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Updated Apr 04, 2024

How to Choose a Mobile POS System

When evaluating mobile POS systems, you should consider your budget, the limits of your current system and future business goals.

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Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
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A point-of-sale (POS) system is the hardware and software that allows businesses to accept customer payments. As consumers become more mobile-centric, the POS industry has followed suit, offering mobile POS (mPOS) systems that facilitate fast, on-the-spot checkout for restaurants, retailers and more. We’ll explain how mPOS systems work and highlight their features, benefits and risks to help you choose an mPOS system that will improve your customers’ experience dramatically.

Editor’s note: Looking for the right POS system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.

What is an mPOS system?

An mPOS system is an app that runs on a smartphone or tablet to facilitate card and digital payments for merchants. It’s a portable version of a traditional POS system many retailers use to complete sales transactions. 

mPOS systems are excellent options for business owners who must accept credit card payments and digital payment methods on the go. While they were once considered less powerful than traditional POS terminals, their functionality has become quite robust. 

mPOS systems are portable, relatively inexpensive and immensely convenient for merchants. They’re steadily growing in usage and popularity. According to the latest Retail Consulting Partners POS and customer engagement survey, 54 percent of retailers have mPOS devices – and 38 percent of businesses without them say implementing them is a priority. By 2028, mPOS transactions are expected to reach over $6 trillion

FYIDid you know
An mPOS with a tablet improves the customer experience by maximizing space, improving checkout times and providing real-time inventory insights.

How to choose an mPOS system

Various business types can benefit from mPOS systems. However, your unique needs and industry demands will impact the precise system you choose. Work through the following steps to ensure you choose an mPOS system that’s suitable for your needs and budget: 

  1. Evaluate your business’s mPOS needs: Your industry and business are the primary factors to consider when choosing an mPOS system. Numerous mPOS platforms exist, with some catering to specific industries and setups. For example, if you run a small retail store, a countertop POS system with a single terminal and mPOS add-ons may suffice. However, if you run a restaurant, you’ll need extensive mPOS functionality.
  2. Examine your current system’s limitations: If you already have an mPOS or want to transition from a traditional POS system, take stock of your current system. What do you like about it and what functions does it lack? What are your biggest pain points and what key features are missing? Listing your current system’s shortcomings will give you clarity as you research other providers. 
  3. Set your mPOS budget: Your mPOS system must fit your budget. POS system costs can vary widely; when budget planning, consider your must-have features when weighing how much you can afford. 
  4. Consider scalability: You must find an mPOS solution that meets your business’s current needs and provides the flexibility to address your future needs. Where do you want your business to be a few years down the road? Look for a solution that can grow alongside it. 
  5. Research mPOS platforms on the market: After identifying your needs, start comparing different mPOS providers. Ask other business owners for recommendations and research various solutions. Visit potential vendors’ websites, read online reviews and visit customer review sites to get a feel for them. Note their POS charges and fees and determine whether they’re a cost-effective option for you.
  6. Look for free trials and demos: Once you’ve narrowed your list of providers, ask about free trials and demos. An opportunity for hands-on experience will help you see how the software works and determine if it’s a good fit for your business. 
TipBottom line
Check out free POS systems if your needs are minimal. Additionally, some of the best credit card processors provide free POS software when you use their platforms.

How do mPOS systems work? 

mPOS systems are very straightforward. Here’s how they work: 

  1. The merchant downloads a POS app on their smartphone or tablet. Some systems may also need a mobile card reader to accept magstripe card swipes, near-field communication (NFC) mobile payments and mobile wallet transactions.
  2. A shopper brings items to an associate to purchase them. In restaurants, a server may bring their mPOS device to the table when customers are ready to pay. 
  3. The associate scans items (for retail purchases) and the mPOS totals the transaction. 
  4. The customer pays with a credit or debit card or another accepted and supported payment method. The mPOS will adjust inventory totals systemwide.
  5. The customer can select a printed receipt, digital receipt or no receipt. 

mPOS systems have additional payment function options, such as accepting payments via a virtual terminal or presenting customers with a quick response code to scan for contactless payments.

You can also pair your mPOS system with additional hardware, such as a cash drawer, barcode scanner or receipt printer. Most systems include data analytics functions to provide valuable business insights.  

The benefits of mPOS solutions

Here are some of the biggest advantages of using an mPOS solution:

  • They create shorter wait times: Mobile POS systems can speed up checkout lines. Customers don’t like waiting in line and will appreciate the dramatically reduced wait times.
  • They can increase sales: Simplifying and speeding up the transaction process for your customers could lead to increased sales. More transactions equals more money in your pocket, which is always a win for your business.
  • They create efficient and accurate transactions: When you meet your customers where they are, you boost the efficiency and accuracy of your transactions.
  • They help you accept mobile wallets: Mobile wallet payments are becoming ubiquitous and it’s easy to accept them with an mPOS system. Most mobile card readers are NFC-enabled, allowing you to accept Apple Pay and Google Pay without expensive upgrades.
  • They allow digital receipts: Many customers want digital receipts for accounting and bookkeeping purposes and the option to email receipts to customers can be highly beneficial for businesses.
  • They improve the customer experience: The convenience of mPOS transactions can improve your customers’ experience with your brand. A consumer who has a seamless checkout experience with a company is more likely to return ― and returning customers tend to spend more.
  • They provide a higher sense of security: mPOS systems enhance consumers’ sense of security. Instead of taking their card to another room, you can complete the transaction right in front of them. Consumers feel more secure in their payment transactions when they have complete control over their credit cards.
TipBottom line
If you're deciding whether you need a cash register, POS system or mPOS, consider the features your business needs, including inventory management, payment flexibility and scalability.

The risks of mPOS systems

Although there are many benefits to using mPOS devices, there are also risks. Consider the following downsides before implementing an mPOS.

mPOS systems have the potential for unauthorized access.

There is always the potential for unauthorized access to a POS application. However, there are ways to mitigate this risk:

  • Allow only authorized employees to access the mobile devices you use for your POS system. 
  • Secure all mPOS devices and apps with passcodes. The app should allow you to assign each employee a unique user ID and passcode.
  • Insist on strong authentication practices and robust training to help employees reduce the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches.

mPOS systems rely on your internet connection. 

Businesses that use mPOS systems risk disruption due to a poor internet connection, which can make POS applications unavailable.

This situation can be especially challenging for fast-paced businesses that need constant access to their POS systems. Ensure you have a stable and secure internet connection before implementing mPOS systems. 

FYIDid you know
Some POS systems offer an offline option that allows you to continue accepting payments even if your business Wi-Fi stops working. Find a system with this capability if disruption is a concern.

There’s a chance of a cyberattack with mPOS systems.

While unlikely, there is also the chance of a cyberattack against your POS app’s back-end system or malware targeting your POS app. Security is critical, so choose a POS software company that takes great measures to ensure your information is safe.

Because security vulnerabilities can affect magstripe, chip and PIN and contactless payments, using an EMV-compliant and NFC-enabled card reader instead of just a swiper is essential.

Features to look for in an mPOS system

mPOS system features can vary widely and cater to various businesses, industries and unique needs. However, any solution you choose should include the following standard POS features

  • Taking orders and sending them to a kitchen, if applicable (for restaurants)
  • Processing payments
  • Managing employees’ roles and data access
  • Tracking inventory
  • POS reports

Additional features to look for in an mPOS system include the following:

  • Inventory management
  • Cloud-based POS software and data
  • Multistore functionality
  • User-friendly interface
  • Payment flexibility
  • Security

You should also look for an mPOS system that offers low transaction fees, integration with your existing systems and a high level of support.

The best mPOS system for your business

The best POS systems often provide mPOS functionality, durable hardware and reasonable fees. Consider the following highly rated platforms:

Square

Square’s mPOS system allows you to accept payments online, in person and over the phone. You’ll receive all the basic features you need to run your business, including payment processing, inventory, e-commerce and analytics:

  • Payment acceptance: Square allows you to accept all major credit cards and its mobile card reader supports Apple Pay and Google Pay. After customers check out, you can email their receipts.
  • Fees: Square does not charge any hidden fees and its processing fees are similar to those of other vendors in this space. You’ll pay 2.6 percent plus 10 cents per transaction and 3.5 percent plus 15 cents per keyed-in transaction.
  • Hardware: Square’s magnetic stripe reader plugs into your smartphone’s charging port or headphone jack, allowing you to take credit card payments easily. It also offers the Square Reader for contactless and chip payments, Square Terminal and Square Register.

Our review of Square explains more about this vendor’s features and options for small businesses.

PayPal

PayPal is primarily known as an online payment system, but it provides excellent mPOS functionality with its PayPal Zettle mobile credit card processing app:

  • Payment acceptance: With the PayPal Zettle app and a credit card reader, you can accept credit and debit cards and mobile payment apps like Venmo, Apple Pay and Google Pay. You can also generate sales reports, monitor inventory and more. 
  • Fees: PayPal charges 2.29 percent plus 9 cents per card-present transaction while keyed-in transactions are 3.49 percent plus 9 cents. There are no subscription fees or any other hidden fees to worry about.
  • Hardware: PayPal provides its free Chip and Swipe Reader when you sign up (additional units are $24). Its Chip and Tap Reader ($59.99) allows you to accept cards with magnetic stripes, EMV chips and contactless technology. It also has a Chip and Tap Bundle for $79.99. 

Read our review of PayPal for more information on its credit card processing and other functions.

Shopify

Shopify is one of the best POS systems for retailers that sell online and in person. Its iOS and Android mobile apps boast robust POS tools to help you accept payments on the go:

  • Payment acceptance: The Shopify POS app allows you to accept credit and debit cards, including contactless cards and mobile wallets.
  • Fees: Shopify charges a $29 monthly fee for its services. The monthly subscription gives you access to retail reports, shipping labels and a free card reader. It also charges a 2.7 percent fee for in-person transactions.
  • Hardware: Shopify has two EMV-compliant card readers. The Chip and Swipe Reader ($29) lets you accept chip and magnetic stripe cards and the Tap and Chip Reader ($49) supports chip cards, contactless cards and mobile payments.

Our review of Shopify explains more about its security focus, pricing terms and additional functionality.

Toast

Toast is among the best POS systems for restaurants, where mPOS functionality is crucial. It provides a wealth of restaurant-focused add-ons that can streamline your eatery’s operations and improve customer satisfaction:

  • Payment acceptance: Toast supports credit and debit cards, digital payments, gift cards, mobile wallets and more.
  • Fees: Toast has several pricing tiers, including a free Quick Start Bundle plan that can quickly get you operational. Generally, the more features you need, the more you’ll pay. Toast handles credit card processing internally and sets rates with clients.
  • Hardware: Toast has a wide selection of proprietary restaurant-specific hardware, including tablets. 

Our in-depth Toast review delves into this vendor’s online ordering features and other restaurant-specific functions.

Jamie Johnson contributed to this article.

author image
Skye Schooley, Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations
Skye Schooley is a dedicated business professional who is especially passionate about human resources and digital marketing. For more than a decade, she has helped clients navigate the employee recruitment and customer acquisition processes, ensuring small business owners have the knowledge they need to succeed and grow their companies. In recent years, Schooley has enjoyed evaluating and comparing HR software and other human resources solutions to help businesses find the tools and services that best suit their needs. With a degree in business communications, she excels at simplifying complicated subjects and interviewing business vendors and entrepreneurs to gain new insights. Her guidance spans various formats, including newsletters, long-form videos and YouTube Shorts, reflecting her commitment to providing valuable expertise in accessible ways.
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