The point of sale (POS) is the place in a store or elsewhere where the actual business transaction takes place. Usually, it involves an exchange of money, whether cash, check, or credit card for merchandise or a service. Payment is taken and a receipt is given.
Point of sale systems make it all happen, linking hardware, such as a cash register or credit card reader, with software that will process credit and debit card payments; managing inventory; tracking sales data; and collecting customer information. Many POS systems will even sync with accounting software, creating a complete financial management package for your operation.
POS systems began as hard-wired in-store setups, where all the software ran on an on-site computer and linked to register terminals. Today, many POS systems are cloud-based, run as apps on tablets and smartphones, and they offer tremendous resources to small business owners at cost-effective prices. Some systems are hybrids, with certain information stored on a local computer while offering the freedom and flexibility of running in the cloud.
What to look for in a POS
Every business has its own priorities, but here are the things you’ll want to consider when deciding what POS app is right for your business:
- How easy is a POS app to use?
- What customer support is available?
- How much does it cost?
- What functionality does it offer?
- What kind of reports does it generate?
- How easy is it to access your data?
- How secure is the app?
- What kind of hardware does it require?
Here are some of the top POS applications available today.
Square has been around for five years, making it one of the industry’s cloud-based POS system pioneers, allowing merchants and individuals to accept debit and credit cards on their smartphone or tablet.
Pros of Square
- It can be used online or offline, although you’ll be responsible for any transactions taken while offline that get declined or result in chargebacks.
- It can be customized for your products with photos, names, and prices.
- For restaurants, tips can be calculated and added by customers with one click.
- Receipts get sent via email or text, and a printer can be hooked up for hard copies.
- Punch card loyalty programs can be integrated.
- There is a growing suite of associated products available for an extra cost, including an online marketplace, online invoicing, and an online appointment service.
- There are no monthly fees or setup costs, although there is a charge for hardware such as an iPad stand or receipt printer. There are no monthly contracts or termination fees.
Cons of Square
- Square charges a fee of 2.75% on every credit card transaction for swiped cards. Also they charge 3.5% plus 15 cents when the info is entered manually, which is more than most conventional credit card processors.
- Gift cards for your business must be purchased from Square ($1.50 per card) to work with Square.
- Square uses its own private algorithm to decide whether to approve each transaction, and puts automatic holds on transactions it decides are risky. This can result in a long delay in being paid, or sometimes even the deactivation of a merchant’s account.
- Some customers say contacting support can be very frustrating, with long waits, incomplete answers, and a lack of live assistance.
Square is available for the iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android-based mobile phones. Both the app and the card readers required are free. It can be a good solution if you’re looking for something easy to set up with no long-term commitment, especially if you do business remotely, such as at street fairs or in a kiosk. Be aware of the potential fund-holding issues for larger volume merchants and the reported difficulty in reaching customer service.
LightSpeed began as a very highly-rated site-based POS, and they added a cloud-based option a couple of years ago by buying MerchantOS. The on-site version still exists (LightSpeed OnSite), and the LightSpeed cloud app (LightSpeed Retail) offers most of the same functionality. Hardware, including a cash drawer, iPad stand, barcode scanner, receipt printer, and card swiper, is available at an additional charge.
Pros of LightSpeed
- Monthly subscription fees are tied to the size of your business and how many users and registers you have.
- Inventory, purchase order, emplyee management, and customer relationship management are fully integrated.
- All sorts of payments are accepted: cash, credit, debit, check, gift card, and store credit.
- Receipts can be printed or emailed.
- You can use it to create estimates, quotes, and service and repair orders.
- A separate app exists solely for restaurants, specialized for their needs.
- There are hundreds of customizable, printable reports, and they can be exported as spreadsheets to import to other programs.
Cons of LightSpeed
- An internet connection is required; everything is done online, so if your internet goes down, you can’t process transactions.
- Some merchants report difficulty with exporting directly into QuickBooks and sometimes-clunky integration with Shopify for online stores.
- The cost of credit card processing is not included, and you are limited to Lightspeed’s preferred processors, Element, Cayan, and Axia.
- Geared more toward retailers who sell products with barcodes and SKUs, not as much for services or non-standard inventory.
- Initial setup is a bit more cumbersome than with some other products because the system has so much functionality.
Lightspeed is a very powerful POS system that may be overkill for some small businesses. If you don’t mind a learning curve, though, the effort could be worth it, especially if you have expansion plans. The on-site version runs on iOS, the mobile app can be accessed from any web browser.
ShopKeep is geared to small to medium-sized businesses, offering a nice combination of features while keeping an easy-to-use interface. It’s a hybrid POS that mixes both cloud-based and locally-installed operations running on an iPad, so you can continue to make sales if your internet service is disrupted.
Pros of ShopKeep
- No startup costs beyond hardware. A flat fee of $49 per month per register.
- Tracks inventory, employees, and customer information.
- Allows you to accept cash, credit/debit cards, gift cards, and other payment options like PayPal or LevelUp.
- You can choose your own credit card processor to cut the best possible deal.
- The smartphone app allows you to log in and get reports anytime. Reports can be exported into accounting programs.
- Has an integrated loyalty program.
- Free 24/7 support by phone, web chat, or email.
Cons of ShopKeep
- ShopKeep doesn’t allow for multiple sales tax rates, doesn’t integrate with any online stores, and can’t handle payment with gift cards.
- Limited functionality for full-service restaurants and bars (no table layouts and doesn’t allow for open tickets), although perfectly suitable for cafeteria-style cafes, coffee shops, etc.
ShopKeep runs on-site on iPads, but you can access the ShopKeep Dashboard app from any mobile device. The app supports multiple stores, so you can check in with more than one location at a time. ShopKeep is more suited to brick and mortar stores than for use on the go.
Vend is another hybrid combining in-store functionality with a web-mobile app. It runs on PC, Mac, or tablet, making it usable with a wide range of hardware. This makes it worth consideration if you don’t want to invest in new hardware.
Pros of Vend
- If you’re using an iPad, the camera can be used as a barcode scanner.
- Pricing is based on features and users: more money gets you more users and more SKUs, as well as the potential for more registers and locations.
- Stock, inventory, purchasing, your customer database, and store administration settings can be accessed anywhere at any time through the app.
- You can accept payments even when your internet connection is disrupted. Payments are processed when the connection returns.
- Integrates with PayPal and Shopify. Has integrated customer loyalty tracking, and can be exported into various accounting softwares.
- Basic inventory and stock tracking is built in.
- Vend can be used with any credit card processor that offers an Authorize.net payment gateway (which is most of them).
Cons of Vend
- The most basic system is free but has limited functionality, and support for the free version is only through community forums.
- Email and online support is available only to paid users. Phone support costs an extra $39 a month.
- Setting up inventory may be a bit daunting, especially adding variants to items, such as sizes and colors.
- No built-in function for tipping.
- No integrated gift card option, although you can create custom payment types.
- No time clock for employees to punch in or out, so you will need another employee management or payroll tracking method.
All things considered, Vend is a solid choice for a mid-priced POS system, especially if you don’t want to have to commit to new iPads, which many other systems use. It has enough features to elevate it above bare bones, but not enough to cost luxury dollars, with add-ons available for a reasonable cost. It’s a less-than-ideal option if gratuities are involved, but could be a good option for many retailers.
5. QuickBooks POS/Revel
Many small businesses are already users of Intuit’s QuickBooks accounting software. QuickBooks has offered a site-based POS for years. Now the company is securing a foothold in the cloud-based POS business through a partnership with Revel Systems. If you’re already in the QuickBooks ecosystem, the Quickbooks cloud-based system is definitely something to consider.
Pros of QuickBooks POS/Revel
- An easy-to-use iPad interface.
- Processes sales transactions, takes payments, tracks inventory, and manages customers.
- Handles barcode scanning, appointment scheduling, online ordering, loyalty programs, employee scheduling, and has an e-commerce platform.
- You can process payments and retain data even when the internet is down or you don’t have a connection.
- Works for restaurants and industries that accept tips.
- Automatically and seamlessly syncs sales, payments, inventory, customer data, and payroll information to QuickBooks.
- Especially strong inventory features with detailed sales numbers, discount tracking, and order history.
Cons of QuickBooks POS/Revel
- While Intuit has been highly-regarded for years, this is a new partnership. The QuickBooks cloud-based POS is new, so there’s no track record for the product. Revel has been in the business since 2010, however, and has an excellent reputation.
- Revel is known as one of the pricier POS platforms available.
- You need to set up your own merchant service account to accept credit card payments. (Intuit offers this, as well.)
This is another hybrid. Revel runs on iPads, although data and reports can be viewed from any computer or smartphone with a web browser and internet access.