Switching your cinema PoS: 10 questions to ensure you get it right first time

Replacing your cinema PoS can be a painful process. You need to think about retraining your staff, rewriting your onboarding manuals, your internal reporting, the configuration of your special offers, how to manage the data transfer, plus any third-party integrations you might have. It’s not something you want to do regularly, which is why a cinema PoS is often in place for well over a decade.

That said, a cinema circuit we onboarded recently was already on its third system in two years. Each time, there had been massive upheaval, only to discover something key was missing. Every time we’re invited in to solve these kinds of problems, there’s another cinema saying: “If I knew what I did now, I never would have installed this PoS, but I’m too invested in it to turn back now.”

This is a common story, especially as more and more cinemas are diversifying into family entertainment centers with sophisticated F&B offerings and are looking to engage with customers through integrated marketing campaigns.

Every time you add a new element or service, it’s tempting to find a solution that ticks the box and then move on. But, in doing so, you end up with separate systems for your PoS, your F&B, your client relationship management (CRM) and loyalty, and your arcade machines. And, since none of these talk to each other, you end up pulling in another system just to glue the data together.

You’d be right in thinking there’s got to be a better way.

This decision will have a huge impact on your business and the lives of you and your colleagues. You’ll save yourself a lot of pain just by asking the difficult questions up-front. Cinema PoS has come a long way. So if you haven’t upgraded in a while, you’ll be amazed at what a mature system, with 20+ years of development behind it, can do.

A modern PoS system is the flywheel of your operations. Beyond simply enabling sales, it can help you manage stock and employees, facilitate upselling and cross-selling, and even manage your email marketing. To help ensure you get the best new PoS system (first time around), here’s a list of questions, which should help you identify the truly viable options among them:

1. What’s the total system cost?

You can’t always take system costs at face value. We’ve seen many proposals where a cinema owner hasn’t understood the true cost and has inadvertently selected a more expensive PoS system. Here are some of the hidden costs to look out for:

  • Third-party payment gateway and merchant processing fees
  • Third-party online ticketing costs
  • ‘Paid-for’ modules such as CRM, email marketing, and digital signage
  • Server operating systems and database licenses
  • F&B software

Together, these can more than double the operational cost of the PoS. It’s also important to consider the cost of your time. How much time will your team spend:

  • Consolidating numbers
  • Manually transferring data from one system to another
  • Requesting new features and then field testing early modules after months of waiting
  • Building and sending marketing emails
  • Managing inventory, purchase orders, and invoices

Adding new systems as you need them can quickly spiral, draining both your time and money. Every new vendor you bring to the table will have its own way of doing things. And of course, each one comes with its own set of fees – some of which might be hidden from view at first glance.

2. How sophisticated is the F&B module?

This is critical, especially if you want to go beyond soda and popcorn. You’ll want to look out for:

  • Sophisticated food modifiers that tie back to inventory and costing
  • Recipe management
  • Automated upselling and cross-selling
  • Audited purchase ordering
  • The ability to sell food online alongside tickets
  • Multiple printing options (food to the kitchen, drinks to the bar)
  • Kitchen display screens
  • Table service capabilities
  • Tabs and tipping functionality

Remember: It’s not enough for your F&B module to be fit for purpose now. You have to ask yourself if it’s going to be able to support your operations as they evolve. A future-proof system will save you from having to switch again in a year or two.

3. Does it offer integrated Customer Relationship Management?

Your PoS system contains a huge amount of information about your customers, which makes it a natural place to house your CRM. That’s why the better solutions out there come with integrated CRM as standard. Functionalities to expect include:

  • The ability to automatically generate, send, and track targeted marketing emails
  • Personalized campaigns that are triggered by customer behavior
  • Easy access to information about regular, lapsing, and lapsed customers

A strong CRM module can take your PoS from a transactional system to one that actively builds and nurtures relationships with your customers. This can be a powerful revenue generator, at no extra cost, and is much more efficient than trying to manage it through a third-party system.

4. Are the important features fit for purpose?

Really kick the tyres on features that are important to you. Include members of your team who work in that area and ask them to share the most complex problems they may need to deal with.

Adding a new feature as a sales headline is often no more than an afternoon’s development work. But it can take years to build out a feature into something that genuinely adds value. Don’t be fooled by a slick demo. Ask difficult questions with complex scenarios and always be wary if a core functionality (ticket/concession sales, film booking, time and attendance for staff) is in development, or has just been released. It’s important that main features are well-established and thoroughly tested. Otherwise, you could be stuck with a restricted system for years while you wait for development to catch up with the sales promise.

That said, no system should be presented as: “It’s finished; take it or leave it.” Every cinema will have its specific needs and it’s reasonable to expect a degree of customization and scope to request new features and functionality. A good solution will be willing to do what it takes to ensure you have everything you need to operate successfully. But to do this, its core features need solid foundations.

5. Is reporting easy to access and simple to understand?

Data analytics and reporting are the keystones of your business. Easy and intuitive access to your data from within the PoS is vital to your operations. Things to consider are:

  • Is native custom reporting included?
  • Are profitability reports and comparison date ranges included?
  • Does data analysis need to be exported into Excel, PowerBI or another third-party system?
  • Is the reporting live or is there a delay as it’s copied between systems?
  • Is there an accounting export that includes GL codes and will it integrate with your accounting system?
  • Is the data sortable and graphical?
  • Does it let you drill down into greater detail?

6. How does it handle seat upgrades and transfers?

People change their minds all the time. On arrival, they decide they’d rather sit closer to the front, sit with their friends, or see the movie on a premium screen. Alternatively, they might be running late and want to switch to a later screening. Selecting a system that handles seat moves as a single process:

  • Reduces onboarding and training
  • Keeps transaction times fast and the lines short
  • Is a better customer experience
  • Avoids refunding tickets only to find the seats the customer wanted are no longer available
  • Reduces card processing costs by only charging the transaction once
  • Automatically prompts for any small price difference between the tickets
  • Reduces exposure to fraud by keeping refunds to a minimum
  • Provides a clear audit and experience trail for the accounts and CRM teams

Seat maps and seat types (like sofas and loveseats) should be clear and customisable. Your PoS system interface should be simple, with minimal screens for your staff to click through. This is going to save you a lot of time when it comes to training and allows for better and faster customer service.

7. What does the digital signage module look like?

Lots of cinema PoS systems offer embedded digital signage but there are a few things to look out for to ensure it does what you need it to, such as:

  • What hardware is supported and can existing hardware be reused?
  • Does the pricing feed directly from the PoS to the menu boards?
  • Is artwork included?
  • Can the manager easily make changes themselves?
  • Are posters automatically populated?
  • Is there access to a library of movie posters and trailers?
  • Can you time-schedule custom user content?
  • Is this easily maintained through the PoS or does it require a new interface (and subsequent training) to operate it?

8. Is it cloud or server-based?

It’s impressive to see a sales demo of how quickly a cloud-based cinema PoS can be set up. But that is often where the appeal ends. A purely cloud-based system leaves a cinema vulnerable. If your internet is down, your entire cinema is down. And any employees who knew how to sell tickets manually probably left a long time ago.

Operating without a server is like operating without insurance. We would all love not to have to pay insurance, and we would probably be fine without it for years, but it’s important to have it when we need it. This is just as true for the computer that sits at the heart of your business. Plus, when you consider that a typical server lasts seven years, and can pay for itself in ticket sales on a single busy evening, the investment quickly becomes worth it.

The most versatile systems will offer a server, and provide access from the cloud. This provides the peace of mind of having a server onsite, with the flexibility of cloud access. These are called ‘hybrid’ systems, and they offer the best of both worlds: Cloud-based features, underpinned by the reliability of a server.

9. How robust is the membership and loyalty module?

Almost every cinema PoS boasts membership and loyalty modules. But what does that mean? How much depth do they offer? Do they actually deliver any value to the business? Does it match the package you would like to offer your customers?

Membership is generally a paid subscription that returns discounts on tickets and/or concessions and often includes free tickets. Paid membership is particularly popular with independent cinemas. People pay to be part of a community and are committed to ensuring the cinema’s continuation, especially if it’s a charity.

Loyalty, on the other hand, is largely about tracking customers (check out this brilliant book on the subject). Cinemas make small concessions to customers, such as freebies or discounts, in return for repeat business. The idea is to motivate customers not just to return to the cinema, but to identify themselves when they do. In this way, you can build a detailed picture of your repeat customers and use this to inform your marketing campaigns. Be wary of membership or loyalty systems that don’t include a native email solution; you’ll be missing out on a key value driver.

It’s also important to ensure that you have the back office tools to manage your members. As soon as you introduce a loyalty or membership program, you will generate queries from customers. The better your solution, the fewer the questions.

We have often encountered loyalty systems that are either losing a cinema money, or do not provide adequate data-driven interactions with moviegoers. Dig deep into what the loyalty and membership modules offers. Remember, it’s not just about how they function, equally important how they deliver value to the business.

10. How innovative are they really?

Cinema is constantly changing and so you need a dynamic PoS system that you can still rely on 10 years down the line. It needs to have a track record of evolution so that you’re not stuck with what was needed in 2024. Questions to ask include:

  • What happens when you need a change to the software?
  • What recent examples are there of working with a similar customer on a requested change?
  • Is there a full API for third-party integrations like arcades, bowling, or  third-party websites?
  • Does the PoS have a track record of innovation? With which key features has it been first to market?

Would you like to put us through our paces?

We’ve been in the business a long time (over 100 years from the time my great-grandfather started Jacro). Tapos has been building cinema software for 25 years. We have a deep understanding of the needs of cinemas, from independents and charities to multi-site circuits. And we’d love the opportunity to answer your most difficult questions. Get in touch below and we’ll set up a preliminary call so you can put us through our paces.