NerdWallet’s Best Retail POS Systems of 2021

Inventory management, transparent pricing and useful reporting capabilities are a must for point-of-sale systems.

Maddie ShepherdMay 6, 2021
Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.

The best retail point-of-sale, or POS, systems come with excellent inventory management capabilities, transparent pricing, useful reports and other features that help to run your business smoothly. That might include a way to accept payments on the go, maintain an e-commerce store or manage multiple locations. Here are our top picks.

Square for Retail: Best for ease of use

Square

on Square's site.

If you’re looking for a POS system that provides a lot of features without having too steep of a learning curve, consider Square for Retail, the retail version of the company's popular POS system. It's compatible with iOS and Android devices. The basic version of the software is free; the Plus version is $60 per month. A premium plan with custom pricing is also available, though eligibility is limited.

Once set up, you’ll have access to a range of features, including reporting tools and customer, inventory and employee management options. There's also a variety of paid add-ons, including a loyalty program and payroll platform. All of this is available on an intuitive interface that can be customized to match your preferences.

Payment processing comes included with Square for Retail. In the free plan, the transaction rate is a flat, reasonable 2.6% plus $0.10. The hardware needed to run transactions can also be purchased through Square, including card readers, cash drawers, barcode scanners and receipt printers. The Square Stand costs $169 and has a swipe/dip/contactless payment reader built in. There is also the Square Terminal, a $299 countertop device that accepts swipe/dip/contactless payment and prints receipts.

Intuit QuickBooks GoPayment: Best low-cost choice

If you’re looking for a low-cost retail POS system that will still get the job done, try Intuit QuickBooks GoPayment. GoPayment is a POS app that you can get for free through your smart device. You’ll be able to sync all the transactions you process through the app to your QuickBooks account.

When you sign up for GoPayment, you’ll get a free card reader. This card reader is one of the main reasons why Intuit GoPayment is the best low-cost retail POS system. You’ll be able to process both magstripe and chip card payments with the card reader. Plus, the reader will connect to smart devices through Bluetooth. Even without a credit card reader, you’ll be able to process keyed-in transactions through the GoPayment app for your retail business.

These features put the free GoPayment ahead of the competition. The free card readers that come with most retail POS systems read only magstripe payments and require a headphone jack to connect to smart devices. With the GoPayment reader, though, your free retail credit card processing hardware will be wireless and versatile.

Be sure to note that, even with the free app and the free card reader, this retail POS system will charge you a payment processing fee. But it’s a fairly low cost: 2.4% plus $0.25 per magstripe and chip payment and 3.5% plus $0.25 for keyed-in transactions. Because the percentage portion of the rate is lower than those from similar services, it's easier to come out ahead in savings — especially on larger transactions.

PAYCHECK PROTECTION PROGRAM

Does your small business need Covid-19 relief? Find out more about new PPP loans.

Clover Flex: Best mobile system

If you’re looking for a happy medium between mobility and capability in your retail POS system — and you’re willing to pay for it — then our top pick for you is the Clover Flex. It packs a remarkable group of capabilities into a rectangular handheld retail POS system device. You can use it to process magstripe, chip and contactless payments from virtual wallets like Apple Pay. The system also comes equipped with a printer and a barcode scanner.

One of the most notable upsides to this retail POS option, though, is the fact that it doesn’t rely on a smart device to be fully functional. Unlike many other mobile POS, or mPOS, systems for retail, the Clover Flex is independent of an Apple or Android device. It’s a completely self-sufficient retail POS system. This makes the Clover Flex’s considerable price of $449 that much easier to wrap your head around, especially if your retail store doesn’t already have a dedicated smart device.

Note that you’ll also need to pay payment processing fees. For the Flex, prices for a Register Lite plan (the basic plan, which costs $9.95 per month) are 2.7% plus $0.10 for in-person transactions.

Shopify POS: Best for e-commerce

If growing your e-commerce business is a priority, the Shopify POS is a good fit. Shopify POS makes it easy for merchants who sell both online and in-person to manage all of their operations in a single place. Prices start at $29 per month and go up to $299 per month for use of the Shopify software. Each plan offers a dedicated POS and e-commerce website, with the higher-priced plans featuring lower credit card processing rates and more tools.

As an online-first POS, Shopify does everything you need it to do: host checkout, accept discounts, integrate with third-party applications, save customer information in a database, organize product catalogs and generate reports on your sales performance.

To accept in-person card payments with Shopify, you can purchase a card reader that accepts contactless payments, or purchase an entire retail kit, including a card reader, dock for card reader, dock cable and iPad stand for $229. Payment processing fees vary based on the pricing plan you choose. In the basic plan, in-person fees are 2.7% per transaction and online fees are 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction. Note that you have to use Shopify Payments as your payment processor to lock in these rates; if you use a different processor, additional fees apply.

Lightspeed Retail POS: Best for a growing business

Lightspeed Retail POS is a strong choice if you're looking to handle a high volume of transactions, a large inventory or operations in multiple locations. The versatile software starts at $69 per month.

Lightspeed offers a countertop POS and an mPOS interface, allowing you to complete the checkout from anywhere in the store. It comes with a comprehensive inventory management feature that allows you to keep detailed records and generate useful reports. There are also employee and customer relationship management tools and a nice selection of third-party applications that can extend the functionality of your store. In the more expensive plans, loyalty programs and e-commerce integrations are included.

Lightspeed’s in-house payment processor, Lightspeed Payments, allows you to process swipe, dip and contactless payments for 2.6% plus $0.10 per transaction and keyed-in transactions for 2.6% plus $0.30 per transaction. Merchants processing over $250,000 annually can get cheaper quote-based pricing.

There are two different hardware bundle options: an iPad hardware kit or a desktop hardware kit. The iPad hardware kit comes with an iPad stand, cash drawer, Bluetooth barcode scanner and a receipt printer. The desktop kit comes with a receipt printer, cash drawer and a USB barcode scanner. The prices of the hardware kits are quote-based and do not include card readers.

What to look for in a retail POS system

Here’s what to take into account while trying to find the best retail POS system for your business:

hardware cost

This could include the cost of registers, barcode scanners, printers and card readers. Depending on the capabilities of the POS hardware, it could range in price from free to over $1,000.

software cost

Generally, you'll have to pay a monthly fee to use POS software. However, in some cases, free versions are available.

Payment processing fees

Often, but not always, a POS system comes bundled with payment processing services. Sometimes, processing rates are the same regardless of what type of card is used. In other cases, processors charge interchange rates — which vary by card — plus a fee. The latter method can be less predictable. In addition to these processing fees, other fees might apply, such as PCI, or payment card industry, compliance fees or chargeback fees for charges returned to payment cards. It's best to have a processor with transparent, easy-to-understand rates and minimal fees.

POS Mobility

If you want your retail POS system to be as mobile as you and your employees are, then you should consider either supplementing your desktop POS system or replacing it completely with a handheld retail POS system. A more mobile retail POS will be especially helpful for retail businesses that sell through booths and markets.

Inventory management capabilities

Excellent inventory management capabilities are a must for retail POS systems. If you’re working with multiple locations, find a retail POS system that can help you keep track of inventory from location to location. If you handle large stocks of goods that you’re having trouble keeping up with, get a retail POS software that allows you to track purchase orders through it.

Customer tracking capabilities

High-performing retail POS systems also allow business owners and employees to keep track of a customer’s history with their business. Knowing what specific purchases a given customer has made can inform future sales.

Employee management

Consider a retail POS system that can generate reports on employee sales performance.

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.

A version of this article was first published on Fundera, a subsidiary of NerdWallet.