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Grow Your Business Finances

How to Set Up a POS System

image for LDprod/Shutterstock
LDprod/Shutterstock
  • POS systems can easily integrate with various other services.
  • Features of POS systems vary by industry, such as restaurants or retail.
  • There are both cloud-based and hybrid POS systems, which have different setup processes.

POS systems do more than facilitate payments between businesses and their consumers. They track inventory, communicate food orders to restaurant kitchens, read coupons, track buyer habits and more. POS systems are crucial for all businesses that sell products, and they can easily be integrated with other systems.

Although setup requirements vary by system, many new POS systems are tablet-based and easier to install than their legacy counterparts. Setup instructions are usually available on vendor websites, so you can determine whether you can set up the system yourself or will need help. Many companies offer video tutorials or step-by-step guides to walk you through the process. Some provide remote assistance, and others can recommend local installation partners who can set up the POS system for you, though these services cost extra.

More advanced POS systems may have complex setup requirements, and the company may charge a setup and installation fee upfront to preconfigure your system before shipping it, so it's plug-and-play once you receive it. Alternatively, the company may offer remote or onsite setup assistance, data migration, and training services, and you pay either a set fee or by the hour for these services.

Whether you choose a simple POS system you can set up yourself or a more advanced one that the company installs for you, give yourself ample time to set up the system before you plan to use it. In addition to the hardware setup, you'll need to spend some time setting up the software, adding inventory or creating a menu, and training your employees to use the system.

 

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The first step, before you even choose a POS system, is to determine whether there are any parts that you already own and want to use and if there are any services you want to be able to use with the system. If so, you need to check for compatibility before choosing a POS system so there aren't any unpleasant surprises and expenses. Here are some items to check before you select a system: 

  • Verify that the POS system integrates with your credit card processor and your card reader or terminal.

  • If you already own tablets that you intend to use with your new POS system, make sure it supports them. Look at the platform (Apple, Android, Windows) and tablet model (for example, the iPad Pro 9.7 or Samsung Galaxy S4).

  • Make sure the operating system (such as iOS 10 or Android 8.0 Oreo) on your tablet is up to date and compatible with the POS app.
  • If you already own other pieces of POS hardware that you want to use with your system, such as a receipt printer or cash drawer, check with the POS software company to make sure it's compatible.

  • If you plan to integrate the POS system with business programs you already own or want to use, such as your accounting software or payroll service, verify that integrations or plugins are available, and find out if there's an extra cost to use them. Many POS systems have app stores or marketplaces with integrations that make it easy to connect third-party software to the system. Some apps are free; others come with a monthly fee, and a few have a setup or installation fee. Here are links to the integrations offered by several popular POS systems: Clover, Lightspeed, Square, TouchBistro and Vend.

  • If you currently use a POS system, export your data to CSV or Excel spreadsheets before your account expires so you can import it into your new system rather than creating it all from scratch.

Depending on the type of company you run, such as a hospitality business or a restaurant, you might have a different type of POS system or different features to set up. 

"The primary use … of a point of sale is to accept payments," said Cristopher Carillo, co-founder of Allied Payments. "The differences in systems lie in the ways the business utilizes the other features of the POS. One of the most common functions is sales management. Knowing what is being sold and when can help businesses continue offering customers what they want." 

Another common use for department stores, bars and liquor stores is inventory management, Carillo added. Merchants can enter the number of items in stock and track the products sold. That way, they'll be aware if stock of products or ingredients drops low. 

Other features to consider, Carillo said, are those that accept or account for coupons (typically used at grocery stores) and track customer purchasing habits for loyalty programs and promotions. 

"For grocery implementations, you will see the addition of a scale that usually also includes … two scanners – one horizontal and one vertical," added Jeff Hall, senior consultant at Wesbey Associates LLC. "Restaurant implementations lose the scanner and usually the keyboard, with the display functioning as the keyboard through a touchscreen. In hospitality, the register also loses the scanner but adds a mouse. For traditional brick-and-mortar retail, you get the register, scanner, cash drawer and payment card terminal." 

Zachary Weiner, owner and CEO of Restaurant Accounting, recommends restaurants use POS systems with counter-to-kitchen order systems for better accuracy. 

"When a custom replaces an order at the counter, it automatically transmits the request to the kitchen for staff to prepare," he explained. "This improved system is more accurate and less prone to human error, which helps improve customer satisfaction and boost employee morale." 

With these various uses and features, it's crucial to protect both the hardware and software involved with POS systems so as not to risk consumer data. 

"Because of the multiuse of the POS device in the retail, restaurant and hospitality industries, we need to be concerned about the security of that device, since it can have internet access as well as access to corporate networks, websites and applications," said Hall. "These POS solutions are at risk of becoming infected with viruses and malware if they are not properly secured and protected."

Hall added that business owners should be careful in how they protect payment card terminals from skimming devices. He recommends inspecting terminals regularly to ensure no skimmers have been installed.

Tablet POS systems are usually cloud-based and require reliable internet access. Others are hybrid systems that use a local server but save your data to the cloud, allowing you to access back-office features like reporting online from any device with a browser. [Interested in POS systems? Check out our best picks.] 

Cloud-based systems are the easiest to set up. Once your tablet is connected to your internet, setting up a simple tablet POS system goes something like this: 

  • Download the app from App Store or Google Play.
  • Open the app, enter your account credentials, or create an account.
  • Plug in the card reader to the headphone jack or lightning port, or connect via Bluetooth.
  • Connect the receipt printer either to the router using a cable or to the tablet via Bluetooth.
  • Connect the printer to the cash drawer.
  • Connect the barcode scanner to the tablet via Bluetooth. 

Some systems may require you to use a specific router. For example, with iPad-specific POS systems, you need to use an AirPort Express or AirPort Extreme router. If the system is a hybrid that uses the cloud for data storage and back-office tasks but runs on a local server, you'll also need to connect a computer to the system.

In addition to hardware, you need to set up the software. After logging in to your account, you can go to the Settings menu and configure the account settings to your liking. These are some things you can do: 

  • Customize receipts with your business name, logo, address and other information, such as your return policy.
  • Set up sales tax rates.
  • Decide whether to require or skip signatures for transactions.
  • Set up tipping options, if appropriate for your business.
  • Add employees and assign roles or manage permissions.
  • Connect to third-party integrations. 

You can then add or import information about the items you sell into your POS systems. If you have a retail store, you'll need to create a product catalog and add your inventory. If you have a restaurant, you'll need to create menus and a floor plan and add your inventory. You may also want to add contact information for your customers and suppliers. 

If you're switching systems and want to migrate your data, or if you have many items to add to the system, look for a downloadable spreadsheet template that you can copy and paste your product data into and upload to your new system. 

Sammi Caramela contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.

Lori Fairbanks

Lori Fairbanks has years of experience writing and editing for both print and online publications. After graduating from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor of Arts in English, she worked as a magazine editor and then as a freelance writer and editor for a variety of companies, including marketing firms and a medical university. She now writes for business.com and Business News Daily about financial systems and services for small businesses, such as accounting software, credit card processing and point-of-sale systems.