This article is part of a larger series on POS Systems.
Retailers need functionality beyond simply processing payments in today’s competitive landscape. Retail point-of-sale (POS) systems must also have robust inventory control, multichannel sales tools, streamlined customer relationship management features, and insights into which products and employees perform best. The best retail POS systems offer all these functions in an affordable and easy-to-use package.
Based on our evaluation, the best retail POS systems are:
- Best overall (and best free): Square for Retail
- Best for omnichannel sales: Shopify POS
- Best for inventory management: Lightspeed Retail
- Best for flexible payment processing: Vend by Lightspeed
Best Retail POS Systems Compared
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Square for Retail: Best Overall Retail POS System
Overall, Square offers some of the best POS systems for small businesses of all types. Square for Retail is no exception. The starter plan is free to use, while the Plus plan offers some more sophisticated features and the Premium plan provides access to almost all products in the Square ecosystem. The system is cloud-based, runs on iPads or Square Register, and is incredibly easy to use.
Every plan comes with built-in payments, a free online store for ecommerce and curbside pickup, digital receipts and customer feedback collection, a barcode-based user interface, and customer profiles with marketing insights.
In our evaluation, Square for Retail earned a 4.58 out of 5 and is the only system to earn a perfect score for pricing. It stands out as a user-friendly system offering unbeatable value and smart tools to grow your business. It lost points for a lack of advanced reporting tools and limited support hours.
Interested in learning more about Square? Check out our full Square for Retail review.
Square for Retail Features
- Checkout tools: Barcode-based user interface comes with advanced product search, save carts for later, and return and exchange processing. Online orders automatically appear in the POS registers. There are options for mobile, contactless, QR codes, gift cards, and online payments.
- Inventory management: Perform variant tracking and control, set up low stock alerts, create and print barcodes, receive stock from the app in bulk, create and track purchase orders as they come in, manage vendors, and perform stock counts and COGS tracking.
- Sophisticated hardware: In addition to running on iPads, Square for Retail operates on Square Register, a countertop POS with a detachable customer-facing display with built-in chip, swipe, and contactless payments.
- Omnichannel features: Every account comes with a free online store, features to sell on Instagram, an innovative website builder, automatic inventory sync, and omnichannel tools, like in-store pickup and local delivery.
- CRM tools: Automatically generate customer profiles based on the payment method, create and segment customer groups, add shopper details, and send digital receipts with feedback surveys.
- Square ecosystem: One of the most significant benefits of using Square is having seamless integration with all of its additional business tools, like payroll, team management, appointments, loyalty, invoicing, and an online store. You can add and remove software at any time to build a solution customized for your business.
- Employee management: Square for Retail Plus includes advanced team management features like shift scheduling and swapping, custom permission settings, activity logs, and advanced reporting.
What Square is missing:
Square has limited customer support hours, unlike Shopify and Vend, which offer customer service agents 24/7. The provider also lacks specialty/custom orders (something that Lightspeed Retail provides) and layaway payment methods—a feature that the Vend POS software provides.
Shopify POS: Best Retail POS for Omnichannel Sales
Shopify POS is an add-on to Shopify’s industry-leading ecommerce platform. It’s only available to Shopify ecommerce sellers, so it’s best for online stores looking to expand to in-person sales or small businesses looking to sell online and upgrade their in-store software program.
What makes this provider shine is that it offers powerful, comprehensive omnichannel selling features that make it the best option for retailers wanting to grow online sales or emphasize curbside pickup—a necessity for retailers today.
In our evaluation, Shopify earned a 4.48 out of 5, with perfect marks for ease of use and a near-perfect score for register features. Shopify offers sophisticated sales tools in a customizable, user-friendly package that can grow with your business. Ecommerce subscription requirements and its limited functionality in the free POS plan prevented Shopify from earning a higher score.
Shopify POS Features
- Omnichannel sales: Customers can browse in-store and have items emailed to them, scan QR codes to open product pages on your website, and get real-time shipping updates. You can offer curbside pickup, accept returns and exchanges for online purchases in-store, and ship in-store purchases to customers’ homes. All data seamlessly syncs between ecommerce and in-store.
- Checkout: Customize the register screen, add shortcuts, sell on mobile, customize receipts, and save carts.
- Products and inventory management: Create collections and item variants, manage multiple locations, track stock levels, manage purchase orders, receive vendor shipments, set up low stock alerts, forecast product demands, and get suggestions for items to discount. These tools, along with the ability to integrate with consignment software, make it our top pick for consignment store POS systems.
- Reporting: View stats at-a-glance, see cash flows, review finance reports, and track cash and daily sales.
- Staff management: Assign individual PINs, set custom permissions, and attribute sales to award commissions.
- Customer management: Create customer profiles, segment customers, add notes to profiles and individual orders, set marketing preferences, and build loyalty programs.
- Marketing: Collect product reviews, create email marketing campaigns, integrate social media accounts, and create Google Ad campaigns.
What Shopify is missing:
At the end of the day, Shopify is designed primarily for online retailers, and you have to have a Shopify ecommerce account to access the POS system. The cost of the ecom subscription can add up if you also subscribe to POS Pro to access advanced reporting and staff management tools. Consider Square for a more affordable option.
Lightspeed Retail: Best for Inventory Management & Custom Orders
Since our last update: Lightspeed has started to introduce a dual display compatible POS system.
Lightspeed Retail is a robust retail POS system that includes more than 40 sales and inventory reports, analytics tools, and detailed inventory management. This provider also has top-of-the-line ecommerce and loyalty add-ons.
Overall, Lightspeed Retail is one of the best retail POS systems because of its sophisticated inventory and analytics tools. However, its unique native features for processing custom and work orders make it especially great for specialty shops like bike stores or jewelers that need to process repairs or order individual parts.
In our evaluation, Lightspeed Retail earned a 4.43 out of 5, with a perfect score for ease of use and a near-perfect score for management features. It’s also ranked as our top-recommended POS for inventory management. Expensive subscriptions and a complex checkout screen prevented Lightspeed Retail from earning a higher score.
Interested in learning more about Lightspeed? Check out our full Lightspeed review.
Lightspeed Retail Features
- Inventory management: Manage custom orders from shoppers, bundle items for gift baskets, and anticipate inventory needs. This forecasting tool and ability to predict shopping trends are part of what sets Lightspeed apart from the competition.
A well-run inventory management system starts by barcoding your products. Learn how to create barcodes and utilize our barcode generator with our article How to Make a Barcode + Free Barcode Generator.
- Supplier market: Lightspeed POS comes with over 8 million products loaded in the supplier directory, so you can create, manage, and submit purchase orders from within the system and easily import accurate product information. View updates on orders in real time.
- Customer management: Create customer profiles, track transactions, assign VIP status, manage promo codes, and sell and redeem gift cards. Automated loyalty program available with Standard and Advanced plans.
- Reporting and analytics: Lightspeed includes more than 40 built-in reports that cover inventory, sales, employee performance, and more in one analytics dashboard. What sets it apart is it translates data into actionable business tips. For example, Lightspeed can take sales and traffic data and translate that into staffing and inventory reports to help you prepare for peak hours.
- Ecommerce and omnichannel tools: Lightspeed eCom integrates seamlessly with the POS software. Choose from several mobile-responsive and customizable online store templates and manage inventory, product pages, shipping, returns and exchanges, marketing, and reports. Lightspeed eCom is available in multiple languages and currencies, with international shipping options. Boost traffic by connecting your social accounts, utilizing its SEO tools, and sending newsletters and notification emails.
What Lightspeed Retail is missing:
The main drawback of Lightspeed Retail is that all of its robust inventory and analytics tools result in a busy and complex interface. It also comes with a big price tag. If you are looking for a user-friendly and affordable option, consider Square for Retail.
Vend by Lightspeed: Best Retail POS for Flexible Payments
Vend by Lightspeed is an intuitive iPad POS system built specifically for retailers, with key features such as built-in loyalty programs, mobile checkout, a free customer-facing display app, and a mobile scanner app for quick inventory counts. It also stands out for its flexible payment options—you can choose your own merchant account and set up custom payment types like layaway, store credit, and on-account sales.
The checkout screen is also one of the easiest to navigate, especially when it comes to ringing returns and exchanges. While many POS systems try to offer every feature for every business, Vend focuses on providing fantastic in-store retail functions and lets third-party apps handle everything else.
In our evaluation, Vend by Lightspeed earned a 4.33 out of 5. It has exceptional functionality, but its steep price point prevented it from earning a higher score. Vend by Lightspeed is especially pricey when you consider that you will need a separate ecommerce software and employee management tools on top of your monthly fees.
Vend by Lightspeed Features
- Checkout: Customize the POS app with shortcuts, add notes and line items to transactions and customer receipts, save transactions to complete later, manage gift cards, and set up layaway and on-account payments.
- Payment processing: While Vend by Lightspeed automatically comes integrated with Lightspeed Payments, it can also integrate with CardConnect (First Data), Chase, Elavon, Klarna, PayPal, Square, Worldpay, and others so you can shop around for the lowest rates. Vend also offers lots of flexibility with features like store credit and layaway payments. You should note, however, that your Vend monthly rate will go up if you don’t use Lightspeed Payments, so weigh that cost when you are comparing merchant account options.
- Inventory: Track inventory across multiple stores, create a centralized product catalog, edit products in bulk, automate purchase orders, create variants and composites, and print labels and barcodes. It has a unique scanner mobile app to look up products by barcode, perform inventory counts, update stock counts, and add new products to the catalog.
- Customer management: Create customer profiles, import existing customer lists, sell and redeem gift cards, segment customer groups, export customers to email marketing software, issue store credit, and create a custom loyalty program.
- Add-ons and integrations: MailSync syncs Vend POS data to Mailchimp, Constant Contact, and other email software. Connect with other marketing tools like Yotpo and Perkville, inventory tools like Orderhive and Sku IQ, accounting tools like QuickBooks and Gusto, ecommerce platforms BigCommerce and Shopify, and more.
- Employee management: Create customized user logins and permissions for staff, require employee passwords for each sale to track performance, and get register and shift reports. One unique feature of Vend is setting individual employee and team sales goals and average basket sizes.
- Reporting: Customize reports and adjust filters and variables to view data on customers, inventory, and employees. View real-time stock levels, gift card data, and team performance from anywhere with its mobile-friendly web-based dashboard.
What Vend by Lightspeed is missing:
As with Lightspeed, Vend is expensive. In addition, Vend recommends using a third-party ecommerce platform for multiple stores, and you need a separate employee management tool to manage staff, making it a not-so-ideal solution for businesses on a budget. Consider going with Square for Retail and sign up for its free plan if you need a less expensive option.
How We Evaluated Retail POS Systems
We prioritized POS systems that are affordable, reliable, and easy to use. We also considered inventory management tools, online store and multichannel selling features, customer and employee management, payment processing options, reporting and accounting tools, customer support hours and quality, and third-party integrations.
Each system on our list has multiple hardware options, including iPad apps, tools for selling online, and multiple plans so the software can grow with your business. Every system on this list is also cloud-based. Based on our evaluation, Square for Retail is the best overall retail POS system, earning a 4.58 out of 5.
Click through the tabs below for our in-depth evaluation criteria:
15% of Overall Score
We prioritized systems with a starter plan with monthly fees of less than $75, awarding extra points to systems that offer a free plan. We also considered payment processing fees and whether each system offers negotiable or volume discount rates. Finally, we penalized systems that cap the number of users, products, transactions, or sales you can process without upgrading plans. Square for Retail is the only provider that got a perfect score in this criteria.
20% of Overall Score
Retailers need speedy checkout tools like customizable hotkeys and easy product lookup, return management, and mobility to ring sales curbside or on the sales floor. We also prioritized systems with flexible payment tools like contactless, gift cards, store credit, layaway, and order-ahead options. Finally, we considered whether each system could process custom, work, or service orders, such as repairs. Shopify POS was the runaway winner in this category with its customizable mobile checkout feature.
35% of Overall Score
The most important consideration was inventory management—low-stock alerts, matrix inventory, and purchase orders, plus easy stock counts and shipment receiving. We also looked into CRM tools like directories, loyalty programs, marketing, and customer feedback collection. Additional points were given for employee management features, including logins, scheduling, and commission reporting. Seamless omnichannel management for creating an online store and processing ecommerce orders and detailed reporting for products, sales, customers, and employees were also considered. Lightspeed Retail won this category with its standout inventory and analytics tools.
15% of Overall Score
Easy installation, detailed training materials, and 24/7 customer support were essential considerations. We also prioritized systems that are a hybrid installation or otherwise offer an offline mode, so that you can still operate if the internet goes down. Finally, we awarded points to software that can run on various hardware so retailers can choose their preferred devices. Lightspeed Retail, Shopify POS, and Vend by Lightspeed all got perfect scores in this criteria. Square for Retail’s only minus point was limited customer support hours.
15% of Overall Score
In this section, we evaluated each system by its comprehensive feature set (including any standout tools), the value it offers for the price, popularity and user reviews, whether or not the system experiences a lot of downtime, and the overall experience of navigating the system’s interface. Square for Retail and Shopify POS got our top votes.
Meet the Experts
The evaluation and selection of the POS systems that ended up on this list were performed by two of Fit Small Business’s top retail experts. Get to know them below.
Brigitte Hodge is a retail specialist with several years of retail management experience. Before joining Fit Small Business, Brigitte worked on a variety of point-of-sale systems to run a store in downtown Denver. Brigitte has since been writing as a retail expert, evaluating POS systems and working with them firsthand to learn their ins and outs.
Meaghan Brophy has 10-plus years of retail experience, during which she has operated a variety of cash registers and POS systems in different settings and applications.
Since working in retail, Meaghan has 7-plus years of experience writing for retailers and 4-plus years of experience evaluating POS systems.
Retail POS System Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Click through the questions below to get answers to some of your most asked questions about retail POS systems.
What is a POS system?
A POS or point-of-sale system is the software and hardware that businesses use to process transactions and track business activities, like inventory, sales data, your staff, and more.
Learn more: What is a POS System
What POS system is the cheapest?
There are several POS system providers that offer completely free accounts. Our top pick for a free POS system is Square POS, as all the basic POS features are free for a single location, and there are affordable plans to support you as you grow.
Learn more: Best Free POS Systems
What POS system is the best?
In our evaluation, Square offers the best POS system not only for retailers, but across the board for all types of small businesses.
Learn more: Best POS Systems for Small Businesses
What POS system is best for retail?
Square offers the best POS system for retailers, with a free plan, tons of great tools, an included ecommerce site, and integrated payment processing.
Learn more: Square for Retail review
A retail POS system is a crucial software tool that serves as the central hub for your retail business. In addition to processing sales, retail POS systems collect and analyze data to help inform purchasing and staffing decisions, manage employees and inventory, and help build your customer base with loyalty and marketing efforts.
Square for Retail is our top pick because it has a free plan to help new businesses (or businesses new to using a point of sale) get started, with plans and add-ons to grow with your business. Square also makes it easy and free to set up a basic online store with in-store pickup options, manage customers, and track sales. Visit Square to create a free account.