With dozens of point-of-sale (POS) systems to choose from, each with varying features, it can be difficult to decide which is the best POS system for your needs. Understanding the different types of systems, along with their respective features and benefits, will help you narrow down your options and determine the right POS solution for your business.
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15 of the most popular POS features
The software features you should prioritize when shopping for a POS system depend on your business and the customer experience you want to provide. Here are 15 of the most common features that businesses look for in a POS system:
1. Mobile apps
Most POS systems have both Apple and Android applications that allow you to use smartphones or tablets for mobile checkout. This means retail employees can ring up customers anywhere on the store floor, and waiters can take orders and payments at the table.
While most POS systems are dual-platform, some are exclusively for Apple or Android. If you have a strong preference for one platform over the other, take that into consideration when picking out a system.
Most POS systems are designed for iPads, as they are more user-friendly and secure, though also more expensive, than Android tablets. However, a few systems are designed only for Android, touting the platform's superior ability to customize features. [Read related article: How to Find the Best Mobile POS System]
2. Inventory management
Whether you're in the food service industry and need a menu rundown on your system or you're in retail and need to track product quantities, the type of inventory management your business needs will determine the type of POS system you should invest in.
Although most POS systems include inventory management features, some are more robust than others, and some are industry-specific. If your business needs an advanced inventory management system, make sure that option is available for your POS system or that it integrates with your choice of inventory software.
3. Customer management
How much customer data do you need to collect for your marketing efforts? A POS system can gather email addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses, and it can also track sales data like purchase histories and buying trends. This allows your business to create specific, targeted offers that incentivize your customers to keep shopping with you.
Advanced POS systems can use customer data to generate just-in-time marketing, personalized for the customer at the checkout counter. For instance, the system might generate instant coupons based on what the customer has just purchased.
4. Loyalty programs
Loyalty programs aren't usually part of the core feature set of POS systems. However, several systems offer them as an add-on for an extra cost, and others integrate with third-party loyalty programs.
5. Gift cards
Many businesses add on gift card features to their POS system. The ability to offer and accept gift cards, both in person and online, can be a great way to boost sales and increase customer loyalty.
6. User accounts and permissions
If your business employs multiple people, a POS system can help you manage them. As the system administrator, you'll be able to manage employee access to different features of the POS system. For instance, you can grant permissions to select employees or positions to handle certain tasks, such as issuing refunds or voiding transactions.
7. Employee management
Most POS systems come with some form of employee management features, like tracking employee sales, activity and performance. This makes it easy to see which employees are your top earners, and which ones might require more training. You can use these tools to run competitions and reward your top performers.
Some POS systems can track work hours with a built-in time clock and create employee schedules. If you've already found the best time and attendance system for your needs or excellent employee scheduling software, see if it integrates with the POS system.
8. Appointment booking
Although it is not as common a feature, some POS systems have appointment-booking capabilities. This tool enables appointment booking through your online store or website. Then, you can manage appointments and sales within one platform. This is especially useful for those operating in professional service industries (e.g., nail salons, wellness spas, repairs and health).
Every POS system generates reports, but since the depth of reporting varies, you'll want one with the right analytics for your business. Will you need basic reports for sales per hour, inventory management, or other metrics?
Look for a system with customizable reports that allow you to filter data by date range and other factors. You may also want a system that allows you to customize how the data is presented and schedule automatic reports to be emailed to you.
Your business is likely already using other types of business software, such as for accounting or CRM. The ability to integrate those with your POS system allows you to work more efficiently, as the systems will automatically share data rather than require you to manually transfer it between systems. Look for a POS system that can integrate with your existing software, as well as any you plan on using in the future. This will make it easier to manage your business as you grow.
Speaking of growing, it is important to find a POS system that can scale with your business as you expand. This might mean the ability to add on more registers or accessories, or even to open up a second or third location with one centralized POS platform.
12. Payment processing
Some POS systems integrate with third-party payment processors, and others offer their own payment processing. Although most of the best credit card processing systems permit a variety of payment types (e.g., swipe, dip, tap), their rates vary, so keep that in mind when choosing a POS system. Calculate the potential cost of payment processing when determining the overall cost of your POS system.
POS systems have easy-to-use dashboards that give you a quick summary of how your business is performing. You can often see things like sales, inventory and performance at a glance.
Hardware can be a major factor in POS systems. A basic POS setup typically includes hardware like a standard terminal, credit card reader, cash drawer and receipt printer. However, you may need advanced hardware options like a mobile POS, kiosk, customer display screen, kitchen display system or digital menu board.
If hardware is your top priority, check out our review of Clover. The affordable POS system offers both credit card processing and POS functionality.
POS systems have evolved over the years, and most of the top market options are easy to install and use. It is important to have an intuitive POS system that is easy for you and your employees to navigate. The level of complexity should be based on your employees' capabilities. Some businesses might opt for simple designs, whereas others may seek more customizable and technical options.
Industry-specific POS features
Most POS systems are designed for a certain industry, so their features tend to fall into these industry-specific packages:
The retail industry is one of the predominant users of POS terminals, which almost always integrate with inventory and accounting software. In addition to processing transactions, the POS system often supports customer loyalty cards, gift cards, gift registries and coupon redemptions. [Read related article: 8 Essential POS System Features for Your Retail Business]
If you're looking for the best POS system for a retail business, check out our full review of Lightspeed. It offers robust e-commerce tools and can accommodate industries like apparel, electronics, health, home, decor, jewelry, sporting goods, and liquor.
The hospitality and hotel industry needs to track guests as they interact with various services throughout their visit: the dining room, their guest rooms, golf or tennis lesson reservations, spa visits, and so on. POS systems can also store guest preferences for amenities and housekeeping, allowing hospitality staff to anticipate guest needs rather than respond to requests – thereby raising service levels, customer satisfaction and loyalty. The POS software usually integrates with property management software.
If you need a great POS system for your hotel or hospitality business, read our in-depth Epos Now review.
Some of the first touchscreen terminals were used in the restaurant industry, particularly at fast-food chains. Today, they are the standard means to input and track orders, process payments, and generate customer receipts. A growing trend in quick-serve restaurants is the use of text alerts to notify customers when their orders are ready for pickup. Even in some fine-dining segments, waiters use mobile devices to send orders directly from the table to the kitchen. The same devices notify waiters when orders are ready for delivery to the table.
If you're in search of the best POS system for your restaurant, check out our comprehensive TouchBistro review or our Upserve review. Toast is another great option – in our Toast review, you'll learn it's ideal for restaurants with online ordering.
In the grocery business, POS systems can be part of self-checkout lines and typically incorporate weight scales. Some systems also allow customers to use barcode scanners to record their selections as they place products into their carts, expediting the final checkout process.
If you're looking for a grocery store POS system, consider Heartland POS. This comprehensive POS system is compatible with third-party hardware and payment processors.
Professionals in the hair and beauty industry need to enter, modify, and track client appointments and preferences in a system that can generate performance reports and loyalty profiles, as well as identify and correct workflow inefficiencies. The POS system also maintains an inventory of beauty products and compiles a database of customer emails to send appointment reminders, special offers, and other notifications.
If your salon needs a POS system, we recommend Square. This top-rated POS system is customizable, and it even offers appointment-booking features, which not all POS systems do.
5 benefits of a POS system
A good POS system can not only help a business owner manage sales and inventory, it can also increase their business intelligence and marketing skills. These are the five primary benefits of a POS system:
1. Increase store profitability.
POS systems can increase your in-store profitability by monitoring inventory and recording customers' behavior. With this data set, you'll be able to create more pointed and specific marketing campaigns and sell only the products that your customers buy. This encourages customers to return and helps you avoid holding on to a surplus of immovable products so your store is more profitable.
You can also use POS retail apps on your smartphone or tablet as instant access points, allowing you to sell and order from wherever you are, instead of being confined to a physical location.
2. Reduce administrative costs.
Once your POS system is operational, it will reduce the time you spend on administrative tasks, which can save you money. Your system will provide operating reports as well as buyer and inventory data, so you don't have to collect that information yourself. Since POS systems can act as checkout stations, you'll also spend less time on cashier duties and more time focusing on the business itself.
3. Manage inventory.
If your POS system comes with inventory management features that allow you to see your stock in real time, you'll always know what you have on hand and what your customers are buying. This lets you make informed decisions about future inventory purchases based on buying trends and customer demand.
4. Improve your business intelligence.
If your POS system has robust reporting features, you can run reports that clearly and accurately streamline your incoming data so it is easier for you to understand. Then you can make informed decisions about your business. You'll be able to dig into your sales data to identify your business's trends around inventory, customer behavior, high-volume shopping times and budget lines.
5. Boost your marketing and loyalty features.
One of the most useful features of a POS system is how specific it can be about your customers' buying trends. It can show you what they buy, how frequently they shop at your establishment, and how much they spend.
When you understand who your customers are and how they shop, you can create specific marketing messages, loyalty programs and other incentives for them. This allows you to reward your best customers and enhance their experience, instead of losing money on general discounts.
POS hardware options
The type and number of hardware devices you need for your POS system depends not only on the physical size and location of your business, but also on your branding and marketing strategies. For example, retailers frequently employ "stores within a store," where the idea is to capture sales immediately at multiple retail displays placed throughout a single store. This gives you the ability to capitalize on impulse purchase decisions, and cuts down on the long register lines at crowded exits that might discourage shoppers from coming to your store again.
The hardware necessary to set up POS stations is usually a combination of the following devices:
- Tablet stands
- Mobile phones
- Desktop computers or laptops
- Customer display screens
- Kitchen display systems
- Digital menu boards
- Credit card readers
- Personal identification number (PIN) pads
- Receipt printers
- Cash drawers
- Barcode scanners
- Coin dispensers
It's increasingly common for these devices to function on mobile platforms, which allows more flexibility in the placement of the terminals as well as the environments in which they can function. In addition, web-enabled terminals allow for inventory tracking across geographically dispersed locations and for remote training, operation and diagnostics.
POS software options
Certain industries have different POS software needs. For instance, a restaurant has different requirements from a hardware store or a hotel operation. The size of your business also determines the type of POS software you need. A small mom-and-pop business has less complex requirements than a large chain.
In some cases, the operating system is proprietary, but there are also standard Windows and Mac offerings. The generally accepted industry standards for dedicated POS systems are the Windows-specific OPOS – or OLE Point of Sale, which uses the Object Linking and Embedding technology developed by Microsoft – and JavaPOS, which uses the Java programming language and can run on any OS platform.
A web-based platform, also called a cloud-based POS, is an increasingly popular choice because it is largely compatible with any operating system. Web-enabled POS systems can not only run on any computer with an internet connection and browser, but also frequently offer an app for smartphones and tablets – though these apps are sometimes platform-specific.
An additional advantage of cloud-based systems is that they run remotely from one or more secure servers, eliminating the need to install and update software at the local level. In addition, the centralization of data provides a single repository that can be accessed across geographic and organizational locations via simple internet connection, which reduces operational overhead costs.
POS systems vary. Some are complete bundled packages of hardware, software and services put together by the original equipment manufacturer or a reseller. Systems can be leased or bought, and some are free to use if you sign a multiyear contract for payment processing.
Alternatively, you can buy POS software or subscribe to a SaaS plan to use with a computer, smartphone, or tablet along with a card reader. With this option, you can usually choose to buy your POS hardware from either the software provider or a third-party vendor.
After-sale services may include basic onsite repair or remote telephone support, email support and upgrades. After-purchase care may run for a predetermined period or may require a service plan at an additional cost. Warranties usually run from one to three years, although some vendors offer lifetime warranties.
Skye Schooley contributed to the writing and research in this article.