There are more POS options available now than ever, and they are more affordable than they have ever been. In the past, a point-of-sale system could cost you thousands. Now you can obtain a POS system even if you have limited startup funds. These days, cost is more linked to credit card processing rather than the hardware or software, especially with regard to small businesses. Since there are so many options, discerning the difference can be challenging. To help, we ve put together a brief list of the types of options available, with general pricing information. We also included applicable business types and a short list of suggested POS providers. Using this information, you can decide which option might fit your budget and point-of-sale requirements.

These point-of-sale options are listed from lowest to highest in terms of upfront costs.

Mobile Payment Processing

Mobile payment processors provide you with a card reader that attaches to your mobile phone. Usually the card reader is free and you pay per swipe. Pricing may vary based on the volume of your transactions. Average swipe fees range from about 1.75% to 2.75%. Some may charge a monthly subscription rate for a lower swipe rate. Most do not require a long-term contract. Some include limited inventory and customer management tools. Receipt printers are available, or you can email your customer the receipt from the app. Most of these card readers will also work with the iPad or Android tablets (with 4G). Popular mobile payment processors include Square, PayPal, Intuit\'s GoPayment and Amazon Local Register.

Applicable businesses: These are great for farmer s market or art fair vendors, freelance contract workers, tableside payment processing (if integrated with a restaurant POS system), or onsite event ticket sales.

Tablet POS (iPad and Android)

Tablet point-of-sale apps are becoming increasingly popular. Upfront costs are minimal if you already own the hardware. These can process sales via a Wi-Fi connection or using 4G. Some charge a low monthly subscription rate (ranging from $40 to $90 per month) and they allow you to choose your own credit card processor. Others allow you to use the app in exchange for paying per swipe. Most do not require a long-term contract. Many of these apps include inventory tools, customer management, reporting options and other basic POS features. Some tablet POS options include ShopKeep, Vend, Revel Systems and GoPago.

Applicable businesses: This solution is often used by quick-serve restaurants, boutiques, coffee shops, small-medium retailors, food trucks, professional services, salons, pet groomers and full-service restaurants (integrated with a full restaurant POS for tableside ordering and payment processing).

Online Point-of-Sale

Cloud-based POS is similar to tablet point-of-sale; in fact, most of them will work with any internet connection, including via an iPad. An advantage to web-based POS is that you can use your own hardware and log in from any web browser, and your data is backed up in the cloud. Upfront costs are minimal, and most charge similar to tablet versions: You either pay a low monthly subscription fee (per user or terminal) you choose your own compatible payment processor, or you pay per swipe using their credit card processor. Many offer compatible hardware if you need POS peripherals. A few online POS services include LightSpeed (for Mac), Erply, Pose and Zing Checkout.

Applicable businesses: Many are scalable, and therefore useful for everything from a small retail shop or caf  to a multi-lane, multi-location operation. If you need a complex solution or plan on growing quickly, you will benefit from consulting with a point-of-sale professional.

All-in-One POS System for Payment Processing Agreement

These POS systems are most often touchscreen terminals with associated POS software, barcode scanners, receipt printers and a cash drawer. Often you can acquire a system like this just for the cost of shipping and a monthly service fee (usually about $50-$80 per month per terminal). However, you also have to agree to a long-term credit card processing agreement, typically three to five years. Some come with migration services, installation assistance, backup services and training. Some options include AccuPOS, Gotmerchant, Harbortouch and TouchSuite.

Applicable businesses: Often these are scalable. One terminal would fit in a boutique or at a quick-service counter, as would a few in a large retail store or full-service restaurant. Since these POS services provide more extensive customer support, we recommend that you speak with a consultant to tailor your solution.

Upfront Purchase Cost from a Full-Service POS Company (Hardware and Software)

This option costs the most up front, but it allows you to choose exactly what you want. In most cases you can choose your own hardware, software and payment processing service to create a custom solution. This option would also allow you to continue to work with your current credit card processor. Initial costs for one terminal can start as low as $1,500 and go as high as $5,000, depending on your needs. Most offer a service agreement or extended warranties if you need them. Many full-service POS companies offer a wide variety of peripherals as well, such as age verifiers, kitchen printers, omnidirectional grocery scanners/scales and handheld inventory devices. Some full-service POS companies include SunrisePOS, POS Guys, POS Nation and International POS.

Applicable businesses: This category suits any business that has startup funds and a desire to customize a solution. Some of these services are also helpful if you just need to add peripherals to your existing system. Most provide point-of-sale consulting should you require assistance. We especially recommend a full-service solution to companies that need to manage numerous terminals and situations, such as a large warehouse with multiple vendors to manage.

Any business, whether it has a dollar in startup capital or thousands, can now easily acquire a point-of-sale system that suits its needs. Since for small businesses price is mostly tied to credit card processing, we recommend that you pick out a few solutions that will work for you and then compare swipe and transaction fees. Some services will even match rates, so it is worth trying to negotiate; a few percentage points could save you thousands in the long run.

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