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A POS solution or point-of-sale system provides an integrated solution for many of the most important parts of running a modern restaurant, eCommerce, or other retail business.
To understand what a POS system is, it’s useful to think of a technology that’s been around for decades: the cash register. Today’s POS systems offer business owners much more than a simple cash drawer and receipt printer. In fact, many use an iPad or other mobile device as their foundation.
Fundamentally, POS systems are all about ringing up sales and processing transactions — whether through online ordering or in-person credit card processing. But most go way beyond that. You can find systems that do everything from tracking inventory to handling tips and commissions and even keeping track of staff scheduling and loyalty programs. Best of all, the cost of entry is low for many of these systems.
In this guide, we look at all the different hardware, software, and features that make up a cutting-edge point-of-sale system. Read on to find out exactly how to choose the best POS system for your business.
Let’s begin with the basics:
Point-of-sale systems help you efficiently charge your customers for their selected items, and process their payments. The foundation of most point-of-sale systems is a catalog of your products such as food items on a menu or the individual products in a retail store.
Touchscreen point-of-sale systems based around devices like iPads have become particularly popular. Manual entry and barcode scanning are also widely available.
POS systems typically include a means of taking and processing card payments. Some POS providers offer their own payment processing services. Others offer integrations with partner companies.
POS systems can do much more than this. For example, you may be able to feed sales data directly to your accounting system or send food orders straight to a cafe kitchen.
Whether you’re looking for a point-of-sale system for a brick-and-mortar bookstore or the best POS system for restaurant use, it’s well worth considering exactly which features are a “must” for you.
Some point-of-sale systems support businesses of all kinds, spanning catering, retail, and- in some cases- appointment-based establishments like salons. Other systems specialize in a particular area. Broadly the key split is between:
A retail POS system has features designed for shops and stores. These often replicate a traditional cash register setup, complete with a cash drawer for taking money and a receipt printer, plus credit card payment processing equipment. However, there are various other options including fully mobile solutions, that are perfect for fairs and pop-up markets.
A retail POS often includes extras such as features for a customer loyalty program, the ability to produce gift cards, and stock control functions. These allow you to keep track of goods across multiple stores and warehouses.
The best restaurant POS systems provide the extra features needed in restaurant and takeaway environments. Some support a host of extra hardware, including mobile devices for tableside order-taking, kitchen-facing displays, and even inventory systems that go right down to ingredient level.
With many restaurants handling delivery and pick-up orders nowadays, most restaurant point-of-sale systems incorporate a lot of relevant features. For example, some can use caller ID to recognize loyal customers, and mapping to help coordinate delivery routes. TouchBistro, for example, allows you to track your sales, inventory, finances, and taxes, and generate detailed reports.
There are two key ways to deploy a POS system within your business:
Increasingly, the best POS software systems are cloud-based. This means that they store your data online, making it accessible from anywhere, including your phone (mobile POS). Some systems also have an offline mode so you can continue to process sales if there’s ever an issue with your web connection.
There are various benefits to cloud-based systems. For example, you can access the same inventory from multiple stores with no difficulty. You also don’t have to worry about storing and maintaining lots of physical hardware. Lightspeed is a great option if you’re looking for a POS provider that offers cloud-based solutions.
On-premise POS systems store all of your transaction and customer data locally. This usually means on a server or dedicated PC within your shop or restaurant.
Next, we detail some of the most common software features that make up a modern point-of-sale system.
POS software allows you to maintain a catalog of all the items your business sells, often linked to an inventory system so you can track stock. For ease of use, there’s generally the ability to upload product images to make things easy to find on the system. Alternatively, some POS systems also have optional integration with barcode readers.
Inventory management features can provide an at-a-glance view of stock levels. In some cases, you can also link in with ordering systems to automatically trigger orders of new stock.
POS systems with staff management features allow you to do things like keep track of hours worked, and logging tips and commissions earned. Some systems have payroll functionality built-in or link to third-party accounting systems.
The ability to effectively process payments across a range of payment methods streamlines your business and gives customers easy ways to buy your products. Most POS systems support everything from cash payments to contactless, payments and many also support systems like Apple Pay and Google Pay.
Some level of reporting is available from every POS system. Many offer advanced reports to help you recognize trends, identify your most successful products, and gain insights into your most loyal customers.
Successful businesses work hard to attract customers and build repeat business. POS features such as the ability to run points-based loyalty scheme
The hardware you need to run a POS system can vary quite a bit. Some systems can run solely on a smartphone linked to a small card payment machine.
iPads (which run iOS) and Android tablets often form the central hub of a cloud-based POS system. You may have the option of purchasing a dedicated hardware mount or a bespoke all-in-one POS cash register system.
Here are some of the hardware add-ons you most commonly see from the best POS system vendors:
Shops and restaurants need the ability to process credit and debit card payments. Often this goes far beyond simply having a credit card reader at a single “cash desk.” Modern POS system providers usually offer mobile terminals for portability and use at the table-side or in “pop-up” environments.
If you need to read barcodes with your retail POS system you can usually add a barcode scanner. These are often available as part of a POS hardware bundle. Furthermore, plenty of providers offer the ability to connect with scanners you already have in place.
Receipt printers are a simple thing to understand! As with card readers, you sometimes have the option of buying one from the provider or integrating with existing hardware - whatever you need to create the best POS cash register.
Despite the move to electronic payments, plenty of people still like to pay with cash. If needed, you can buy one or more sturdy cash drawers as part of the package from many POS providers. Often they come as part of a standard hardware bundle to form a POS cash register.
Many restaurant POS systems give you the option of incorporating kitchen displays, which enable sending order details directly to chefs, bartenders, and others who fulfill orders in a restaurant.
Customer-facing displays allow customers to verify everything being put through as part of their transaction. You see them in many modern retail stores.
If you’re researching the best POS system for restaurant use, you may want to consider one or more customer-facing displays. These help diners ensure orders are correct and can provide an alternative self-service option if desired.
Choosing the best POS system for your business is a big decision, but it shouldn't feel intimidating. It’s sensible to start with a wish list of features to help you narrow down your options. Do you just need a mobile device to take payments, or do you need the best POS cash register out there?
It’s also a good idea to think not only of what you need now but of what you might need in the future.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options, including several that are low-cost. You can also take advantage of trial offers to give many of these solutions a thorough test drive.
A good POS system can be transformative for your business, – so make sure you choose the right one.