In the last issue I posed Alistair Main's dilemma. The convenience turnover at his Ormiston post office is only £150,000 a year. Would it be worth investing in epos?

Michael Orchard, who runs Norton Village Stores in Somerset, points out that even though you can get a system for less than £2,000, it is questionable whether it is worthwhile for a shop with a convenience turnover of just £150,000.

He points out that items must be programmed into the system initially, which is time-consuming, and price changes mean items have to be reprogrammed and new shelf-front labels produced. Stock control, he adds, is only possible if each delivery is entered onto the system. Random weight items such as cheeses, sliced meats, fruit & veg will still have to be keyed in, meaning you need to hang onto those pricing guns.

His view was backed up by Jas Khuman, who runs Winton Stores and PO at Andover, Hampshire. She spent about £6,000 on an epos system three years ago but says that when she gets invoices from suppliers (wholesalers in this case) they do not include bar codes. "We log our stock from invoices," she explains, "and if I buy the same Heinz baked beans from Booker or Blueheath or Bestway, then the codes are all different, so it restricts our purchasing because we then have to physically pick up each product and scan it in."

She discussed this with the three aforementioned wholesalers but "none of them wanted to know".

Sue Williams from Hilltop Stores & PO, West Hoathly, West Sussex, won an epos system in a competition, although ended up paying about £1,500 for it when the 'extras' such as warranty and backup came into it. Even then she decided that with minimum staff the computer input would have to come from her at the end of the day, when she closed shop.

A couple of others took the opportunity to have a pop at YP Electronics. (I believe this is one of the prices that main suppliers to the market have to pay. If you have more systems out there than most then there will be a few that you don't get it right for.)

Finally, John Middleton of ShopEase EPoS Systems emailed me with the argument in favour. "The majority of retailers enjoy an improvement in gross profit of 2-5% in a relatively short time," he says.

Even taking a pessimistic view, he says, Ormiston Post Office would recoup an investment of £3,000 in 12 months. His own company, ShopEase, sells systems for less than a grand. And Gordon Brown will give you a tax cut.

He concludes: "Many retailers work blind with no perception of how profitable their business is until their accountant presents them with the good news (hopefully) at the end of the financial year. An epos system can tell them this, on a daily basis. In short, it can provide peace of mind. Now what's the price of that?"