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How to Choose a POS Cash Register

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
Senior Finance Writer
business.com Staff
Updated Aug 30, 2021

Learn about the differences between a traditional cash register and a POS system.

Processing sales transactions is an essential part of running a retail business, and the cash register system you purchase to handle those payments is an important decision. With several types available, you may ask, “Which is the best cash register system for my business?”

Whether you own a local retail business or a multilocation restaurant, there is a register system that fits your needs. You can choose from traditional cash registers, point-of-sale (POS) systems and mobile POS systems.

To help you select the best cash register for your business, we analyzed the various cash register systems to determine why you might prefer one option over the other. We also reviewed the best POS systems to help you make a decision.

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.

POS system vs. cash register

FeaturesPOSCash register
Ring up and process paymentsYesYes
Compute tax and changeYesYes
Print receiptsYesYes
Store cashYesYes
Run reportsYesYes
Track salesYesNo
Access data remotely from the cloudYesNo
Track and automate inventoryYesNo
Integrate with third-party appsYesNo
Connect to the internetYesNo


What is a POS system?

A POS cash register, also known as a computerized register or a POS system, is more advanced than a traditional cash register and commonly used in small businesses. These modernized systems can do a lot more than just tally totals and print receipts.

“A POS cash register is a computerized register that is connected to a wider control system, and will usually have multiple individual registers on the network processing sales and accepting payments,” said John Moss, CEO of English Blinds. “POS systems also track inventory and stock levels, and report back on these, track sales and sales patterns, and even monitor customer data via loyalty programs.”

Depending on which features you need, you can choose a very simple POS system or one that has advanced capabilities and integrates with third-party business applications, like top accounting software and popular email marketing services. You may prefer a cloud-based POS system that runs on tablets or browsers, as they’re both affordable and full-featured. A fully integrated POS system can automate business operations, reduce human error and increase business efficiency.

Did you know?Did you know? POS systems come in many options. Most of the popular ones are cloud-based and can integrate with your accounting software.

What is a mobile POS cash register?

Mobile cash registers, also known as mobile POS systems or mobile credit card processing solutions, have many of the same functions as standard POS systems. However, mobile systems offer more flexibility in processing and managing payments, since they run on tablets or smartphones: They typically include a card reader that connects to these devices so they can easily accept payments.

William Dawsey, vice president of finance and payment solutions at Chetu – a custom software developer that works with payment service platforms – said that mobile POS solutions can be versatile in the types of payment they accept.

“Developments in payment technology allow transactions to be held on ubiquitous devices, such as mobile phones, that utilize near-field communication, quick response, barcode configurations, Bluetooth Low Energy and magnetic secure transmission technology,” Dawsey said. “Additionally, mobile payment systems can utilize cryptocurrencies and digital wallet services.”

Although mobile POS systems are designed to accept credit card payments, they must be paired with a cash drawer if you need to accept cash payments. Mobile POS systems are ideal for mobile businesses like food trucks, retail shops that sell at local events, and restaurants that want to accept payments tableside.

Bottom LineBottom line: Mobile POS systems are ideal for an array of businesses, whether it’s a retail store that offers on-the-floor checkout or a retail truck that accepts credit card payments.

What are the benefits of a POS system?

Since a POS system is computerized, it comes with clear benefits over the simpler cash register. All of them are related to the features built into the POS system.

  • Inventory management: Inventory is one of the main selling points of a POS. Top POS systems have built-in inventory management They can automatically track stock changes after every sale and make replenishment much easier to manage.
  • Data analytics: A POS reduces labor costs by digitizing sales data. Instead of manually entering receipt information into a computer,you can utilize the data analytics a POS system offers.
  • Time and attendance tracking: A POS simplifies administrative tasks. A timeclock can be integrated into the POS, making tracking employee hours and labor statistics easier. This would include timers to schedule mandatory breaks and rotations in stations or responsibilities, and staffing changes to handle sales traffic patterns.

How much does a POS system cash register cost, and where do you buy it?

Cash registers are fairly easy to find. Many office supply stores carry a few models in-store, so they can be purchased on the spot. While not every model is available in every store, several are available at Office Depot and Staples. Their prices range from under $100 to over $300, depending on the features. Cash registers are also available through online providers like Amazon, where you’ll find similar price ranges.

POS devices are more difficult to find at a local storefront. For instance, very few Office Depot and Staples stores keep POS computers in stock. It may be possible to find a local retailer that has POS systems, but plenty of business POS systems are available online.

Wherever you purchase them, POS systems cost much more, on average, than cash registers. They typically start as high as $300, and they can easily get into the thousands. In general, the features will determine the price of the POS system. More powerful software, networking and security will typically add to the cost. 

Bottom LineBottom line: POS devices typically start at around $300 for a basic system, but can rise into the thousands depending on what you need. It’s the features that drive the price.

What is a cash register?

A traditional cash register, also known as an electronic cash register, is a basic system used to manage sales. Traditional cash registers typically include an adding machine and a cash drawer. Their capabilities are very basic: They essentially just add up the cost of items, automatically apply sales tax if required, and generate a total. A cash drawer opens when a receipt is printed.

According to Ron Mansfield, sales team lead at Flux Shop Manager, with the increase of new payment types like Apple Pay and Bitcoin, these systems aren’t as popular or practical as they used to be. Since this type of system is a bit outdated, it is not ideal for most businesses.

What are the different types of cash registers?

Several system types are available to help you process and manage sales transactions. All cash registers fall into one of three categories: traditional cash registers, POS cash registers or mobile POS cash register systems.

Each option has its own benefits and limitations. The system you should choose depends on your business size, industry, budget, the features you need and your personal preferences.

What are the benefits of a cash register?

  • Simplicity of design: Most benefits of a cash register stem from the simplicity of design. Many cash registers do not have networking capability. This means that they do not store customer data, so they cannot be hacked. The only record in these cases is created with printed receipts, and this makes data security much easier.
  • Longevity: Simplicity is also valuable in terms of longevity. Without a computer system, cash registers have fewer parts, which means fewer parts to break. Even when problems do occur, noncomputerized cash registers are simpler to fix. This is particularly valuable for your business if you have a low volume of in-person sales.
  • Value: The third major benefit of a cash register is value. Costs for any given cash register or POS system will vary, but there are cases where your organization will gain more ROI out of a cash register than a POS system. This is generally true when the cash register is available at a lower price, or your company won’t benefit from the POS features.

Ready for a cash register or a POS system trial?

Traditional cash registers are much cheaper than most POS systems, so they will be useful if your small business has a tight budget. Moss said traditional cash registers are typically only advantageous if you oversee one small store with one register, and have the time to manually check, monitor and control things like stock levels.

Additionally, he said, if you use a traditional register, you will have to know every item’s price or have a quick guide to determine them. Consequently, you will need other routes to determine data like sales trends, popular items and fluctuations.

“As is self-evident, this means that a traditional register is very limited and will only be appropriate for a very narrow demographic of store owners, and aside from the purchase cost saving of a traditional register, they offer few to no advantages and many disadvantages,” Moss said.

TipTip: If you sell products online, a cash register probably won’t make sense. With a cashless business, you need an internet-connected POS.

Dawsey also warns against using traditional cash registers for transactions in a predominantly cashless society, given the shift in fraudulent activity accountability to retailers and small businesses. Even in a business that mainly takes cash, he said, traditional cash registers create data silos, hindering integration with other critical business software.

Conversely, a POS system can be beneficial for organizations of all sizes, and will likely be more desirable for your business than a simple cash register. The best POS system for your business will depend on your specific needs and budget.

If you are working with a tight budget, you may consider beginning with a free POS system, and then switching to a robust paid version when your needs and budget permit it.

“Many small business owners are reluctant to invest in both the purchase cost of a POS system and also the time required to train management and operators in its usage,” Moss said. “However, POS systems pay for themselves many times over in a reasonably short period of time when you view the big picture.”

Although a POS system may seem like a costly acquisition, it is a worthwhile investment. Assess your needs and weigh the pros and cons to determine if a traditional cash register or a POS system is best for your business.

Skye Schooley contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Image Credit:

SeventyFour / Getty Images

Donna Fuscaldo
Donna Fuscaldo
business.com Staff
Donna Fuscaldo is a senior finance writer at business.com and has more than two decades of experience writing about business borrowing, funding, and investing for publications including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, Bankrate, Investopedia, Motley Fool, and Foxbusiness.com. Most recently she was a senior contributor at Forbes covering the intersection of money and technology before joining business.com. Donna has carved out a name for herself in the finance and small business markets, writing hundreds of business articles offering advice, insightful analysis, and groundbreaking coverage. Her areas of focus at business.com include business loans, accounting, and retirement benefits.