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Best POS Systems for 2021

By
Skye Schooley
,
Business News Daily Staff
| Updated
Sep 07, 2021

Here are the best POS systems for small businesses in 2021, including point-of-sale solutions for retail stores, restaurants and mobile businesses.
Best POS Hardware
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Pricing starts at $9.95/month
Best for cafes & e-commerce
Clover-branded hardware
Best Restaurant System
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Pricing starts at $69/month
Best for restaurants
200+ restaurant-focused features
Best Retail System
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Pricing starts at $69/month
Best for retail & restaurants
Robust industry-specific features
Best for Online Restaurant Ordering
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Pricing starts at $69/month
Best for restaurants
Contactless ordering
Best for Small Businesses
Square POS
Pricing starts at $60/month
Best for restaurants & retail
Free plan available
Here are the best POS systems for small businesses in 2021, including point-of-sale solutions for retail stores, restaurants and mobile businesses.
Updated 09/07/21

We updated our review of Clover to add details about its latest POS system.

The Best POS Providers

Your small business needs more than a cash register to ring up sales and accept payments. You need a point-of-sale (POS) system that records sales data, manages inventory, generates reports and stores customer contact data. Whether you're in the market for your first POS system or looking to upgrade to a new one, it's challenging to decide which one will be the right fit for your business. As we evaluated more than 100 POS systems to find the best options for small businesses, we looked for affordable, cloud-based solutions that are easy to set up and use. Read on to find out why we chose our top picks and learn more about purchasing a POS system.

Point of Sale System Review Summary:

POS Systems Reviewed 11
Minimum Starting Price $39 per month
Maximum Starting Price $69 per month
Free Trial Available 30 day

Find the Right POS System for Your Business

Fill out this questionnaire to find vendors that meet your needs.

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 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.

Support of advanced ordering and checkout technology is another important attribute of modern POS systems. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, demand for contactless payments is surging. Customers want a way to safely and securely pay for food and merchandise through contactless payments, and many POS systems have been enhanced to support this need. Self-serve ordering is also a growing trend due to the pandemic. Many POS systems have built-in software to turn tablets and smartphones into portable ordering stations. This allows customers to order food and beverages while maintaining a safe distance from employees.

Compare Our Best Picks

POS system Best use case Industries served Free trial Starting price per plan Third-party integrations Third-party payment processor compatibility Customer service
Epos Now Ease of use Hospitality and retail 30 days $39 per month More than 100 apps Yes Phone, email and live chat
Lightspeed Retail Retail, restaurants and golf 14 days $69 per month More than 200 apps Yes Phone and email
TouchBistro Restaurant Restaurants None $69 per month More than 20 apps Yes Phone and email
Toast Online ordering Restaurants None $69 per month More than 65 apps None Phone, email and live chat
Upserve POS mobile app for restaurants Restaurants None $59 per month (plus $60 per terminal) More than 45 apps None Phone, email and live chat
Square Small businesses Restaurants, retail and appointment booking 30 days $60 per month per location (free plan available) More than 200 apps None Phone, email, social media and live chat
Lavu Integrations Restaurants None $69 per month More than 15 in-house integrations and more than 30 third-party integrations (60 more third-party integrations coming soon) Yes Phone, email and live chat
Clover POS hardware Restaurants, retail, service businesses and e-commerce 30 days $69 per month More than 100 apps None Phone and email
Revel Systems Customer loyalty programs Restaurants and retail None $99 per month per terminal (minimum 2 terminals required) More than 50 apps Yes Phone and online support ticket
Heartland Customer support Home services, liquor, restaurants, retail, service professionals and quick service 7 days Custom quote (must contact company) Yes Yes Phone, email, live chat and online support ticket
CardConnect Merchant services Growing businesses None Custom quote (must contact company) Yes None Phone and email

Reviews

Clover Point of Sale System: Best POS Hardware

Pricing for Clover software starts at $9.95 per month.
Clover works with third parties to sell its hardware, which drives the price down.
You must use First Data as your merchant acquirer (the financial institution that settles card transactions for your merchant account).
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Clover offers affordable POS software and exceptional POS hardware. Clover's software pricing plans fit business owners' varying budgets. Plans start at $9.95 a month, with a 30-day free trial to test it out. Clover's POS supports online ordering and contactless payments. Clover allows you to use your own third-party hardware (if compatible), or you can purchase Clover's hardware, sold through third-party affiliates, so you can find the lowest price for your POS hardware.

Editor's score: 9.2/10

For a simple, yet inclusive POS system, the company offers a Clover Station package for $1,399, or $466 per month for three months; it includes a POS terminal, cash drawer and receipt printer. For a more robust hardware package, the Clover Station Pro costs $1,649, or $549 per month for three months, and includes a POS terminal, cash drawer, high-speed receipt printer, and customer-facing screen. 

For those who want a more compact POS system, the Clover Mini is priced at $749, or $250 per month for three months, and those that need a handheld POS solution can purchase Clover Flex for $499, or $166 per month for three months.

If you have an iOS or Android device that you want to convert into a payment solution, the Clover GO card reader is only $69. Table-service establishments looking for a full-service restaurant POS option can look to Clover's restaurant POS hardware with preloaded Clover Dining features. The cost is $69.95 per month, plus payment processing that costs 2.3% and an additional 10 cents for in-person transactions and 3.5% and 10 cents for manual transactions.

Clover offers several hardware peripherals, too, to complete your restaurant POS system. You can add barcode scanners, cash drawers, POS stands, printer paper, label printers, kitchen printers, weight scales, PIN shields, to name a few. Clover also states upfront which accessories are compatible with which hardware type (e.g., Station, Mini, Flex, GO), which helps you easily find the right hardware that's compatible with your system.

Rounding out your Clover POS system, the company's software provides users with several POS functions like inventory management (auto inventory syncing, ordering and delivery, stock levels), customer management (customer profiles, marketing preferences, build customer email lists), employee management, and integrations (BigCommerce, Ecwid, Quickbooks, Gusto).

September 2021: Earlier this month, Clover rolled out Clover Station Solo, its latest POS system targeted at restaurant owners. The POS combines the ability to manage the restaurant floor, accept and process payments, and handle takeout and online orders, all from one dashboard.

Read Clover Point of Sale System Review

TouchBistro: Best POS System for Restaurants

TouchBistro offers a suite of restaurant-focused software.
It supports third-party POS hardware.
TouchBistro is not a retail POS system.
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TouchBistro is a Toronto-based POS system provider catering to restaurants across the globe. We chose TouchBistro as the best POS system for restaurants because of its suite of tools, robust inventory management features and affordable pricing that starts at $69 a month. This iPad-based POS provider supports tableside and self-serve ordering, has its own internal payment processing service, and integrates with several third-party applications.

Editor's score: 9.4/10

TouchBistro is a mobile-friendly POS solution that runs on the iPad, iPad Mini, and iPad Pro and supports third-party POS hardware (e.g., barcode scanner, cash drawer, receipt printer, payment processing device), enabling business owners to keep the cost of add-ons down. Keep in mind, though, that just because TouchBistro works with third-party hardware, doesn't mean it's compatible with everything on the market – check TouchBistro's website or contact a representative to verify that your third-party hardware is compatible.

Pricing for TouchBistro starts at $69 per month. It is also customizable, giving restaurant owners the ability to add on features like an online reservation system (starting at $229 per month), online ordering capabilities (starting at $50 per month), gift card functions (starting at $25 per month), and loyalty programs ($99 per month). Although TouchBistro has its own in-house payment processor (TouchBistro Payments), it is compatible with third-party payment processors (e.g., Worldpay, TSYS, Square, Moneris, Chase).

Since TouchBistro is a restaurant-specific POS solution, its features are designed to help restaurants operate more smoothly. For example, you can create custom restaurant floor plans that accurately reflect your establishment with drag-and-drop table management tools. As customers come and go, you can track inventory stock levels and table turnover, create customer accounts, and manage balances. In addition to standard stationary ordering, you can take orders tableside and online. Instead of relying on a whiteboard in the kitchen to relay information to cooks and servers about out-of-stock items, you can edit food items in the software to relay which items you're out of. Businesses can also manage their staff by assigning staff roles, tracking attendance and performance, and maintaining employee profiles. There are more than 50 different reports you can run, and customer support is available 24/7.

Read TouchBistro Review

Lightspeed: Best POS System for Retail Businesses

Lightspeed offers many retail-specific features, including inventory management and customer relationship management.
There is a wide array of pricing plans and subscriptions to choose from.
The number of payment processors Lightspeed supports is limited.
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Lightspeed is a leading POS provider hailing from Montreal. It provides POS solutions for businesses in the retail, golf and restaurant industries. Business News Daily chose Lightspeed as the best retail POS system because it has an impressive set of features geared toward retailers, the ability to choose from several pricing plans, and advanced loyalty and inventory management tools. Recently, Lightspeed acquired ShopKeep, which allows retailers to sell their goods online.

Editor's score: 9.4/10

Retail customers can choose from five tiered POS system plans, ranging in price from $69 per month to $229 per month. Lightspeed plans come with one free terminal, something that other POS companies do not provide. Additional registers cost $29 per month each, which is less expensive than the cost of competitors' registers. Lightspeed customers also get a choice in terms of payment processors (with Vantiv and Cayan that are available), integrations, and the payment methods you can accept. The software is available risk-free via a 14-day free trial.

Since Lightspeed offers tiered POS plans, its POS features range from basic to advanced. You can see online and in-store inventory with Lightspeed's e-commerce tools, and you can manage your products with inventory management functions. You can upload thousands of SKUs at once, view preloaded catalogs, create and set product bundles and variations, and set low-stock alerts for items in your inventory. Managing your employees is a breeze with Lightspeed's timeclock functions, performance reporting capabilities and customized permissions. You can also use Lightspeed's customer relationship management (CRM) features and customer loyalty tools to manage your clientele. Access features like customer profiles and rewards programs help make your customers feel appreciated.

Tracking inventory, customer trends, product sales and employee performance are easy to do with Lightspeed's reporting capabilities. The software comes with more than 60 different built-in reports. You can also create customized home dashboards to have the critical information you need for your store right at your fingertips. If you have questions about Lightspeed software or hardware or encounter a problem, you can contact a representative by phone, email, or webchat. Lightspeed also offers online resources, including a blog, community forums and webinars.

April 2021: Lightspeed recently inked a deal to acquire Vend, a cloud-based retail management software company. The acquisition will allow Lightspeed to offer its POS customers access to expanded tools to help them manage their retail operations. These tools include the ability to manage and purchase inventory, create employee schedules, and track sales and finances. Both companies stated in a press release that they are well positioned to help small businesses succeed as they emerge from the pandemic.

Read Lightspeed Review

Toast: Best POS System for Online Restaurant Ordering

Toast supports contactless ordering and payments.
It offers all-in-one POS plans and digital-ordering plans.
Not all third-party hardware is compatible with Toast.
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Toast is an all-in-one POS and restaurant management platform. Its POS system has everything a restaurant owner needs, including front-of-house, back-of-house, and guest-facing technology. Toast helps busy restaurant owners manage their sales; you can process debit and credit card transactions, including contactless payments. The system also assists with marketing, labor management, online ordering and more. Toast's partner network enables customer access to third-party apps. Toast serves establishments of all sizes, including fine and casual dining, fast casual, bars and nightclubs, cafes, bakeries, and multilocation restaurants.

Editor's score: 9.3/10

One thing we especially like with Toast is the variety of online ordering plans that are available. Rather than only having one customer order-taking and delivery option, Toast users can choose from multiple plans depending on which features they need. If you want an all-in-one POS solution that supports online ordering and delivery, there are three plans to choose from: Starter ($69 per month, plus ordering and delivery add-on), Essentials ($99 per month), and Growth ($189 per month).

You also have the option to add a contactless payment solution for dine-in guests to place their order and pay using their phone. For digital ordering only, there are three plans to choose from, starting at $50 per month. Additional plans include Toast Now Plus ($75 per month) and Toast Now Premium ($150 per month). Having multiple order-taking and delivery options to choose from gives restaurant owners more flexibility in finding a solution that suits them.

Toast users can create customized POS solutions, mixing and matching a variety of hardware, like terminals, handheld devices and kitchen screen displays, starting at $799. Toast is compatible with some third-party hardware, although it charges a flat rate for in-house payment processing.

Toast is a hybrid POS solution – it is cloud-based software, but there is an offline mode. Plans can come with features to help you manage restaurant-specific functions like your inventory, tables, orders and menus. It also allows you to collect customer feedback and create several different types of reports and analytics about your restaurant. The software can also help restaurants fulfill order and delivery needs like contactless delivery and curbside pickup. Toast has an on-demand delivery driver fleet (a network of local delivery drivers for hire) and a takeout app as well.

If you want a POS system with customer-focused features, Toast may offer the POS solution you have in mind: It offers gift card capabilities, customer balance lookup, customer rewards and the ability to create automated marketing campaigns. Some plans come with employee management functions, like payroll and team management. Toast customer support is available by phone, email and webchat.

June 2021: Toast recently added new contactless payment solutions to its restaurant management platform to support business owners as they emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the additions is its Toast Order & Pay feature. It enables restaurants to pre-authorize tabs and supports group ordering. Customers can order and pay in restaurants via their smartphones, limiting the contact between staff and patrons.

Read Toast Review

Square POS: Best POS System for Small Businesses

Square's retail POS plans include an online store, which enables you to conveniently sell your products online.
Square has a 30-day free trial and a completely free plan.
It isn't compatible with third-party payment processors.

Square is a one-stop POS software and hardware shop for small business owners to accept customer card payments and manage their business. Square offers POS plans for businesses in the restaurant and retail industries. For professional service providers, you can add other conveniences such as appointment-booking features.

Square has a few different software options to cater to different types and sizes of businesses. It is the only provider we reviewed that offers a free POS plan – its only requirement is that you process payments through their in-house payment processing platform. Instead of charging a flat fee, the fees you pay are based on sales. For in-person transactions and invoice payments, you'll pay Square 2.6% of the transaction amount and 10 cents. For online payments, you will pay 2.9%, plus 30 cents per transaction.

There are two paid plans. The first one, Plus, costs $60 per month per location, plus $40 per month per added POS device. The Premium plan has custom pricing based on your needs. You can further customize your Square processing system with several add-on capabilities. For example, you can add team management, payroll, customer loyalty, marketing and one-on-one implementation to your Square plan. (Pricing for these add-ons can be found on its website.)

If you provide professional services, you can use Square to have your customers schedule their appointments, and the system sends them reminders. One calendar is free, but you will pay an in-person processing fee between 2.5% to 2.6%, plus 10 cents per transaction. Also, starting with two staff calendars, a monthly fee applies. There is a 30-day free trial you can take advantage of to test the software.

Square software is compatible with iPads, and it offers a variety of proprietary hardware. For example, you can purchase a Square register for $799 or $39 per month for 24 months, a terminal for $299 or $27 per month for 12 months, a POS stand for contactless and chip payments for $169 or $16 per month for 12 months, and a reader for contactless and chip payments for $49. Square also has a mobile application that is compatible with iOS and Android devices, so you can access your POS information on the go.

Square offers a variety of POS features for small businesses, which are tiered based on the plan you choose. It has helpful inventory management features that allow you to open and reopen purchase orders and tickets, offer in-store and curbside pickup, and integrate sales data from your POS. For retail businesses, there are several helpful features, including multilocation stock view, bar code label printing, and item exchange capabilities.

If you are operating a restaurant, you can also benefit from Square's features like table and course management, kitchen display systems, online menus, automatic gratuity features, and item modifiers. Square users can also manage employees with timecards and access permissions. Square reporting features are tiered based on the POS plan you purchase, but every business has access to Square customer support.

August 2021: Square recently acquired AfterPay, the buy now pay later startup, in a $29 billion deal. Square plans to integrate AfterPay into its POS, enabling even the smallest merchants to accept this popular payment method at checkout.

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Epos Now: Best POS System for Ease of Use

Epos Now offers flexibility and customization at an affordable price.
It has more than 100 apps and third-party integrations.
There is no online community forum.

Epos Now is a POS provider headquartered in the U.K., but it serves customers across the globe. It counts Walt Disney Pictures, Universal Studios, and Yankee Candle among its customers. We chose Epos Now as the best POS system for ease of use because it offers a bevy of features, customization and one-on-one onboarding. Epos Now is great for a variety of retail and hospitality businesses, and it offers multiple POS hardware options to meet each business's unique needs.

Editor's score: 9.5/10

For example, Epos Now supports both Apple and Android devices, it has touchscreen POS systems, and then there is the Epos Pocket (a handheld POS option), receipt printers, and cash drawers you can purchase to create a complete POS system for your business. It also offers third-party products, giving customers a lot of options. Epos Now has more than 100 third-party integrations, which give its users more flexibility and capabilities with their POS system.

Epos Now is easy to use, and it claims business owner can train their employees on how to use it within 15 minutes. This is especially great for businesses that frequently hire new employees. If you have questions about Epos Now, you can contact customer support by phone, email or webchat. The company also provides one-on-one training.

If you want to purchase Epos Now hardware, you can choose from multiple hardware packages. There is a traditional POS package for $999 or $72 per month (currently on sale for less), which includes a touchscreen terminal, a cash drawer, a printer, and Epos software. If you use a tablet or iPad in your establishment, it offers packages for $599 that include an iPad or tablet stand, a cash drawer, a printer, and the first month of Epos Now software. Those who want a mobile POS option can purchase the Epos Pocket Plan One, which comes with a handheld ePos device, customer support and ePos' device protection care plan, ProtectNow. Plan One costs zero dollars upfront and $44 per month. Plan Two includes a handheld device and customer support (device protection is not included). It costs $189 upfront and $24 per month. Epos Now offers a 30-day free trial.

Regardless of which hardware you select, the Epos Now software provides access to a variety of features such as inventory management, customer management, and employee management functions and real-time reports. If you have a customer loyalty program, you can include that with your ePos Now system.

Read Epos Now Review

Upserve: Best POS Mobile App for Restaurants

Upserve has on-the-go restaurant reports on metrics like sales, labor costs, discounts, comps, and 86'd items.
Several add-ons are available (e.g., online ordering, gift cards, customer reporting), which you can add to your plan for extra fees.
It isn't compatible with third-party payment processors.

Upserve, by Lightspeed, is a restaurant POS system that caters to a variety of food and beverage establishments, like coffee shops, cafes, delis, bakeries, breweries, wineries, bars and nightclubs, pizza shops, quick service establishments, and fine dining restaurants.

Editor's score: 9.3/10

There are three different subscription-based POS software plans: Core for $59, Pro for $199, and Pro Plus for $359. Refer to our review for the features Upserve includes in these plans. You're required to purchase at least one Upserve POS terminal with your plan, which can range from $40 to $60 per terminal. Additionally, you're required to use Upserve's payment processing solution, which charges a flat rate.

The Upserve POS software offers several inventory management features that help ensure your restaurant is always adequately stocked. For example, the system has automated inventory management, vendor management, one-click purchasing and low-inventory alerts. You can also use features like menu optimization and recipe costing to improve sales and profits.

Upserve knows that every business is different, so they offer customization options, like commission-free online ordering, gift card features and customer reporting. To help business owners manage their restaurants on the go, Upserve offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices. You can access important information about your restaurant, such as your labor costs, sales, guest behavior, discounts and out-of-stock items.

You can also manage your staff with Upserve. You can create schedules, which are shared with all of your workers.

Upserve has customer-centric features that help regular patrons feel valued. You can create a loyalty program for customers ‒ and track customer rewards ‒ and offer and accept gift cards.

If you have any questions about Upserve or are experiencing an issue, the company has 24/7 U.S.-based customer support. Upserve claims to answer 84% of customer calls within 30 seconds or less. And if your Wi-Fi goes down, Upserve's offline mode keeps your business running until your Wi-Fi connection is restored. Upserve is accredited with the Better Business Bureau and received an A+ rating with the agency.

Read Upserve Review

Lavu: Best POS System for Integrations

Lavu has more than 300 POS features.
Lavu supports several in-house integrations and third-party integrations.
It is not compatible with Android devices.

Lavu is an iPad-based point-of-sale system for restaurants of every kind and size. It can support, for example, coffee shops, pizza joints, food trucks, wineries, breweries, bars, restaurants, and ice cream shops. Lavu's POS terminal plans start at $69; multilocation businesses will need to contact Lavu to receive a custom price quote.

Editor's score: 9.2/10

Lavu's mobile hardware is iPad-centric, and it offers an online shop from which restaurants can select a plethora of POS hardware and accessories, including terminals, kitchen display systems, cash drawers, card readers, printers, and networking devices.

One great thing about Lavu is its integration capabilities. It supports third-party credit card gateway and processing partners, including BridgePay, Heartland, PayPal, Square, and Moneris, or you can process customer payments through LavuPay, its in-house payment solution. This gives users even more flexibility to find the right POS choice.

Although Lavu has more than 300 POS features, it gives businesses further flexibility with its integration capabilities. Lavu has several in-house integrations that you can easily add to your POS plan. This makes it easy to customize a POS solution to suit your business. Since these integrations are in-house, they are virtually seamless. However, if you want to integrate your POS solution with third-party applications, Lavu may support those as well. It currently integrates nearly 30 other third-party apps, and nearly 60 other third-party integrations are coming soon. Lavu offers free software updates and 24/7 customer support by phone, email, and webchat.

Lavu software includes hundreds of features to help you run your business. Inventory management features like menu/inventory linking and inventory tracking allow you to maintain adequate stock levels of products and ingredients. Since Lavu is a mobile solution, you can also use it for tableside ordering. Businesses can manage employees and customers through other features like employee scheduling capabilities and customer loyalty features. To keep you updated on the performance of your restaurant, you can access real-time reporting and analytics on data like sales, inventory stock, labor expenses, customer orders, and bills generated.

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Revel Systems: Best POS System for Customer Loyalty Programs

Revel offers loyalty programs you can customize to draw customers to your business.
The Revel POS system is compatible with some third-party payment processors and hardware.
You will need to purchase at least two terminals.

Revel Systems is a cloud-based iPad POS system for retailers, restaurants, and quick-service businesses. The cost of Revel software varies among different plans, but it starts at $99 per month per terminal billed annually. Revel Advantage charges a flat processing fee per transaction, and it accepts all card types. Businesses can use some third-party payment processors, including First Data, Heartland, TSYS, Worldpay, Chase Paymentech and Elavon, but your pricing will vary.

Editor's score: 8.4/10

Although Revel has many great POS functions, its customer loyalty program capabilities are outstanding. With Revel, you can design unique settings for how customers earn loyalty points and rewards. You can track all customer data from one device and gain valuable customer insights. Revel offers an in-house loyalty rewards program that can be easily integrated into your POS system. If you use a third-party loyalty program (e.g., Punchh, Como, LoyaltyPlant, Spendgo, Pepper, LevelUp, and Repeat Returns), you can easily integrate those into Revel as well. Having options to use an in-house or third-party loyalty program allows small businesses great flexibility to create a loyalty program that best matches their customers' needs. 

Revel software plans require users to purchase at least two terminals; the company offers a variety of hardware (e.g., iPads, iPad stands, cash drawers, kiosks, payment devices, printers, barcode scanners, and networking devices) to create a customized POS setup. Revel hardware packages come preconfigured and are ready to use, although it is also possible to connect Revel with some third-party hardware. Businesses can add on supplemental services and products to further customize their POS solution (e.g., implementation onboarding, account management, delivery management, online ordering and multilocation management). Implementation onboarding costs start at $674, or you can access Revel's in-house support team for additional support.

Revel POS software has several additional features to help you run your business. For example, you can access inventory management and administrative features, like tracking products across all locations and managing labor operations from a single device.

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Heartland: Best POS System for Customer Support

Heartland offers customer support via phone, a ticketing system and webchat.
Heartland is compatible with third-party payment processors and hardware.
It doesn't list pricing on its website.

Heartland Payment Systems is a full-service payment platform that offers a variety of business solutions like payroll, payment processing, billing, customer engagement, capital lending, and POS systems. Their POS system offering provides specific solutions for bars, restaurants, retailers, home services, service professionals and quick-service establishments. Heartland POS is a hybrid software, meaning it is cloud-based, but it can also work offline. This adds an extra layer of convenience for businesses.

Editor's score: 8.3/10

Heartland is great for those businesses that want flexibility in their POS system. Its hardware is Apple-based, but it also supports third-party hardware. It offers a secure payment processing system that accepts and stores all payment types, but you can use a third-party credit card processor if you prefer. These added capabilities are not found with every POS provider, but they are extremely useful for those wanting a customized solution.

If you need assistance setting up your Heartland software with third-party hardware or payment processor, Heartland customer support will assist you. Heartland support can also aid you in navigating the software. Representatives are available by phone, a ticketing system and webchat, so you can reach out to them the best way that works for you. Heartland responds to customers almost instantly, and it provides several phone numbers based on your needs. Having exceptional customer support can make a big difference when setting up or implementing a piece of technology integral to the success of your business.

Heartland's POS software gives you access to inventory features like real-time inventory stock levels, online ordering, sales and margin reports, and automated inventory alerts. It can support multiple business locations as well. You can use the guest engagement application for customer management capabilities like customer rewards, coupons, discounts, gift and loyalty features, and skip-the-line ordering. You can manage clients by tracking their important information and track employee hours with the system's timeclock functions.

Heartland doesn't list its software pricing online, but its representatives are easy to work with, so you can find a solution that matches your needs and budget. It also offers a seven-day free trial for users to test it out risk free.

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CardConnect: Best POS System for Merchant Services

CardConnect offers merchant services like CardPointe, Clover and Bolt.
It offers a highly secure solution, with PCI-validated security defenses.
CardConnect does not list its pricing online.

CardConnect is not necessarily a point-of-sale system, but instead, it offers a collection of merchant services for businesses of any size. CardConnect is a leading credit card payment processor for independent software vendor partner merchant accounts, agents, independent sales organizations and value-added resellers. Its collection of business solutions includes CardPointe (for businesses), Clover (for small shops), Gateway and Plugins (for e-commerce), Bolt (for software), CoPilot (for partners), and contactless payments (for software). One great feature about CardConnect is its security. It offers simple yet secure solutions and PCI-validated security defenses.

Editor's score: 8.2/10

CardConnect is a payment provider that offers implementation and integration of systems from third-party independent software vendors (ISVs). CardConnect itself does not have its own software; rather, it specializes in implementing third-party POS systems for small businesses, helping companies make the most of their solutions. In this way, CardConnect is part of a partner community that includes a network of POS software vendors – CardConnect helps software vendors market and sell their products, and they help entrepreneurs implement and use those systems.

Small businesses looking for POS software through CardConnect can weigh two different POS solutions: CardPointe and Clover. The two platforms are similar, but one will suit you better based on your POS needs. CardPointe is a web-based POS system with features like transaction management. Users can access countertop and virtual terminals, giving them the flexibility to process payments the way they want to. CardPointe has free mobile apps, hosted payment pages and integrations (like Bolt). You can also add on functionalities like shopping carts.

Clover, the second option, is an affordable POS system; its software costs $9.95 per month. The software supports various POS features like inventory management, employee management, customer management, reporting and analytics, and application integrations. If you need to purchase specific hardware, Clover offers various proprietary hardware options that easily integrate with the software.

If you want to accept payments online, you may want to consider CardPointe Gateway, and if security is a top priority, consider Bolt. Regardless of which CardConnect solution you want, the company focuses on providing secure payment processing. If you have questions about one of CardConnect's products, you can contact a 24/7 support team and online resources.

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POS Systems Costs

When evaluating and comparing POS systems, price, especially for budget-conscious small business owners, is a big factor, if not the deciding factor as to which vendor you chose. Make sure, though, to compare all of the elements – POS hardware, POS software and payment processing – when shopping for a POS system.

POS Software Costs

There's a lot of variation in pricing for cloud-based POS software. Some POS providers – Square and PayPal – offer free software as long as you use their credit card processing services, and others charge hundreds of dollars per month. 

Most POS providers give you several service tiers to choose from, with basic, standard and premium tiers that vary in features or the number of users they support. For quality, full-featured POS software that gives you a choice of payment processor and doesn't require a long-term contract, monthly costs for the starting tiers range from $40 to $100 for one register. 

Because each POS company offers different features with each tier, it can be tricky to compare systems, since you first need to decide which tier you need for each system. There may be times when a basic tier for one system includes the features you need, but you may need the premium tier of another system to get that specific feature. 

POS Hardware Costs

With POS hardware, you want to find out if, first, the system works with third-party hardware or if it's proprietary. The advantage of working with POS providers that support third-party hardware is that if you later switch POS software providers, you may still continue using your hardware – saving yourself thousands of dollars purchasing a new system. 

The second thing you want to find out is if the system is scalable. You may want to start out with a few basic pieces and add peripherals or additional registers as your business grows. For example, if your business is new or very small, you may only need a tablet (or even your phone) with the POS app installed on it and a card reader, allowing you to accept payments and then email receipts to your customers. 

You could also start with the peripherals you need to create a basic checkout station with a tablet, stand, receipt printer, cash drawer and card reader. If you already own a tablet, this setup typically costs between $600 and $1,000. 

Later, as your business and budget grows, you can add equipment like barcode scanners, scales, display screens, kitchen printers and even additional registers. Some POS systems can support multiple locations. 

Setup and Installation Costs

Some vendors charge a fee to help you get your POS system up and running. This ranges from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars and is influenced by factors such as the scope of the work involved and whether it's done remotely or on-site. 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. [Read related article: How to Set Up a POS System]

Integration Costs

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

Credit card processing costs can be significant; we at Business News Daily recommend that you choose a POS system that gives you a choice of credit card processors. This allows you to compare rates, fees, and terms so you can then choose the third-party processor that offers you the best deal.

If your POS vendor requires that you use a certain credit card processor, even if your rates increase or you have problems with that processor, you're stuck with it. 

Several POS companies have in-house payment processing services – which makes integration easy – but some of those companies require that you use it with their POS system or pay an additional monthly fee or additional percentage of each sale if you use a different processor. Regardless of which processor you choose, for the fees you will be paying the processor, you should be able to accept EMV chip cards and NFC payments, such as Android Pay and Apple Pay.

How to Decide on a POS System for Your Business

Before you choose a POS system, you need to determine what type of system you need, what features you require and how much you can afford. Ask yourself the following questions to help you narrow down your options. 

Do you want a cloud-based or server-based system?

Cloud-hosted POS systems that run on tablets are popular: They're mobile, easy to use and generally are less expensive than other options. With cloud-hosted systems, you can access your reports and other back-office features from any device with a web browser – you can keep tabs on your business and accomplish management tasks from anywhere. These systems also host your data in the cloud, so you don't need to set up, maintain and secure a local server. If you don't have reliable internet access, though, you may want a server-based system. 

Server-based POS systems, also called on-site or on-premises POS systems, are installed on a server and host your data locally instead of in the cloud. As mentioned above, the advantage of a server-based system is that you don't need the internet to run it. However, security and backups are your responsibility, so you may have additional IT and maintenance costs. 

Did you KnowDid you know? Because of their mobility, affordability, and usability, cloud-based POS systems are becoming the norm for small businesses.

Do you need retail or restaurant POS software?

Most POS providers offer one version of its software for retailers and another for restaurants. Some have a version for service-based businesses, but they often offer integrations or add-ons to tailor the retail version of the POS solution to make it suitable for service-oriented businesses. Other POS providers specialize in one vertical, only offering retail POS software or restaurant POS software. 

Do you prefer Apple or Android devices?

Some mobile POS systems work on both Android and iOS devices, and some even allow you to use both. Others are platform-specific, so they only work with iOS devices – iPads, iPhones, iPods and Mac computers – or with Android tablets and PCs. 

The advantages of using iPad-based systems are that they are known for being user-friendly, stable and secure. However, only one company, Apple, makes iOS devices, so the main drawback is they're usually more expensive than Android devices that are available from several different brands. 

The considerations involved with using Android devices are that in terms of benefits, Android systems are generally less expensive, and developers enjoy the greater customization that the Android platform allows. However, the drawback is there are only a few Android POS systems, so your options are more limited. 

Did you KnowDid you know? Whichever POS platform you choose (Android or iOS), you will likely have platform-agnostic mobile access to POS details like data and reports.

Which POS System Features Are the Most Important for Your Business?

POS systems make it easier to run your business. They automate and streamline many business processes. Depending on your business, whether you run a restaurant or a retail shop, those processes will vary. Here, though, are some features you should look for from your POS vendor.

Inventory Management

Very basic POS systems may only support a product catalog, while others can track inventory on a component or ingredient level. Some systems include purchase ordering and vendor management features to simplify reordering. Consider whether standard inventory tools will be sufficient or if you need advanced features to keep your business well stocked. 

Customer Management

POS systems have varying customer management features. Some allow you to capture basic information, like email addresses that you can use for your email marketing campaigns, while others have CRM features that let you create customer profiles that include contact information, purchase histories, preferences, birthdays and notes.

Loyalty Programs

Ensuring a loyal customer base requires merchants and restaurant owners to reward their best customers. A POS system enables that with built-in loyalty software. The top POS systems can track information about your customers' shopping and dining preferences, and help you create loyalty and rewards programs around that data. Rewards can be customized based on how frequently the customer shops at your store, the products they purchase or the services they use.

Employee Management

Most POS systems allow you to add your employees to the system and manage their access to various features and information. Some have role-based access controls, while others allow you to customize the controls for each employee. Some have timeclocks built in so your employees can use the POS system to clock in and out. Some track employee sales or manage tips.

Reporting

All POS systems have reporting capabilities, but some are basic, with just a handful of preconfigured reports and limited customization, while others are advanced, with dozens of reporting options and filters to help you analyze data for your sales, inventory, customers and staff. The best systems have real-time reports that you can access from any device with a browser or with a mobile app. Before purchasing a POS system, make sure it includes the specific reports that you need to run your business efficiently. 

Add-ons and Integrations

POS systems have a robust set of features, but it may not be enough for your small business. That's where add-ons and third-party integrations can be helpful. You may, for example, want to use a specific email marketing platform, offer a certain loyalty program or utilize the POS to work with your accounting software. The best POS systems have a ton of integration and add-on choices, ensuring you aren't limited as your business grows.

Customer Support

You should be able to contact your POS provider around the clock so you can receive help when you need it, even if your business keeps irregular hours or you're working late or on a weekend. Look for a POS provider that is quickly reachable via your preferred mode of communication (e.g., phone, email, text, webchat).

Additional Factors to Consider When Choosing a POS System

While factors such as price and features like inventory management or reports and analytics figure prominently in your decision, there are some additional, beneficial factors you don't want to overlook. Consider these factors as you evaluate various POS systems. 

POS SaaS vs. Licenses

Many POS vendors, similar to other software solutions, have cloud-based SaaS (software as a service) subscription plans. These tend to be the most affordable options. This type of plan usually includes customer support and regular updates, so you'll always have the most up-to-date version of the software. If you 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 subscriptions are your better option, especially when you are first using a POS system. If the system isn't a good fit for your business, you can cancel your subscription relatively easily. Some companies charge more for monthly plans. Some may offer a discount if you pay in advance annually. Before you take the discount, though, use the software long enough such that you feel comfortable with it and confident that you'll continue using it for at least a year so you aren't locked into a system you don't like.

Buying vs. Leasing POS Hardware

Buy your equipment, even if that means starting with a very basic setup. (You can add to it later as you're able to afford different items.) This will save you money and frustration. Some vendors offer "free" POS hardware if you sign a contract, or some give you the option of leasing POS equipment rather than buying it so 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 three to five years and are noncancelable – even if you sell or close your business and return the equipment, you might be obligated to continue paying on it until the contract or lease expires (or you might have to pay a hefty early termination fee, which can cost hundreds of dollars). And, if the contract or lease has an automatic renewal clause (and most do), you have a very short time frame to cancel – usually 30 days, and in writing.

TipTip: As a general rule, it is better to buy POS hardware than to lease it or accept free equipment. You are likely to spend less money in the long run with an upfront purchase.

Frequently Asked Questions About POS Systems

What is a point-of-sale system?

A point-of-sale (POS) system records the products or services a customer intends to purchase, adds up the items' cost, calculates tax, accepts various forms of payment and generates a receipt. A POS system differs from a cash register in that it has advanced features that make it easier for merchants to manage sales data, inventory, customers and employees. POS systems have three parts to them: software, hardware and a credit card processor. 

What types of businesses use POS systems?

Virtually every business needs some way to accept and process customer payments, and POS systems help businesses do that (and so much more). However, the most common industries that use POS systems are customer-facing businesses like retail and restaurant establishments.

When does your business need a POS system?

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 you and your customer, reducing the time it takes to ring up a sale and decreasing human errors, such as miscalculations.

A POS system helps with inventory management, tracking the items you have in stock, and some can even assist with generating purchase orders. 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 which items are your best and worst sellers, so you can reorder popular items and offer promotions on underperforming items. It can also help you identify your busy and slow hours, days, and seasons so you can optimize how you staff your business.

What are the different types of POS systems to consider?

There are three types of POS systems. The right system for you depends on the type of business you're operating. Here are your three options:

  • Cloud-based POS systems: These systems are popular among merchants and restaurant owners. Cloud POS systems are easy to use, you can operate it with a tablet or mobile device, and POS companies offer different price points. Everything is stored online, which means you don't have to install the software on a server or hire an expert to maintain the service and secure it from hackers. Cloud-based POS systems tend to cost less than the other types of POS systems. However, a cloud-based POS needs the internet to operate. If you have spotty Wi-Fi, this system may not be for you.

  • Server-based POS systems: With server-based systems, also known as on-premises POS systems, the software is installed on a server that's located on-site. You are responsible for installing, maintaining and securing the system and backing up the data. All of this can get pricey. However, if you want total control over the POS system, then this is the system best suited for you.

  • Hybrid POS systems: A hybrid POS system gives you a combination of the above two types of POS systems. A hybrid POS system uses a local server, but the data is backed up to the cloud. That means that if the internet drops, there is no interruption in your business. You can continue to sell items. Once the internet connection is re-established, your data is backed up to the cloud.

What is the difference between a POS and an mPOS?

A mobile POS, or mPOS, uses a tablet or smartphone (using a card reader you can attach to the phone) as the terminal, enabling business owners to accept payments on the go. With a traditional POS system, the hardware stays put, but with a mPOS, you can take it with you. mPOS and POS systems use the same software and perform the same capabilities.

What is point-of-sale software?

POS software is the "brains" of your POS system. Most POS systems have software you install on tablets using mobile apps, as well as cloud-based software you access using a device with a web browser. POS software is 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 included features.

What payment methods can a POS system accept?

The payment methods you can accept using a POS system (aside from cash), depends on the credit card processing service you use. Whether you use the POS provider's in-house processing service or work with a third-party provider will determine which payment methods you can accept. Nearly all processors enable you to accept cards from all major brands: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover.

As for how you can accept card payments, that depends on your card reader or credit card terminal – which may be integrated with your POS system or used alongside it. Most card readers allow you to swipe magstripe cards and are EMV compliant, so you can accept chip cards as well. Many also have NFC (near-field communication) capabilities that allow you to accept contactless payments from contactless credit cards, smartphones and wearables.

What is point-of-sale hardware?

POS hardware encompasses a range of equipment. The hardware that you purchase for your business will vary based on the type of business you run and what capabilities you want your POS system to perform.

The most common POS hardware includes the following:

  • Tablet, touchscreen or computer monitor
  • Cash drawer
  • Credit card reader
  • Receipt printer

Retail and restaurants may need additional peripherals such as:

  • A barcode scanner
  • A customer-facing screen
  • A kitchen printer
  • A kitchen display system (KDS)
  • A kiosk
  • A handheld POS device
  • A scale
  • Thermal printer paper

How many register terminals does each location require?

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.

Which POS systems are the easiest to use?

POS systems on iPads or Android tablets tend to be the easiest to use, because they're designed to be intuitive, and most users are familiar and comfortable with this technology. Before you buy a POS system, sign up for a free demo to learn how to use the major features. Write a list of the features you need so you can ask the sales rep to demonstrate how to use them.

Not all POS providers offer a free trial, so you should look for a company that does. It's a big purchase, and you want to ensure that the system you choose has all the features you need and is easy to use.

What is the difference between a POS system and a payment processor?

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 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 goes 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 seconds.

What credit card processors work with POS systems?

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.

If I buy a POS system, does that make me PCI compliant?

There are multiple factors involved with 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 you may need to submit to system scans.

Which POS systems are the least expensive to integrate?

Cloud-based systems are usually the least expensive to integrate because they're plug and play – all you have to do is connect to the internet and download an app. You don't have to purchase, set up and maintain a server.

Is there a free POS system?

Yes, free POS systems are available, but there are strings attached. If you work with a credit card processing company like Square or PayPal, basic POS software is included as part of your processing service – the catch is that you must use this company as your processor, though this may not be a big deal if you were planning to use the company anyway.

Then, there are POS providers that offer free hardware, but in addition to locking you in to using their processing services, they require you to sign a three- to five-year contract. These contracts are usually noncancelable and automatically renew with a 30-day window at the end of your term.

The company may also charge you fees for your "free" equipment, like a monthly "insurance fee" or "equipment maintenance fee." When you close your account, you may find that the equipment was "free to use," and you're required to return it.

How do POS systems make money?

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.

How important is reporting or analytics for a small business?

POS systems come with extensive reporting and analytics tools. That is extremely important because it can help you optimize your business, identify sales trends, and gauge how well a particular product is selling, and if you have enough inventory.

You can also use a POS system to manage and analyze your staffing and customer management. These systems can be set up to run reports on your best-performing salespeople and your most loyal customers. Reports and analytics can inform staffing, sales, and promotions, all of which are important to grow your enterprise.

What security concerns should you think about in a POS system?

Before you buy a POS system, you want to ask the company what security protocols it has in place. Ask these questions:

  • How do you store my data?
  • How often do you back up your servers?
  • How physically secure are your servers?
  • Are your card readers EMV-compliant?

Finally, check whether the POS system lets you assign unique passcodes to each user and allows you to restrict employee access. This can help your POS system play an important role in reducing theft at your business, as it records every transaction – including who was logged in to the system – and you can choose whether or not a manager must approve returns and voids. Also, look for shift reports and blind cash reconciliation, as they discourage employees from stealing from the cash drawer.

What to Expect in 2021

Point-of-sale systems have come a long way. Today, cloud-based POS systems automate many processes of running a store or a restaurant. We predict further advances in POS technology in 2021, with POS vendors focusing on e-commerce, self-serve ordering and contactless payments. For good reason: The coronavirus pandemic has altered behavior and shopping habits forever. Consumers across the globe are comfortable shopping online, and merchants have no choice but to accommodate these changes. At the same time, curbside (and tableside) ordering and delivery are now commonplace and will remain so for years to come. POS vendors recognize that and are responding by baking more e-commerce and unattended shopping features into their systems.

Lightspeed's recent acquisition of New York-based ShopKeep highlights that. Montreal-based Lightspeed announced it purchased ShopKeep to meet demand from independent businesses wanting a POS system that supports e-commerce. Epos Now has also forayed into e-commerce. It recently signed a deal with BigCommerce, the e-commerce platform provider to help its brick-and-mortar customers sell online. "Consumer habits are shifting on an unprecedented scale. Our customers must move to capitalize on the growing demand for online retail," said Epos Now's Chief Growth Officer, Barbara Staruk in a press release announcing the deal.

Unattended POS in the spotlight for 2021

Mobile POS and self-service kiosks were popular prior to the pandemic, but now, they are in great demand by businesses. Restaurants, airports, retailers and many other consumer-facing businesses are turning their tablets into mobile checkout stations. We predict that mobile POS systems with self-service features will continue to surge in popularity as the pandemic continues. These systems provide business owners and consumers with many conveniences.

Loyalty will also be a theme among POS providers in 2021. With many businesses struggling, restaurant owners and merchants are turning to rewards programs to incentivize existing and new customers. POS systems are building new features and services around loyalty, whether it's a rewards program or customer outreach.

Business owners face a lot of challenges heading into 2021, but their POS provider shouldn't add to those. By taking the time to do your homework and comparing POS systems, you can choose the right one for your business.

Our Methodology

To help you find the best POS system, we researched and analyzed more than 100 options. Here's a roundup of our best picks for POS systems and an explanation of how we chose them.

Locating the Best Services

To identify the best POS systems for small businesses we polled small business owners about the systems they use and their likes and dislikes. We then compiled a comprehensive list of POS systems, relying on several sources. We included the POS systems we are familiar with, those that small business owners mentioned, as well as systems that were proposed by companies that reached out to us.

Choosing the Best Services

We then conducted further research on the POS vendors we were considering. Our process included watching video tutorials, reviewing how-to guides, and poring over companies' websites. We put the vendors through the paces, researching the aspects and features of their systems that matter to small businesses. Following this extensive round of testing, narrowing the list even further.

Researching Each Service

Armed with our smaller list, the final step of our process involved reading customer reviews, comparing pricing and features, and contacting customer support, posing as a small business owner interested in purchasing a POS system. Based on hours of research, dozens of phone calls and talking with small business owners, this is our definitive list of the best POS systems for 2021.

Skye Schooley
Skye Schooley
Business News Daily Staff
Skye Schooley is a staff writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has written more than 200 articles on B2B-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and business technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products that help business owners launch and grow their business, Skye writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
Image Credit: DERO2084n / Getty Images
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