Point-of-Sale & Payment Processing
The top performers in our review are Square, the Gold Award winner; Shopify, the Silver Award winner; and iPayment, 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 the best POS systems.
What Do The Best POS Systems Include?
Good news for startups and small business owners looking to upgrade their outdated point-of-sale (POS) system: Today's systems are easy to set up and require minimal investment and upkeep. We recently conducted an in-depth review of POS systems that include software, hardware and credit card processing in a single complete starter system. Another piece of good news: All of the POS systems on our lineup can expand as your business grows.
Credit card processing is usually the biggest ongoing expense for a small business owner, and because of this, we scrutinized and compared processing rates as well. The POS systems in our lineup and reviews are all designed to suit a general retail business, but specialized POS solutions are available for a wide variety of businesses. Restaurant POS systems and iPad restaurant systems, for example, include features to manage tables and relay complicated orders to the kitchen. Retail POS options include tools to help shop owners track inventory.
If you simply require mobile processing, you'll benefit from reading our ratings and reviews of mobile credit card processors.
If you are just getting started and aren't sure yet what type of POS option is best for your business, read our article "POS System Options for Common Business Profiles." This article walks you through the best alternatives, whether you're running a mobile startup or a busy restaurant.
To learn more about point of sales in general, visit our articles about POS Systems.
POS Solutions: What We Evaluated, What We Found
In identifying and ranking the best POS solutions, we compared introductory rates, terms and customer support to find affordable, competitive systems with minimal long-term contractual agreements. We conducted our own poll of small business owners, and according to our findings, most want: 1) one or two complete systems to operate at a single location, and; 2) a solution that can be implemented immediately. As a result, we narrowed the scope of our review to those POS systems that met the above two needs of small business owners.
Below are the types of POS systems we reviewed, along with their pros and cons:
iPad or Online: Low Upfront Cost, Optional Hardware Purchase, No Long-Term Contract
Most mobile POS systems come with free or low-cost card readers, and you can begin using the service with your own iPad or other device right away with nearly zero startup costs. Since you are not leasing or acquiring hardware in exchange for a processing agreement, no long-term contracts are required. However, some providers do not offer you a choice of processors. These types of systems are ideal for small retail shops, cafes or even temporary businesses, such as event sales or farmer's markets. Products to consider include Square, Shopify, iPayment and PayPal Here.
Low-Cost Hardware with POS Software: Minimal Upfront Cost, Choice of Processor, All-In-One Hardware
These types of POS systems require a low-cost, upfront hardware purchase, but you may be able to choose your own credit card processor or continue using your current one. The hardware usually includes touchscreen monitors, cash drawers, barcode scanners and card readers. In addition to purchasing hardware, a monthly hardware service fee may apply. These systems are, for the most part, plug and play and are easy to set up. Possible solutions include uAccept and Clover, both of which are compatible with a variety of payment processors.
Hardware & POS Software Included: Lease Options, Limited Choice of Processors, Possible Term Agreements Apply
These POS solutions are often packaged as complete systems with hardware, software and processing included. In most cases, you are required to sign a term contract in exchange for "free" or included hardware and POS software with a processing agreement. While the upfront costs are minimal, you'll want to carefully consider the terms of the agreement, especially if you recently launched your business and may not be able to fulfill a long-term contract. Some contracts include steep early termination fees or other penalties. TouchSuite, Gotmerchant and Harbortouch are a few examples of companies offering POS bundles.
Is Bundling a POS System with Credit Card Processing a Good Idea?
Finding a credit card processor is one of the most complex (and expensive) decisions a business owner will make. While some POS providers may not require you to use its processor, they may be the one that provides the best rates. Multiple factors determine your processing rate. Your monthly sales volume, credit rating, the number of years you've been in business and active contractual agreements may all influence the processor's decision, particularly if you're looking to lease equipment or trying to bargain for lower rates.
Many processors competitively match rates; we recommend shopping around to find the best deal. Square and PayPal have flat swipe rates that are standard for all merchants. Services such as iPayment and Gotmerchant charge different rates depending on the types of cards customers use.
Again, your monthly sales volume and average ticket size will influence the type of processor best for you. Besides processing costs, many processors charge a monthly membership fee. For more information about finding a processor, read our review of credit card processors.
Ideal Situation: Good Credit, Steady Revenue, Cash Reserves
If your business has all of the above: good credit; a dependable, steady monthly income; and you have a nice stockpile of cash, below are the advantages POS systems offer, along with our top picks.
- Low-cost hardware purchase options
- Term options
- Negotiating power over the processing rate
- Potential long-term savings
- Best Options: All processors and POS companies, plus uAccept, Clover, Bindo
Common Situation: Marginal Credit, New Business, Limited Start-Up Funds
If, however, you're like most business owners, your credit is okay but not great, you've been slow to pay your bills, or if you're launching a new business or startup and have limited funds, here are the advantages POS systems and our top picks.
- Flat-rate processors typically offer high approval rates
- iPad or mobile versions are priced low for startups
- Hardware lease options are available
- Best Options: Square, PayPal, Shopify, iPayment, TouchSuite, Gotmerchant, Harbortouch
Other Features to Consider
The modern POS system has become more than just a tool to process sales, it's now a complete workplace management system with employee and customer management features, social media tools and online store integrations to help you effectively and efficiently run all facets of your business.
Here are some additional features to consider in your quest to find the best POS system for your business:
If you manage several employees, you can save time by integrating POS employee-management features with your accounting or payroll solutions. Many systems include tools for managing employee profiles that control access and permission levels as well as schedules and time worked. These time-tracking features can help you process payroll. Some even include messaging systems so you can send your team a message online directly through the system so they see important information immediately at their workstation. According to our findings, POS systems with employee-management features include Shopify, Clover Station and Bindo.
Basic customer management features let you track sales and customer contact information and provide you with reporting and analytics. More advanced features allow you to create email campaigns and loyalty programs to expand your business, increase sales and create repeat customers.
Social Media Features
Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are free ways to interact with customers and increase your online presence. Many POS systems collect customer email addresses and social media contact information so you can reach out to your customers with new products, sales and other information easily. Some can even post directly to Twitter or Facebook for you.
Online Store Integrations
Retail and restaurant businesses can benefit from allowing customers to place orders online. For retailers, Shopify is particularly strong in this regard; you can create your own online store. POS systems that can integrate with your online store also help you track and manage your inventory between your physical and online stores. Restaurant POS integrations allow you to post menus on your website, and your customers place their orders for takeout or delivery online.
EMV Compliance & Card Readers
An important new consideration for all businesses is EMV compliance. Beginning October 1, 2015, all credit card companies began issuing EMV chip cards (also known as chip-and-PIN cards, smartcards or integrated circuit cards) and you, the seller, must be able to process those cards. This technology is considered more secure than traditional magnetic-stripe card readers. All major POS companies now offer EMV chip-compliant card readers. If you are purchasing a new system, you'll want an EMV-compliant reader so you don't have to upgrade later. If you already own a POS system, now is a good time to upgrade.
But the most compelling reason to upgrade is a new shift in liability from credit card issuers to merchants in the event of fraud. Essentially, any party that hasn't implemented EMV-compliant equipment is liable for fraud resulting from a magnetic-stripe payment. In other words, if your equipment is outdated, you could be held responsible for any fraudulent transactions. In most cases, you are better off financially to buy EMV readers now, rather than later. EMV-capable card readers range from $70 to $350 per device.
Mobile Payments & NFC Technologies
Increasingly consumers are using popular mobile-payment options like Android Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal or Samsung Pay. Nowadays, you can purchase a card reader that processes EMV cards plus mobile phone payments using an app or near field communications (NFC) technology. NFC requires that the mobile phone be placed close to the device to process payments in a secure manner. (The distance is too close for hackers to interfere with.) Some POS systems can process bitcoin payments.
Terms & Conditions: What to Watch For
Processing or leasing agreements can be complex, and you'll want to carefully review any contract to make sure there aren't any surprise fees or term requirements. For processing agreements, we recommend finding a processor that allows you to operate on a month-to-month basis. If you are leasing equipment, this may not be possible.
Here are a few other hidden surprises you should look for when reviewing contracts:
Early Termination Fees
If you sign a long-term contract, you may be required to pay an early termination fee should you quit your contract. In most cases, this is a flat fee per terminal, but some companies may require you to pay out the remainder of your contract, which could cost you hundreds of dollars.
Some POS services automatically renew your contract at the end of the term and initiate a new one for additional years. Long before reaching the end of your current contract term, you'll want to carefully consider whether you want to renew with your current provider or not. If you decide not to renew, you'll want to provide the required legal notice, whether that's 30 days or whatever the POS company mandates.
Rejected Hardware Returns
If you leased equipment and quit your contract, you'll need to return the equipment in pristine condition, and you will have to pay the shipping to return it. Further, some businesses have reported being charged for repairs or for the full price of the system.
To help prevent fraud or to protect against a high possibility of returns, some processors may withhold funds. This may happen even if you do not have a history of fraudulent charges, chargebacks or returns. Some customers report having their funds held from a few days to several months. You'll want to ensure that you have a buffer of funds available to cover operating costs just in case.
Rates That Differ From a Verbal Agreement
Make sure the rates listed in the contract are the same as the ones you were quoted. Also look to see if there are any circumstances where your rates can increase. Some processors give you the opportunity to have your rates reviewed and adjusted after several months.
Many credit card processing contracts include a personal guarantee clause that gives them the right to collect money from you personally should your business not be able to meet its financial obligations. This debt can even be passed on to your heirs or successors.
Additional Services Clauses
Some companies may sign you up, without your knowledge, for additional services that cost extra. Often, you'll need to cancel these services within a short period of time, typically within 30 days, or you'll be charged. Carefully review the contract for any additional services you may be signed up for and know the cancellation period so you can drop any extra services before you're stuck with the costs.
Our Verdict & Recommendations
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services from the perspective of a typical consumer. The POS companies in our review 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 those companies in advance of publication.
Top Ten Reviews' Gold Award winner, Square, offers low-cost POS systems and a simple flat-rate processing plan, making it an especially good fit for those who are just starting out or those looking for a low-cost upgrade.
Shopify, our Silver Award winner, offers the best online integration and is the best choice if you want to sell online alongside your retail store.
Our Bronze Award winner, iPayment, offers the lowest swipe fees and may be the best option if your business has a lot of card-present debit transactions.
Another POS system worth noting is Clover. This POS terminal is available via numerous banks, so you might be able to negotiate fees. Plus, the terminal itself is affordable, simple to use and durable.
Contracting with the right POS service makes a big difference to your bottom line. We recommend contacting three to four POS companies to find the best fit for your business. Those looking for options with the lowest upfront costs will find our side-by-side comparison a good place to start comparing rates and features. If you have an iPad, you can start processing right away with Square, Shopify or iPayment.