TableTab into their existing hardware and manage a full point-of-sale and management system at a fraction of the cost. At a time of heightened costs at every level - like food, labor, and rent - it has never been more important to make point-of-sale systems affordable and inclusive for new and existing business alike.