Wondering how you can set up your iPad as a POS system? Here's what you need to know.
- iPad POS systems are a flexible, versatile alternative to traditional electronic cash registers and stationary POS systems.
- iPad POS systems can integrate with a wide range of SaaS products, so you can share data and information among time and attendance, payroll, and e-commerce software.
- Make a list of the POS hardware your business needs. While iPad POS systems can be used with minimal peripherals, you may still need things like credit card readers and receipt printers.
- This article is for small business owners who want to learn about iPad POS systems and how they compare to traditional cash registers and POS systems.
Turning your iPad into a mobile point-of-sale (POS) system is easy. Whether you'd like to use an iPad POS system at your store, restaurant, office, salon, or in the field, there is a simple solution for your business. It all starts with choosing the POS software and hardware that works best for your business.
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How to get started with iPad POS
To turn your iPad into a mobile POS system, you'll need – at the minimum – a credit card reader and a POS app to process payments and manage your sales.
Credit card reader
Most iPad POS systems use Bluetooth to connect to a small card reader. Credit card readers are sometimes free, but these models are usually swipers that only read the magstripe. You should at least plan to upgrade to a newer model that has a chip reader so you're not liable for fraud that occurs at the point of sale.
The best card readers have both EMV and NFC capabilities, which let you stay compliant with chip card regulations and accept contactless cards and mobile wallets like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Samsung Pay. These models usually cost less than $100. For instance, Square, one of our top picks for credit card processing that provides basic POS software for free, offers a contactless and chip reader for $49. [Check out our review of Square's credit card processing services.]
POS mobile app
The majority of POS system vendors provide their own iPad POS apps, which have all the software features you need to operate and manage your POS system. You can typically download the app straight from the Apple App Store. Some vendors offer to set up your equipment and app for you, but setup is usually as easy as opening the app and following a simple step-by-step wizard. Once you've set up the basics, the app can help you set up other features that make it easier to run your business.
iPad POS equipment
You can have a fully functional POS system with just an iPad and a card reader, but some businesses also need other equipment, such as a checkout stand, cash drawers and printers. If your business needs a setup that resembles that of a traditional POS system, you have several peripheral options.
iPad stand: If you want a stationary iPad POS system for the checkout station, you'll need an iPad stand. The best iPad stands swivel 360 degrees, making the tablet easy to turn to face customers who will be signing or entering their debit PINs on your iPad. Some iPad stands are multifunctional, such as those with a built-in credit card reader for convenience.
Cash drawer: If your business will also be accepting cash, you'll need a cash drawer. Most iPad POS system offer equipment bundles that include a cash drawer, but some also let you use any cash drawer you'd like from a third-party vendor.
Receipt printers: A great perk of using an iPad POS system is that you can easily send receipts by email and sometimes by text as well. But if you want to print receipts, you can also connect a printer to your iPad POS system. As with cash registers, most vendors offer printers as part of an equipment bundle. Some vendors allow you to use third-party printers, but you need to check with the vendor for compatibility before you buy one.
- Back-end equipment: This applies mostly to restaurants. An iPad POS system that connects to your kitchen can save you tons of time and frustration. For example, TouchBistro, our pick as the best POS system for restaurants, lets servers take orders at the table using their iPad, and then automatically sends them to the kitchen printer or kitchen display system. [Read our review of TouchBistro's POS system.]
As you consider peripherals for your iPad POS system, you'll also have to figure out what kind of connectivity your business needs versus what the vendor requires. Some iPad POS systems can only operate with an internet connection, while others also have offline capabilities. Additionally, some iPad POS systems are designed to run strictly in an Apple environment and require you to use an Apple-compatible router.
Key takeaway: Getting started with an iPad POS system is simple. After choosing POS software, you download the app to your iPad and connect your card reader. You can augment the system with peripherals like a receipt printer and cash drawer.
Choosing a mobile POS system
Not all iPad POS systems are alike, and choosing the right one for your business is important to your success. [To start finding the best iPad POS system for your business, check out our roundup of the best POS systems.]
Here are the three main factors to think about when choosing an iPad POS system:
1. Service fees
iPad POS system pricing varies widely. Most services charge a monthly subscription fee, and some require you to use their in-house credit card processing service or charge you a per-swipe fee if you use a third-party processor.
There are also vendors that only charge per transaction, such as PayPal Here, our pick as the best credit card processor for businesses with a low monthly sales volume, such as freelancers and solopreneurs. PayPal Here charges a flat fee of 2.7% per swipe with no monthly fees. Other costs to consider include equipment, setup and any hidden fees. [Check out our review of PayPal's credit card processing service and app.]
If you need a robust iPad POS system with comprehensive features at an affordable price, check out Epos Now, our pick for the best POS system overall. [Read our review of Epos Now, the best POS system for small businesses.]
2. Service terms
No business wants to be stuck in a multiyear contract and get hit with hefty early-termination fees if the service doesn't meet their needs. Many vendors don't require any long-term contracts; look for one that provides its POS software on a month-to-month basis so you can switch anytime you want without penalty.
3. Ease of use
The best iPad POS systems don't require any tech skills to set up and use. Many vendors offer a free trial or demo of their products, so check them out first to see if their iPad POS apps are intuitive enough for you and your staff. Keep your customers in mind too, as they will often be using the app to sign for their credit card purchases, enter their PINs and even leave tips.
Key takeaway: When choosing POS software, pay attention to how much it costs, how long the contract is and how easy it is to use.
POS features to look for
POS features vary greatly from app to app. Some are very basic, with just a product catalog and checkout tools, while others are extremely comprehensive, providing everything you need to manage your business straight from the mobile app.
Some advanced iPad POS systems let you manage sales, track inventory, run loyalty programs, launch marketing campaigns, schedule appointments, make reservations, integrate third-party apps such as your accounting software, and even keep an eye on employees. Some vendors are more flexible than others, letting you pick and choose features individually to save you money. Here's a list of features to consider as you're choosing POS software:
- Cloud-based software services
- SaaS product integrations
- Customizable checkout features
- Support for all payment types
- Receipt flexibility (print, email, text)
- Custom tip options
- Discount options
- Order management features
- Online ordering support
- Gift card support
- Inventory tracking with low-inventory alerts
- Customer management features
- Business analytics and reporting features
- Technical support options
- Offline mode
For a complete how-to on choosing a POS system and credit card processor, check out our buyer's guide on credit card processing.
Key takeaway: POS software has a lot of feature variance, so decide what you want your system to do before you choose your POS software.
Benefits of turning an iPad into a cash register
There are countless benefits of using an iPad with a mobile POS system for your small business. The most important benefits involve efficiency and versatility.
POS systems automate inventory management, so you can constantly be aware of your business's inventory as it fluctuates throughout the quarter. This can save small business owners massive amounts of time, as manual inventory management will be unnecessary. It can also give you a clear picture of when you need to reorder inventory for your business.
Mobile POS systems can run a wide range of reports and analytics to help you manage your business. From categorizing inventory sale performance to analyzing your overall sales by the day or hour, by using analytics, you can make better decisions for your inventory and get a clearer understanding of how your business is operating.
Software integrations are arguably the biggest benefit of iPad POS systems. By coordinating your software suite with time management, accounting, and other types of software, you can build a business focused on cloud technology. From analytics reporting to data integrations, there are endless benefits of streamlining your business's operations using SaaS products. Mobile POS systems and iPad cash registers are just the beginning of these services.
Key takeaway: An iPad POS system can include features that make it easier to run your business, like inventory tracking, reports, and integrations with the other business software you use.
Traditional electronic cash register vs. iPad cash register
The main difference between electronic cash registers and iPad POS systems is efficiency. Although electronic cash registers can last for a long time, are affordable, and can serve as the focal point for business transactions in your business, an iPad POS system adds a level of efficiency to your business that can have a major impact on your day-to-day operations.
iPad POS systems have a wide range of features and capabilities, so you can integrate several different aspects of your business into one software suite and device. You can better manage your business's inventory, transfer data to and from your accounting software, and streamline staff scheduling – all in one place.
Most mobile POS system vendors offer flexible pricing plans, so you can start with the basics and then upgrade to advanced plans as your business grows, ensuring that your business's needs are always met.
Key takeaway: iPad POS systems make customer checkout easier and faster than cash registers can, and they often include features that streamline other business operations.
Matt D'Angelo contributed to the writing and research in this article.