NerdWallet’s Best Point-of-Sale (POS) Systems 2021

The best POS system depends a lot on the type of business you have. Here are our top picks for each category.

Claire TsosieMay 6, 2021
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The best point-of-sale systems come with features that help you seamlessly manage sales for the type of business you have. If you have a restaurant, for instance, you’ll want a POS that helps with managing tables, menus and tips. For a clothing boutique, excellent inventory tracking might be a must. For an auto repair shop, booking customer appointments and tracking service history might be key.

For all business types, it's also important to find a system with transparent pricing, intuitive flows and access to live support when you run into questions. Here are our top picks.

Square: Best overall

Square

on Square's site.

Types of businesses supported: Retail, food and beverage, professional services (beauty, health, repair, etc.) and custom-built options.

Software: Free and up.

Hardware: Register is $799; contactless and chip card reader compatible with Apple and Android devices is $49.

Payment processing: Varies by plan. For free retail plan, it's 2.6% + $0.10 per transaction for in-person transactions and 2.6% + $0.30 for online payments.

Pros:

  • First magstripe credit card reader is free; free plan available.

  • Transparent, flat swipe fees.

  • No fees for early termination, PCI compliance, chargebacks or setup.

  • Versions available for retail, restaurants or professional services; offers inventory management, table and menu management, multi-location setup, appointment scheduling and online orders.

  • Live support available by phone, instant message or email.

  • Subscription fees are generally month-to-month and easy to cancel if needed.

Cons:

  • Loyalty program and email marketing features cost extra; appointment-booking for more than one person is an additional fee.

  • Ability to create and print barcodes isn’t available on free version.

Why we like it: Square’s point-of-sale system stands out with its transparent pricing, live support and many useful features. Unlike most POS systems, you can also opt for a plan with no monthly charges. Because it works on iPhones, Androids and iPads, you can make sales on the go — for example, at a farmer’s market, trade show or music festival.

Toast: Best for restaurants

Types of businesses supported: Fine dining, casual dining, fast-casual, bar and nightclub, cafe and bakery and custom-built options.

Software: $0/month and up (includes one terminal and reader). Promotional rates may apply.

Hardware: Full restaurant setups begin at $799 in Starter plan.

Payment processing: Flat-rate, quote-based.

Pros:

  • Promises no additional transaction fees or markups.

  • Restaurant-friendly features for managing tables, inventory and employee performance.

  • Multi-location management and the ability to publish different menus and set different prices at different locations.

  • Live support available by phone, email or instant message.

  • Pay-as-you-go plan with no monthly fee available.

Cons:

  • Some features, like online ordering and the loyalty program, may cost extra based on the package you choose.

  • If you close your account before your contract term ends, you’ll have to pay the remaining subscription and software financing fees.

Why we like it: Toast's restaurant-oriented POS system makes it easy to update menus, track table statuses, split checks, add gratuity automatically, apply various discount rules — say, for happy hour — take online orders, manage multiple locations, track employee performance and accept tableside payments.

Lightspeed: Best for inventory management

Types of businesses supported: Retail (apparel, bike, CBD, electronics, gift store, health, home decor, jewelry, liquor, pet, sporting goods, toy, vape, other); restaurant (bar, cafe, full-service, hotel, quick-service, other), golf (multi-course, municipal, private, public, resorts, semi-private, other).

Software: $69/month (billed annually) and up. 

Hardware: One terminal included in monthly fee. Additional hardware quote-based.

Payment processing: 2.6% + $0.10 for card-present transactions; 2.6% + $0.30 for card-not-present transactions.

Pros:

  • Transparent, flat swipe fees; can also use POS with certain other payment processors if you don’t use the in-house option.

  • Promises no complicated or cryptic fees on your statements. (Chargeback fees are $15.)

  • A comprehensive inventory management system to keep detailed records of your products across multiple locations and set automatic reorder points so you don't run out.

  • The restaurant POS features an adjustable floor plan, easy-to-edit menus, multi-location management and reports showing peak times and employee performance.

  • Live support available by phone, instant message or email.

Cons:

  • No free plans available.

  • Loyalty, e-commerce, accounting integrations and analytics features only included on more expensive plans.

  • If you cancel your subscription, you’ll immediately owe the remaining installment fees in your plan, if any apply. Prepaid annual and monthly fees are nonrefundable.

Why we like it: The Lightspeed POS system’s inventory management capabilities are outstanding at every subscription tier and more comprehensive than competitors. When entering items into your system, you can add plenty of information — such as a description, images, cost, manufacturer’s suggested retail price, or MSRP, your selling price, tax and discount rules, tags, barcodes, SKUs, brands, categories and custom-built fields — which can be used to generate and filter results on reports.

Shopify: Best for e-commerce

Types of businesses supported: E-commerce and in-store retail.

Software: $29/month and up.

Hardware: $99 for a tablet stand (tablet not included); $29 for chip and swipe reader compatible with iPhone, Android and iPad.

Payment processing: Varies by plan; for Basic plan, it's 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction for online credit card purchases and a flat 2.7% for in-person credit card transactions. If you use a different payment processor, an additional fee applies.

Pros:

  • Transparent, flat swipe fees.

  • E-commerce-friendly features, including access to vendors and resources to build an online store from scratch using this platform; drop-shipping, curbside pickup and local delivery options.

  • Ability to automatically email customers who abandon carts and don’t complete purchases.

  • Tracks inventory, hides out-of-stock products and offers inventory analysis.

  • Setup is nearly instant.

  • Plans are month-to-month and easy to cancel if needed; you can also “pause” your store for no subscription fee, or “pause and build” for a reduced monthly fee.

Cons:

  • No free plans available.

  • Live support is only available via chat, not phone.

  • Additional transaction fees apply if you don’t use Shopify’s in-house payment processing.

Why we like it: Shopify’s POS system is well-equipped to handle all the complexities that come with selling items via an online store. In all subscription tiers, you can set up an online shop and add products almost instantly, sell through multiple channels including social media, connect with vendors, automatically email customers who abandon their carts, process payments at reasonable rates and make sales in 133 currencies and multiple languages.

Vend: Best for retail

Types of businesses supported: Fashion boutiques, homeware stores, sports and outdoors stores, food and drink retail, health and beauty retail, bike shops, electronics, shoe stores, fitness and supplements, vape stores, CBD stores, toys and hobbies, liquor stores, jewelry, pet stores, nonprofits.

Software: $99/month (billed annually) and up.

Hardware: Works with industry-standard hardware for Mac and PC; also runs on iPad. A Starter Hardware Kit for iOS through Vend's partner is $600; a Tablet Success Kit is about $94.

Payment processing: Not included; you’ll have to add service separately.

Pros:

  • Inventory management feature allows you to forecast trends and automate reorder points so you don’t run out of stock.

  • Unlimited users.

  • Ability to add customer profiles and create custom loyalty programs.

  • No transaction fees from Vend (though the payment processor you select will charge these fees).

  • Live support available by phone or instant message.

Cons:

  • No free plans available.

  • Loyalty program is only available on more expensive plans.

  • Payment processing isn’t included, so you’ll have to shop for this separately; however, Vend has some payment processing partners that offer exclusive rates to their clients.

  • Prepayments are nonrefundable; if you prepay for a year and don’t use the full term, you can’t get the money back.

Why we like it: Vend's excellent inventory-based retail POS system allows you to easily manage inventory, set sales targets for your team and build useful, customizable reports — say, for identifying bestsellers, top customers or insights to help your team cross-sell more effectively.

Point-of-sale software

$9.95 per month and up.

Lightspeed

$69 per month (billed annually) and up.

PayPal Here

$9 per month and up.

QuickBooks Payments

Free and up.

Shopify

$29 per month and up.

Free and up.

Free and up.

Vend

$99/month (billed annually) and up.

Prices in the table are for software packages; they do not include hardware or payment processing costs.

Frequently asked questions

A good POS system should come with features that help you run your business. These can vary widely by industry. Some examples of things you might want to look for:

Inventory management. Keep track of how many items you have on hand and when you need to reorder.

Table or menu management. View the status of tables in your restaurant, see how long it takes to turn tables, update menus and track when you run out of certain items.

Multi-location management. Track inventory, menus or service in multiple areas, set different prices and tax rules for each location and run reports to see how each location is performing.

Loyalty program. Re-engage your customers with a point- or discount-earning system that gives them a reason to keep coming back; be able to send custom discounts — for example, a discount for a customer’s birthday.

Aside from useful features, you'll also want a system that has:

Transparent pricing. You can expect to pay a monthly fee, along with payment processing fees and hardware fees. Generally, you want to avoid early termination fees or long contracts that are hard to cancel without penalty. If payment processing comes bundled with your POS, make sure you understand the pricing first and can avoid pesky fees such as PCI compliance fees and high chargeback fees.

Intuitive user flows. You want a system that’s easy to use and understand.

Robust customer support. While some answers might be easy to find online, it’s nice to be able to talk to someone who can help you troubleshoot when you need it.

Decide on the features you need. This will depend largely on what type of business you have. It might include items like the ability to manage tables and menus, track inventory or schedule appointments.

Weigh functionality with upfront and ongoing costs. Once you have a handful of options that fit your needs, consider the costs. How much are the monthly service fees? What does the hardware cost? How much are the payment processing fees? Can you sign up without getting locked into a long contract? You might have to call some providers to collect quotes. Try free demos or watch videos of the software in action to get an idea of the user flows. Are they easy to understand? Would it work well with your specific business?

Narrow your options. Which systems have the best customer service? Which ones might work with the hardware you already have? Which are the fastest and easiest to set up? These details might not be your biggest deciding factors, but they might be just important enough to help you make a final decision.

These days, many POS systems are cloud-based software with monthly subscription fees that vary widely. Some basic plans are free or start at $10 per month; other basic plans start at $99 per month. In some cases, setup fees apply. However, to actually make use of that system, you might also need to pay for:

Hardware: Some POS systems offer a basic card reader for free, and you may be able to operate it using a phone, tablet or desktop computer you already have. In other cases, you might need proprietary hardware that can cost hundreds. Some POS systems charge monthly fees to use rented terminals.

Payment processing fees: Usually, a payment processor comes included with a POS system. Every time you accept a debit or credit card transaction, you’ll have to pay a transaction fee, usually around 2.5% to 3% of the transaction, plus 10 to 30 cents. Pricing can vary widely. Some processors use flat fees, so you pay the same rate for all in-person transactions, for instance. Others use interchange-plus fees, which means fees can vary depending on factors such as your industry and the type of card your client is using.

More expensive plans or add-ons: If you want multiple registers or locations, or exceed a certain amount in revenue each month, a basic plan might not cut it. Certain features, such as inventory management features or loyalty program tools, might also be add-ons that cost extra.