Monday, August 25, 2014

Point of Sale, Power Outages, Internet Outages & Best Practices

So...a lot of folks ask me what happens to a point of sale system when the power goes out or if internet access is 'down'.  Well, it depends on what you are using and what back-up plans you have in place.  Lets break this down to four different scenarios (best practices are in bold maroon):

1) Computer based point of sale system and the power has gone out
If the power has gone down then most of your equipment has shut down as well and you will not be able to use it.

I strongly encourage the use of a battery backup (they run under $100) to keep the computer and monitor running. Not using a battery backup can cause problems with the point of sale system software database and/or damage equipment - I have seen numerous cases of this happening and the repairs can easily exceed $500.

In theory, you could put all the equipment on  battery backups (including your router and related internet access equipment). What folks forget is that battery backups are not meant to keep all the equipment up and running long term. The battery backups (depending on model) are good for around 5 -20 minutes of power. They are designed for short power outages or to allow for the proper shutdown of the equipment for longer power outages.

2) Computer based point of sale system and internet access is lost/down
Most programs will keep running but you will likely not be able to process credit or debit cards.  Some systems will only allow you to accept cash or check or require you to manually call for credit card authorizations (like we have time to do that!). At any rate, you will likely be operating on a "cash only" basis on using a 'knuckle buster' from the 1970's.

One good idea is to have a back up plan in place. This could be as simple as a mobile hot spot via a cell phone, a secondary internet access service, or even a dial up credit card terminal. Your merchant services provider and point of sale provider can let you know what the acceptable options are. The easiest option is to have a backup credit card terminal that uses dial up for authorizing credit and debit card transactions. Please don't write down credit card information for processing later - that just opens the door for credit card fraud.

3) Mobile (tablet/smart phone) based point of sale system and the power has gone out
As mobile devices are designed to run on batteries, there should be no issues with the device itself assuming the devices battery is installed and charged.  However, other equipment like receipt printers and your internet access equipment may go down if they are not battery operated.

Again, it would be worthwhile investing in a battery backup as needed to keep all non-battery powered equipment up and running in the short term and allow for an orderly shut down if facing a long power outage.

4) Mobile (tablet/smart phone) based point of sale system and internet access access is lost/down
This scenario depends heavily on the device itself. If the device has both WiFi and Data then it may switch automatically.

Some mobile point of sale systems will go in to an 'off line' mode but you will not be able to authorize credit or debit cards.

Of course, check with both your point of sale provider and merchant services provider for the system is capable of and what is allowed within your merchant services account.

Best advice is to plan ahead when shopping for a point of sale solution and ask what happens in the various situations described above and what your options are.  It is also clear that the mobile point of sale solutions have a clear advantage over computer based point of sale system.

Are you  in the US and in need of no cost retail point of sale advice?  I'm happy to help and can be reached on my cell at 208-340-5632 (I am on Mountain Time) or via email at There is also a contact form to the right that can be used to reach me.

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