Best POS Systems for 2020
Updated: September 10, 2020
Update: We've updated our FAQs with information on how POS systems make money and the difference between a POS system and a payment processor.
With so many point-of-sale systems on the market, choosing the right one for your small business is a daunting task. Not only do you have to look for all the features you need, but you also must keep a close eye on costs for POS software, POS hardware and payment processing, not to mention contractual terms that might lock you into a system for years. To help you narrow your choices, we examined more than 100 POS systems to find the affordable, cloud-based POS solutions we think are the best. Check out our recommendations below, then see our guide to find tips for accepting credit cards.
Our Best Picks
Best POS System for Retail
Best POS System for Restaurants
Best All-in-One POS System for Small Business
Editor's note: Looking for the right POS system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.
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).
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.
August 2020: TouchBistro recently acquired TableUp, a loyalty and marketing company that caters to the restaurant industry. TableUp's guest retention platform allows restaurant owners to create customer profiles that highlight their behavior and spending patterns, which can then be used to launch customized campaigns to reward loyal customers. With the acquisition, TouchBistro is gearing up to roll out a new version of TouchBistro Loyalty that will be integrated with the TouchBistro platform. The first features of the new product will be rolled out in North America in the coming weeks. Once the integration of the two companies is complete, TouchBistro merchants who subscribe to its loyalty program will be able to launch personalized campaigns via email and in-app promotions, and run multiple reward programs at once.
February 2020: Epos Now has announced its acquisition of 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
March 2020: In an effort to support its merchants through the coronavirus pandemic, Lightspeed is offering three months of certain services for free. For its restaurant customers, it offers Lightspeed Delivery, which allows them to integrate with delivery channels like DoorDash and Uber Eats. For its retail customers, it offers Lightspeed eCommerce to help them take their stores online. For its omnichannel customers, it offers Lightspeed Loyalty to help them reward loyal patrons and reach out to them with marketing campaigns. Founder and CEO Dax Dasilva said, "I'm inspired by the spirit and innovation from some of our customers leveraging omni and creative home delivery options to make the best of an incredibly difficult time. Helping others do the same is at the heart of these incentives that we are putting in place."
Support: 24/7 phone, email and chat support
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.
Frequently Asked Questions About POS Systems
Q: 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.
Q: What is point-of-sale software?
A: Most POS systems are 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 features that are included.
Q: 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.
Q: 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 achieving 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.
Q: 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 ordering. 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.
A POS system also plays an important role in reducing theft, as it records every transaction, and you can choose whether or not a manager must approve returns and voids. Shift reports and blind cash reconciliation discourage employees from stealing from the cash drawer. Mobile POS systems allow employees to mingle with your customers on the store floor, deterring shoplifting.
Q: How do POS systems make money?
A: The companies that provide POS systems make money in different ways. Many charge their merchants for the POS software and hardware and tack on more fees for additional services. These may include a loyalty program, support for gift cards or integrations with other software. If your business requires multiple POS systems, you could be charged for each additional one.
POS companies that act as a payment processor also make money from credit card transaction fees. Even among those that don't process payments, some will tack on small per-transaction fees.
Q: What is the difference between a POS system and a payment processor?
A: A POS system includes both the software that runs the point-of-sale program and the hardware, or the physical machines that the POS software runs on. It's where the action happens when a customer wants to make a purchase in a physical location. A POS system is much more than just a means to accept payments; it's a hub that helps businesses keep tabs on sales, customer relationships and inventory.
Payment processors are the companies that handle your customers' credit card transactions at the point of sale. The payment processor sends information from a customer's credit card or debit card to your bank and their bank to facilitate payment. If the funds are available, the transaction will go through. Payment processors also undertake fraud checks to ensure the payment and person making it are legitimate. It sounds like a lot of work, but payment processors run these checks in just a few seconds.
Features and Factors to Consider When Choosing a POS System
As you evaluate POS systems, you need to look at the costs, terms and features for each part of the system: software, hardware and payment processing. Here are some things to keep in mind as you decide which POS system is the best fit for your business.
POS SaaS vs. Licenses
As in other software industries, many POS vendors have cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) plans that you subscribe to. These tend to be the most affordable options. This type of plan usually includes customer support and regular updates, so you 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.
POS Software Plans
Month-to-month software subscriptions are the best option, especially when you first begin using a system, because 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. But, before you take the discount, use the software long enough to feel comfortable with it and confident that you'll continue using it for at least a year so that you won't be locked in to a system you don't like.
POS Software Features
There's a lot of variance in feature sets between systems, and even between the service plans for each system. You want to look at both the front end of the software, which you use to place orders and accept payments, and the back-office features that you use to manage the system. Here, again, cloud-based POS systems are desirable because they allow you to access the software on any device with a browser, so you can perform back-office tasks wherever you are. Some of the features sets you want to look for are inventory, customer and employee management.
Avoid Leasing Equipment
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 that 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 3-5 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 usually in writing – before the contract or lease renews for another year (or three, or five).
Unlocked vs. Proprietary Hardware
Choosing a system that uses unlocked POS hardware can save you money because, if you decide to switch systems, you may be able to continue using the unlocked equipment. If you choose a system with proprietary hardware, you'll have to buy new equipment when you switch systems.
Setup and Installation Costs
Some vendors charge a fee to help you get your POS system up and running, and 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.
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.
Payment Processing Costs
The best POS systems give you a choice of credit card processing companies to work with, and you'll pay whichever processor you decide to use various fees, such as a percentage of each sale plus a per-transaction fee. In most cases, you'll also pay a monthly fee, an annual PCI compliance fee and possibly a monthly gateway fee.
Several POS companies have in-house payment processing services and either require you to use it with their POS system or pay an additional monthly fee or an additional percentage of each sale if you choose to use a different processor. No matter which processor you choose to use, you should be able to accept EMV chip cards and NFC payments such as Android Pay and Apple Pay.
To help you find the right POS systems, we researched and analyzed dozens of options. Here is a roundup of our 2018 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 methodology 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 valued by industry experts and small business owners.
Full List of POS Systems
Acme Point of Sale
Big Hairy Dog Information Systems
Computer Information Services
Hospitality Control Systems
Meridian Star POS
mPower Beverage Software
National Retail Solutions
PHP Point of Sale
Intuit QuickBooks POS
The General Store
PayPal Here - POS Systems
Square - Restaurant POS Systems
Editor's note: Looking for the right POS system for your business? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you about your needs.