Best POS Systems for 2020
Updated: June 15, 2020
Update: We've updated this page to include new retail and e-commerce forecasts for 2020.
Your small business needs more than a cash register to ring up sales and accept payments. You need a point-of-sale system that records sales data, manages inventory, generates reports and stores customer contact data. Whether you're in the market for your first POS system or ready to upgrade to a new one, it's challenging to decide which one will be the right fit for your business. As we evaluated more than 100 POS systems to find the best options for small businesses, we looked for affordable, cloud-based solutions that are easy to install, set up and use. Read on to learn about the POS systems we picked, then check our guide for tips on accepting credit cards.
Our Best Picks
Best Mobile POS System for iPad
Best POS System for Retail
Best POS System for Restaurants
Editor's note: Looking for information on POS systems? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need:
Devices: iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch
Support: 24/7 phone, email and chat support
Support: 24/7 phone, email and chat support
Devices: iPad and Apple AirPort router
Support: 24/7 phone and email support
October 2019: TouchBistro introduced its new reservations platform, TouchBistro Reservations. It fully integrates with the company's POS system but can also be used as a stand-alone app. With it, restaurants can accept reservations on their websites, through Google Search and Maps, or through the new TB Dine website and mobile app.
April 2020: TouchBistro announced the launch of Restaurant Recovery Navigator, which provides resources and support to help restauranteurs keep their businesses going as they navigate the coronavirus pandemic. The company is also offering a selection of services to its customers, including free (and commission-free) online ordering for 12 months with no contract required. TouchBistro Gift Card is free for 90 days when you purchase a 12-month term and the physical gift cards, and MarketMan restaurant inventory management system is free for 60 days when you sign a six-month commitment.
February 2020: Epos Now has announced its acquisition of the Australian POS company, Epos Systems. This acquisition gives Epos Now a foothold in the Australian, New Zealand and Asian markets. CEO Jacyn Heavens said, "With multiple offices already in the UK and USA, our new Australian office means we can cover all global time zones with a full team and offer in-depth domain and regional knowledge to better serve our partners and our growing base of tens of thousands of customers spanning over 100 countries."
Devices: iPads, Android tablets, Macs and PCs
Support: Email and chat support; 24/7 phone support with Premium plan
The best POS systems do more than just process sales and accept payments. They make it easier to run your entire business, with features that help you analyze sales data, track inventory, connect with customers and manage employees. They include or have integrations for email marketing, loyalty programs, and other capabilities that streamline processes and save you time. The best POS vendors provide reliable customer support that you can contact around the clock, so even if your business keeps irregular hours or you're working late, you can receive help when you need it.
As you compare POS machines and software, look for systems that give you maximum flexibility, with month-to-month software subscriptions, a choice of payment processors and compatibility with third-party POS hardware that you can purchase upfront. This way, you're not locked into a system or a lease for several years, but can instead switch out whatever parts of the system you want, when you want – whether you are missing features, feel services aren't meeting your expectations or find a better deal elsewhere.
May 2020: Does your POS system allow you to accept contactless payments? If not, you may want to upgrade. A new survey conducted by RTi Research reports that fear of catching COVID-19 has driven 30% of the U.S. consumers it polled to begin using contactless credit cards, smartphones and wearables for the first time. Citing an "increased perception of cash as a transmitter of germs," nearly 25% of consumers said they will continue using cashless payments after the pandemic. Additionally, researchers said that after the pandemic, 20% of consumers will continue using other "newfound conveniences," such as online grocery ordering and food delivery.
What to Expect in 2020
The customer experience is paramount in 2020, and merchants will be looking for POS systems that help them better cater to their customers. One capability they'll look for is a unified commerce platform that allows them to offer customers a seamless shopping experience that spans in-person, online and mobile channels. The other feature they'll look for in a POS system is the ability to offer customers the convenience of unattended ordering and checkout options.
Unified Commerce for Retail and Restaurant Businesses
Move over, multichannel and omnichannel commerce. Unified commerce is the next buzzword in POS systems. Unified commerce is like multichannel and omnichannel solutions in that the goal is to create a cross-channel ordering and purchasing experience that makes it easy for customers to make purchases how, where, and when they want with minimal friction. A BPR study found that 87% of shoppers "want a personalized and consistent experience across all shopping channels."
Speaking to eMarketer, BRP partner and co-founder Ken Morris explained how unified commerce is different. "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."
The advantage to businesses that provide a unified commerce experience to their customers is that omnichannel customers spend more than single-channel customers. Here's what this might look like in a retail setting: Your customer, Joe, needs new shoes. At home on his computer, he pulls up your website, finds a pair he likes and puts them in his shopping cart. When he's at work the next day, he decides he wants them and opens your app on his phone, where he finds the shoes waiting in his cart. He purchases them but doesn't want to pay for shipping, so he chooses the in-store pickup option. On the way home from work, he stops by your store and picks them up.
Unattended POS Systems
Consumers enjoy the convenience and novelty of self-ordering and self-checkout technology. Small businesses – including both retail stores and restaurants – can implement this technology now with POS systems that have kiosk and mobile features. With a kiosk module, you can set up tablets as self-service kiosks that customers can use at restaurants to place and pay for their orders and at retail businesses to scan and pay for their items. Mobile features use apps or mobile-friendly websites to allow customers to place orders or make purchases remotely using their phones, tablets or computers.
For customers, POS kiosks are novel and fun, usually with shorter lines, and mobile ordering and purchasing saves them time. These options may also encourage your customers to spend more money at your business. Quick-service restaurants have found that, on average, customers spend 20% more when they use kiosks to place their orders.
For merchants, unattended POS systems offer an effective strategy for managing rising labor costs, as they allow one cashier to monitor customers using multiple self-serve POS kiosks instead of ringing up orders at a single station.
How are POS systems expected to change in the next five years?
Global Payments, one of the biggest credit card processors in the world, says unattended retail is the future of POS systems and predicts that it will become a $13 billion industry over the next five years. The cashierless POS trend is taken to the extreme in aspirational retail stores like Amazon Go that give us a sneak preview of what the future of retail and the checkout experience might look like. It uses an app on customers' phones plus in-store cameras, sensors, RFID, and AI to detect what customers carry out of the store and then automatically charges their credit cards.
June 2020: It's no surprise that the coronavirus has disrupted consumer spending patterns, and eMarketer says the impact has eclipsed even the Great Recession of 2008. It has updated its forecasts to predict that "total U.S. retail spending will decline 10.5% to $4.894 trillion."
Despite the overall drop in spending, U.S. consumers have increased their online spending, with e-commerce sales expected to rise 18%. If you have a brick-and-mortar store and haven't yet added e-commerce capabilities to your system, it's a move worth considering, especially as several POS providers are still offering promotions on their e-commerce add-ons (including two of our best picks, Lightspeed and TouchBistro).
Frequently Asked Questions About POS Systems
What is a point-of-sale system?
A: A point-of-sale (POS) system is used to record the products or services a customer intends to purchase, add up the items' cost, calculate tax, accept payment, and generate a receipt. It differs from a cash register in that it has advanced features that make it easier for you to manage sales data, inventory, customers and employees. POS systems have three parts: software, hardware and a credit card processor.
What is point-of-sale software?
A: POS software is the "brains" of your POS system. Most POS systems have software you install on tablets using mobile apps, as well as cloud-based software you access using a device with a web browser. POS software is designed for either retail or hospitality businesses, though some vendors offer solutions for both. Additionally, most vendors offer multiple POS plans, with service levels based either on the number of registers you need and how many people will be using the system or on the included features.
What is point-of-sale hardware? How many register terminals does each location require?
A: A typical POS terminal has either a tablet, touchscreen or computer monitor, as well as a cash drawer, credit card reader and receipt printer. A retail POS system may also include a barcode scanner and customer-facing screen. Other peripherals, such as scales, kitchen printers and kitchen display systems (KDS), are often available.
The number of registers, or POS terminals, that each location requires depends on the specific needs of your business. A single POS terminal may be enough for small and new businesses, but you may want to add more if your business is busy and you need to reduce wait times.
Which POS systems are the least expensive to integrate?
A: Cloud-based systems are usually the least expensive to integrate because they're plug-and-play – all you have to do is connect to the internet and download an app. You don't have to purchase, set up and maintain a server.
Which POS systems are the easiest to use?
A: POS systems that run on iPads or Android tablets tend to be the easiest to use, because they're designed to be intuitive and most users are already familiar and comfortable with this technology. Before you buy a POS system, make sure it's easy for you to use. Sign up for a free demo to learn how to use the major features. Have a list of the features you need on hand so you can ask the sales rep to show you how to use them.
Not all POS providers offer a free trial, but you should look for a company that does. It's a big purchase, so it's important to feel confident that the system has all the features you need and is easy to use – so it makes your business easier to run instead of harder.
What credit card processors work with POS systems? If I buy a POS system, does that make me PCI compliant?
A: The best POS systems integrate with multiple credit card processing services so you can shop around for the best value. However, some vendors offer their own credit card processing service and bundle it with their POS software and hardware.
There are multiple factors in PCI compliance, including the POS system and credit card processing service you use, whether your business stores cardholder data, and whether your network and internet connection are secure. Your credit card processor can help you with PCI compliance; you will likely need to complete an annual PCI self-assessment questionnaire and may also need to submit to system scans.
When does your business need a point-of-sale system?
A: As soon as you begin selling goods or services in person, your business needs a POS system, no matter how small your operation is. A POS system makes the checkout experience easier and faster for both your cashier and your customer, reducing the time it takes to ring up a sale and decreasing human errors such as miscalculations.
It helps with inventory management, tracking the items you have in stock, and some can even assist with purchase orders. POS systems with advanced inventory management tools can track sales from both your e-commerce platform and your physical retail store in real time, or across multiple locations.
Real-time reporting gives insight into your ROI, showing which items are your best and worst sellers, so you can reorder popular items and offer promotions on those that are underperforming. It can also help you identify your busy and slow hours, days, and seasons so you can optimize how you staff your business.
What security concerns should you think about in a POS system?
A:Before you buy a POS system, you want to ask the company what security protocols it has in place. Ask these questions:
- How do you store my data?
- How often do you back up your servers?
- How physically secure are your servers?
If the POS provider also handles your credit card processing, make sure it is PCI compliant. You also want to make sure you use an EMV-compliant card reader so you can properly accept chip cards and avoid liability for fraud.
Finally, you want to find out if the POS system lets you assign unique passcodes to each user and allows you to restrict employee access. This can help your POS system play an important role in reducing theft at your business, as it records every transaction – including who was logged in to the system – and you can choose whether or not a manager must approve returns and voids. Also look for shift reports and blind cash reconciliation, as they discourage employees from stealing from the cash drawer.
How to Decide on a POS System for Your Business
Before you choose a POS system, you need to determine what type of system you need, what features you require and how much you can afford to spend. Ask yourself the following questions to help you narrow down your options.
Do you want a cloud-based or server-based system?
Cloud-hosted POS systems that run on tablets are popular because they're mobile, easy to use and generally less expensive than other options. They allow you to access your reports and other back-office features from any device with a web browser, so you can keep tabs on your business and accomplish management tasks from anywhere. They also host your data in the cloud, so you don't need to set up, maintain and secure a local server. If you don't have reliable internet access, though, you may need to opt for a server-based system instead.
Server-based POS systems, also called onsite or on-premises POS systems, are installed on your server and host your data locally instead of in the cloud. As mentioned above, the advantage of this type of system is that you don't need the internet to run it. But as a result, security and backups are your responsibility with this type of system, so you may have additional IT and maintenance costs.
Do you need retail or restaurant POS software?
Most POS providers have one version of software for retailers and another for restaurants. Some also have a version for service-based businesses, but they often just offer integrations or add-ons to make the retail version suitable for this business type. Other POS providers specialize in one vertical, only offering retail POS software or restaurant POS software.
Do you prefer Apple or Android devices?
Some mobile POS systems work on both Android and iOS devices, and some – like Epos Now – even allow you to use both. Others are platform-specific, so they only work with iOS devices – iPads, iPhones, iPods and Mac computers – or with Android tablets and PCs.
Most platform-specific systems are iPad-based, as these are known for being user-friendly, stable and secure. Amongst our reviews, TouchBistro, Vend, Lightspeed and Revel are all iPad-based systems. But only one company makes iOS devices, so they're usually more expensive than Android devices that are available from several different brands.
Even though more consumers use Android than Apple devices, Android devices are generally less expensive, and developers enjoy the greater customization that the Android platform allows, there are only a few Android POS systems, such as Toast, so your options are more limited.
Which POS System Features Are the Most Important for Your Business?
In addition to cash register features that allow you to process sales and accept payments, the best POS systems have capabilities that make it easier to run your entire business. Here are some of the feature sets you should look for in a POS solution.
All POS systems have reporting capabilities, but some are basic, with just a handful of preconfigured reports and limited customization, while others are advanced, with dozens of reporting options and filters to help you analyze data for your sales, inventory, customers and staff. The best systems have real-time reports that you can access from any device with a browser or with a mobile app. Before purchasing a POS system, make sure it includes the specific reports that you need to run your business efficiently.
Very basic POS systems may only support a product catalog, while others can track inventory on a component or ingredient level. Some systems include purchase ordering and vendor management features to simplify reordering. Consider whether standard inventory tools will meet your needs or if you need advanced features to keep your business well stocked.
POS systems have varying customer management features. Some allow you to capture basic information, like email addresses that you can use for your email marketing campaigns, while others have capable customer relationship management (CRM) features that you can use to create customer profiles that include contact information, purchase histories, preferences, birthdays and notes. You'll want to make sure the system you choose supports the depth of customer information you need to deliver quality customer service.
Most POS systems allow you to add your employees to the system and manage their access to various features and information. Some have role-based access controls, while others allow you to customize the controls for each employee. Some have timeclocks built in so your employees can use the POS system to clock in and out. Some track employee sales or manage tips. Decide how you want your employees to access the POS system and what types of employee data you want it to track.
Add-ons and Integrations
Many POS systems have add-on features that are available for an extra monthly fee, such as loyalty programs, gift cards, reservation systems, advanced real-time inventory management or advanced reporting. The best POS systems also have integrations you can use to augment their capabilities or to connect the POS system to the other business applications you use, such as accounting, payroll and email marketing software. When you're comparing systems and features, there may be times when you need to calculate whether it's less expensive to choose the higher tier of one system to get a feature or to purchase an add-on to get the same function on a different system.
POS Systems Price
As you evaluate and compare POS systems, you need to look at the costs for each part of the system: POS software, POS hardware and payment processing.
POS Software Costs
There's a lot of variance in pricing for cloud-based POS software. Some POS providers – like Square and PayPal – offer free software as long as you use their credit card processing services, and others charge hundreds of dollars per month.
Most POS providers give you several service tiers to choose from, with basic, standard and premium tiers that vary in features or the number of users they support. For quality, full-featured POS software that gives you a choice of payment processor and doesn't require a long-term contract, starting tiers range from $40 to $100 per month for one register.
Because each POS company offers different features with each tier, it's tricky to compare systems, since you first need to decide which tier you need for each system. There may be times when a basic tier for one system includes the features you need, but you may need the premium tier of another system to get that specific feature.
POS Hardware Costs
When it comes to POS hardware, the first thing you want to find out is if the system works with third-party hardware or if it's proprietary. The advantage of working with POS providers that are compatible with third-party hardware is that if you decide to switch POS software providers, you may still be able to continue using your hardware – saving yourself the money of purchasing a whole new system.
The second thing you want to find out is if the system is scalable. You want to be able to start out with just a few basic pieces and add peripherals or additional registers as your business grows. For example, if you have a new or very small business, you may only need your tablet (or even your phone) with the POS app installed on it and a card reader, allowing you to accept payments and then email receipts to your customers.
You could also start out with the peripherals you need to create a basic checkout station with a tablet, stand, receipt printer, cash drawer and card reader. If you already own a tablet, this setup usually costs between $600 and $1,000.
As your business and budget grow, you can add equipment like barcode scanners, scales, display screens, kitchen printers and even additional registers. Some POS systems can also scale up to support multiple locations.
Payment Processing Costs
Credit card processing costs can be significant, so it's important to choose a POS system that gives you a choice of credit card processing companies. This allows you to compare rates, fees, and terms and choose the third-party processor that offers you the best deal. If your POS vendor makes you use a certain credit card processor, even if your rates increase or you have problems with that processor, you're stuck with it – unless you go to the trouble and expense of switching out your entire POS system instead of just the processor.
Several POS companies have in-house payment processing services – which makes integration easy – but some of those companies require you either to use it with their POS system or to pay an additional monthly fee or additional percentage of each sale if you use a different processor. No matter which processor you choose, you should be able to accept EMV chip cards and NFC payments, such as Android Pay and Apple Pay.
Features and Factors to Consider When Choosing a POS System
A lot of factors can contribute to your overall satisfaction with your purchase and how much you end up paying for it. Here are some points to consider.
Does the POS system give you maximum flexibility?
As you compare POS machines and software, look for POS providers that offer month-to-month software subscriptions, a choice of payment processors and compatibility with third-party POS hardware that you can purchase upfront. This way, you're not locked into a system or a lease for several years; instead, you can switch out whatever parts of the system you want, when you want – whether you are missing features, feel services aren't meeting your expectations or find a better deal elsewhere.
Does the POS provider offer reliable customer support?
You should be able to contact your POS provider around the clock so you can receive help when you need it, even if your business keeps irregular hours or you're working late.
Is it cheaper to choose a POS SaaS vs. licenses?
As in other software industries, many POS vendors have cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) subscription plans. These tend to be the most affordable options. This type of plan usually includes customer support and regular updates, so you'll always have the most up-to-date version of the software. If you choose to purchase a software license instead, you pay a large upfront fee for the license, a monthly fee for maintenance and customer support, and an annual update fee.
What is the term length of the POS software plan?
Month-to-month software subscriptions are the best option, especially when you first begin using a system. If you decide that the system isn't a good fit for your business, you can cancel your subscription relatively easily. Some companies charge more for monthly plans or offer a discount if you pay in advance annually. Before you take the discount, though, use the software long enough to feel comfortable with it and confident that you'll continue using it for at least a year so you won't be locked into a system you don't like.
Should I buy or lease my POS hardware?
Plan to buy your equipment, even if that means starting with a very basic setup that you add to as you can afford it. This will save you money and frustration. Some vendors offer "free" POS hardware if you sign a contract, or give you the option of leasing or renting POS equipment rather than buying so you pay less upfront. As attractive as these options are, it's going to cost you more over the life of the contract or lease – often many times more – than if you buy the POS equipment upfront.
If you decide to lease or accept free equipment, the terms are usually three to five years and noncancelable – so even if you sell or close your business and return the equipment, you must continue paying on it until the contract or lease expires. Then, if the contract or lease has an automatic renewal clause (and most do), you have a very short timeframe to cancel – usually 30 days, and in writing – before the contract or lease renews for another year (or three, or five).
Are there setup and installation costs?
Some vendors charge a fee to help you get your POS system up and running. This ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the scope of the work and whether it's remote or onsite. If you choose a tablet POS system, this is usually an optional service. Installation services may include configuring hardware, migrating data, or setting up your product catalog or menu. Many companies also offer training services, which may be included with an installation package or available as a separate service.
Are integrations free, or do they cost extra?
If you plan to integrate your POS system with other software and services – such as accounting software, CMS platforms, customer loyalty programs and appointment management apps – you'll want to find out ahead of time if the integration costs extra, and whether it's a one-time or recurring fee.
To help you find the right POS systems, we researched and analyzed more than 100 options. Here is a roundup of our 2020 best picks for POS systems and an explanation of how we chose them.
Locating the Best Services
To find the best POS systems for small businesses, we asked small business owners which systems they use and what they like and dislike about them. We then compiled a comprehensive list of POS systems from several sources. We listed the POS systems we were familiar with from our previous research, those mentioned by the small business owners, and systems from companies that reached out to us and asked us to consider them. We also looked on reputable customer research, review and business websites to find additional POS systems to consider.
Choosing the Best Services
We then conducted additional research on the remaining vendors and narrowed our list further, based on use cases for the best-pick categories above. Our process included trying out demos, watching video tutorials, and reviewing how-to guides, installation manuals, articles and other available resources. Additionally, we contacted vendors and asked several questions as small business owners in the market for a new POS system.
Researching Each Service
List in hand, we began our research. We browsed each vendor's website to learn about each system and read customer reviews to see what users with firsthand experience think about their POS systems. We began narrowing our list based on qualities that industry experts and small business owners value.
Full List of POS Systems
Acme Point of Sale
Big Hairy Dog Information Systems
Computer Information Services
Hospitality Control Systems
Intuit QuickBooks POS
Meridian Star POS
mPower Beverage Software
National Retail Solutions
PayPal Here - POS Systems
PHP Point of Sale
The General Store
Editor's note: Looking for information on POS systems? Use the questionnaire below and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need: