POS systems enable businesses to quickly and easily accept payments from customers; this includes everything from hotel rooms to hot dogs. But the days of the humble cash-only register are long gone. As the world of personal finance evolves, so too must point of sale.
Your customers now have a wide variety of payment options available to them: contactless payments, Apple and Google Pay, bank cards with advanced new security features, and third-party payment providers. In fact, a recent study by Mastercard has shown that 50% of consumers globally prefer these new kinds of payments.
At the same time, new opportunities exist for businesses to leverage advances in hardware and software, so they can better understand customer spending habits, manage inventories of all sizes, and offer practical services like on-floor payment processing and price checking.
Greater flexibility in your POS system will mean faster transactions and greater satisfaction among your customers.
It’s clear that modern POS systems can do wonders for your front-end operations. But which is the right one for your unique business?
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at POS systems, the different features they offer and how to prioritize them, and how you can choose the right POS to meet your needs.
What is a POS system?
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.
However, POS systems have evolved to do much more: they can intelligently manage your stock; handle discounts, sales, and surge pricing; integrate directly with back-end accounting software; and even track employees.
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?
Typically, 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 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.
The table below compares the pricing of five leading POS system suppliers.
The best POS systems compared
|POS system||Lowest monthly fee||Card rates||Free trial||Support|
|AirPOS||$29.99||Integrates with iZettle, SumUp, and WorldPay||14 days||Online form|
|Lightspeed||£69||2.6% + 10¢||14 days||24-hr phone support (reduced weekend hours)|
|Shopify||$29||2.7%||14 days||24/7 chat support|
|Epos Now||$39||Integrates with iZettle and others||30 days||Email support (Pro: 24/7 phone support)|
|Square||$0||2.6% + 10¢||N/A||Phone and chat support|
How many 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?
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?
These features make it easier to turn disappointed customers into enthusiastic ambassadors for your brand. A good POS can facilitate SRM by streamlining these processes.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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The best POS system reviews
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still undecided? Learn more about the benefits of POS systems
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