The days of the humble cash register are long gone, and today the vast majority of businesses utilize sophisticated point-of-sale (POS) systems combing sleek checkout hardware with advanced software. These packages are designed to enable business transactions, but they also excel at turning raw payment data into valuable insights for your business. According to Market Research Future, the global POS software market exceeded $14 billion in 2018, and this figure is predicted to surpass $34 billion by 2025. With so much money on the line, it should come as no surprise that there’s a huge variety of fresh POS systems available for your small business.
What Is a POS System?
At its most basic, a point of sale (POS) system is simply a way to take customer payments for the products and services your business provides. The cash register was the earliest iteration, but POS systems began to evolve more rapidly when credit cards gained popularity in the 1980s. Now, even the most basic options can process payments in a variety of ways, but the best POS systems can do so much more. From storing customer information for future purchases to powerful reporting capabilities that can help forecast future inventory needs and improve the accuracy of revenue projections, POS systems are transforming how owners operate their businesses.
Of course, those groundbreaking features will come at a price, which is why you should strive to find a solution that fits your needs without paying a premium for capabilities you won’t use. That means there isn’t necessarily a single best POS system for all users. The best POS system for restaurant usage might look far different than the best POS system for retail needs, which is why we’ll cover eight of the industry leaders and aim to break down their strengths and weaknesses. At the end of the day, the best POS system for small business is the one that fits your needs and budget while helping you reach your specific business goals.
Let the showdown begin!
The Toast POS system has been around since 2012, and as the edible name implies, it’s aimed squarely at the restaurant industry. Features like table management help your front of house staff keep customers flowing smoothly through the system, you can manage a single food menu across multiple restaurant locations, and it makes online ordering a breeze with a tool called Toast Now.
Toast POS reviews are largely positive, and users praise the efficiency, potential cost-savings over competing options, and effective customer service. That being said, even the best POS system will have its flaws, and some of the most frequent complaints include less reliable hardware, a complex implementation process, and multi-year contracts that lock you into the service and make it difficult to escape. The following pros and cons of the Toast POS system should help you make a more informed decision about whether or not the solution is right for your small business.
- A variety of order-taking options: Toast has several POS terminals, but the Toast POS system also lets your customers check out on their own devices, using self-serve kiosks, or through the Toast TakeOut & Delivery app.
- Deep restaurant experience: The company takes its restaurant roots seriously, advertising that two-thirds of its employees have direct experience working in restaurants.
- Excellent service: Unlike many POS systems that reserve quality service for the highest subscription tiers only, Toast offers 24/7 customer service to all users—including those on its free Starter plan.
- Complicated pricing: Instead of a simple percentage, Toast charges payment processing fees based on both the volume and dollar amount of transactions, and hardware pricing isn’t available for some of its devices. To get an accurate idea of the charges you can expect to incur by using the Toast POS system, you’ll need to talk with a sales rep and hash out the details.
- Lengthier commitments: Toast contracts start at 12 months, and it can be expensive to cancel and switch to a new POS system before that time is up.
Clover launched in 2010, and an acquisition by First Data (now Fiserv) in 2012 helped it grow to become the largest POS provider in the U.S. With $133 billion processed by its POS systems in the 12 months beginning with September 2019, choosing Clover puts you in the company of a huge variety of businesses and industries ranging from computer software and financial services to restaurants and brick-and-mortar retailers.
One of the reasons Clover catapulted to the top of the POS system world is the fact that Clover point of sale software is sold with a merchant account. That means you can buy from Clover directly, but there are also thousands of resellers including banks, software vendors, and small business suppliers marketing the Clover POS system as well. Not surprisingly, the customer experience can vary widely from one user to the next, and you might even see alarming reviews online insisting that Clover is a scam. While certain customers no doubt have had a terrible experience, a company processing more than $100 billion in payments is far from a scam—you just need to be diligent about doing background research when buying from a reseller to ensure you’re purchasing from a reputable company.
When you narrow down the field in this way, Clover POS reviews are much more realistic, albeit less rosy than some of the other options available. To decide if Clover is right for your business, consider the following pros and cons carefully.
- Affordable: If you just want a Clover credit card machine, you can expect to pay 2.6% plus $0.10 per transaction. Clover’s register plan reduces that rate to a 2.3% processing fee and $0.10 per swipe, edging out most other competitors in the POS space. Monthly fees start at $9.95.
- Full featured: Clover includes many features, such as customer loyalty program capabilities, that other POS systems will charge extra for.
- Versatile: Clover offers three different software plans (Payments Plus, Register Lite, and Register), meaning it can fit a wide variety of business needs and budgets.
- Arbitrary customer experience: If you’re buying Clover through an authorized reseller such as Payment Depot, look carefully at the organization’s reviews and reputation.
- Expensive hardware: Many POS systems charge only per transaction and provide all sorts of payment processing hardware for free. That’s not the case with Clover, which will charge anywhere from $500 to $1,200 for its various payment processing stations.
- Additional fees: Add-on fees can quickly raise the price of Clover (food orders are subject to a 1.5% surcharge, for instance). Business owners should look at pricing structures carefully to ensure the Clover point of sale costs aren’t going to take an excessively large bite out of already-thin margins.
Square was founded way back in 2009, making it one of the original “next-gen” POS systems. You’ve probably seen (or used) one of the small Square card readers that plug into a smartphone—an innovation that allowed small business owners of all kinds to start accepting credit card payments using the devices in their pockets.
For more than a decade, Square has maintained its position as one of the leaders in the space, and Square POS systems can be found in your favorite restaurants, retail shops, and even at online stores that use Instagram or other platforms. Reviews for Square are overwhelmingly positive, with customers praising the ease of use and reliability of the Square credit card processing machines.
- Extensive free options: You can get a lot for free with Square, especially if you conduct most of your business online.
- Smart business features: The Square POS system makes it easy to keep track of your inventory, so you’re no longer at risk of running out of your most popular products, and you can also use it to manage employee hours.
- Cutting edge hardware: Square credit card processing machines use the latest technology, meaning they can accept chip cards and contactless (tap) payments as well.
- Lots of apps to juggle: According to some reviewers, you’ll need a separate app for Sales, one for Invoicing, and more for a host of other functions when you use the latest version of Square. If you’re especially adept at navigating from one app to the next, this will no doubt be less of an issue.
- Internet connectivity required: Although the Square POS system can continue taking payments if the internet is momentarily unavailable, any issues you encounter with Square credit card processing machines during that time might result in an incomplete transaction that you don’t notice until after the connection has been restored.
Rather than one POS system, Lightspeed is divided into three: Lightspeed Retail, Lightspeed Restaurant, and Lightspeed Golf. Within these umbrellas, the company supports a wide variety of different kinds of businesses, from brick-and-mortar retail and ecommerce to delivery restaurants and yes, 1,200 golf courses.
For our purposes, we’ll focus on Lightspeed Retail and Lightspeed Restaurant. Reviews for each Lightspeed POS are very positive, and users highlight exceptional service, the ability to customize the software (or have customer support do so) for specific use cases, and an excellent user interface right out of the box.
Lightspeed Retail starts at $69/month for the Lean offering, with Standard and Advanced tiers providing more features for $119/month and $199/month, respectively. Lightspeed Restaurant is priced a little differently, with a $59/month charge for the Lightspeed POS system and additional monthly charges of $12/each for add-on features and $39/each for Premium features. As a result, whether or not Lightspeed Restaurant is the right choice for you will depend largely on the specific features you’re looking for. No matter what industry you’re in, you should consider these pros and cons before purchasing the Lightspeed POS.
- Support for multiple locations: Lightspeed Retail makes it easy for business owners with multiple locations to manage their inventory across several different areas. Because the system is cloud-hosted, changes in one area will be reflected across POS systems in real-time. Lightspeed Restaurant offers the same capabilities, and it can navigate the complexities of both the fast-food industry and table-service establishments.
- Excellent service: Live support is available around the clock, which is essential for businesses with locations in multiple time zones—or if business owners want to solve issues outside of their normal operating hours.
- Intuitive interface: Lightspeed Retail users appreciate the intuitive nature of the system because it allows them to get new employees up to speed quickly and easily.
- Cost per register: Lightspeed Retail will cost you an additional $29/month for each register you use, which can quickly add up for a business with multiple locations and high volumes of customer traffic.
- More expensive without payment processing: If you already have a credit card processing system that you’d like to continue using, you’ll be forced to pay as much as $40 per month more for your Lightspeed POS subscription.
You’ve almost certainly heard of it before, but what is Shopify? Essentially, the Shopify POS was designed to function in harmony with Shopify’s renowned ecommerce platform—one of the largest in the world. For businesses that sell products online, the Shopify POS is a natural extension of a product they might already be using, and it’s designed to work particularly well for retailers that also offer products in-person at brick-and-mortar locations.
In order to use Shopify POS, you’ll need to first get a Shopify ecommerce subscription. Even if you don’t currently sell online and don’t plan to, you’ll need a Shopify ecommerce account to manage different aspects of the Shopify POS platform, which makes it a harder sell for business owners that only operate brick-and-mortar locations. Even so, Shopify pricing is relatively competitive among POS systems, and even the Lite version offers compelling features such as customer profiles, unlimited inventory tracking, a robust customer loyalty program, and marketing tools that help you manage email and social media campaigns.
Shopify POS hardware is reasonably priced, with credit card readers starting at $29 for chip and swipe capabilities and increasing to $49 if you want to accept contactless payments. Not surprisingly, Shopify reviewers laud the cheaper hardware and excellent integration with Shopify ecommerce, although they consistently find the company’s barcode scanner to be inaccurate or finicky. As you decide if the Shopify POS system is right for you, consider some additional pros and cons below.
- Low barrier to entry: Pricing for Shopify’s software starts at just $9/month, making it an affordable option for many small businesses. Expect that rate to rise quickly, however, as you add payment processing devices.
- Easy add-on to an existing solution: Shopify is already the platform of choice for many online retailers, making it an attractive option for those looking to add a dedicated POS system to the mix.
- Less commitment: Unlike alternative POS systems that lock business owners into contracts lasting a year or more, the Shopify POS is built around month-to-month options with discounts available for those willing to enter longer-term commitments.
- Less useful for restaurants: Restaurant owners or small businesses in the food and beverage industry will want to consider a more specialized option designed around their needs.
- Less flexible: You can use the Shopify POS without relying on Shopify for payment processing, but expect to pay an additional 2% to Shopify for each transaction. Instead of accepting this penalty, it’s better to view Shopify as a one-stop shop where you’ll pay a 2.7% processing fee on in-person transactions and 2.9% +$0.30 for each payment received online.
- Locked features: If you opt to use the additional features offered by Shopify POS Pro, know that the app doesn’t currently support Android. You’ll need an iOS device instead.
Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, Revel Systems was founded in 2010 to provide an alternative to the cumbersome, unintuitive POS systems found in many restaurants. Today, the company has become an entire platform, offering not just a POS system but CRM software, employee management tools, and accounting solutions alike.
The Revel Systems POS was designed around Apple’s iPad because company leaders recognized that many restaurant owners and employees would already have experience with the device. While pricing starts at $99 per terminal per month, that figure is reserved for customers that purchase two terminals and commit to a three-year contract using the company’s credit card processing system. The exact fee for that system, called Revel Advantage, isn’t published online, so interested business owners will need to reach out to Revel Systems directly to get a more accurate idea of pricing.
If you are considering Revel Systems for your POS system and payment processing needs, you should first familiarize yourself with the following pros and cons.
Revel Systems Pros:
- Compatibility: The Revel Systems solution revolves around the iPad, but you can also use other hardware from third-party providers. The Revel Systems website lists some specific options that are proven to be compatible, so you can ensure you’re building a highly function ecosystem.
- Customer support: Reviewers consistently praise the Revel Systems support team, mentioning that it’s easy to get an agent on the phone, and these experts provide swift resolution of most issues.
Revel Systems Cons:
- No free trial: Although Revel Systems offers free demos, there’s no free trial option that lets business owners take the software and put it through its paces on their own. If you purchase the solution and end up wanting to go a different direction, you’ll have to foot the bill.
- Relatively high pricing: $99/month for each terminal is quite a bit more than some of the other POS systems we’ve listed, meaning you’ll likely have a specific reason in mind to opt for Revel Systems over a cheaper alternative.
- Additional fees: Despite the higher monthly subscription cost, reviewers regularly run into additional charges for features and services they feel should be included in the upfront price.
Headquartered in Auckland, NZ, Vend POS has been around for more than a decade. While the company was acquired by its competitor Lightspeed in early 2021, Vend remains a distinct line of products and services that small businesses can turn to when they need a highly functional, cloud-based POS system.
Vend POS offers Lite ($99/month) and Pro ($129/month) pricing tiers for small- to medium-sized businesses, while enterprises can contact the company for a customized quote based on more specific and intensive needs. For ecommerce businesses, the Pro tier is the only way to go, and it also makes it easy for business owners with multiple physical locations to manage their different outlets under a single umbrella.
Vend POS reviews are mostly positive, but you’ll want to consider the following pros and cons before making a decision.
- No additional hardware: With just the Vend app, you can turn an iPad you might already have into a register to check out customers quickly and easily. It also works on Android devices or any platform with a web browser.
- Plenty of integrations: While there aren’t as many built-in features for tasks such as managing your workforce, for instance, Vend integrates with a large number of proven third-party solutions like Homebase to help broaden its capabilities and appeal.
- Pricey: Vend’s starting price of $99/month (billed annually) will be a hard sell when other competitors offer free options that still contain a useful suite of features.
- Limited to retail: For business owners in the food and beverage industry, Vend won’t have as many useful features as a restaurant-specific solution such as Toast.
There you have it: seven POS systems that can help your small business reach new heights. Whether you’re a restaurant owner looking to open a new location or an online retailer selling mainly on Instagram, the solutions above can power a painless checkout process for your customers while offering you a wealth of valuable information about how to improve your business and achieve your goals.