Choosing the best POS system for your retail store can be a bit complicated. You need the basics: a system that’s easy to set up and use and offers an affordable rate for credit and debit card transactions. But the best retail POS system should also help your small business save money with advanced features, such as inventory and sales data tracking, and customer loyalty programs.
Here we look at point-of-sale systems that offer the best features depending on your small business’ needs. We also take into account EMV compliance, which is critical. Starting October, businesses that don’t accept the new EMV-chip credit cards could be liable for credit card fraud (these new cards are harder to counterfeit than traditional magnetic-stripe cards).
Historically, card issuers have been responsible for compensating cardholders for fraudulent charges made on their cards, says Justin Guinn, retail market researcher at Software Advice. With the shift in responsibility, he says, retailers that are not equipped to accept EMV cards are on the hook.
Check out NerdWallet’s comparisons of a host of POS systems.
For bricks-and-mortar retail stores: ShopKeep
- Works with iPads, and you can purchase additional hardware to customize your setup.
- One price: $49 a month per register. Credit card processing fees vary based on your choice of processor.
- Inventory and sales data tracking, employee staff management.
ShopKeep is a great choice for bricks-and-mortar retail stores because it allows you to track your entire inventory and get reorder alerts when levels run low, track top-selling items and profit margins per item sold, and capture each customer’s name and purchase history to keep in touch and encourage him or her to come back to your store.
“A tool that manages the inventory is very important,” says John Talbott, director of research at the Center for Education and Research in Retailing at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. “I would want a system that has easy integration to a back end that does inventory tracking.”
For technical support, ShopKeep gives new businesses a dedicated expert for the first 60 days, so you can get help setting up and using your new POS system, plus 24/7 phone support.
The system accepts cash, credit and debit cards, and mobile payments. To process credit card transactions, you’ll either need to sign up with ShopKeep’s payment processor or choose a third-party processor.
For online or e-commerce stores: Shopify
- Accepts payments through your online store and in person, with all of your inventory synced and automatically updated.
- Key features: customer account creation, product reviews, sales analytics, integration with Xero and Intuit QuickBooks, and 24/7 technical support.
- Pricing starts at $9 a month for in-person stores and $29 a month for online stores, with fees ranging from 2.2% to 2.9% plus 30 cents per transaction.
Shopify is a great option for online retail businesses as you can create a website for your store and choose from over 100 templates, showcase your products in an online catalog and accept payments online instantly.
If you also need to take in-person transactions, Shopify offers a retail package add-on ($40 a month) that includes an iPad stand, cash drawer, receipt printer, bar code scanner and card reader that plugs into your iPad or iPhone. One of Shopify’s main selling points is that your inventory, orders and customer information are synced between your online store and your brick-and-mortar store.
For increasing customer loyalty: Revel
- Solid customer relationship management features such as customer profile creation to track purchase order history, gift cards and appointment scheduling.
- Highly customizable to match your business’s needs.
Revel recently ranked as the fourth most popular retail POS system on the market, based on the number of users, search traffic to the product and social media followers, according to a report by Software Advice.
Revel allows your small business to accept payments both in store and online. Where the POS system really stands out is its customer loyalty features: Revel allows you to provide customers the option of purchasing and using gift cards, the ability to manage customer profiles to keep track of buying behavior, and appointment scheduling.
Other useful features for retailers include: inventory management tracking, employee scheduling, business and sales reports in real time, and 24/7 phone support.
Revel doesn’t offer credit card processing itself, but the company says it works with 95% of payment processors through the USAePay gateway.
The company did not provide NerdWallet with specific figures on pricing but said it depended on the type of business you own, the number of terminals you need, the volume of transactions you have and the features you choose, among other factors.
For mobile retail businesses: Flint
- Allows you to accepts payments from your smartphone, no hardware required.
- Payments are automatically deposited in your bank in 1 to 2 business days.
- Lower fee for debit card transactions.
If you operate a mobile retail business — a food truck, a hot dog cart or even a mobile salon — you’ll need a POS system that can accept payments on the spot. Flint may be a good option, as it accepts payments by using your smartphone’s camera to scan a customer’s credit card, or by keying in credit card information. No extra equipment or hardware is required.
You can also create and manage customer invoices directly from your phone, create receipts, and reward loyal customers with coupons and special offers.
Flint is free and works on iOS and Android devices. It charges a flat fee of 1.95% for debit card transactions and 2.95% for credit card transactions, and there are no upfront costs, contracts or monthly fees. Flint is technically EMV compliant, since the device does not require credit cards to be swiped.
For flexibility and customization: Square
- A new Square reader will accept both EMV-chip credit cards and contactless mobile payments.
- A Square stand turns your iPad into a POS system for a bricks-and-mortar location.
- Zero monthly fees; pricing is 2.75% for swiped transactions and 3.5% plus 15 cents for manually entered transactions.
Square is a good choice for retailers that want versatility: You can accept payments with Square’s magstripe card reader, which plugs into iOS and Android devices, or you can pay extra for a Square stand, receipt printer, cash drawer and bar code scanner to transform an iPad into a POS system.
There are no monthly fees, and you’ll pay a flat 2.75% fee per swipe, or 3.5% plus 15 cents for manually entered transactions. Square offers an EMV-compliant-chip card reader, and will soon release a new contactless card reader that will accept both EMV-chip cards and contactless mobile payments, such as Apple Pay.
Does your small business need a POS system?Compare payment systems
For the record: This article was updated on Sept. 25, 2015, to note that Shopify is now EMV-compliant.
For related information, visit NerdWallet’s resources on how to start a business. For free, personalized answers to questions about starting and financing your business, visit the Small Business section of NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor page.
Steve Nicastro is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Steven.N@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @StevenNicastro.
Image via iStock.