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The Best POS Systems of 2020

By Lori Fairbanks,
business.com Writer
| Updated
Sep 30, 2020

We've compared the best POS systems for 2020. See up-to-date comparisons, reviews and prices for the top-rated systems.
Featured Sponsor
Cloud-hosted POS
Accepts debit, credit, gift cards
Operates Clover app store
Best for Retail
Array of retail-focused features
Multiple payment processor options
Offline mode for transactions
Best for Inventory Management
Variety of payment plans
Robust inventory features
Support for third-party hardware
Best Overall
Retail and hospitality versions
Choice of credit card processors
Support for third-party apps
Best for Restaurants
Restaurant-specific features
Transparent pricing
Support for third-party software
Talech
Most Affordable
Three pricing plans to choose from
More than 200 features
Month-to-month and annual plans
We've compared the best POS systems for 2020. See up-to-date comparisons, reviews and prices for the top-rated systems.
 

A point-of-sale (POS) system is more than just a fancy cash register. In addition to ringing up sales and accepting payments, it records and organizes sales data, generates reports, manages inventory, stores customer contact information, and more. But choosing the right POS system is challenging because there are many factors that determine whether it makes it easier to run your small business or becomes a big, expensive headache. To help make it easier for you to choose the right POS solution for your business, we looked at more than 100 options to come up with the following recommendations.

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How We Decided
Our team spends weeks evaluating dozens of business solutions to identify the best options. To stay current, our research is regularly updated.
112
Considered
14
Researched
5
Selected

Compare Our Best Picks

  Vend Lightspeed Epos Now TouchBistro Talech
POS hardware supported Various hardware vendors; doesn't make own hardware iPad and device with a web browser iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tablet; sells touchscreen terminal, receipt printer and cash drawer iPad, iPad Pro and iPad Mini iPad, iPad Pro and iPad Mini
Starting price $99 per month $69 per month $39 per month $69 per month $44 per month
Features Inventory management, reporting, customer and employee management Restaurant and retail-specific features, inventory management, reporting, customer and employee management Restaurant and retail-specific features, inventory management, reporting, customer and employee management Restaurant-specific features, inventory management, reporting, customer and employee management Restaurant and retail-specific features, inventory management, reporting, customer and employee management
Payment options Debit cards, credit cards, mobile payments, partial payments Debit cards, credit cards, mobile payments, gift cards Debit cards, credit cards, mobile payments Debit cards, credit cards, mobile payments Debit cards, credit cards, store credit, gift cards

Point-of-Sale System Reviews

Clover: Featured Sponsor

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Clover is a complete point-of-sale system that gives you all of the functionality you need to accept debit, credit, and gift card payments; transact mobile payments; process refunds, returns, and exchanges, take orders; organize your inventory; and manage your team of employees. While the cloud-hosted POS system has a number of built-in tools that let you get it up and running quickly, it also offers a lot of opportunities for customization. Via the Clover app store, you can add in new features and access integrations that connect the POS system with many popular programs you are already using. Clover provides 24/7 customer support.
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Vend: Best Retail POS System

Vend offers a rich suite of retail-focused features for merchants.
You have a wide selection of compatible payment processors, with no additional processing percentage rates or per-transaction fees.
Vend places a transaction cap on some plans, forcing businesses with more than $20,000 in monthly sales to upgrade to the Pro plan.

Vend is a global provider of cloud-based POS software for retail stores, with offices in the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the U.K. It works with businesses of all sizes in more than 140 countries, and its client list includes Disney, NASA and Etsy. This POS software is designed for retailers that carry inventory, such as clothing, sports equipment and furniture. With appointment-scheduling tools available through partner add-ons, Vend also works for salons and other health and beauty businesses. 

We selected Vend as the best retail POS system for small businesses because it's retail-focused software with a rich selection of features that make it easier to run a store, including some innovative solutions like its AI tool, Dott, and a free scanner app. Vend doesn't sell POS hardware or processing services and doesn't entice you to sign a lengthy lease or service contracts with the lure of free equipment. Rather, you purchase your equipment and arrange your processing services from other vendors, which allows you to find the best values and prices. Vend also offers software integrations and an API, allowing you to customize the system to meet your business's needs and connect to services you already use. 

Vend Pricing and Terms

Vend is fairly transparent with its pricing; it posts its POS software plans on its website, and you can view the pricing for hardware from its vendor partner. However, it doesn't post anything about how much its onboarding and training services cost, so you'll need to contact the company to get a specific quote for your business. 

POS Software

You can use Vend's POS software as a mobile POS app on iPads or as a cloud-based app on Macs and PCs. Vend provides its POS software on a month-to-month basis, though you receive a discount if you pay annually rather than monthly. Three service plans are available for Vend's POS software, and you can upgrade or downgrade your plan at any time. The company offers a 14-day free trial, so you can take your time evaluating the software before you subscribe. Here's more on Vend's POS software plans. 

  • The Lite plan is $99 per month (billed annually), or $119 if you pay monthly. This plan is for businesses that have a single store with less than $20,000 of transactions per month. You can add extra registers for $49 (billed annually) or $59 (billed monthly). This plan includes register features, real-time inventory management, small business reports, the Xero Accounting add-on and 24/7 customer support.

  • The Pro plan is $129 per month (billed annually), or $159 if you pay monthly. This plan supports businesses with either a single store or multiple locations. You can add extra registers for $49 (billed annually) or $59 (billed monthly). There's no cap on the monthly dollar amount of transactions. In addition to Lite plan features, it has advanced reports, promotions, gift cards, access to the API, all add-ons and e-commerce channels.

  • The Enterprise plan has custom pricing and is designed for large retailers with multiple stores or franchises. It includes all the features of the Pro plan, plus customized onboarding and an account manager.

  • Nonprofits may be eligible for a discount.

  • If your business is seasonal, you can put your account "on ice" for $5 per month.

  • The Vend Display App, which allows you to use a second iPad as a customer display, is free with all plans.

  • Scanner by Vend, an app that allows you to use an iOS device as a barcode scanner for inventory, is also free. 

As with any POS system, you should read the terms of service before subscribing to Vend. Vend posts this on its website, and it's more straightforward than many such legal documents, with a contents list on the side that makes it easy to find the sections you want to read more closely. 

POS Hardware

Vend is one of the few POS software vendors that doesn't sell hardware. You can purchase all your POS equipment through the company's vendor partner or from the vendor of your choice, though you'll want to reference the list of recommended products on the company's website to ensure compatibility. If you already own POS hardware and want to continue using it, you can use the list to see if it will work with Vend before you sign up for the software services. 

If you decide to buy POS hardware from Vend's vendor partner, you can purchase it as a bundle – either with or without an iPad – or choose the components you want. 

Features

Vend includes nearly all the features we looked for in a retail POS system. Most of its features are included in both the Lite and Pro plans; the exceptions are advanced reports and integrations, which you need the Pro plan to access. Here's more detail on Vend's features. 

Inventory Management

Vend supports an unlimited number of products, along with variants like size, material and color, as well as bundled items like gift baskets. You can import your products into the system in bulk with a CSV file, making it easy to migrate your data from an online store or a previous POS system. If you have multiple sales channels – for example, a brick-and-mortar store and an online store – you can manage both from a central product catalog. Further, you can organize products in multiple ways, such as by brand, product name, SKU, supplier or category. 

You can set up different pricing tiers, which allows you to offer special pricing to employees or wholesale customers. It also has a Price Books feature for automating promotions that allows you to discount products, set minimum purchase requirements or maximum purchase limits, and choose a date for the promotion to automatically end. 

You can add barcode numbers to inventory descriptions and print barcode labels with Vend, which then allows you to use a barcode scanner to add products to sales tickets and count inventory. You can also use Scanner by Vend, a free barcode scanner app for inventory that works on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. It lets you use the built-in camera on your Apple devices as a barcode reader, so multiple employees can help take inventory without the purchase of additional barcode readers. 

Vend can help you stay on top of your purchase orders. You can create orders and email your suppliers through Vend, or you can save time by setting reorder levels for each item and using the software's automated purchase-ordering feature to keep your store well stocked. 

Reporting

Two levels of reporting are available from Vend. The Lite plan offers basic reporting that you can use to generate sales summaries and employee, customer, and inventory reports. You can apply filters to these reports to tailor them to your needs. 

The Pro and Enterprise plans have advanced reporting features with mobile access to the dashboard. These reports allow you to dive deeper into your sales data, with low-stock and product performance reports, additional filter options, and advanced metrics such as discount percentage, basket size, and basket value. 

One unique reporting feature is Vend's AI tool, Dott. It helps you "connect the dots" by analyzing your sales and inventory data in real time and suggesting things you can do to take your business to the next level. For example, it may suggest running a promotion or remind you to reorder stock. 

Customer Management

Vend's customer database allows you to create customer profiles at the point of sale. If you have an existing customer list, you can import it via CSV file. When you click on a customer's profile, you can view their purchase history, account balance and loyalty points. 

With the free Vend Display App, which is available on all plans, you can set up a second iPad to use as a customer display. In addition to viewing their sales tickets, customers can use it to enter their email addresses to have receipts sent to them and opt in to receive your marketing emails. 

With the Pro and Enterprise plans, you receive access to Vend Loyalty, which you can use to offer incentives to customers. You can choose a simple plan that applies a single rewards rate to all products or custom rewards with different rates for different products. You can also offer customers gift cards with the Pro and Enterprise plans. 

You can use your customer information for marketing purposes with the MailSync add-on, which connects to your Vend customer database and creates mailing lists you can use with Mailchimp, iContact, Constant Contact and other email marketing services. 

Employee Management

Vend lets you create user accounts for each employee and designate permissions based on their roles, allowing you to control the tasks and data staff members can access. There's no limit on the number of users you can add to your system. If you want to create staff schedules and use the POS system for time tracking, integrations for Deputy and Timely are available on the Pro plan. 

Integrations

Vend doesn't have as many integrations as some of its competitors, offering a curated selection instead. With the exception of the Xero accounting software integration, you need the Pro or Enterprise service plan to use them. 

If you plan to expand your retail location online, you can connect to Shopify through Vend, and an integration for BigCommerce is currently in beta. You can connect to WooCommerce, Magento, PayPal and other e-commerce platforms through an integration with Stitch Labs. 

In addition to Xero, a QuickBooks Online integration is available. If you need advanced inventory tools to help you manage a warehouse or supply chain, you can integrate with Unleashed. As mentioned above, Vend also integrates with MailSync, Deputy and Timely. 

Additional Considerations

You have a choice of payment processors that work with Vend, allowing you to shop around for the best pricing, and Vend doesn't charge any processing percentage rates or per-transaction fees on top of what you pay the processor. PayPal, Square and Worldpay from FIS (Vantiv) are fully integrated options, and Vend can connect to payment gateways, which may allow you to continue working with the company you currently use. If you are under contract or like your current credit card processing company and don't want to switch, this is a nice benefit. 

Once you choose a payment processor, you can use Vend to accept credit and debit cards, including EMV chip cards, and NFC-powered mobile wallets such as Apple Pay and Google Pay. You can also accept partial payments, including deposits or layaway sales, and split payments to accept multiple types of tender. 

All of Vend's plans now include 24/7 phone and online support, so you can reach customer service representatives at any time using your preferred contact method – email, live chat or phone. The company has a strong assortment of support resources on its website, including a knowledgebase and a library of how-to videos, getting-started guides, e-books, webinars, tools, and tips for small business owners. 

If you need help setting up the system – for instance, if you have a large inventory or multiple locations – migration and setup services are available for an additional cost. The company can work with you to create a custom onboarding package, and the company has local Vend partners that help with onsite installation. 

Drawbacks

Though Vend's pricing is competitive with other top POS systems and all plans now include 24/7 customer service, it's not the cheapest retail system. If price is your top concern as you look for a new POS system, you'll want to look at other systems. 

Another factor to consider before signing up with Vend is that there are some differences between tiers that may require you to choose the Pro version instead of the Lite version, even if your business is very small. For example, if you want to access Vend's add-ons and e-commerce channels, you'll need the Pro version, as Xero is the only integration in the Lite plan. Dashboard reports with graphs to illustrate key sales data aren't available on the Lite plan either, so you'll need to subscribe to the Pro or Enterprise plan if you want this feature. 

Vend is one of the few POS systems that has a transaction cap on its plans. The Lite plan is limited to businesses that sell $20,000 or less per month. Businesses that exceed this cap three times within a 12-month period must upgrade to the Pro plan.

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Lightspeed: Best POS System for Inventory Management

Lightspeed integrates with more than 250 third-party apps.
This system offers robust inventory features for restaurants and retailers.
Lightspeed only offers in-house processing and two integrated credit card processing options.

Lightspeed point-of-sale software is used at more than 51,000 business locations in more than 100 countries. The company has offices in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Belgium, France, Switzerland and the Netherlands. The system has versions for retail businesses and restaurants, and an e-commerce add-on is available for retailers that operate both in person and online. Though this iPad POS system is designed primarily for small and midsize businesses, the company offers custom plans for enterprise-level organizations as well. 

We selected Lightspeed as the best POS system for inventory management because both the retail and restaurant versions of its software have robust inventory features, including nicer ones like purchase ordering, preloaded catalogs for quick inventory creation on the retail version and ingredient-level tracking on the restaurant version. 

Lightspeed Restaurant earned its place as our pick for the best iPad POS for full-service restaurants and bars for its rich assortment of features including table, tab and tip management, tableside ordering and coursing. 

It also has the flexibility we look for in both types of POS systems, with options for subscription length, compatibility with third-party hardware and a choice of integrated payment processors. 

Lightspeed Pricing and Terms

Lightspeed provides an overview of its software pricing on its website. All of its plans are cloud-hosted, and there are no setup or installation fees. If you need something different from the published plan – for instance, if you have a large business or a high monthly sales volume and need a customized plan, you can call the company for a quote. Pricing for its POS hardware is not posted online. 

POS Software

Lightspeed gives you the option of month-to-month service, though you can opt for annual or multiyear subscriptions if you prefer lower pricing to the flexibility of not being locked into a long-term contract. The pricing posted on its website is for a single location. If you have multiple locations, you'll need to speak with a sales rep to get a quote specific to your business's needs. 

Lightspeed offers a demo and a 14-day free trial, and you should use both to make sure the software meets your needs. This is particularly important if you choose an annual subscription, since you'll be locked into the service for an extended period. All plans include onboarding and 24/7 support. Here are more details on Lightspeed's POS software prices. 

Lightspeed Retail POS

Five pricing plans are available for this software version, and the company posts pricing for both its annual and month-to-month plans online. Each plan supports one register, and includes inventory, basic reporting and customer management features. Additional registers cost $29 each per month. 

  • The Basic plan costs $69 per month (billed annually) or $79 per month (billed monthly).

  • The Starter plan costs $99 per month (billed annually) or $119 per month (billed monthly). This plan includes the e-commerce module, allowing you to take your store online.

  • The Standard plan costs $119 per month (billed annually) or $139 per month (billed monthly). In addition to the e-commerce module, it comes with an accounting integration so you can connect your accounting software to your POS system.

  • The Advanced plan costs $169 per month (billed annually) or $189 per month (billed monthly). It comes with everything in the Standard plan plus the loyalty module.

  • The Pro plan costs $229 per month (billed annually or $259 per month (billed monthly). In addition to the features included with the Advanced plan, it has an analytics module to give you deeper insights into your sales data. 

Lightspeed Restaurant POS

This version of Lightspeed's POS supports an unlimited number of users, and includes tableside ordering, customer management, standard reporting and access to Lightspeed's integration library. 

  • Pricing starts at $59 per month (billed annually) or $69 per month (billed monthly) and supports one register. Additional registers cost $34 each per month. 

A variety of add-ons are available for Lightspeed Restaurant, and the company posts pricing for them online. 

  • Pricing starts at $12 per month for its customer-facing display, the kitchen display system, advanced reporting and self-order table menu.

  • Premium add-ons start at $39 per month; options include accounting integration, self-order kiosk, a delivery integration loyalty program and loyalty app.

POS Hardware

You can run Lightspeed Retail POS as a mobile app on any type of iPad or from a web browser on any device, such as a laptop or desktop computer. If you use an iPad as your POS terminal, you can use it as a fully mobile device and check out customers from anywhere in the store, or pair it with a stand to use as a countertop POS station. You can also set up an iPad as a display so your customers to see and verify their orders as you enter them into the system. 

For Lightspeed Restaurant POS, you can run the front end of the software as an app on iPads, iPods, and iPhones, allowing your servers to take orders and payments or tableside. Or, like the Retail version, you can pair an iPad with a stand to use as a countertop POS station. To access the back end of the software, you can use any device with a web browser. 

Like other top POS systems, Lightspeed works with third-party POS hardware, and posts the makes and models it supports on its website. You can purchase hardware from Lightspeed, either bundled or piece by piece, or use the list to comparison shop. If you already own POS equipment like a cash drawer, receipt printer or barcode scanner, but don't see your items on the website, you can contact the company to check for compatibility. If you need to buy iPads or Mac computers, you can purchase them from Lightspeed, as it's an authorized Apple reseller. 

Features

All versions of Lightspeed's POS software are full-featured, giving you a broad selection of tools to help you run your business efficiently. The company regularly updates all versions of its software. 

Inventory Management

Inventory management tools are built into Lightspeed's iPad POS system, allowing you to track inventory, create product variations and bundle items. It helps you manage vendors and create purchase orders. If you have multiple outlets, you can track and purchase inventory for all locations, and transfer items from one location to another.

  • Retail inventory features. Lightspeed's retail POS software has more than 3,000 preloaded catalogs with more than 14 million items, making it easy to add new products to your system. If you're transferring your product data from another system, you can import items in bulk (up to 10,000 SKUs at a time) using Lightspeed's import tool. You can set up the system to send you low-stock alerts and reorder items directly from the system. If you sell products online using Lightspeed eCom, you can manage inventory for both your brick-and-mortar and online stores from the same platform.
  • Restaurant inventory features. The POS software tracks inventory with ingredient-level detail, helping you keep ample supplies on hand for the menu items you create from scratch. You can assign ingredients to the products, and the system reports your product stock levels to help you reorder wisely. It also reports food costs and profit margins to show you how much each dish costs to make, making it easy for you to see if you have a healthy margin on menu items or if you need to adjust your pricing. You can add vendor contact information to each menu item to make it easier to reorder supplies. You can also add a barcode, which means you can enter supplies you receive into the system using a barcode scanner rather than entering each one manually. If you want to get an alert when your inventory runs low, you can add this feature through one of the system's third-party integrations. 

Reporting

All Lightspeed POS subscriptions come with reporting tools, including a daily dashboard, employee performance reports and product reports. You can view your sales per hour on the dashboard, and the product sales report displays your top-selling and most profitable items. If you need to export report data to another program, you can download it in CSV format. The Advanced Reporting module comes with the Lightspeed Retail's Pro plan or can be added to your Lightspeed Restaurant subscription for an additional monthly fee.

Customer Management

Lightspeed has built-in customer relationship management tools that let you create customer profiles and add notes about their preferences. On the retail POS software, you can view purchase histories, assign VIP status to your regulars, and offer customers discount and promo codes. The restaurant POS software lets you create tabs, track visits and payment histories, and see a customer's reservation. The Lightspeed Loyalty module comes with the retail Advanced and Pro plans. It can be added to the restaurant version of this POS software for an additional monthly fee.

Employee Management

Lightspeed has role-based user access. Its preconfigured roles make it easy to get started, and you can customize them, create new roles, or set custom permissions for each individual, giving you the ability to control exactly which tasks and data you want each user or role-based group of users to access. 

This POS system has a built-in timeclock, so your employees can clock in and out using the POS system. You can see your employees' hours and run performance reports to see their sales, profit and, for restaurants, tips. 

Integrations

Lightspeed's App Store offers more than 250 integrations. Dozens of apps are available for both the retail and restaurant versions of Lightspeed's POS software, allowing you to connect to credit card processors, accounting software (including QuickBooks, Xero, and Sage), analytics programs, marketing services, and other business programs. Lightspeed eCom has numerous apps that you can use to extend its capabilities, such as chat programs and social media channels. An API is available for Lightspeed Retail, but access to the restaurant API is limited to Lightspeed partners. 

Retail-Specific Features

Lightspeed Retail supports product variants, such as color, size, and style, and you can bundle multiple items together to sell as a package or kit. You can also process work orders, which may be a useful feature for stores that provide repair services, and place special orders for customers. 

It has tools that you can use to automate discounts and change prices in bulk, saving you the time it would take to update them one at a time. You can also create coupons, run promotions and giveaways, and offer donations. 

Restaurant Management Features

Lightspeed Restaurant has table and reservation management features to help you optimize available seating, a self-order menu app you can use with iPads so customers can place their own orders from kiosks or from tables, and catering and delivery tools to manage the takeout side of your restaurant. If you want customers to be able to order online, you can add this option to the system using a third-party integration. 

You can use the floor plan to see which tables are open and which are ready to pay so you can let waiting customers know that a table will be available shortly. When your servers are taking orders, they can arrange dishes into courses to ensure menu items are brought out in the correct order. When it's time to pay, servers can split and group bills, and even divide an item, such as a shared appetizer, between customers. 

Additional Considerations

Lightspeed now offers its own payment processing service, called Lightspeed Payments, which is available for Lightspeed Retail in the U.S. (and will soon be offered in other regions as well). It has flat-rate pricing with no additional fees. Here's what it costs to use it: 

  • Cards accepted in person using a card reader: 2.6% + 10 cents
  • Manually keyed-in cards and online transactions: 2.6% + 30 cents 

Even though Lightspeed has in-house processing, it still gives you the option of working with Cayan (now a TSYS company) and Worldpay from FIS (formerly Vantiv). Even though your processor options are limited, and this is a smaller selection than most companies offer, you can still call for pricing quotes and choose the one that's the best deal. 

Lightspeed's customer service team is available 24/7 by phone or email, and tech support agents can remotely resolve software-based issues. The company can help you set up the system or migrate your data as well. If you prefer to troubleshoot problems yourself, the company's website has a searchable knowledgebase with step-by-step directions, video tutorials, blogs, white papers and webinars. You can also sign up to join its community forum. 

Drawbacks

Although Lightspeed posts most of its pricing info on its website, it doesn't reveal pricing for its POS hardware. Still, it works with third-party hardware – including pieces you may already own – and posts a full list of compatible models so you can shop around for the best value. 

While it offers in-house processing and two integrated credit card processing options, that is a lot fewer than most of what its competitors offer. This means you may not be able to continue using your preferred processor unless you use the POS software alongside your payments system instead of integrating with it, which adds extra steps to the checkout process.

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Epos Now: Best POS System Overall

This service supports multiple hardware devices.
You can work with the credit card processor of your choice.
Pricing details on the Epos Now website can be hard to decipher.

Epos Now is a U.K.-based company with offices in London, Manchester, Norwich and Glasgow, and a U.S. office in Orlando, Florida. It caters to small and midsize businesses, but it's also suitable for enterprise businesses. It's used by more than 30,000 businesses, and its clients include Walt Disney Pictures, Universal Studios and Yankee Candle.

We selected Epos Now as the best point-of-sale (POS) system for small businesses. In addition to having a strong mix of features for both its retail and hospitality POS software, it's versatile, affordable, and offers a choice of credit card processors that integrate with the system. Although you can purchase POS hardware from Epos Now, if you already own equipment, you may be able to use it as the system is compatible with third-party hardware. 

Epos Now Pricing and Terms

Epos Now posts pricing for its tablet POS software and hardware on its website, as well as for its touchscreen POS systems; however, pricing for software modules, such as its loyalty and booking applications, aren't listed. So if you need extra features, you'll need to speak with a sales rep for a pricing quote specific to your business. 

POS Software

Epos Now's POS software can be used on iPads, Android tablets, Macs and PCs, and it lets you use multiple types of devices with your system – you're not restricted to one platform. The company offers two subscription plans for its cloud-based software, or you can pay upfront for a software license and then pay a renewal fee each year. All versions of the software support an unlimited number of users and transactions. 

Before subscribing or purchasing a license for this POS system, you should plan on taking advantage of the 30-day free trial the company provides so you can try out all the software features and make sure it's a good fit for your business. 

  • The Standard plan costs $39 per month. Additional registers are $24 per month. This plan includes email support and setup assistance.

  • The Premium plan costs $69 per month. Additional registers cost $45 per month. This plan comes with 24/7 phone support and account management.

  • The loyalty program module costs $39 per month, though the sales rep we spoke with indicated that promotional offers are sometimes available. 

Epos Now posts its terms and conditions on its website, and you should read it before signing up with the company, as you would with any POS provider. The terms state that contracts are for 12-month terms, and merchants can pay in advance or monthly. The contract automatically renews for additional one-year terms, and you have a 30-day cancellation window. If you cancel before the end of your term, you won't receive a refund if you paid in advance, and if you are on a monthly payment plan, you will be required to pay for the remaining months on your term. 

POS Hardware

You can purchase your POS hardware from the company as a bundle or piece by piece. If you already own POS hardware, you might be able to use it with this system. Check with the company to find out if it's compatible before investing in new equipment. Here are some pricing examples: 

  • The iPad POS system comes with an iPad stand, receipt printer, cash drawer and the first month of your software subscription for $599. It also includes installation, configuration and training. You can use your own iPad or add an iPad Air 2 for $500. You can add a Bluetooth barcode scanner for $299.

  • The handheld retail tablet, which is a Samsung Galaxy tablet, costs $949 and includes the software price.

  • The traditional POS system comes with software (including loyalty and booking modules) plus a touchscreen terminal, receipt printer and cash drawer. It costs $1,799. 

Although a leasing option is available, purchasing your POS equipment is always your best option because it's less expensive than what you'll pay over the life of a lease. Epos Now's terms range from two to five years. Your credit score and other factors may affect the payment rate and terms you receive. 

Features

Epos Now offers both retail and hospitality versions of its POS system software, so it can be used by most businesses, including general and specialty retailers; restaurants and cafes; bars and nightclubs; and service-based businesses, such as hotels, salons, spas, and gyms. The company says its software is so intuitive that it only takes 15 minutes to train an employee how to use it. 

The software runs on any device, so you can use it with a tablet, laptop, desktop computer or touchscreen terminal. This system is cloud-based, so you can access reports and back-office tools from any browser. You don't need to set up a local server for this system even if you're running multiple devices in your store or restaurant. 

Both the retail and hospitality versions of this POS system come with a good mix of features and have every tool we looked for, either built-in or as integrations, which are available through its app store. It offers several features that aren't commonly included, such as those for creating purchase orders and tracking employee time. Here's more detail on the features available with this system. 

Reporting

The dashboard gives you a real-time overview of your sales data, and you can customize it to show you the information that's most important to you. It displays transactions for different time intervals – by the hour, day, week or month. You can view your best- and worst-performing products, and identify the products and brands with the highest profit margins. The employee reports can show you your top salespeople. In addition to running reports and analyzing sales data from any device with a browser, you can export reports to Excel, QuickBooks, Xero and Sage. 

Customer Management

Epos Now has a built-in customer management system. With it, you can collect contact information from your customers and run reports that help you analyze customer behavior. For example, when you email customers their receipts, they're asked to rate the service they received. This feedback can be used to help you gauge customer satisfaction. A loyalty module is available for an extra cost, and marketing integrations such as Mailchimp, which let you run email campaigns, are available through the app store. 

Employee Management

This POS system has role-based user management so you can set permissions for your employees and assign PIN codes or swipe cards to sign in. The software logs employee activity on the till and has a built-in time clock and staff scheduling tools. 

Integrations

The Epos Now app store has more than 80 integrations, allowing you to customize the system and share data with the other business applications you use. For example, if you want to expand your store online, you can use its new Shopify integration or the Nettl or Zapier integrations to connect with other e-commerce platforms, such as WooCommerce. Or, if you want to connect the POS software with your accounting program, Epos Now integrates with QuickBooks, Xero, Sage Business Cloud Accounting (formerly Sage One) and Sage 50cloud. Restaurant-specific integrations include TableUp and Hopt. APIs are also available so you can add custom integrations to the system, if needed. 

Inventory Management

The inventory management tools for the retail version of the software support up to 60,000 items, and allow you to track products across both your brick-and-mortar and online stores, and even between multiple locations. The restaurant version can track inventory on an ingredient level, which makes it easier for you to order the correct amount of food. Both versions allow you to set low-stock alerts so you can reorder supplies before you run out, or you can set up the system to automatically generate purchase orders when supplies are low. 

Retail-Specific Features

Some features are specific to the retail version of the software. For example, you can print your own barcodes and shelf-edge labels, making it easy for your customers to see prices and your cashiers to ring up orders using a barcode scanner. 

The system has a product matrix that makes it easy to add variants, such as for color and size. It also allows you to bundle products, which is a useful feature if you offer composite products such as gift baskets or kits. 

At the register, you can add pop-up notes to prompt your staff to up and cross-sell items. If you have multiple locations, you can run different promotions at different locations at different times. 

Restaurant-Specific Features

Epos Now's restaurant POS system is suitable for all types of restaurants, including full-service establishments. It has a drag-and-drop table-management tool you can use to mimic your restaurant's floor plan, and with it, you can make quick updates when you need to move tables and chairs. It shows you which tables are open and how many customers are seated at each occupied table. 

As with most of the restaurant POS systems we reviewed, you can add a photo of each dish to the system's menu to help customers choose what they want and help servers quickly enter their orders into the system. Pop-up notes prompt servers to ask customers about cooking preferences, such as how they prefer their steak cooked, and to offer the customer choices specific to the item they ordered, such as whether they'd prefer the soup or salad with their meal. Servers can assign courses to ensure items come out in the proper sequence. When your customers are ready for the check, your servers can easily split and merge bills. 

The system tracks how long it takes from the time the order is placed until it's served. You can also track how long it takes for your tables to turn over and see per-table revenue. These features are helpful when analyzing how efficiently your restaurant operates. 

If you want to offer customers the option of booking a table or ordering online, or if you need delivery management tools, you can add third-party integrations for them to the system, though these may cost extra. 

Additional Considerations

Epos Now integrates with Worldpay by FIS (Vantiv) and EVO Payments. Alternatively, you can use this POS software alongside the payment processing service of your choice, which is a good option if you like your current processor or if you're locked into a processing contract. The other option is to build a custom integration using the company's API. 

Customer support is available via phone, email and live chat, though you need the Premium plan if you want 24/7 phone support. When we contacted the company, posing as a small business owner with questions about the system, the chat agent provided us with prompt, helpful information. 

Data migration and setup help are available as part of the 30-day implementation included with the service. If you have an issue with the software, company representatives can, with your permission, access your system remotely to diagnose and fix the problem. If you purchase your POS hardware from Epos Now and need a replacement part sent to you, overnight shipping is available. 

Drawbacks

Epos Now has a lot to offer small businesses, both retail and restaurant, but it isn't perfect. There are limitations to consider before you make your decision. 

Although the company is transparent with many of its costs, such as its software subscription and hardware prices, the website isn't clear about which features are add-on modules, and it doesn't disclose what they cost. There's some confusion with the website and downloadable brochures, as some prices haven't been converted to American dollars from British pounds, though sales agents are happy to explain pricing to you when you call. 

Another issue is that it doesn't offer as many self-help resources as some of its competitors. The Epos Now website has a blog with articles of interest to small business owners, a YouTube channel with a few demos and how-to videos, and active Facebook and Twitter accounts. However, there's no knowledgebase or community forum, so if you have questions about the software, you'll need to contact customer service directly. 

Last, there's no kiosk option yet available. The rep we spoke with said that the company is concerned about POS kiosk security and is holding off on this feature until security measures meet their standards.

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TouchBistro: Best Restaurant POS System

TouchBistro has more than 200 features, with a big focus on the restaurant industry.
This POS system supports third-party hardware.
TouchBistro requires a one-year contract, and all prepaid fees are nonrefundable.

TouchBistro is a restaurant POS company with offices in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Mexico. Its point-of-sale software is suitable for restaurants of all sizes, with one or multiple locations, including full- and quick-service restaurants, food trucks, bars, nightclubs, and breweries. TouchBistro is used internationally by more than 23,000 establishments, including high-profile clients like Little Caesars and Johnny Rockets. It was also recently deployed in several restaurants that received makeovers in celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's new Fox show, 24 Hours to Hell and Back

TouchBistro is our pick for the best restaurant POS app for iPads because it's affordable, works well for most restaurant types and sizes, and has an impressive collection of restaurant-specific features to help you manage your business effectively. It also works with third-party hardware, so you can comparison shop or possibly continue using equipment you already own. Another benefit is that you can select which payment processing company you work with from a list of options that include its in-house processing service, TouchBistro Payments, and well-known processors such as Worldpay (Vantiv), Square, PayPal and Chase. 

TouchBistro Pricing and Terms

TouchBistro posts the pricing for its POS plans and several of its add-on services, such as its loyalty program and reservations system, on its website. It charges a $200 setup fee for installation assistance and training. 

POS Software

Before signing up for TouchBistro restaurant POS, you'll want to book a demo and take advantage of its free trial so you can try out all the features and make sure it's a good fit for your business. The trial period is 28 days (seven days without registration and an additional 21 days after you register).

POS Software-Only Plans

TouchBistro's POS software has a one-year contract. If you prepay, you can cancel your account at any time, and there's no early termination fee, but the terms specify that all prepaid fees are nonrefundable, so you'll want to wait until the end of the term to avoid losing money. You'll need to provide TouchBistro written notice of your intent to cancel 60 days before the end of the term to prevent it from automatically renewing.

  • The Solo plan costs $69 per month and includes one license, which means you can use it on one iPad.
  • The Dual plan costs $129 per month and includes two licenses.
  • The Team plan costs $249 per month and includes five licenses.
  • The Unlimited plan costs aren't posted, so you'll need to contact the company for a custom quote. As the name suggests, TouchBistro does not limit the number of licenses.

POS Hardware

TouchBistro uses iPads as the POS terminals. You can use the iPad, iPad Pro or iPad Mini. Your staff can use them as mobile POS devices to take orders and credit card payments tableside, or you can use them to set up a countertop checkout station. You also have the option to set up multiple iPads as any of the following:

  • A customer-facing display that allows your customers to visually confirm that their orders are correct (pricing varies by plan)
  • A self-service kiosk that your customers use to place their own orders (priced as an additional license)
  • A kitchen display system that helps your kitchen staff manage orders and cooking times more effectively (pricing varies by plan) 

You can also connect the system to a large external screen or television to use as a digital menu board for $20 per month. 

For the rest of your equipment, such as a cash drawer and receipt printer, TouchBistro works with third-party POS hardware. It keeps a list of compatible equipment on its website, so you can shop around for the best price or see if you can use equipment you already own. 

This POS system is a hybrid solution, meaning it uses a local network as the brains of the system but has cloud-based reporting, letting you access your data remotely from any browser. For the network, you need an AmpliFi HD Mesh Router, and if you use more than one iPad with the system, you also need a Mac computer (the Mac Mini, iMac or Mac Pro) to use as a server. 

Features

TouchBistro's website says that it has more than 200 features. The company regularly updates its software, and we found that TouchBistro has nearly all the tools we looked for in restaurant POS systems.

Restaurant Management Features

Using TouchBistro's drag-and-drop table management tools, you can create a floor plan that mimics the layout of your restaurant, and use it to visually manage tables and seats, helping you maximize your occupancy. You can add or remove seats at a table, move parties from one table to another, and transfer items from one seat or table to another. The system tracks how frequently tables turn over, which helps you evaluate the efficiency of your staff.

Inventory Management

This iPad restaurant POS system includes food inventory tools such as recipe management and ingredient-level tracking. It tracks costs, so you can see your profit margin on each menu item, helping you set menu prices. Low-inventory alerts notify you when your supplies drop below the threshold you set, helping you avoid running out of ingredients and other supplies. However, TouchBistro doesn't include vendor management features, which would make it easier to keep track of your vendor's information and reorder supplies, nor does it allow you to add incoming inventory with a barcode scanner; received items must be entered into the system manually. 

Reporting

You can access your reporting data from any device with a browser or from TouchBistro's Reports To Go app, which is available for both Apple and Android phones and tablets. From the app, you can see your daily sales dashboard and dozens of reports, including the following: 

  • Sales by day, menu item, category, section and order type
  • Gross margin by day
  • Hourly sales heat map
  • Discounts and void summaries
  • Labor summaries and shift details
  • Low-inventory totals
  • Menu analysis
  • Tax summaries
  • Custom reports 

You can print, email and export reports to CSV files. With the Shogo integration, you can also export data to your QuickBooks, Xero and Sage accounting software. 

Customer Management

TouchBistro allows you to create customer accounts. It has a notes field that you can use to record customer preferences, and you can view purchase histories and manage account balances. 

If you want to offer your customers a loyalty program, you can subscribe to TouchBistro Loyalty. This lets you collect customer data, offer branded loyalty and gift cards, track points, and offer rewards. Here's more information about these plans: 

  • TouchBistro Loyalty starts at $49 per month. You can offer a single reward, such as discounts, and create marketing materials to promote your loyalty program with this plan.

  • TouchBistro Loyalty Plus starts at $99 per month. This plan allows you to offer multiple rewards and market to select customer groups via email and text.

  • TouchBistro Loyalty Premium starts at $189 per month. In addition to the Plus plan features, you can use push notifications to market to your customers and custom-brand a white-label app. You can also add an order-ahead solution to your plan. 

Employee Management

There's no limit to the number of users you can add to your TouchBistro account. You can create user profiles for each employee and assign them to staff roles you've created (e.g., host, server, chef or manager). You decide which information and features each role can access. For example, perhaps you only want your hosts and managers to access reservations, or maybe you want all your servers to be able to discount items. If you want to run labor reports, you can set the pay rate for each employee or each role. 

TouchBistro has a built-in timeclock, allowing employees to clock in and out through the POS system. It also has in-app messaging to help you communicate with your employees. In case you need help with scheduling, TouchBistro integrates with 7shifts. 

Integrations

TouchBistro doesn't offer as many integrations as some of its competitors, but it has options for accounting, analytics, bar inventory, loyalty programs, online ordering and scheduling. The software has an API for custom integrations, but it's only available to select partners. 

Additional Considerations

Having multiple processing options is an important factor to consider when selecting a restaurant POS service, because it allows you to shop around for the best rates. TouchBistro works with Chase, PayPal, Square, TSYS (Cayan) and Worldpay from FIS (Vantiv). It also has its own processing plan, TouchBistro Payments, through a partnership with Chase. 

All TouchBistro customers have access to 24/7 phone and email support. If you need help with the restaurant POS software, the company's support technicians can remotely access your system to fix the problem. The company also provides online resources to help you troubleshoot, including a knowledgebase, video tutorials and how-to guides with step-by-step instructions. TouchBistro has a blog with articles about managing, staffing, menu creation, marketing, and other topics of interest to restaurant owners and managers. 

Drawbacks

Although TouchBistro has cloud-based reporting and analytics, and automatically backs up your data every day, it's a hybrid system that works on a local network. This may be a plus if you're concerned about internet outages, as the system isn't fully reliant on your internet connection. However, if you'd prefer a fully cloud-based system that doesn't require you to set up a local network, you may want to look at other options.

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Types of POS Systems

When you're looking for a new POS system, one of the first things you need to decide is which type you want. Do you want a cloud-hosted POS system, a locally hosted system or a hybrid solution? 

Cloud-Based POS Systems

Cloud-based systems offer mobility and convenience. With this type of POS system, you can ring up sales, take orders and accept payments using a tablet or smartphone from anywhere in your store or restaurant. You can also access back-office features from any browser, which means you can view your store's sales performance and run reports wherever you are. You don't need to set up a local server to host your data – the POS provider takes care of that for you. 

Although you usually pay a monthly fee for cloud POS software, most companies have transparent pricing and few upfront costs. They update the software regularly and you receive upgrades immediately, so you're always using the newest version. All of these upgrades are included in the subscription price. Most include customer service in the subscription rather than requiring you to sign a support contract that comes with a separate monthly fee. 

The only potential downside to using cloud-based software is that you must have reliable internet access. Many web-based systems have an offline mode so you can continue working if you have the occasional glitch with your connection, but if your internet access is spotty or unreliable, you may need to consider a server-based solution. 

Server-Based POS systems

Server-based, on-premises, or onsite, POS systems are installed on your server instead of being hosted in the cloud. The main advantages of this type of system are that, one, it doesn't require the internet to run, and, two, you may be able to customize the system. 

The downsides are that you must maintain your server – which means security and backups are up to you – and this type of system can be more expensive than a cloud-based version. In addition to the extra hardware you purchase for your server and the IT costs to maintain it, you pay a large fee upfront for the software. Additionally, you're often required to pay monthly support or maintenance fees and purchase annual updates. 

Another consideration is that you'll likely not have the ability to access your system remotely in real time, so you'll need to be in the office to take care of back-office tasks like running reports and updating your product catalog or menu. 

Hybrid POS Systems

If you want the mobility and convenience benefits of a cloud-based POS system and the stability of a server-based POS system, consider a hybrid solution. This type of POS system runs on a local server and backs up your data to the cloud, allowing you to access it remotely. If your internet drops or lags, there's no disruption to your system. These systems are typically priced like cloud-based POS systems that have a monthly subscription fee. 

The downsides of a hybrid POS system are that like server-based solutions, you will need some extra hardware, and it can be more involved to set up than a pure cloud-based system. You may also need to manually back up the server, which is less convenient than a cloud-based system that automatically does this for you.

 

How to Choose a POS System for Your Business

The tricky thing about selecting a POS system is that every POS provider is looking to diversify its services, and each offers a different combination of software, hardware and payment processing. Some companies sell POS software only. Some offer software and hardware. Some provide software, hardware and payment processing. Some have software and payment processing. Because of this, comparing value and overall costs can be challenging. You want to make sure you include the costs for all three components in your calculations when you're evaluating your options. 

Additionally, each POS system has a different mix of features, which may also vary by service tier. Many systems can be customized with peripherals on the hardware side and add-on programs or integrations on the software side, though often at an additional cost. As you evaluate systems, you need to know which features you require so you can calculate the total cost, including add-ons or integrations.

How Much Does a POS System Cost?

POS system costs vary widely. As mentioned above, there are three components to consider when you're pricing out a system – hardware, software and payment processing – and you should plan on comparison shopping for each component. 

POS Hardware Costs

The best POS providers are compatible with third-party hardware so you can shop around for deals (and may be able to continue using it if you switch software providers later on). They're also scalable, so you can start with just the basics, and add peripherals as your business grows and your budget allows. 

Very small businesses that only accept credit cards and can email receipts to their customers may start with just a phone or tablet and a card reader. If you already have mobile devices and only need to buy a credit card reader (EMV compliant and NFC enabled), this type of setup usually costs between $20 and $100. 

Most small businesses will want a few more peripherals: tablet stand, credit card reader, cash drawer and receipt printer. For this type of setup using your own tablet, you'll typically pay between $600 and $1,000. Naturally, additional peripherals like barcode scanners, kitchen printers and display screens cost extra. 

POS Software Costs

Cloud-based POS software costs vary from free (though there are strings attached) to hundreds of dollars per month. Most offer a choice of pricing tiers that come with different features. Some tiers cap the number of users or the monthly sales volume you process. 

If you want a basic, free POS system, the best options are from mobile credit card processors like Square, PayPal and SumUp that include POS features as part of their mobile processing apps. Although you're required to use these companies for your processing if you want to use their POS software, there aren't long-term contracts, and processing fees are charged on a pay-as-you-go basis, which is ideal for very small businesses. 

For the starting tier of a good, full-featured POS software with no long-term contract and a choice of payment processor, expect to pay between $40 and $100 per month for one register. 

As you compare prices, keep in mind that there is variance between brands on what features are offered within each tier, so one POS software may have all the features you need in its basic tier, while another might not. For example, if you need inventory management with tracking capabilities, one software solution may include it in its basic tier, and another might only offer it in its premium tier. 

Payment Processing

The final piece of the POS pricing puzzle is payment processing. The best POS systems give you a choice of payment processors so you can shop around for low rates and fees, and if you decide to switch processors in the future, you can do so without having to switch out your entire POS system. 

POS providers are increasingly offering in-house processing, which can be convenient, but it may also be more expensive than working with a third-party processor. Some give you a choice of whether you use their in-house processing service or not, but some companies charge an extra fee (either monthly or per-transaction) for the privilege of using an outside processor. Others require you to use their in-house credit card processing service if you want to use their software.

Buying Guide

What POS Software Features Do You Need?

POS systems have hundreds of features – which ones will you actually use? Depending on the specifics of your business, you may need a full arsenal of features, or you may prefer to keep things simple. As you look for POS software, think about what features you must have, those that would be nice to have, and which ones you'll likely never use. Sign up for a few demos and trial versions before making your final decision so you can make sure the POS app is easy to use and has all the features on your must-have list. 

In addition to basic cash register features that are included with every POS solution, here are six key feature sets that you should look at closely before selecting a system. Keep in mind that specific capabilities within each feature set vary from system to system. Advanced features may only be offered with higher service tiers, or you may need to add apps or integrations to the POS system. 

Mobile App Support

The best POS systems have apps that you install on iPads and Android tablets, and sometimes even smartphones, transforming the devices into mobile POS terminals. You can then use them as mobile checkout devices to ring up customer orders anywhere on the store floor or, for restaurants, take orders and payments tableside. You can also attach the tablet to a stand and add peripherals, such as a cash drawer and a receipt printer, to create a countertop checkout station. 

Although some POS systems can be used with both Android tablets and iPads, some are platform-specific. If you have a strong preference for one platform over the other, or if you already have tablets and phones you want to use, this is an important consideration as you evaluate systems. Examples of dual-platform POS systems include Epos Now, Square and PayPal

iPads are the preferred platform for most POS providers. These devices are well known for their user-friendly interface and stability, as Apple designs both the hardware and the operating software. iPads also have superior security because iOS is a closed platform, making it a less attractive target for hackers (though it isn't immune to malware attacks, and it's important to keep your devices updated). However, iPads tend to be more expensive than Android tablets because they're produced by a single company rather than multiple manufacturers. Examples of iPad POS systems include Vend, TouchBistro, Lightspeed, Talech and Revel

Android may be the more popular platform with consumers, with over 2.5 billion devices in use, and many developers may prefer Android because it allows greater customization than iOS, but it isn't as popular with POS providers as iOS. Android tablets tend to be less expensive than iOS because multiple manufacturers develop them, so there's more competition in the market, resulting in lower pricing and a broader product selection, which can save you money as you set up your system, add devices, or replace broken, lost or stolen tablets. An example of an Android POS systems is Toast

Inventory Management

Do you need a basic product catalog or menu-item countdown? Or do you need to track quantities, including components or ingredients? Do you need low-stock alerts or automatic reordering? If you have a retail business, estimate how many SKUs you need it to support; some support a limited number. Also, consider whether you need vendor management and purchase ordering tools. If you need advanced inventory management features and they're not available, does the system integrate with inventory software

Customer Management and Loyalty Programs

How much information do you need to collect about your customers? Do you need their email addresses for your mailing list? Phone numbers and addresses for delivery? Or do you need a system with a built-in CRM (customer relationship management) application that allows you to create customer profiles with detailed purchase histories and to add notes, such as birthdays, preferences or allergies? Do you want your POS system to include or connect to a loyalty program? 

Employee Management

If your employees will use the POS system, you need to control the data and functions they can access. For example, maybe you only want your store managers to handle refunds, or perhaps you want all your cashiers to have this ability. Consider whether you prefer role-based permissions or if you want to set permissions individually for user profiles. Also, do you need it to have a timeclock so your employees can clock in and out using the POS system? If you're already using time and attendance software, will it integrate with the POS system? 

Reporting

All POS systems can generate reports, but the number of reports, specific report types and customization options differ between systems. Do you need data on your sales per hour so you can staff your business more effectively? Would a list of your best- and worst-selling items help you refine your product mix? Do you want the system to email specific reports to you automatically? Do you need real-time reporting that you can access using a mobile app? 

Integrations

Most web-based POS systems have integrations or apps that make it easier for you to share data between systems. For example, connecting your accounting software to your POS system saves you the time of exporting sales data from your POS system and manually uploading it to your accounting software. Look for a POS system that integrates with the business programs you already use, such as accounting software, payroll, e-commerce platforms and email marketing services.

Which POS Hardware Features Do You Need?

You have a lot of options for POS hardware and how you configure your system. A basic POS station has a tablet or a touchscreen, a credit card reader, a cash drawer and till, and a receipt printer. Some POS systems are compatible with additional peripherals, such as a: 

  • Tablet stand: Holds the tablet in place
  • Barcode scanner: Makes it faster to enter items into the system at the checkout station
  • Scales: Allow you to sell bulk items by weight
  • Customer display screen: Shows the customer their sales ticket as you enter items into the POS system
  • Kitchen printer: Sends orders to the kitchen for the cooks to prepare
  • Kitchen display system: Digital alternative to the kitchen printer
  • Kiosk: Tablet that customers can use to place their own orders
  • Digital menu boards: Large screens that display your menu and promotions
  • Coin dispenser: Reduces errors and speeds the checkout process by automatically returning change to the customer
  • Caller ID device: POS system automatically starts an order when customers call your business 

Buying, Leasing and "Free" POS Hardware

It's always best to purchase your POS terminal upfront, even if that means starting with just the basics. You can pay much, much more than the equipment is worth if you lease. Plus, leases have noncancelable, multiyear contracts, so even if you go out of business and return the equipment, you must continue making lease payments. 

Some companies offer "free" POS terminals, but this can also be more expensive than buying your equipment upfront. To get this deal, you're typically required to sign a lengthy contract for the company's credit card processing service. Most also charge a monthly fee for maintenance or insurance, in addition to credit card processing fees and the POS software subscription. If it's a "free placement program," you'll be required to return the equipment if you close your account when the lease expires. 

Proprietary vs. Open-Source POS Hardware

Proprietary POS hardware only works with the system you're purchasing it for, so if you switch systems, it will be unusable. It's usually only available from that specific POS provider, so you can't shop around for a good deal. 

Open-source POS hardware can be used with multiple POS systems, so if you switch to new POS software that also works with open-source hardware, you might be able to continue using the equipment you already own. It's usually available from the POS company and multiple third-party vendors, so you may save money if you comparison shop. 

Credit Card Terminal or Card Reader

Most of the time, you'll buy the credit card terminal or mobile reader from your payment processing company. However, sometimes you must purchase it from the POS company for it to integrate with the POS system. Whether you buy it from the processor or POS company, you want it to be EMV-certified so you can accept chip cards at your point of sale. You also want it to have NFC capabilities so you can accept contactless payments like Apple Pay, Google Pay and Samsung Pay.

Best POS Software Systems for Small Businesses

In addition to having a comprehensive suite of features and providing reliable support, the best POS systems are those that give you the most flexibility with contractual terms and setup configuration. They don't lock you in with contracts, leases or proprietary hardware, so you can move on if the system isn't the best fit for your business, or you want to try a different solution. 

They integrate with multiple payment processors, so you have a choice of which one you work with and can switch processors without having to move to a different POS system if your rates increase or if the processing service doesn't meet your expectations. They also integrate with various business applications, allowing you to add more features to the system or connect with other systems you already use, such as accounting and marketing software, saving you the time it would take to manually share data between systems. Many also have an open API so you can build custom integrations if needed. 

Finally, they can grow with your business, whether that means adding extra users, more devices or registers, or even a new location – allowing you to manage multiple outlets from a single account.

Methodology

We started our evaluation of POS systems with more than 100 options, including companies we were already familiar with, those that contacted us and others that we came across in our research. 

From this list, we looked for cloud-based POS systems designed for small businesses. We searched vendors' websites for information, read customer reviews, browsed how-to guides and installation manuals, watched video tutorials and tried out demos. We also posed as small business owners in the market for a new POS system and reached out to customer representatives to ask questions about pricing and features. Here are the criteria we used to evaluate POS systems: 

  • Contractual terms. The best POS software companies give you a choice between month-to-month and annual subscriptions. They don't require you to sign a multiyear contract or charge you fees if you cancel your account.

  • Monthly subscription fees. We considered how much it costs to use the POS software. We also looked for additional fees the company charges, such as for setup and installation, or for additional features or services.

  • Transparency of pricing. The best companies post their prices on their websites so you can determine whether the system is within your budget before you spend time on the phone with a sales representative.

  • Choice of payment processor. We looked for POS systems that work with multiple payment processors so you can shop around for good rates.

  • Inclusion of key feature sets and integrations. The best POS systems have a good mix of features. They also have add-ons or integrations so you can customize the system to meet your needs and share sales data with business applications you already use.

  • Compatibility with third-party POS hardware. This is a cost-saving feature, as you may be able to use equipment you already own, and it gives you possible compatibility with a future system.

  • Availability of customer support. You want customer support to be available when you need help. Because some businesses have irregular hours, and many business owners work long hours, we looked for systems that have 24/7 phone support.

What to Expect in 2020

It's always nerve-wracking to make a big purchase – especially when the item is something that you're going to use daily, possibly for years. It's no wonder then, that choosing a POS system is a difficult process for small business owners. While the right POS system will make it easier to run your business and become a central hub that you use to ring up sales, accept payments, collect customer contact information, manage employees, and run reports, the wrong system may make these tasks more difficult and become a source of irritation. We want to help you find a POS system that you'll love, so we evaluated more than 100 options to come up with our recommendations. 

In 2020, as customers increasingly expect a seamless shopping experience that lets them make purchases how, when and where they want, merchants will be on the lookout for POS systems that help them create a unified commerce experience for their customers. They'll also seek POS technology that they can use to offer their customers the convenience of unattended restaurant ordering or retail checkout options. 

Unified Commerce

Think of unified commerce as omnichannel 2.0. Like omnichannel and multichannel commerce, unified commerce seeks to create a seamless, cross-channel shopping experience that allows customers to easily move between brick-and-mortar, online and mobile retail. The difference, explained Boston Retail Partners' co-founder Ken Morris to eMarketer, is that "In omnichannel, you have multiple channels, but you don't have one piece of software, one version of the truth: You have many versions of the truth. In the unified commerce world, it's all connected in real time." 

Your customers aren't just in store or just online – they want to interact with your store in a variety of ways. In a 2017 Harvard Business Review survey of 42,000 customers, researchers found that in their shopping journey, 73% of shoppers used multiple channels, 20% shopped in store only and 7% shopped online only. And, according to BPR research, 87% of consumers want a consistent, personalized experience across channels. 

Researchers also found that 63% of shoppers use their phones in your store to research the pricing and availability of the products they're planning to purchase, and 56% of consumers want a shared cart across channels. 

Here's an example of what unified commerce might look like. Your customer is at home on her computer and looks up your website. She places a pair of shoes in her shopping cart. The next day while she's at work, she decides she needs those shoes and pulls up your app on her phone where she finds the shoes waiting in her cart. She purchases them but needs them now, so instead of waiting for them to be shipped, she drives to your store after work and picks them up. 

Retailers that offer this type of unified commerce experience are rewarded with bigger sales tickets as omnichannel customers spend more than single-channel customers. 

Unattended POS Systems

Another trend in the POS industry that continues to grow in popularity and sophistication is unattended retail POS systems. Payment processing giant Global Payments says that over the next five years, it is expected to become a $13 billion industry

Small business retailers – and restauranteurs – can jump on this trend now by choosing a POS system that offers kiosk and mobile order technology. A kiosk module allows you to use tablets as self-service kiosks that customers use at your establishment to make purchases or place their own orders. Mobile order technology uses apps or mobile-friendly websites to allow customers to make purchases or place orders from their phones, tablets, or computers. 

The convenience and novelty of unattended retail improve the customer experience and the amount of money they spend at your establishment. A good example of this is seen in quick-service restaurants, where customers spend 20% more on average when ordering from kiosks than from a person, as kiosks allow customers to take their time looking over the menu and customizing their orders without feeling like they're holding up the line. 

Another reason many businesses are implementing unattended retail solutions is that as minimum wages rise, they offer business owners a way to manage labor costs. For instance, instead of ringing up orders at one checkout station, a cashier can oversee several self-serve checkout kiosks. 

At the high-end of unattended retail POS technology are the cashless, cashierless stores such as Amazon Go that use a mobile app plus RFID, AI, cameras and shelf-weight sensors to allow customers to simply walk out of the store with their items as their credit cards – via the mobile app that was scanned as they entered the store – are automatically charged. Though this POS technology is largely aspirational, it's a glimpse into the future of retail POS systems.

Lori Fairbanks
Lori Fairbanks,
business.com Writer
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Lori Fairbanks has years of experience writing and editing for both print and online publications. After graduating from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, she worked as a magazine editor and then as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of companies, including marketing firms and a medical university. She now writes about small business finance, including accounting software, credit card processing and point-of-sale systems for business.com and Business News Daily.

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Common POS System Questions and Answers
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How do you deal with customers who are deliberately abusing coupons?
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Michelle Brammer
Michelle Brammer
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Do you provide your coupons digitally or in print form? If digitally, look into a diminishing coupon. In a prior role, we had abuse of printed coupons, too. We cut back substantially on printed coupons and shifted many of them onto a digital platform. Since our coupons were sent via email, and our email provider offered diminishing coupons, it limited abuse. The customer could still open and review the contents of the email, but after 3 opens (our set number), the coupon was digitally...
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Joseph Bernard
Joseph Bernard
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You probably have already investigated this, but I will say it anyway just in case you overlooked this option. Most POS (point of sale) systems have a coupon management module that will allow you to apply coupon to specific products or against the total, track the expiration and track discounts. Additionally, many of these products allow you to generate a pop screen to be used for surveys. Microsoft Retail Management is a solution that comes to mind.
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Do I need a POS system?
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Corey Larson
Corey Larson
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A POS is so simple to acquire these days and it offers support, reports and so much more than you can do manually. Even with a few small transactions a day, it will be good for taxes at the end of the year, organization and a better understanding of business trends, times of transactions etc. Square offers a great way to do that very inexpensively. There are a lot of really inexpensive options that will help you save time so you can grow your business rather than filtering transactions manually.
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Robbin Block
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There are many ways to approach pricing, and cost plus is not necessarily the answer. It's a complex subject, and needs a structured approach to answer it. I suspect from this long list of questions there's no pricing strategy set by your company. It's like a flag blowing in the wind without one. In each situation, you're letting the market, the customer or the competition set the price for you. Of course these are important, but it's up to your company to decide what it wants. The first...
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Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson
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I have three 30-seat cafe restaurants, and I use Revel POS. It is all iPad based, and runs off installed apps. The back end is a cloud based CRM (for want of a better word), that quickly enables updates, menu item changes, pricing to be changed on site or back home in my office, or for that matter, anywhere I have internet access. The support is really good, takes about 30 minutes to install on site, and errors are quickly rectified. Its been easily scaleable so far. The staff like...
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