Marilyn Sudbeck, a Denver-based CPA with her own firm, worked in retail management for 17 years. As an accountant for retailers, today she finds a variety of benefits to installing point-of-sales systems for her clients - and the benefits to herself as their CPA are just as noteworthy."The reports are much more precise, more accurate," she explained. "The clients have a better handle on their inventory - it's an expensive thing for a retailer to carry inventory they don't need. Now they can tell what's selling and what's not selling."

Sudbeck recalled that when she was a store manager at a major retailer, she had to take a full day of seminar training just to operate the cash registers. Today, it takes much less time to train an employee.

"Once it's set up, to train another person to ring up the sales takes maybe 15 minutes," Sudbeck stated.

POS systems are software applications installed onto a store's retail hardware system, such as computerized cash drawers, that can ring up sales, exchanges and returns. The feature accountants appreciate most in today's POS systems is the ability to integrate into back-office accounting solutions, such as QuickBooks, Peachtree or Microsoft Great Plains.

They are replacing old-fashioned cash registers across the nation for a number of reasons, said Mike Dickson, director of Microsoft Business Solutions' POS Solutions in the U.S.

For one thing, the cost of PCs is down, making the systems more affordable. Retailers are also frustrated with the lack of technology available with older cash register systems, said Dickson, with accounting reports virtually impossible.

Since most POS applications can now be integrated with a store's accounting software, it helps the accountant analyze data rather than spend time on sales tax or journal entries, explained Glenn Leech, an accountant and reseller of Peachtree products with GML Enterprises, a Central Virginia-based accounting consultant.

"The sales tax is basically done for you," said Leech. "Simply doing the transactions in the POS system allows you to [later] track inventory. Transactions flow right into the accounting package."

The point-of-sales system's ability to flow directly into the back-end accounting software leaves Leech free from having to create a journal of entries for each client.

The audit trail then becomes more reliable and easier to follow in case an error occurs, said Hemant Makhija, director of product management for Accpac ePOS. "Using cash registers involves a lot of manual and duplicate work, which leads to errors," said Makhija. "There are many hundreds of features [with the new POS systems], but they all are in three major sections: simplicity, automation and integration."

A number of solutions are taking the integration tool one step further and creating a real-time connection between the POS system and the store's back-office system. "Single- or multi-store outlets are now getting all data in real time," said Makhija. "It's an extension module for the ERP, giving up-to-the-minute pricing, customer and inventory details."

The real-time connection makes use of Internet connectivity to attach remote locations' systems with the headquarters or the stores' main financial office. The connection - both Makhija and chief operating officer Jim Stone of vendor Cougar Mountain promise - is secured by both a firewall and encryption to keep hackers, and the competition, out of a store's financial system.

Hardware and software

But for many developers, offering just the software end is not enough. Many software companies are now offering software applications with hardware products, creating bundles for their customers to purchase all at once.

For those that are not bundling, Regina Weinstein, marketing and IT manager for Honig Winery in the Napa Valley, Calif., would like to urge you to reconsider.

"Bundles would be a good idea," said Weinstein, an MBS Retail Management Solution beta-user. "It's in their best interest to have those things lined up - it just makes it easier [for the customer]." During her own retail hardware buying experience, a vendor quoted her a price that was some $1,500 more than what she found doing her own research.

"People like bundles," echoed Mark Lefko, CPA and a partner at Pennsylvania-based CPA and advisory firm Smart and Associates. "If you are not dealing with the same company for hardware and software and something goes wrong, it's like, 'Hey, who do I kill?' Not saying the other ones aren't good, but people like dealing with one vendor."

Bundling is something many software developers are taking note of for future production. Accpac is "seriously looking into it," according to Makhija, while QuickBooks is already offering various bundled packages. Bundling is also a focus of Cougar Mountain's future POS plans, Stone said.

Even big retail hardware developers like Wincor Nixdorf, which supplies both Pizza Hut and Lowe's with their POS hardware, are looking to create a more unified approach by offering both hardware and software packages.

"We're moving away from a hardware focus to software - which is a huge change for us," said K.K. Walker, director of marketing at Wincor. "This little retail world is getting smaller."

With or without a bundled package, POS systems are worth the investment, said Lefko. "People don't want to spend the money - POS systems are expensive," he said. "But [with the POS system], I can tell you if you've dotted all your i's and crossed your t's. It's very sophisticated."

And this year may be the Year of POS, with many major software developers releasing new POS products over the next few months.

In mid-May, Accpac is releasing its ePos Version 5.3, which will provide more customer information and remote administration. In a few months, MBS will release a new POS solution focused on smaller businesses. CommercialWare, an IBM retail software partner, will be supporting the Linux operating system as well as the Windows operating system for its POS solution, and Cougar Mountain POS is releasing Denali, a similar product to their current POS system, only using 32-bit encryption and providing SQL Server capabilities.

With the new POS systems comes a renewed need for accountants, albeit a shift in the need, said Sudbeck.

"Too many times, the people who try to set it up are not accountants - they don't have sales tax and purchase orders set up correctly," she said. "That's what accountants need to know - there is a dire need for them in this arena."

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