Why POS with 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 These POS Systems Include?
These point-of-sale (POS) system reviews compare POS systems that are easy to set up and require minimal investment, making them ideal for start-ups or small businesses looking to upgrade their system. All POS services we reviewed can provide a complete starter system that includes software, hardware and credit card processing. Most are also easy to add to as your business grows. Since credit card processing is usually the largest ongoing expense, we compared possible processing rates as well.
We have reviewed numerous POS products, even those designed for specific types of businesses. For example, if you want to compare restaurant-specific solutions, you may benefit from perusing our Restaurant POS systems or iPad Restaurant POS reviews, which compare the restaurant-specific features of products such as Lavu, NCR and TouchBistro. For our Retail POS reviews, we compared retail-specific solutions such as Vend, Revel and ShopKeep. If you simply require mobile processing, you'll benefit from visiting our Mobile Credit Card Processing reviews.
How We Compared POS Solutions
We compared introductory rates, terms and customer support to find affordable, competitive systems with minimal long-term contractual agreements. According to our own polls, most small businesses are looking for one or two complete systems to operate at a single location and that can be implemented right away. We narrowed the scope of this review to point-of-sale systems for small businesses that meet those needs.
Below are the types of systems we reviewed, along with their pros and cons:
iPad or Online: Low Upfront Cost, Hardware Purchase Optional, No Long-Term Contract
Most 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 start-up costs. Since you are not leasing or acquiring POS 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 or cafes or even temporary businesses such as event sales or farmer's markets. Products include Square, Shopify, iPayment and PayPal.
Low-Cost Hardware with POS Software: Minimal Upfront Cost, Choice Of Processor, All-In-One Hardware
These types of POS terminals require a low-cost, upfront hardware purchase but may allow you to choose your own credit card processor or continue using your current one. The hardware systems usually include touchscreen monitors, cash drawers, barcode scanners and card readers. In addition to purchasing the hardware, a monthly hardware service fee may apply. These systems are, for the most part, plug and play and, for most, are easy to set up. Solutions include uAccept and Clover; both are compatible with a variety of payment processors.
Hardware and POS Software Included: Lease Options, Processors Often Limited, Possible Term Agreements Apply
These are often packaged as complete systems with hardware, POS system software and processing included. In most cases you are required to sign a term contract in exchange for "free" or included hardware and point-of-sale software with a processing agreement. While the upfront costs are minimal, you'll want to carefully consider the terms of the agreement if you recently launched your business and may not be able to fulfill a long-term contract. Options include TouchSuite, Gotmerchant and Harbortouch.
If you are not sure what type of POS option might be best for your company, read our article "POS System Options for Common Business Profiles," which offers some options whether you're running a mobile start-up or a busy restaurant.
To learn more about point-of-sales in general, see our numerous educational articles about POS Systems.
Is Bundling a POS System with Credit Card Processing a Good Idea?
Like most complex decisions, the answer is – it depends. It may depend on your credit rating, sales volume, years in business and active contractual agreements. Ideally, you have good credit, a steady flow of revenue, start-up funds and freedom to rate shop. However, that may not be your situation. If you are launching a new company and don't have a lot of money, you may have little opportunity to rate shop, but you do have low upfront investment options.
Ideal Situation: Good Credit, Steady Revenue, Cash Reserves
- Low-cost hardware purchase options
- Term options
- Negotiating power over the processing rate
- Potential long-term savings
Options: All processors and POS companies, plus uAccept, Clover, Bindo
Common Situation: Marginal Credit, New Business, Limited Start-Up Funds
- Flat-rate processors typically offer high approval rates
- iPad or mobile versions are low-priced for start-ups
- Hardware lease options available
Options: Square, PayPal, Shopify, iPayment, TouchSuite, Gotmerchant, Harbortouch
Other Features to Consider
New POS systems include more than the ability to process sales. Other features that modern point-of-purchase systems offer – such as employee time-worked tracking, customer management features, social media tools and online store integrations – can help you run your business more smoothly.
If you manage several employees, you may save time by integrating POS employee management features with your accounting or payroll solutions. Many point-of-sale 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 to the POS system so they can see important information immediately at the workstation. Shopify, Clover Station and Bindo offer employee-management features.
Since managing customers is closely tied to sales, all modern POS systems include some customer-management tools. At a minimum, they track customer contact information and sales, with associated reporting. You can use customer contact information and sales data to create customized customer outreach emails or social media campaigns.
Social Media Features
Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites offer a free way of increasing your online presence. Many POS systems can 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 directly post directly to Twitter or Facebook for you.
Online Store Integrations
Retail and restaurant businesses may benefit from allowing customers to place orders online. The most well-known is Shopify, which can integrate with its own online store. POS systems with this type of integration can track inventory between the physical and online stores. Restaurant versions can support menus and speed up the take-out order or delivery process.
EMV Compliance & Card Readers
Beginning October 1, 2015, all credit card companies will be issuing EMV chip cards (also known as chip and PIN cards, smart cards or integrated circuit cards) to their customers and you, as a seller, must be able to process those cards. All major POS companies now offer EMV chip-compliant card readers for processing payments using this new technology. This technology is considered more secure than traditional magnetic card readers. If you are purchasing a new system, you'll want to purchase this type of reader so you don't have to upgrade later. If you already own a POS system, now is a good time to upgrade.
The most compelling reason to upgrade is that the fraud liability has shifted from the credit card processor, or issuing bank, to the merchant, or EMV-compliant party. If your equipment is outdated, you could be held liable. In most cases, you are better off financially to buy EMV readers outright rather than entering into a long-term contract. EMV-capable card readers range from about $70 to $350 per device.
Mobile Payments & NFC Technologies
Increasingly consumers are using popular mobile payment options such as Android Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal or Samsung Pay. Nowadays you can often purchase a card reader that will process EMV cards as well as 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. Some POS systems can process Bitcoin payments using a Bitcoin payment application.
Terms & Conditions to Watch For
Some contracts contain over 30 pages of fine print and legalese. Some business owners even experience a few surprises from processors (see below). While we cannot definitively say you will experience some of the negative aspects of processing and leasing agreements, you might, and should take steps to reduce the potential likelihood. Here's what you should pay attention to when reviewing the contact:
Early Termination Fees
If you enter a long-term contract, you may be required to pay an early termination fee should you quit your contract. In most cases, it is a flat fee per terminal, or you may be required to pay out the remainder of your contract, which could be 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.
Rejected Hardware Returns
If you quit your contract and plan to return the hardware, the equipment must be in pristine condition. Some businesses have reported they were charged for repairs or for the full price of the system. You'll also have to pay for shipping.
To help prevent fraud or to protect against a high possibility of returns, some processors may hold 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 Different than a Verbal Agreement
If an account representative quotes you a certain rate, make sure the quoted rate is the same in your contract. Also, review your contract for circumstances that may cause rate increases or fluctuations.
Many credit card processing contracts include a personal guarantee clause that gives them the right to collect money due from you personally, if your business is not able to meet 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 involve additional fees. 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 additional fees apply.
Our Verdict and 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.
Square, our top choice, only requires a minimal upfront investment and approves nearly anyone regardless of credit history or sales volume, making it an especially good fit for those who are just starting out or looking for a low-cost upgrade. Our Silver Award winner, Shopify, is a good option if you are looking to easily add a companion online purchase option to your retail store. If you are primarily concerned about your bottom line, the Bronze Award-winning iPayment is a good option as it strives to provide the lowest swipe fees.
However, keep in mind that your swipe fee rate may vary depending on your financial circumstances, so you may be able to negotiate a customized processing rate and terms. Another POS system to note is Clover. This POS unit is available via numerous banks – maybe even your own bank – so you might be able to negotiate fees, and 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. If you have an iPad, you can start processing right away with Square, Shopify or iPayment.