Best POS Systems for Small Businesses 2021

When you think of point-of-sale (POS) systems, you may think of old-timey ledgers or cash registers with basic computing capabilities. Modern POS systems offer a wide range of functions beyond simple transactions. They can integrate with a number of sales-driven workflows and drive your revenue goals in unexpected ways.

As a small business owner, you might think an advanced POS system is too complex or expensive to meet your needs. This might be true of some enterprise-grade systems, but many POS vendors offer solutions with small businesses in mind. These tools will help you uncover deeper insights about what’s working well for your business and where you have opportunities to grow. 

Related: 7 Point of Sale Software Myths—Busted

Keep reading to compare our top solutions and learn more about what to keep in mind when shopping for a POS system.

Shopify

Vend

Toast

Lightspeed

Ecommerce support

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Hardware offered

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Yes

Support for gift cards

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Support for international commerce

No

Yes

No

No

Yes

Third party sales channels

Yes

Yes

No

No

Yes

Inventory management

Yes

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Customized reports

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Square: Best value POS

Photo of Square product.

Photo of Shopify product in use.

Pros

Among all of the POS vendors on this list, Shopify is the only one that was purpose-built for ecommerce. It’s an ideal solution if you conduct most of your business online and want to create an ecosystem that’s optimized for online sales while still supporting in-person transactions.

Shopify offers a free SSL certificate, which is a basic requirement for PCI DSS compliance and gives your customers peace of mind that their data is secure. It also directly integrates with third-party sales channels like Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Google, and Instagram. This means you can manage online orders and synchronize inventory across multiple sources all from the Shopify platform.

Shopify’s pricing for its POS hardware isn’t as competitive as Square, but you can still get a basic card reader for under $50. Fraud analysis is also included in every edition, so you can be proactive against one of the biggest challenges small businesses face.

Cons

One noticeable drawback to Shopify’s pricing structure is that some major features like in-store analytics and staff management aren’t available with the Basic Shopify edition. It also doesn’t offer an offline mode, so Shopify won’t be ideal if you need a reliable payment processor that you can take with you on the road. If online sales aren’t your top priority, you may find better functionality and value with a different POS system.

Pricing

Shopify comes in three different editions with corresponding transaction processing rates:

  • Basic Shopify: $29 per month
    • In-person payments: 2.7%
    • Online payments: 2.9% + $0.30
  • Shopify: $79 per month
    • In-person payments: 2.5%
    • Online payments: 2.6% + $0.30
  • Advanced Shopify: $299 per month
    • In-person payments: 2.4%
    • Online payments: 2.4% + $0.30

Vend: Best POS for retail

Photo of Vend POS product in use.

Photo of Toast POS product in use.

Pros

Toast includes a number of tools for managing tables, individual orders, menus, inventory, and staff. Mobility has become a priority among businesses of all kinds in the age of COVID-19, and this is especially true of restaurants. As such, Toast offers support for contactless payment, online ordering and delivery, self-service kiosks, and tableside ordering. 

Some features like team management, mobile ordering, and support for gift cards are offered as optional add ons. This is a nice option if you’re starting small and don’t want to shell out for the Essentials edition of Toast but want to use a specific feature that isn’t included in the Starter edition. 

Toast is also an exceptionally easy-to-use system, so everyone on your team—from servers to kitchen staff to back-office managers—should have no trouble using the software in a fast-paced restaurant environment. Furthermore, Toast simplifies some of the most time-consuming POS tasks like splitting checks, voiding items or whole checks, specifying order customizations, and closing out open tabs. 

Cons

If you’re looking for a restaurant POS system that will work with your Apple device, you’ll be disappointed to learn that Toast only works with Android devices. Further, Toast doesn’t provide customer support for devices that aren’t purchased directly through the platform. This is potentially frustrating if you already own devices you want to use, especially if you prefer a macOS or iOS environment.

Pricing

Toast comes in three editions plus transaction processing fees (undisclosed):

  • Starter: Free
  • Essentials: $165 per month
  • Growth: $272 per month

Related: Best Restaurant POS Software for 2021

Lightspeed Retail: Best POS for versatility

Photo of Lightspeed Retail POS product in use.

Pricing

Lightspeed Retail comes in five editions:

  • Basic: $69 per month
  • Starter: $99 per month
  • Standard: $119 per month
  • Advanced: $169 per month
  • Pro: $229 per month

Transaction processing fees:

  • Tapped, inserted, or swiped: 2.6% + $0.10
  • Manually keyed-in (including online transactions): 2.6% + $0.30

How point-of-sale systems work

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In an average day, you may use a POS system to complete a number of business-critical tasks. At the most fundamental level, the payment processing features will allow you to complete transactions and create invoices or receipts. For businesses in the service industry, most POS systems also include support for gratuity, so each person on your team receives the tips they earn. Then, the POS system will use data from each sale to update your inventory in real time. This helps you know what you have in stock and what’s selling like hot cakes—details that help with managing your supply chain.

Sometimes a POS system will include features for customer relationship management as well. When you can tie your sales data into your customer records, you can unlock deeper trend insights, prevent customer attrition, and close more sales. Similarly, a POS system with workforce management capabilities will align your internal team with your sales goals. You can keep track of your employees’ time off, optimize your workforce schedule for your busiest times, and identify top performers for specific products.

POS system considerations

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Although many POS software vendors offer similar features, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind when shopping for the right solution for your business. 

Legacy vs. mobile POS

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First and foremost, most legacy POS systems (ones that run on a local server and store data onsite) will be inefficient for your small business. They are more secure and reliable because they can operate without an internet connection. However, they are also more expensive and less versatile than mobile POS systems. If you have a small budget, want to use your POS system for more than just processing payments, or need to access sales data while on the go, a mobile POS system is likely the best option for you.

Ecommerce vs. in-person POS

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Another important consideration is the means by which you want to accept payments. Some POS systems are better for accepting in-person payments only, whereas others can integrate with your content management system and ecommerce platform. Most of the top POS systems can do both and scale alongside your business as it grows. 

If you currently only have an ecommerce site and plan to open a brick and mortar location—or if you only have a brick and mortar location and plan to start an ecommerce store—make sure you pick a solution that will meet your needs now and in the future.

Related: How to Add Ecommerce to Your Website

Hardware and software costs

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You should also consider the cost of implementing POS hardware and software. As referenced above, legacy POS systems can easily cost thousands of dollars to set up. Even cloud-based POS software can get expensive, especially if you want to deploy multiple registers or POS devices. 

A POS terminal could be as simple as a basic credit card reader that you can purchase for under $100, or it could be more complex with specialized hardware like barcode scanners, scales, and shipping label printers. These costs are usually on top of a monthly fee to access the software itself. Depending on your business needs, you may need to budget more for a fully-functional POS system.

Integrations

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Ideally, your POS system will integrate with your broader systems. This includes your accounting software, HR management software, and marketing automation platform among others. If you want all of your business software to work together, look for a POS system that will easily integrate with the tools you use.

Choosing a POS system for your small business

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A POS system can be as basic or as complex as you need. You can use it to solve a number of small business challenges, like processing payments, managing inventory, and evaluating employee performance. This versatility is beneficial for streamlining your business systems and ensuring that you’ll have the proper tools in place to grow your business. There are many options to consider for your POS system, so be sure to consider all of your needs when narrowing your search for the right solution.

Kaiti Norton
Kaiti Norton is a Nashville-based Content Writer for eSecurity Planet, Webopedia, and Small Business Computing. She is passionate about creating relatable, research-based content that helps small businesses thrive. When she's not writing about small business technology, she's sharing her musings about fashion, cats, books, and skincare on her blog.

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