Retail POS Review
How to Choose the Best Retail Point-of-Sale System
The top performers in our review are Revel, the Gold Award winner; Vend, the Silver Award winner; and NCR, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of retail POS systems.
The biggest difference between point-of-sale (POS) systems designed for retail businesses versus other businesses is the ability to manage inventory. If you sell a wide variety of products and need a better way to manage your inventory, you'll benefit in numerous ways by utilizing a capable retail POS system. In most cases, you'll save money, increase your store's efficiency and make better buying decisions.
The simplest POS systems for retail business help you process credit cards and manage basic inventory. Introductory solutions include Square and PayPal. Both are well-known and trusted payment processors that also offer a simple, easy-to-use POS system. Others, such as Rebel, Vend, NCR and Lightspeed, can help you manage complex inventory systems. If you're looking to incorporate eCommerce sales too, Vend, Shopify and ShopKeep are strong contenders.
If you're considering a retail POS solution, a good starting point is our Learning Center, which has many informative articles about POS Systems. We also recommend that you identify your list of needs and compare several POS systems to find the best fit. To help you clarify what your point-of-sale needs are, read our article "Where to Start."
Retail POS System Benefits
Managing inventory is difficult and time consuming, especially without a capable retail POS system. Some businesses start out managing their inventory using Excel, Google Docs or even paper and pen. It doesn't take long before errors occur and inventory is lost, over purchased or unaccounted for.
Or perhaps you sell a product assembled from multiple items, and you need to track each part. Inventory tools can help with that as well. A busy store owner can use retail POS inventory tools to run sales reports and track low-stock items so retailers make better purchasing decisions.
Here are a few benefits you'll notice using retail POS software:
Accurate Inventory Counts
Unlike other methods that are unreliable and have to be manually updated, retail POS systems track items as they are sold and maintain an accurate, up-to-the-minute count of your inventory. If you incorporate other hardware, such as a barcode scanner, you'll experience far less user entry errors.
Better Inventory Reports
Useful inventory reports help you easily spot hot sellers, over purchased product, shrinkage, miscounted items and more. Good inventory reports can even show you what time of the day certain items sell best. If you have a lot of inventory, reports can soon prove invaluable and help you make better retail inventory decisions.
Faster, More Accurate Checkouts
Barcoded inventory with specific, assigned pricing reduces errors during checkout. You or your staff can also easily look up and locate product when needed or even look up pricing if a tag is missing from an item. Faster, accurate checkouts also make customers happier.
Quick Pricing & Sales Changes
The best retail POS systems support quick pricing alterations or even varied pricing. For example, you could easily change the price on an item for a quick sale, or you could offer special pricing to your best customers. Plus, you do not have to rely on your sales staff to remember or look up the price of every item that is on sale.
Customer Sales Tracking
If you choose to track customer information, you can easily manage customer-loyalty programs and targeted marketing programs. For example, you could offer a certain percentage discount after customers purchase a certain dollar amount. Or with targeted marketing, you can send out social media or email sales information to customers who may be the most interested and responsive.
Retail POS Systems: What We Evaluated, What We Found
We compared and ranked the most commonly used retail POS systems on the market. As part of our evaluation, we assessed how simple and fast it was to perform routine tasks with minimal training. Basic actions, such as processing a sale, adding an inventory item, or running a report, rarely require specialized training, making these systems ideal for small business owners. And although we found most features simple to use, we also investigated the type of professional support the POS system provides in the event you have a question or issue that needs attention.
Specialized features may not be as important a consideration as ease of use. Ease of use is an attribute everyone wants: For owners and managers, it accelerates training; for employees, it's easier to learn and retain, and, across the entire business, it lowers everyone's frustration levels and improves accuracy. We tested the speed and efficiency of such common tasks as creating customer files, processing sales, adding and searching for inventory items, and running reports. Since sales reps are likely to only perform basic functions, it's important that retail POS systems are simple and intuitive so that personnel with limited training can figure out routine functions. We've ranked each POS system according to how simple it is to use.
Besides ease of use, retail businesses need a POS system specifically designed with inventory and sales tools in mind. The best retail POS systems can handle several challenges, such as multiple colors and sizes per item, multiple vendors per item, and purchase order generation – something that a general, one-solution-fits all POS system may not be capable of.
The top products also allow you to choose your own processor, plus they support the newest secure payment technologies such as EMV chip card and mobile phone payment processing. To learn more about EMV payment processing, see "How Does EMV Affect Your Business?"
Choosing Retail POS Hardware
Most POS systems provide compatible hardware, or you can ask the company which hardware they recommend. With a simple product such as Square or PayPal, you can start processing sales with just a card reader and a compatible mobile phone or tablet, but for your shop, you'll likely want more, like a bar code reader and a cash drawer. Many POS companies offer hardware packages for reduced rates or volume discounts, so it's worth asking about.
Here are a few common POS hardware devices retail business use:
Payment Terminals & Card Readers
With a connected card processor, these devices help you quickly and efficiently process credit-, debit- and gift-card sales. While you can still purchase simple magnetic card readers, you benefit from upgrading to one that can process the new chip cards and mobile phone payments. Many also support touchscreen receipt signing. You'll want to contact your credit card processing company to see what compatible options are available.
These devices scan barcode labels to identify items quickly. Those readers that need a direct line of sight or that allow the clerk to position the item just right for accurate reading are less expensive, but they may not be suitable for busy stores. Busier stores will benefit from a barcode reader, like the kind you see in grocery and large retail stores, that scan in multiple directions for faster checkouts.
These types of displays are customer facing and often show information such as receipt totals or a running list of items purchased and subtotals. This may not be a necessary item, but it's certainly convenient for the clerk and customer alike, say if you have a customer who wants to remove items during the checkout process. A customer display can help speed checkout times and ensure accurate sales.
A connected cash drawer is one that pops open when a sale is processed but is otherwise locked. A good retail POS system manages the cash drawer as well as drawer balances. The best POS systems track voided sales, returns, cash sales, cash-out occurrences and more so business owners can easily track what amount should be in the cash drawer at all times, especially at shift changes.
If you sell product by weight, you'll benefit from more accurate and faster checkouts with an integrated scale. Connected scales enter the proper weight and decrease user error. Some options include customer weight displays or even remote displays so you and your customer can see the weight of the item.
While many customers accept email or SMS receipts, many still prefer a printed receipt. Portable, USB-connected, iPad-compatible, Bluetooth-connected and serial-connected options are available. Also, you'll want to choose either an impact or thermal printer. Impact, as you might expect, make physically impacted impressions on receipt paper, and they're noisier. Thermal printers use heat to imprint information on thermal receipt paper – they're quiet and faster than impact printers.
Advanced Features You'll Want to Consider
Most retail POS systems can be added to in order to fully support the functions your business requires. Some are apps you can download, others paid add-on features, and others consist of compatible hardware devices.
Here are some of the apps you may want to consider for your retail business:
Employee Schedule Management
Many systems do not support many HR-type functions, but some options are available as add-ons. Employee-scheduling tools help you create staff schedules and track hours worked. To help avoid any schedule confusion, some systems will allow you to send updated schedule information via text message directly to your employees.
Handheld Inventory Devices
These devices connect to your POS system and allow you to perform such tasks as adding or counting inventory on the sales floor or in the warehouse. It can also be used to check pricing and stock levels on items. Some systems utilize a mobile device, like a small tablet, to perform these tasks or have devices specifically built for inventory functions; these devices may cost more though.
Many small business owners strive to maximize their sales potential by also selling product online in addition to their physical store. A number of retail POS systems can integrate with online stores and manage inventory between your online and physical store. Some help you create an online store and others are compatible with existing online options such as Etsy.
Accept Mobile Phone Payments
Paying by mobile phone is becoming increasingly popular. For customers who prefer this payment method, you can easily purchase an EMV chip reader that also has near field communication (NFC) technologies for processing mobile phone payment options such as Apple Pay. Many POS systems also support apps that process PayPal or bitcoin payments.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
We found the top three products, Revel, Vend and NCR, to be quite competitive, plus they provide nearly 100 percent of the features we were looking for. Revel Systems provides numerous customized options for retail businesses, such as specialized configurations for self-serve kiosks, convenience stores and grocers. It provides solutions for mobile businesses as well.
Vend is ideal for retail, and its web-based interface is compatible with Macs, PCs and tablets. We also found Vend to be simple to use; in fact, it was the easiest solution we tested. NCR offers a wide-range of features suitable for retail businesses and provides advanced options, such as customer shopping behavior reports, mobile-marketing features and eCommerce platforms. NCR can accommodate any size business. However, check our ratings guide to see how well each POS compares against the others and then read our in-depth reviews to find the best retail POS system for your business.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison by utilizing a free trial or obtaining access directly from the provider. The POS system providers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.