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.
Keep reading to compare our top solutions and learn more about what to keep in mind when shopping for a POS system.
- Top POS system comparison
- How point-of-sale systems work
- POS system considerations
- Choosing a POS systems for small businesses
Top POS system comparison
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Square: Best value POS
Square is perhaps the best known vendor in the POS market, and with good reason. It’s extremely versatile and accessible regardless of the type of business you own or your budget for a POS system. It only takes a few minutes to configure the software and hardware, so you can start using Square immediately with minimal technical expertise.
Square doesn’t have any startup costs or monthly fees to use the platform for basic needs, and the Plus edition is the most affordable advanced package on this list. Whether you only need a way to accept credit card payments and manage inventory or require a fully-functional back office management system, Square has the right tools at affordable price points.
Many users also love how easy it is to bring Square to events or offsite meetings. Square offers a basic magstripe reader that plugs into your smartphone or tablet for free, and you can purchase more advanced hardware like the chip reader or full register system for less than most alternatives.
Compared to other POS vendors, Square’s transaction fees are a bit higher at 2.6% + $0.10 for in-person payments and 2.9% + $0.30 for online transactions. If you’re processing a large volume of transactions every day and don’t do a lot of traveling, there is likely a different POS solution that will meet your needs better than Square.
Square comes in three different editions with corresponding transaction processing rates:
- Free: Free
- In-person payments: 2.6% + $0.10
- Online payments: 2.9% + $0.30
- Plus: $60 per month per location
- In-person payments: 2.5% + $0.10
- Online payments: 2.9% + $0.30
- Premium: Contact sales
- Custom processing rates
Shopify: Best POS for ecommerce
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.
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.
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
One of the most notable benefits of using Vend is that it doesn’t charge any additional fees per transaction, unlike most of the other vendors on this list. The monthly cost of using the platform is a bit steeper than most of Vend’s competitors, but this cost can easily balance out if you process a large number of transactions per month.
Vend also offers relatively more affordable hardware packages than other POS solutions, including Square and Lightspeed. Plus, Vend works with a wide range of computers/tablets, receipt printers, barcode scanners, cash drawers, and label printers. This could mean serious savings if you have existing hardware that’s compatible with the Vend platform.
In this way, Vend is also an ideal solution if you use a variety of devices and operating systems. Many mobile POS systems are designed for Apple devices first, so Vend stands out for its device compatibility.
Vend’s Lite package doesn’t include support for ecommerce integration, gift cards, discounts and promotions, or advanced reporting capabilities. There’s also a $20k turnover limit per month, so you’ll be required to upgrade to the more expensive Vend Pro edition if you want any of the above features or anticipate a high monthly sales volume.
Additionally, Vend doesn’t offer any inherent payment processing capabilities within the platform itself. This means you’ll need to connect it to a third-party payment processor like PayPal or even Square, which could incur subsequent transaction fees.
Vend comes in three editions:
- Lite: $99 per month
- Pro: $129 per month
- Enterprise: Contact sales
Toast: Best POS for restaurants
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.
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.
Toast comes in three editions plus transaction processing fees (undisclosed):
- Starter: Free
- Essentials: $165 per month
- Growth: $272 per month
Lightspeed Retail: Best POS for versatility
Lightspeed Retail might be your best choice if you want a highly customizable POS system. Similar to Shopify, Lightspeed recognizes the value of a POS solution that inherently supports ecommerce rather than thinking of online sales as an afterthought. Lightspeed also has unique capabilities for supply chain management and enables you to create automations for low inventory re-stocks.
Lightspeed also makes it easy to discover new suppliers or products through its Supplier Market platform. If you find a new product that aligns with your business, you can add it to your inventory with a few clicks. For existing product data, you can make mass updates with spreadsheet imports and exports.
One particularly unique feature Lightspeed offers is the ability to schedule in-person shopping appointments. In light of COVID-19, this is a particularly important capability to control in-store capacity, but it’s also an opportunity to provide your customers with an exclusive or personalized shopping experience.
One of the biggest drawbacks to Lightspeed Retail is how expensive it is to use. At $69, the Basic edition has one of the most expensive entry points with the fewest number of features. The top tier Pro edition is not as expensive as some of the other advanced packages on this list, but it could be cost-prohibitive if analytics and reporting are more important to you than accounting automation or support for loyalty programs.
Additionally, Lightspeed is only compatible with Apple devices. If you’re not using an iMac, MacBook, iPad, or iPhone, you should look elsewhere for a POS solution that will meet your hardware needs.
Related: Can an iPad Pro Replace a Laptop?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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 systems for your small business
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.