A point-of-sale (POS) system is a hardware and software bundle that serves as the nerve center of brick-and-mortar businesses by centralizing payment processing, automating stock tracking and sales reports, and streamlining customer relationship management. Some of the best POS software is available for free, while other systems cost up to $200 per month for one station.
The best POS systems are:
- Square: Best free, mobile, and all-purpose POS system
- Shopify: Best for multichannel retailers
- Lightspeed Retail: Best for large retailers or retailers with complex inventories
- Vend by Lightspeed: Best for growing brick-and-mortar retailers
- Clover: Best for businesses wanting to connect an existing merchant account
- Toast: Best POS for most restaurants
- Upserve by Lightspeed: Best iPad restaurant POS
- Revel Systems: Best POS for high-volume restaurants and grocery stores
- IT Retail: Best for small markets and grocers that need a POS with scale integration
- POS Nation: Best for convenience stores and liquor stores
Best POS Systems for Small Businesses Compared
Minimum Monthly Fee
Built-in Ecommerce / Online Ordering
Retail, restaurant, professional services
30 days for paid plans and add-ons
Built-in or third party
Built-in or third party
No - requires third party
Third party only
Retail, restaurant, professional services
No - requires a third-party app
Built-in (through Fiserv) or third party
Built-in or third party
No - requires third party
Specialty retail including c-store and hardware
No - requires third party
*For online store subscription, which is required and includes a free POS app
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Continue reading to learn more about each POS system and how we determined the best ones.
Square: Best Overall & Free POS System for Small Businesses
Square is the best POS system for most small businesses because of its affordable price point and easy-to-use software with options designed for general purpose, retail, restaurants, and appointment-based businesses. Each option has a free plan that includes unlimited sales and products, an online store, and a $50-$60 monthly plan with additional features. This makes Square our top-scoring all-around POS system and our top choice for free POS and mobile POS solutions. Square for Retail is also our top choice for all-purpose retail POS, and Square Appointments is the highest-scoring POS system for salons and spas.
Modular add-ons including payroll processing and marketing, and flexible hardware options are also available. Scroll through the images below to see Square’s interface and hardware options.
Learn more about Square and why small businesses love it.
In our evaluation, Square POS earned a 4.48 out of 5. We also evaluated each of the industry-specific Square products, and they scored very similarly. Square excels in price (its free app offers the best value) and ease of use (the apps are easy to navigate and have a very clean interface). Square lost points because you cannot shop around for lower payment rates—you’re locked into Square Payments. A lot of more advanced POS features like marketing and loyalty are pricey add-ons, and Square doesn’t have sophisticated inventory or back-office management like Lightspeed, Shopify, Upserve, or Toast.
Square POS Features
- Built-in payment processing: Accept credit and debit card payments in person or online, contactless payments, phone payments, and via invoice or recurring or subscription billing, with next-day deposits. Square is also one of the only POS systems that offers instant deposits for an extra fee.
- Square Appointments: Manage multiple appointment calendars, set up online booking, allow customers to book and manage appointments with an online portal, send automatic SMS and email reminders, and require credit cards upon booking for no-show and cancellation fees.
- Square for Retail: Utilize barcode-based interface with omnichannel sale tools and inventory management features like barcode creation, vendor management, purchase orders, and detailed sales reports.
- Square for Restaurants: Integrate online ordering, order management system, kitchen display system, conversational ordering, table and seat management, firing and coursing options, and menu reporting and management.
- Square Dashboard: Process transactions, track product sales, view reports, and manage teams, taxes, payroll, and more in one centralized cloud-based dashboard.
- Customer relationship management: Create customer profiles and collect and respond to customer feedback. Square Marketing Assistant can identify marketing campaign opportunities, suggest email campaigns based on your customer list and activities, analyze performance, and identify best practices.
- Online store: Build a free website and online store to sell online for pickup, shipping, or delivery. Create simple online ordering pages or add shoppable posts to your existing website or social media accounts.
What Square Is Missing
For multilocation storefronts, high-volume multichannel sellers, and businesses with large complex inventories, Square likely won’t have enough power to handle the complexities of your business. Large or growing restaurants should consider Toast, Upserve, or Revel Systems.
Multichannel or large retailers will likely find Shopify’s smart inventory and best-in-class ecommerce solutions a better fit for their needs. Or, consider Lightspeed for complex analytics and inventory management.
Shopify: Best Multichannel POS
Shopify is an ecommerce platform that comes with a free POS software for selling products at events or on-the-go, plus features to sell on social media and third-party marketplaces. For brick-and-mortar retailers, Shopify has a POS Pro plan with omnichannel selling tools, sophisticated inventory management, and more detailed analytics. With all Shopify plans, sales, inventory, and customer data are stored in one place, making Shopify the best POS for multichannel sellers.
In our evaluation, Shopify earned a 4.47 out of 5, coming in just behind Square. Whereas Square excels in price and ease of use, Shopify earned a perfect score in register features and a high score for management tools. So, while they earned nearly identical scores, their strengths are very different. The biggest drawback to Shopify POS is that an ecommerce subscription is required, and many of the best POS features (smart inventory management and advanced reporting) require you to upgrade to POS Pro for an additional $89 per month.
Shopify POS Features
- Omnichannel selling: Offer frictionless shopping experiences with buy online, pick up or return in-store; buy in-store, ship to the customer; and browse in-store, buy online with email carts and QR product codes.
- Products: Add unlimited products, categories, and collections, including multiple variants.
- Inventory management: POS Pro includes Stocky, a smart inventory app for performing inventory counts, receiving products with a barcode scanner, generating low-stock alerts and detailed inventory reports, forecasting demand, performing inventory analysis, and viewing sale item suggestions.
- Customer management: All Shopify plans include tools to generate customer profiles with contact information and shopping habits, add customer tags (such as VIP designations), track special requests, generate targeted promotions, create marketing content, and optimize social media campaigns.
- Online sales: Shopify is the leading small business ecommerce platform, but it also offers features to sell on social media and third-party marketplaces and to add “Buy” buttons to blogs. Learn more in our Shopify ecommerce review.
What Shopify Is Missing
Shopify is an ecommerce platform that has a great POS extension. If you’re not looking to sell online, a different retail POS that does not require an ecommerce subscription, like Vend, might be a better option. And, while Shopify does advertise solutions for cafes and coffee shops, it’s built with retailers in mind. So, these businesses might be better suited with Square or Toast.
Lightspeed Retail: Best for Inventory Management
Lightspeed Retail is the best POS system for product management, especially for businesses with large or complex inventories and specialty shops needing to manage custom orders. The software lets retailers create product bundles, categorize with multiple variants, and manage purchase orders with a built-in catalog. Lightspeed also offers one of the most sophisticated analytics platforms for small businesses with customizable dashboards and reports, along with insights into what each metric means.
Lightspeed earned a 4.13 out of 5 in our evaluation. Lightspeed scored very highly for management tools, register functions, and customer support. However, pricey subscription plans and add-ons resulted in a low pricing score, which dragged down Lightspeed’s overall score. While Lightspeed starts at $69 per month, its best features, including analytics, loyalty, and ecommerce require more expensive plans.
Lightspeed Retail Features
- Inventory management: Bulk upload up to 10,000 SKUs at once, manage variants, create bundles, and track unit costs, layaways, and special orders. Streamline purchase orders with built-in product catalog and low-stock alerts. Lightspeed has the most sophisticated integrated product ordering on this list, largely because of the built-in supplier network.
- Supplier Network: Retailers can discover products, submit purchase orders, and track stock shipments from within Lightspeed POS.
- Reporting and analytics: Lightspeed offers the most powerful analytics platform available at a small-business-friendly price. It includes over 40 built-in reports, allows retailers to build custom reports and view data in visual forms like graphs and charts, and offers tips on how to interpret the data.
- Marketing: Lightspeed has a built-in loyalty program. Create a tiered rewards system for both in-store and online purchases, send one-time deals for birthdays or to VIP customers, and design emails with templates or a drag-and-drop builder.
- Ecommerce: Lightspeed Ecommerce syncs with POS data, offers over 50 professional themes, and includes full shipping and order management tools, marketing, CRM, and SEO features.
What Lightspeed Is Missing
Lightspeed has a lot of functionality, and its ease of use suffers because of it. It’s best suited for countertop registers and checkout processes that can benefit from attaching customers to sales. If you need a snappy mobile POS, consider Square or Shopify for a simpler user interface.
Vend: Best for Growing Brick-and-Mortar Stores
Vend is an iPad and web-based POS designed strictly for brick-and-mortar retailers. It is one of the few POS systems that come with built-in loyalty programs, store credit, layaway tools, offline processing, and easy product catalog management. Vend integrates with many different payment processors so businesses can shop around for the lowest rates, and offer multiple payment options like PayPal.
In our evaluation, Vend earned a 3.96 out of 5. It excels in ease of use and management tools. However, like Lightspeed, Vend is fairly pricey compared to systems like Square. It also doesn’t have native ecommerce functionality—you need to connect a separate platform like Shopify or BigCommerce.
- Register: It is a user-friendly cloud system with offline processing, staff logins, flexible configurations including layaway and on-account sales, store credit, gift cards, and partial payment.
- Detailed inventory tools: Track variants and bundles; create, import, and print bar codes; build a centralized product catalog; set custom low-stock alerts; and manage tax rates.
- Mobile barcode scanning app: Vend has a free iOS app for scanning bar codes to perform quick inventory counts, receive shipments, or look up product details from the sales floor. Any changes made in the app can sync to Vend’s reporting data.
- Add-ons and growth tools: Vend comes with a native loyalty program and integrates with third-party tools for ecommerce, accounting, employee scheduling, and multichannel inventory management.
What Vend Is Missing
The biggest drawback to this retail POS is native ecommerce functionality. You can manage your Shopify and BigCommerce orders for pickup from Vend POS. But, if you need to use Shopify for ecommerce, it may make more sense to use the connected Shopify POS.
Clover: Best for Connecting an Existing Merchant Account
Clover is a POS app that operates a little differently than the others on this list. It runs on proprietary Clover hardware and comes pre-programmed with merchant services on it. Clover is made and sold by Fiserv; however, there are also many Clover resellers, including many popular merchant services. So, you can choose your payment processor and purchase Clover POS from them.
This setup is ideal for businesses looking to upgrade from a cash register and want to stick with their current merchant account. In our evaluation, Clover earned a 3.79 out of 5 with fairly average scores across the board. Like Square, Clover offers POS solutions specifically for retail, restaurants, and service providers. It also offers a popular mobile card reader, which earned a spot on our list of the best mobile processors and the best POS mobile apps.
The biggest drawback to Clover is that your prices and overall experience can vary widely depending on where you purchase the system and your agreement terms.
- Mobile POS: Clover Go has several iterations for iOS and Android. In addition to the mobile app and card reader, it comes with a web-based dashboard to monitor sales, customer, employee, and inventory reports.
- Customer management: Like Square, Clover lets you set up customer profiles from payment methods. Track customer sales histories, names, and birthdays, and save photos so you can greet customers by name. Also similar to Square, Clover has reward and loyalty programs you can add on, and the ability to collect customer feedback through digital receipts.
- Employee management: Enter unlimited employees and set permissions to limit access to what each worker needs for their job. Clover also includes the free version of Homebase (our favorite employee scheduling software).
- Apps and add-ons: Clover has over 200 apps and add-on integrations available to meet just about any business need. Popular categories include inventory management, accounting, employee scheduling, online sales, and invoicing.
What Clover Is Missing
Through Clover’s extensive app market, you can add on just about any feature. So, in that sense, it is not really missing anything. However, it lacks native invoicing functions and its inventory tracking is fairly limited, with no low-stock alerts. For these features, check Lightspeed or Square.
However, the biggest reason to choose a Clover alternative is if you do not already have a merchant account that you are happy with. If that is the case, it would be easier to choose a POS with built-in processing like Square, Lightspeed, Shopify, or Toast. While the rates might not be the lowest on the market, you have the simplicity of only dealing with one tech company. And, most POS systems now offer volume discounts so you can save on transaction fees as you grow.
Toast: Best Restaurant POS System
Toast is a restaurant POS software specifically designed for the foodservice industry. It combines front-of-house features like table mapping, menu management, and real-time feedback collection with back-of-house features like kitchen displays and ingredient-level inventory tracking. Toast also offers online ordering and delivery features, along with payroll tools and a wide array of industry-specific hardware, making it the best POS system for most restaurants.
Due to robust features packed into a user-friendly interface, Toast earned a 4.44 out of 5 in our evaluation. Add-ons fees and lack of a free trial prevented Toast from earning a higher score. And, though Toast has a pay-as-you-go option with $0 monthly software fees, all plans require a two-year contract.
Toast POS Features
- Payment processing: Toast offers tons of contactless solutions, including online menus, mobile ordering and payments, self-order kiosks, tap and mobile wallet payments, and QR codes. Mobile pocket-size terminals are also available for tableside ordering and payments.
- Front-of-house features: These include table mapping and management, real-time customer feedback collection, tickets automatically sent to kitchen display, and order notifications.
- Reporting and back-office: Toast offers detailed menu management with ingredient-level tracking, recipe costing, waste and COGS reports, payroll administration, and sales and performance data, all with real-time data.
- Online ordering and delivery: Integrate online ordering (no third-party commissions) with customizable mobile-responsive site, real-time ingredient and menu updates, and configurable hours and delivery settings.
- Workforce management: Toast offers automated payroll, easy new-hire onboarding including HR paperwork, employee scheduling, in-depth labor reports, and a benefits platform for offering healthcare.
What Toast Is Missing
Though a two-year contract is somewhat standard for a restaurant POS system, new and small businesses may be hesitant to commit to a contract that long. Square for Restaurants offers month-to-month billing with no contracts. And, if you prefer iPads, Toast may not be a comfortable system for you to operate—it’s Android-only. For iOS-compatible restaurant POS, consider Upserve, which is just as feature-rich as Toast, if not more so. Or, consider TouchBistro (which is not on this list, but a contender in many of our restaurant POS buyers guides) for a budget iPad option.
Upserve by Lightspeed: Best iPad Restaurant POS
Upserve is a POS system and restaurant management software designed to function as an all-in-one platform for POS, payments, inventory customer management, marketing, online ordering, workforce management, and reporting. Upserve’s tablet-based POS is incredibly easy to use, and the browser-based back office offers some of the most robust inventory, customer management, and employee management tools available in a small business restaurant POS.
This makes it our top choice for iPad restaurant POS systems, particularly for full-service restaurants, fine dining restaurants, and craft cocktail bars. In this particular evaluation, Upserve earned a 3.62 out of 5. While Upserve has some of the most robust inventory and management tools available for small restaurants, it scored particularly poorly (1.5 out of 5) for pricing, which dragged down the overall score. For one register, the minimum you will pay is $119 per month, but to get the inventory and reporting features, you’ll need to pay $149.
Upserve by Lightspeed Features
- Marketing and CRM: Build customer profiles including visit and order history, create filtered guest lists for targeted promotions, easily pair servers with guests who have tipped them well in the past, track and respond to online reviews, create a loyalty program that recognizes customer payment cards, and view reports by customer segments.
- Ingredient management: Automated inventory management with real-time tracking and deductions as dishes are sold, one-click purchase ordering, automatic purchase order receiving, scanner app for performing in-app inventory counts and scanning deliveries, menu and recipe reports to see how each menu item impacts your bottom line.
- Reporting: Basic sales, labor, product mix, profit and loss, marketing reports, daily logs, reputation management, and live mobile reporting app are included at all subscription tiers. Pro plans include custom reporting, server insights, menu insights, and recipe costing.
- Workforce management: Customizable tip pooling, real-time labor cost alerts, and clock-in controls available on all plans. Build and manage employee schedules in-app, then distribute them via text or email.
What Upserve by Lightspeed Is Missing
Upserve has just about every feature you would want—at a price. If you’re on a budget, consider Square for Restaurants or TouchBistro (which is not on this list, but a contender in many of our restaurant POS buyers guides). Upserve’s KDS is also fairly dated. Toast’s solution offers a more modern feel, and Square just recently launched a new KDS solution.
Revel Systems: Best for High-Volume Restaurants and Grocers
Revel Systems is a cloud-based foodservice POS that has configurable features for self-order kiosks, customer-facing displays, mobile and tableside ordering, and online ordering. This makes Revel a good fit for large, high-volume, or chain restaurants such as pizza shops.
Lots of scanner and scale integrations, self-checkout features, perishable inventory tracking, and SNAP EBT payment processing also make Revel the best grocery POS for larger markets. Extensive functionality also earned Revel a 3.47 out of 5 in this evaluation, though high prices and a three-year contract prevented it from scoring higher.
Revel Systems Features
- Restaurant features: Detailed table mapping and management, menu-building tools, integrated kitchen display communication, and integrated online ordering.
- Reporting: Revel Insights reporting offers real-time ingredient-level inventory tracking, FIFO inventory management, performance metrics, and sales reports.
- Back office: Centralized multilocation management and an open API allow businesses to build a setup that meets their needs.
- Customer-facing features: Revel has features for customer display systems, self-order kiosks, and mobile ordering for speedy and contactless service, plus loyalty, gift card, and discount tools for customer retention.
What Revel Is Missing
Like many of the restaurant POS systems on this list, Revel isn’t really lacking in functions—it’s just pricey. And, it’s likely more system than a small shop or storefront needs. For more affordable options that are easier to learn and navigate, and without long-term contracts, consider Square.
IT Retail: Best for Small Markets
IT Retail’s POS is a specific system that includes hard-to-find features like scale integration for selling goods by weight, bottle deposit management, automated shopper rewards program, and self-checkout options. The POS comes packaged in rugged hardware necessary in a grocery environment and allows markets to sell online and connect with a network of delivery drivers.
In our evaluation, IT Retail earned a 3.82 out of 5. It scored decently across the board for features and functionality, with a slightly lower score for pricing for add-on and hardware fees. However, this is not unexpected—IT Retail has specialized hardware that’s durable to withstand lots of use in high-volume grocery and market environments.
IT Retail POS Features
- Checkout: Flexible checkout options for produce and bulk goods, scale integration for selling goods by weight, and customer-display and self-checkout setups. Accept all major credit and debit cards, EBT food and cash payments, gift cards, eWIC, and contactless payments such as Apple Pay.
- Inventory management: Create, print, and scan bar code labels, generate purchase orders, receive and count stock using a mobile app, generate purchase orders, and generate shelf tags. Mobile reporting available on any device.
- CRM tools: Issue scannable loyalty cards and create a custom loyalty program; POS automatically tracks available rewards at checkout.
- Online grocery: Enable online ordering and delivery, including specialty and fresh items, with Mercato integration.
What IT Retail Is Missing
IT Retail has a steep learning curve and can be pricey. It’s also a system with few user reviews. For a more popular alternative, consider POS Nation or KORONA POS, both of which have market and specialty retail capabilities. KORONA is not on this list, but is featured in many of our retail POS buyers guides—see our full KORONA review to learn more.
POS Nation: Best for Convenience and Liquor Stores
POS Nation is a retail POS designed for liquor, grocery, convenience, and hardware stores. Hard-to-find features including age verification tools, scale integrations, lotto ticket sales, case-break inventory tracking, carton-pack inventory tracking, and rental management make POS Nation a top choice for convenience, liquor, and other corner or mom-and-pop stores.
In this evaluation, POS Nation earned a 3.49 out of 5. It got a near-perfect score for management tools thanks to robust employee and customer management functions. Expensive plans and limited payment processing options prevented POS Nation from earning a higher score.
Most POS Nation subscriptions require a WorldPay agreement, which is not one of our recommended merchant services due to high volumes of complaints and hidden fees (learn more in our WorldPay review). However, it’s important to note that since the agreement will go through POS Nation, it’s possible the process will be smoother and more transparent.
POS Nation Features
- Register tools: POS Nation has multiple interface layouts that are all customizable with hot-keys and graphical buttons to optimize the checkout screen for your needs.
- Specialty product handling: Built-in age verification, mobile checkout, scale integrations, integrated lotto ticket sales, and cigar label printing.
- Inventory management: Mix-and-match pricing, case-break and carton-pack tracking, auto-generate purchase orders, mobile in-app stock counts, layaway, barcoding, rental management, and matrix inventory.
- Shrinkage protection: Exception reporting to track excessive voids and unusual register activity, forced register counts, and blind register counts.
- Reporting: Over 55 pre-built reports including sales, customers, employees, accounts receivable, and special reports to comply with product and state-specific requirements including 1014 reporting for Pennsylvania beer distributors.
What POS Nation Is Missing
POS Nation can be pricey, and free tech support is only offered for the first three months; after that, you need to pay for it. POS Nation is the only POS system on this list that doesn’t offer some kind of free support.
Also, you may want to consider an alternative if you don’t want to open a WorldPay merchant services account. Other POS systems on this list, like Clover, Vend and Lightspeed, allow you to choose your own payment processor.
How We Evaluated POS Systems
I’ve spent the past three years evaluating POS systems for Fit Small Business. Before that, I spent years working in and with small businesses using POS software every day. Based on my personal experience and time evaluating dozens of POS systems, Square is the best all-purpose POS system for most individuals and small businesses.
Click through the tabs below to see my full evaluation criteria:
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The most important feature we considered was inventory tracking. We also considered how sophisticated and user-friendly the reporting dashboard of each system is and what marketing and employee management tools are available.
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The best POS systems provide business owners more than a simple way to accept payments. POS trends such as mobile-first technology mean businesses can sell products and services anywhere, anytime. Artificial intelligence (AI) developments in POS software mean that instead of telling businesses how much product they have on-hand, POS systems can tell businesses exactly what they need to order and in what quantities. The best POS software combines analytics and ease of use at a price point that is accessible for small businesses.
Square POS is free to use, and its core features are powerful enough on their own that you may not even need the optional add-ons to build out the POS system. If you do opt to include the loyalty program, staff management features, or payroll, you’ll still likely pay less than some other POS systems. Get a free account today.