Every year, InsightRS takes the time to review the best third-party point of sale systems. Our customers have very specific needs, so we’re constantly evaluating the latest hardware to pair with our software. We’ve been in the trenches with our loyal base of retailers for over twenty years, and if it’s taught us anything, it’s that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution that works for everyone. We consult with our customers on every new purchase to make sure it’s the best choice possible. We’re here to take the time to develop hand-crafted solutions specifically for our customers, their businesses, and their budgets.
Starting today, we’re publishing a series of investigations of companies we’ve seen our customer base running away screaming from. We’re doing this especially for our current and future customers who are looking to upgrade to a new POS now or soon, so they don’t make the same mistakes as our clients who went through the ringer before working with us.
To start, we’re going to tackle the biggest: Clover. We’ve done a thorough review of their customer experience from our own customers and beyond, and combed through a mountain of reviews from industry experts and everyday business owners alike. One thing immediately jumped out when we began our investigation: Clover has four-star ratings at SoftwareAdvice, Capterra, and GetApp, but only one star at TrustPilot. Why the discrepancy?
There are other sites, like Merchant Maverick, with ratings that come from a single reviewer, but we’re not going to focus on the paid reviews. Professional reviewers aren’t generally in the thick of running their own businesses. We feel it’s like someone reviewing a car they test drove for an hour versus a car they’ve owned and driven every day for years. Furthermore, most of the professional reviews don’t jibe with what we were hearing from our own ex-Clover customers. Our focus is on people who have been using these systems in real life, providing feedback on how their systems performed after the initial honeymoon period, when everything starts going wrong.
Customers Have Extremely Low Expectations for their POS
When you read the flood of customer responses to the Merchant Maverick review and beyond, you get closer to understanding the weird discrepancy: star ratings are inconsistent with their accompanying reviews. Many people inexplicably leave 5-stars with reviews that are otherwise scathing: 5 stars for “the biggest mistake I ever made”, or from others who feel trapped in their contracts. A huge number of four-star reviewers complain about the terrible customer service, for a product that’s “too simple without add-ons”, a fancy credit card reader, or even “a slap in the face.”
We thought a bit about what to make of this: why give a four or five-star review to a product you hate? It suggests that customers’ expectations are extremely low. Good-natured people are so used to using crappy products in this arena that they’re grateful to have something that kind-of works. We’re out to change that.
To state the obvious, the first lesson here is: don’t look at the overall ratings and sign up without doing your research. After just an hour parsing Clover reviews, a narrative begins to emerge: basically everyone agrees that the hardware is sexy and attractively designed, until it breaks down on you in the middle of a rush. The basic operating system is also universally praised as intuitive and easy to learn, until things start crashing and you realize you’re at the mercy of a roster of third-party apps to manage the basics and particularities of your business. Many of these are poorly designed and maintained, or don’t play well with one another.
Top 5 Issues Customers Had with Clover
When you have to finally call customer support, the true nightmare begins. When you realize that, at best, you’re not going to get the help you need from Clover’s service reps, you look into getting out of the contract. For what initially seemed affordable and appealing, they charge mind-blowingly high fees to terminate. If you’re operating on thin margins like so many small business owners, you end up trapped in what amounts to a toxic relationship. As time goes on, the low-to-no up-front costs aren’t exactly what was promised. Hidden fees pile up. A lot of Clover customers end up biding their time until they can finally break their contracts without paying a massive fee, and then, finally, they come to us–with a huge knot to untangle.
Not all of these many issues are made equal. We sorted them out based on quantity and severity, if only as a way to remember what we need to relentlessly focus on as a company.
1. Customer Service
By far, the biggest complaint in terms of quantity and severity is customer service. Even people who otherwise like the system warn others away because of the customer service. Multi-hour wait times are common, even for simple issues. People get stuck in endless loops trying to get help and never find it. Many are stuck on community forums waiting for answers, losing money all the while. If you make it through the AI robots, you get rude humans who may or may not speak English. Reviewers repeatedly mention feeling like they’re more knowledgeable than the service reps, in the middle of customer support odysseys with thousands on the line unsuccessfully seeking help. The issues range from simple, day-to-day issues that should be solved in minutes, to people having to fight for months to get erroneous fees corrected. There are lots of long, sad, reviews, but this one succinctly cuts to the chase: “Once you finally pay off the equipment you still pay $50.00 a month for terrible customer service. I would not recommend this system to anyone.“
2. Hidden Fees, Vanishing Transactions, and Fiserv
Reading horror stories about Clover hidden costs is terrifying, period. Users reported months of charges on their bank accounts even during free trials. Fees appear seemingly from nowhere. People get left high and dry when the equipment quickly breaks down. Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out–even after you’ve gone out of business. Transactions are mysteriously held up for days, and the fees are less than transparent. Hidden fees range from nickel and diming, to hundreds, to thousands of dollars. Reports of multi-thousand-dollar exit fees and held transactions are perhaps the most consistent complaint. Some are diabolically sneaky. Businesses without the resources to pivot get trapped until their contracts expire.
These problems come from numerous sources: unscrupulous salesmen who fudge the details, third-party app developers, and perhaps most glaringly, Fiserv. Clover is owned by Fiserv, who processes Clover transactions for the majority of their customers, and they’re a huge part of the problem. Clover is often referred to store owners by their banks, and Clover can then leverage their umbrella relationships with the banks to push their product onto store owners, regardless of whether it’s a good solution for them or not. Many of our customers and the hundreds of angry reviewers–the ones who are getting screwed the hardest–are often raging about Fiserv without realizing it. Even most professional reviewers point out that working with Fiserv as a small or medium-sized business is a dicey proposition.
3. Over Reliance on Third-Party Apps
Especially for the customers we serve, many didn’t immediately realize that Clover outsources much of their functionality to third-party apps to cover even the basics. This adds to the learning curve, and is part of why Clover’s customer service quickly spirals into chaos: no single agent could possibly know everything about how all of these apps work together. The more apps that have to be in sync, the more potential for error. Over and over, people sign up for what seem like low up-front costs, then end up paying monthly fees for third-party app subscriptions that continuously pile up. If you’re a liquor store, maybe you need the CobaltConnect app. Then you may need the State Minimum app. Or Shopventory. On top of this, take a look at one of Clover’s liquor store support docs: it’s not quite as sexy as the product coming out of the box. Clover itself doesn’t have a lot to say about its specific use at liquor and/or tobacco stores or gas stations. We found one guy talking about Clover for gas stations, but he’s mostly touting his company, CSIworks, which makes apps for Clover.
4. Hardware Failure
Almost everyone loves the way the Clover POS looks out of the box, but over and over, people say the products aren’t made to last. When one component fails or mysteriously locks up, you often have to buy an entirely new system, even if it’s a simple cable. Replacement costs seem to fall from the sky. Some people deal with this nightmare repeatedly. Repairing or recycling isn’t much of an option. People have to return the machines constantly. We’re real sticklers about this, because it’s something we see all the time: there are a lot crap products out there on the market that end up in the landfill after a year or less, emptying your wallet before you’ve even broken them in.
The first customer we spoke to who managed to hobble along using Clover systems without any outright disasters nevertheless said it “sucked” because the reporting “looks like ticker tape.” It can take weeks to receive reports of 30+ days. There’s no deep well of data to drill down into, and people end up with “years of accounting nightmares resulting from simple mistakes. From what we gather, Clover’s straight-up not made for large inventories and tough luck if you’re wanting to use data to help move your business forward.
Conclusion: Choose InsightRS as an Alternative to Clover
Clover might seems like the right solution for you, but take it from our own customers and the hundreds online: at the very least, spend an hour reading customer reviews before forking over any of your hard-earned money. However, if you’re looking to do better, look no further than choosing a POS System from a family-operated company that specializes in exactly what you need to succeed.
And if you are a current Clover POS customer, give us a chance to get you unstuck:
- Our cloud retail software platform seamlessly integrates into hardware that’s hand-selected to meet your business’s needs.
- Since we specialize in Liquor Stores, Convenience Stores, Tobacco Retailers, and Gas Stations, our solutions are tailor-made and relevant to you.
- We’ve never outsourced our support and in fact, most of us share the same last name! It also comes included with all of our software subscriptions.
- We’re a family and friends owned and operated company that prioritizes developing long-term relationships with our customers above all else.
AGDC is introducing a one-time API Incentive to help tobacco retailers access and utilize AGDC Price Promotion API.
The incentive is designed to help retailers with development costs, software investment, and/or 3rd party service provider subscription costs associated with accessing & utilizing the API.
How do I get the $250 API Incentive?
1. Sign Altria’s consent form to give consent to your chosen 3rd party (Insight Retail Software) to access the API on your behalf.
2. Use our tobacco Pricer web app to connect to AGDC’s API.
Note: Consent to call on AGDC’s API can be given to more than one 3rd party company.
AGDC Price Promotion API will communicate the following PM USA, USSTC, JMC and Helix Innovations information:
- Monthly Promotional Allowance rates, to include Multi-Unit and Loyalty funds, where applicable, at a SKU-level;
- Information on Retailer’s Promotional Elections at the Store-level;
- Effective dates, Promotional Allowance changes from the previous Promotion Period, and Marlboro Non-Promoted Eligibility Prices;
- Multi-Unit eligible quantities, maximum allowances per multi-unit transaction, and maximum daily loyalty transactions per loyalty ID, where applicable;
- Identification of Revenue and Product Promotion SKUs.
We’ve got some big news to share with you folks.
Managing tobacco pricing just got infinitely faster & convenient.
Insight Retail Software received access to AGDC (Altria) Price & Promotion API and immediately went to work to build a time-saving tobacco pricing application for our customers. It’s seamlessly integrated into our cloud-based retail software platform, rPosIO Cloud, and makes tobacco pricing quick, convenient, and compliant for tobacco retailers through their Point of Sale (POS) systems and back-office software.
What’s even more exciting is any active InsightRS Scan Data and/or Pricebook customers will be able to opt in to get access to Pricer for free.
rPosIO’s Pricer + AGDC (Altria)’s Price Promotion API
AGDC (Altria) recently launched an API and gave access to a few select 3rd parties, like us, to enable retailers to get information from them in a more direct way than they’ve ever done before.
AGDC identified that most retailers waste precious time throughout the month dealing with tobacco prices in order to remain compliant & give their customers discounts. This process involves manually getting information to sales reps then waiting around for the sales reps to respond & provide support.
Most importantly, as of June 2021, AGDC put even more complicated pricing systems into place that makes managing tobacco prices even more complicated & challenging to adapt to as a small business operator.
InsightRS worked closely with AGDC to integrate our newly created, Pricer, with their AGDC Price Promotion API. This integration enables you to securely communicate with AGDC’s API to receive Price and Promotion information specific to your store’s Retail Program elections.
Pricer on a schedule, or by manual request, will retrieve your store’s current pricing and allowances by Brand Family. For each family, then rPosIO’s Pricer gives you instant access to the product’s related API data. This allows you to make informed and timely decisions on your prices helping you stay in program compliance and maximize your tobacco profits.
How do I sign up?
Retailers are required to sign Altria’s API Access Consent Form indicating interest & consent to generate credentials for interacting with the API that are then shared with Insight Retail Software.
- Call 866-928-3510 (Option 4)
- or Email [email protected]
- Let Altria customer service know you’d like to sign the consent form authorizing Insight Retail Software to access the API on your behalf.
- Share our email with them: [email protected]
Then proceed to the Insight Retail Software sign-up form found on https://insightrs.com/altria/ and submit your store & payment information. We’ll then immediately schedule to get rPosIO’s Pricer running for you.
Contact (856) 777-7226 or [email protected] for more information.
Tobacco sales have proved a bright spot for many convenience stores during the COVID-19 pandemic, but while c-stores anticipate robust tobacco sales for the remainder of 2020, retailers are bracing for the potential chill of regulatory headwinds.
As the pandemic first hit the U.S., many customers began hoarding tobacco products — particularly cartons of cigarettes — ahead of shelter-in-place rules, according to data from the InfoMetrics database managed by consulting services firm Management Science Associates (MSA).
“As the stay-at-home situation has continued, there has been increased consumption of all types of tobacco items with the exception of vape, possibly because consumers are at home and not in locations where there are restrictions on its use,” said Don Burke, senior vice president of MSA.
A poll by consumer intelligence research platform CivicScience found that from April 28 to May 11 — at a time when most areas of the country were still experiencing stay-at-home orders — 31% of cigarette users reported smoking more frequently, and 28% of e-cigarette/vape users reported vaping more frequently. Some 44% of cigarette smokers and 34% of smokeless, e-cig and cigar users reported buying their tobacco product at a c-store most often during the same period.
Research firm IRI’s Convenience All Scan data found smokeless tobacco dollar sales grew 7.8%, with spitless up a whopping 80.6% for the four weeks ending April 19, 2020. Tobacco accessories dollar sales were up 33%, and cigars climbed 13.1%, while cigarettes dropped 2.4%, and e-cigs dipped 1.1% for the same period. Nielsen data showed e-cigs down 8.5% and cigarettes down 5% for the four weeks ending April 25, 2020, but similar upticks in other tobacco products, with cigars up 11.3%, pipe tobacco up 14.1% and “shag” or rolling tobacco up 28%.
Depending on location, c-store retailers are seeing various realities and differing surge/decline timelines when it comes to tobacco sales.
Doug Galli, vice president and general manager for Reid Stores and Crosby’s, said sales of other tobacco products (OTP) including cigars, snuff and e-cigarettes climbed at the company’s 82 c-stores in New York and Pennsylvania, ahead of shelter-in-place rules.
Year over year through April, “cigars are up 7%, e-vape is up 29% and the ZYN/Velo category that was non-existent last year has shown some legs. That category is 50% of the lift over last year,” Galli said. He added that moist snuff was down slightly for the same period.
On Feb. 6, 2020, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ruled that c-stores and other retailers can no longer carry display cartridge-based e-cigs or vaping pods in flavors other than menthol and tobacco, but flavored disposable e-cigarettes are still legal.
“The FDA attempted to strike a balance between protecting adult access to flavored vaping products and discouraging youth from vaping,” noted Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association. “Unfortunately, this move has undoubtedly led some adult ex-smokers to relapse and less adult current smokers to attempt to switch over.”
The growth seen at Crosby’s c-stores is “in spite of the (federal) flavor ban in (non-disposable) e-cigs and vape products, along with the addition of the ZYN/Velo products,” Galli added.
The cigarette segment, meanwhile, has been down 10% at Crosby’s c-stores through April, a slump Galli attributed to the purchase age for cigarettes increasing from 18 to 21 on Nov. 1, 2019, in New York state. Shortly thereafter, on Dec. 27, 2019, the FDA officially changed the minimum tobacco purchase age at the federal level from 18 to 21. The new nationwide Tobacco-21 law was effective immediately and applies to all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and vaping cartridges.
Across the country, Cenex Zip Trip saw a different trajectory at its 36 c-stores in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
“While early March and April saw a small decrease in tobacco sales during the heart of the stay-at-home orders in the states we serve, in the past three weeks, we’ve seen them rise back similar to what we sold during the same time span a year ago,” said Zip Trip Merchandising Manager Jon Fleck.
Montana — where the majority of Zip Trip’s stores are located — is now transitioning into the next phases of loosening stay-at-home restrictions, but during the lockdown, despite decreased customer traffic, the tobacco category held its own, Fleck said.
Fleck noted tobacco companies are offering bigger buydowns and providing them earlier than planned. “With advertising these deals with outdoor signs and matrix reader boards, we have seen some (sales) come back,” Fleck said.
At the end of 2019, a temporary ban on flavored vape products — including menthol — went into effect in the state of Montana. “We did a tremendous business in Montana with flavors prior to the ban,” Fleck said.
The ban on menthol, however, expired in mid-April, and the chain is now bringing in some flavored disposable e-cigs.
Given the Montana flavor ban, Zip Trip has seen a 20% drop in e-cig sales. Although the e-cigs/vaping segment is down significantly because of flavor bans, Fleck noted, “the category is doing well as a ‘comfort product’ along with beer during this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, chew, snuff and cigars are down slightly — “which isn’t bad considering the drop in customer counts (due to the pandemic),” said Fleck. “We categorize tobacco alternatives with these products as well. ZYN, Dryft, etc., have been a pleasant surprise that has picked the overall category up.”
At Zip Trip, tobacco customers are asking for specials, and seeking “the bigger, better deal.” “Similar to beer, cigarettes are comfort products, so while we did a small decrease in business during this time versus the prior year, we attribute most of that to the smoking age increasing to 21 as opposed to COVID-19,” Fleck said.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Irfan Tejani, CEO and president of Tejani Holdings, the parent company of Charge Up c-stores, said COVID-19 had a big impact on tobacco sales.
“Sales were down all across the board by double digits as customers did not know how to react to the entire situation, and then we started to get momentum back,” he said.
Headquartered in Sugar Land, Texas, Charge Up operates 40 c-stores in Texas and Louisiana.
“Louisiana stores specifically had to adapt to operating during a strict lockdown,” Tejani said. Overall, he noted that “despite the ongoing restrictions, the cigarette category remains the highest grosser all across (our stores).”
Smokeless tobacco has been stagnant to growing at Charge Up, depending on the location, while cigarillos are “very strong,” particularly the single sticks, which Tejani noted offer good profit margins. What’s more, he sees cigarillo sales growing — “especially the singles and promo packs like 3-for-1 and 4-for-1 packs,” Tejani said.
Charge Up is also testing the oral nicotine category. Nicotine toothpicks are sold at select stores.
“It’s a special category that doesn’t sell across the board,” he said. “Nicotine gums seem to be doing good where this category is sold.”
Tejani, Fleck and Galli all anticipate strong sales for tobacco for the rest of 2020.
“Tobacco in our New York stores is about to grow. Effective May 18, if your retail location has a pharmacy, you will not be allowed to sell tobacco products,” Galli said. Crosby’s stores in Erie County, N.Y., experienced a lift in their tobacco sales when an identical rule went into effect there around a year ago.
Tejani said he believes the tobacco category will continue to stay strong and consistent over the coming years — unless regulations become even stricter — with e-cigs slowly taking over a bigger portion of the category. Despite ongoing regulations, customer needs drive the market, and customers continue to demand tobacco sales, he pointed out.
“We see tobacco numbers increasing the rest of the year, as many uncertainties lie ahead with COVID-19,” Fleck said. “Once again, for tobacco users, it is a comfort that they rely on during these times.”
One headwind for retailers to watch is potential for tax increases on tobacco products due to the pandemic.
“COVID-19 is creating serious budget issues that we’re only just now starting to calculate. States that had started to grow accustomed to having large surpluses now have huge deficits that may surpass what states dealt with during the 2009 recession,” Conley pointed out. “As a result, tax increases on all tobacco and nicotine products are absolutely going to be considered in dozens of states over the next year. On the plus side for retailers, budget deficits will make it more difficult for state legislators to justify banning flavored vaping or tobacco products due to the tax revenue and jobs they provide.”
Another is how the premarket tobacco authorization (PMTA) will impact the category.
At press time, the new date when (PMTA) applications are due to the FDA is set for Sept. 9, 2020.
“In theory, this would mean that after the September deadline, only products with pending or approved PMTAs before the FDA can continue to be sold by retailers across the U.S. Those selling JUUL, NJOY, Vuse, blu, etc. have little or nothing to worry about in terms of potential dead stock, but some of the more fly-by-night companies that make disposable vaping products seem likely to exit the market in September,” Conley warned.
For a while, the shelf space for vaping products in c-stores seemed to be increasing by the month, he said. But now that some products are likely exiting the market ahead of the PMTA deadline, “the opposite appears to be occurring.”
Conley believes states will begin to police the market more aggressively than the FDA. “We are going to see attempts at the state level to make selling products without a pending or approved PMTA a crime. Of course, this will not stop the black and gray markets, but will just drive them further underground,” he said.
Read entire article here: https://cstoredecisions.com/2020/06/08/tobaccos-2020-trajectorby clicking herey/
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