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The best POS system for your business in 2021

woman using a POS system in a restaurant
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The best point of sale (POS) systems empower your business to quickly and easily accept payments from customers — but as we explore below, POS systems also help you achieve so much more.

From customer insight and marketing, to employee monitoring and inventory management, the best POS systems help streamline your business by making payment, operations, and inventory re-stocking much more efficient. 

To help you choose the right POS system for your business, we've prepared this in-depth guide which explains all the benefits and features of POS systems, as well as reviews and compares all of the most popular POS providers.

Or, if you're ready to speak with a POS provider now, we can help by providing a free quote tailored to your needs.

Our pick of the best POS systems compared
POS systemLowest monthly feeCard ratesFree trialSupport
AirPOS$29.99Integrates with iZettle, SumUp, and WorldPay14 daysOnline form
Lightspeed£692.6% + 10¢14 days24-hr phone support (reduced weekend hours)
Shopify$292.7%14 days24/7 chat support
Epos Now$39Integrates with iZettle and others30 daysEmail support (Pro: 24/7 phone support)
Square$02.6% + 10¢N/APhone and chat support
TouchBistro$692.75% + $0.257 daysPhone, email, help page

Your customers now have a wide variety of payment options available when it comes time to purchase something: contactless cards, Apple and Google Pay, credit cards with advanced new security features, third-party online payment providers, and more.

What's more, people like them. A recent study by Mastercard showed that 50% of consumers globally prefer these new kinds of payments over cash. 

These new technologies can also be leveraged by businesses to better understand customer spending habits, manage inventories of all sizes, and offer practical services like on-floor payment processing and price checking.

With greater flexibility in your point of sale system you can speed up transactions and improve customer satisfaction.

A modern POS system ties all this together and can do wonders for your front-end and back-end operations. But which is the right one for your business?

What is a POS system?

Customer paying for service at POS card reader

A POS system will enable you to take payments but can do so much more besides. (Image credit: Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash)

POS stands for point of sale, the physical location where financial transactions take place that conclude the sale of a product or service. In the past, this has almost always meant the cash register, which is still a predominant form of POS.

The best POS systems have evolved to do much more, however: they can intelligently manage your stock; handle discounts, sales, and surge pricing; integrate directly with back-end accounting software; and even track employees.

So what is a POS system? A POS system typically comprises four main components: a screen to overview and manage information relative to a sale, a card reader, a receipt printer, and software that ties everything together. In retail sectors, a barcode scanner is also included.

How much does a POS system cost?

Usually, you’ll pay once for hardware and then monthly or annually for software use and additional services. Not all providers sell both hardware and software, and not all charge for either hardware or software. 

In terms of POS hardware—that is, a payment screen, card reader, and printer—the costs have come down in recent years, and you can get all the hardware you need for a single terminal for about $600. Many modern providers have an array of components to choose from, so you can mix and match as needed.

POS software is usually paid monthly or annually and varies widely. Simplest ones, like AirPOS, are as little as $30.00 per month, while Shopify Advanced comes in at $300, albeit with a bevy of extra features. 

Epos, on the other hand, allows for a one-time payment of $750, and Square POS only charges per transaction. 

Finally, you’ll incur certain transactional fees in your day-to-day operations. For each tap, dip, or swipe of a card, you’ll be charged anywhere from 1-5%. These vary between providers and even packages from the same provider. 

More expensive options often have less costly transactional fees, so you’ll need to balance things according to your business’s average activity.

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How many POS terminals do I need?

This depends on the size of your business and your daily turnover. For smaller or medium-sized businesses that deal with lower volume, a single payment terminal is probably enough. 

For medium-sized businesses dealing with high volume and for larger companies, two or three terminals will be ideal. The best solution is to start with one or two based on your volume and scale up as needed. 

Are all POS systems PCI compliant?

While most, if not all, POS systems are PCI compliant, simply using one doesn’t mean that you don’t have to worry about other components of your payment ecosystem. Opting for a POS that manages more details can help streamline the process, but it may be more costly.

What is a mobile POS?

couple paying for a restaurant bill with a pos terminal

A mobile POS system is ideal for a restaurant. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

POS systems have evolved to become more flexible, so they work on many devices. For example, with nothing but a smartphone and mobile card reader, you can manage payments, refunds, and more. 

Mobile POS solutions are especially useful for small businesses and those without a fixed address, like food trucks and personal trainers. But they also represent a great opportunity for fixed businesses looking to leverage pop-up stores, kiosks, and mobile storefronts. 

What is a tablet POS? Should I get one?

Most modern POS systems are built to work on iPads and Android tablets, which gives you greater flexibility. You can choose to have them fixed in place with a stand or to keep them free to serve customers in a new but increasingly popular mobile fashion. 

They’re often the easiest POS to use as well, as they’ve been simplified for easier handling on a tablet. Most of the systems in this guide are tablet compatible.

What can a modern POS system do for your business?

Product Reports

Product reporting will help you better manage your stock and find opportunities for growth. Target poorly performing products for improvement or removal, and enact campaigns for the most popular ones. 

User accounts and permissions

Your staff doesn’t need access to everything. A POS system with user accounts and most importantly, permission settings will enable employees to perform their duties without you having to worry about them stumbling onto sensitive information.

Mobile features

Mobile hardware, Android and iOS applications, and handy mobile features like bill splitting, Apple and Google Pay compatibility, and receipt emailing can all make it easier for mobile and small businesses to satisfy customers and increase turnover.

Customer facing display

For retail businesses, this is considered indispensable, and there are many options out there. Modern customer-facing screens are a great opportunity to inform customers and promote campaigns, all while providing a smooth and transparent transaction experience

Customer Relationship Management

An umbrella term for a host of features and functionalities, CRM enables you to build better and more productive relationships with customers. Contact details and payment history, for example, can be used to keep customers informed of new products that may interest them. 

Employee tracking and reporting 

Streamline your daily operations with built-in employee clock-in and clock-out capabilities, and find opportunities for employee growth with reporting. Reward high performers and enact training when necessary.

Stock management 

A good stock management system can help you save costs and streamline operations. Many POS support multi-location stock management, enabling you to more quickly respond to stock problems or respond to customer requests.

Loyalty programmes

Included in CRM but still worthy of mention are loyalty programs, which many businesses have used with great success to boost sales and maintain customer involvement. A POS with strong loyalty program capabilities, as well as the ability to process gift cards, can be well worth the money.

Bulk operations

Getting started with a new POS doesn’t have to be a headache. POS systems that support bulk operations through CSV import, for example, or integration with third-party apps, will greatly simplify the process.

These features make it easier to turn impatient customers into enthusiastic ambassadors for your brand. A good POS can facilitate SRM by streamlining these processes.

If you're looking for advice about POS systems for specific type of business, then take a look at our guides to choosing the best POS systems for small business, POS systems for restaurants, and POS systems for retail.

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The best POS system reviews

square logo

(Image credit: Square)

Square review – the best all-round choice

A great option for all business types

Specifications
Price: $0 per month
Card rates: 2.6% + 10¢
Free trial: N/A
Support: Phone and chat
Reasons to buy
+No monthly fees+Wide range of hardware options+Can operate in offline mode
Reasons to avoid
-Possibility of account freezes or suspensions-High fees for larger businesses

Square was one of the earliest providers to enable card payments directly from mobile devices, with hardware that plugs into a smartphone or tablet. This makes it easy and affordable for mobile business owners to take card payments without needing expensive POS hardware. 

While others have adopted the model, Square still remains one of the best choices for mobile businesses. Particularly attractive is the pricing: Square only charges per transaction, with no monthly fees for software use. This is all the more interesting given that at 2.6% + 10¢, transaction rates aren’t much higher than other providers.

If you only need to occasionally take card payments, as is often the case with mobile entrepreneurs, this is a good compromise. 

Set-up is easy, and since the Square POS app works on both Apple and Android devices, it should feel immediately familiar. Handy features like Splitting a bill right from the product screen, PCI-compliant Cards on File, and an offline mode make this a surprisingly powerful little app.

Read our full Square review. You might also like our Helcim POS and Adyen POS reviews. 

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shopify logo

Shopify review – the best choice for ecommerce

Our top pick for online businesses

Specifications
Price: from $29 per month
Card rate: 2.7%
Free trial: 14 days
Support: 24/7 chat
Reasons to buy
+Simple to implement+Highly versatile+Great user experience
Reasons to avoid
-Additional hardware required

The Shopify POS app is one of the best all-in-one e-commerce solutions available. Without the hardware, it’s a powerhouse for e-commerce businesses, but the addition of a simple card reader turns your smartphone or tablet into a complete POS solution for physical cash and card transactions. 

Shopify Basic comes in at a lean $29/mo, which makes it a good solution for small e-commerce businesses, though others shouldn’t dismiss it too quickly. Shopify Standard, at $79/mo, is a good all-round POS, and Advanced Shopify at $299/mo, while costly, is a full business management suite, with everything from staff tracking to advanced analytics. 

Card rates start at 2.7% and go as low as 1.5% for more expensive plans, so you can tailor your package to your volume. 

The basic version, great for e-commerce and small businesses, includes an online store, unlimited stock, staff accounts, 24/7 support, sales channels, order creation, and discount codes. 

Shopify works on both iOS and Android devices, so there’s not much of a learning curve here. If you know how to use your own device, you’re well on your way to opening up an online or physical store with Shopify.

Read our full Shopify review.

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eposnow logo

Epos Now POS review – the best choice for hospitality

Great for catering, hotels, and restaurants

Specifications
Price: from $39 per month
Card rates: Variable
Free trial: 30 days
Support: Email support
Reasons to buy
+Built-in CRM+Own app store+Hosting outsourced to AWS for improved security
Reasons to avoid
-No knowledgebase-No kiosk option-Paid customer support

Epos Now is a cloud-based POS system that’s well-suited for use in hospitality settings, with a built-in CRM and plenty of extra capabilities, thanks to its app store. Because everything is in the cloud, you can access your reports and back-office tools from any browser, making this a convenient and highly versatile option.

In terms of pricing, you can pay $750 up front for the software, which can mean big savings in the long run: it’s cheaper after just 20 months of use compared to the monthly rate.

Product management and performance reporting will help you target opportunities, while employee reports enable you to train and incentivize where necessary. 

The built-in CRM will help you keep track of and analyze customer behavior. The loyalty mode is a great feature for hospitality businesses—it costs extra but is quite powerful.

Payments are managed through third parties, like iZettle and PayPal, so transaction rates depend on these services, although the app store means there’s no shortage of payment options: cards, Apple Pay, etc. 

Read our full Epos Now review.

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lightspeed logo

Lightspeed review – best for bespoke solutions

Another good all-rounder, with great flexibility

Specifications
Price: from £69 per month
Card rates: 2.6% + 10¢
Free trial: 14 days
Support type: 24-hr phone (excl. weekends)
Reasons to buy
+Bespoke solution+Mac-friendly+Great reporting and analytics
Reasons to avoid
-No Windows or Android option

Lightspeed is a rich and robust POS system, particularly well suited to restaurants, but it also works well for retail and e-commerce businesses. 

Lightspeed doesn’t offer off-the-shelf packages, so it’s a little more involved to sign up and get started. For smaller businesses looking for a simple solution, this may not be suitable, but for others, this customizability can be a real advantage.

Basic restaurant pricing starts at £69/month, with different features and options that can be added as needed. Transaction rates for card payments start at 2.6% + 10p, which is about industry standard. Lightspeed also supports cash, checks, gift cards, and store credit variants.

Stock management is a full-service key feature, built for both retail and restaurant POS systems. It’s extensive and highly customizable, in keeping with Lightspeed’s MO. 

Lightspeed is available for Apple devices only: iPad or desktop. However, the apps are powerful and easy to use, so even those unfamiliar with the Appleverse will have no problems. Set-up is more involved than other “ready-made” POS systems, but the upshot is a bespoke, perfectly adapted POS for your business.

Read our full Lightspeed review.  

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airpos logo

(Image credit: AirPOS)

AirPOS – great for small businesses

Recommended for SMBs

Specifications
Price: from £29.99 per month
Card rates: Variable
Free trial: 14 days
Support type: Online form
Reasons to buy
+Easy sign up+No fixed contract+Integrates with companion services
Reasons to avoid
-A little disjointed in places

AirPOS is a lesser-known POS service, but it has plenty to offer, including a simple and intuitive back-end and easy integration with payment and accounting software. Fully cloud-based, you can access your POS from anywhere and at any time. As it’s simple to use and easy to set up and has no fixed contracts, this is a great solution for small businesses. 

To make full use of AirPOS, including taking payments, you’ll need to integrate it with companion services like iZettle and SumUp, although this is an easy process. Because payments are handled through third parties, transaction rates are variable; iZettle, for example, starts at 1.75%.

Hardware is available through UK-based ePOS company StoreKit, with a wide variety of hardware options. If you already have a tablet so all you need is a card reader, that’s an option too. For small businesses, this makes it easy to start small and add hardware as needed. Additional features are available with the Pro package (£39.99), including a loyalty program. 

AirPOS is available without a contract or any hidden fees—just pay the monthly rate and you’re good to go. 

Read our full AirPOS review.

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touchbistro logo

TouchBistro – best for restaurants and bars

POS hardware and software designed specifically for catering businesses

Specifications
Price: From $69 per month
Card rates: 2.75% + $0.25
Free trial: 7 days
Support type: Phone, email, help page
Reasons to buy
+Great hardware options+Competitive pricing+Easy setup
Reasons to avoid
-Customer service could be better

TouchBistro – as the name suggests – is a POS system designed with restaurants in mind. 

In addition to its mobile, tablet-centric point of sale system, TouchBistro can (depending on the plan you choose) manage menus, reservations, and tables, as well as customer benefits like loyalty rewards. It also supports online ordering, especially helpful if you're looking to expand your delivery or food pick-up offerings.

TouchBistro's POS hardware and software – utilising iPads – is easy-to-use and well-suited for a restaurant or bar environment. 

Small restaurants can benefit from a single iPad POS system, where you have one payment terminal. Medium-sized restaurants can use up to five iPads with a sixth acting as the central terminal. Larger restaurants can benefit from custom-built POS systems with a PC as the central hub, enabling you to connect as many mobile devices as required.

TouchBistro also offers other great hardware solutions such as self-serve kiosks, a digital menu board, and a kitchen display system, the latter streamlining FOH-BOH communications.

With feature-rich software, competitive prices, and a simple setup process, TouchBistro represents excellent value for money. And if you own a restaurant or bar it would be hard to find a more-suited option for your needs.

Read our full TouchBistro review.

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How we review POS systems

We reviewed many different POS systems before deciding on which to feature in this guide. Our review process involves evaluating key factors, including features, ease of use, set-up, support, and of course, pricing. 

All our reviews are based on hands-on experience: we trial software and materials to get a clear picture of what features are included, for example, and how easy or difficult it is to get started and use the software.

We anonymously contact user support so we can draw honest and informed conclusions about availability, knowledge, and friendliness. 

Finally, pricing is gleaned from websites, but we never hesitate to go in-depth with documentation and user support to provide the clearest possible picture.

Learn more about the benefits of POS systems

Looking for more information on POS systems? Try these articles: Here we advise on How to choose a POS system; this feature explains How a POS system works; and in this article we demonstrate 5 ways POS systems help you manage staff.

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Christian Rigg

Christian is a freelance writer and content project manager with 6+ years' experience writing and leading teams in finance and technology for some of the world's largest online publishers, including TechRadar and Tom's Guide.