Having a cash management system is crucial for any retail store owners. A basic cash register can be suitable for some businesses, but most retailers are choosing feature-filled POS cash register software programs that run business operations much more effectively. We compare both options to pinpoint what’s best for your business.
When to Use a POS System
A point-of-sale (POS) system is best for most businesses because it allows retailers to manage all types of sales, transactions, and business operations under one streamlined computer system. Lightspeed is a top-rated POS that provides small businesses with unparalleled reporting tools. Visit Lightspeed for a free trial.
When to Use Cash Registers
Cash registers are best for small businesses that just need to ring up sales, run receipts, and receive cash, check, and credit card payments. Casio cash registers are a popular option that can be purchased for under $100.
POS System vs Cash Register at a Glance
|Accept check & cash sales|
|Process credit cards|
|Add tax to sales|
|Track departmental sales|
|Customer price displays|
|Inventory management & stock counts|
|Create & track purchase orders|
|Connect to webstore|
|Process & ship online orders|
|Accept phone orders & payments|
|Process & track returns in detail|
|Manage employee time|
|Track commissions & tips|
|Create, track & receive payment from invoices|
|Manage customer data|
|Discounts, marketing & loyalty programs|
|Track sales details & pull advanced reports|
|Where to try before buying|
Cash registers and POS systems are miles apart in terms of pricing and features. A cash register will cost you about $100 upfront, and as you can see from our comparison chart, offer basic sales features. A sophisticated POS cash register system will cost you about $99 per month with startup costs around $1,000, but offers dozens more features including advanced sales reports, inventory management, employee management, marketing features, and more.
“A POS system is one of the best investments that a retailer can make because it doesn’t allow store performance issues to be swept under the rug. POS systems let retailers create more profitable operations by managing inventory flow and velocity of items, starting on day one. We haven’t met a retailer who could give us answers about performance and profitability better than a POS system can. You have to look at a POS system not as an expense, but as an investment that will make the store money.”
– Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender, Retail Store Design Consultants at Kizer & Bender
Cash Register Pricing & Features
Unlike POS systems, which typically have a monthly software fee, cash registers are a one-time purchase. You can purchase a decent cash register for about $100, although some higher-end models can cost up to $299. All cash registers can ring sales, add tax, and offer daily reports. The differences usually come down to and LED versus LCD display screen, backup capabilities, and Bluetooth connectivity.
Cash register pricing and features include:
Cash Register Pricing
Basic cash registers are more affordable than POS software systems by a long shot. Cash registers cost around $100 total. Popular Casio cash register models include:
- Casio SE-G1: $99.99; available in pink, blue, and red; entry-level register
- Casio PCR-T280: $129; register for medium-sized businesses
- Thermal receipt paper: ~$11 for six rolls
Payment Processing on Cash Registers
If you simply need to receive payments, an inexpensive cash register will handle it all for you. Even the $100 models will track cash and check sales along with credit cards if you add a credit card terminal. With even the most basic models, you can print receipts for customers, add and track sales taxes, and tally the day’s sales. Prices can be entered manually or programmed with specific department keys.
Unlike POS systems, which typically come with built-in credit card processing (or at least offer a few options for direct integrations), cash registers do not have credit card processing capabilities. You will need to apply for a separate merchant account in order to accept card payments.
Sales Tracking & Reporting on Cash Registers
Cash registers can offer basic daily sales totals, and some can offer reporting by departments if you configure that setting. However, basic cash registers don’t provide very robust sales or tax totals, nor do they have a way to automatically deduct inventory as it sells. You’ll need to manually track inventory and business financials using spreadsheets or notebooks.
Inventory Management on Cash Registers
Cash registers have no inventory management functions. You’ll need to manage your inventory in a separate system or spreadsheet and rely more heavily on manual stock counts. If you have lots of inventory, using a POS system can save lots of time and manpower hours by tracking inventory automatically.
Employee Management on Cash Registers
Some cash registers have features to track sales by employee. This typically involves assigning employees a sign-on code that then tracks their sales. POS systems also have features for tracking employee sales. And, POS systems typically have more advanced employee management features like time tracking, reports on commissions and detailed employee sales, and sometimes payroll and employee scheduling.
Marketing Features on Cash Registers
Most cash registers have the ability to customize the top or bottom of customer receipts. Other than that, cash registers don’t have any marketing capabilities. Most POS systems come equipped with a customer database feature for tracking shoppers, and typically have options for email marketing and loyalty programs.
POS System Pricing & Features
POS stands for point-of-sale, which in retail terms is the customer checkout process. A POS cash register is a computerized cash register that rings up sales in a retail setting, processes payments, and tracks all of your sales, inventory, and customer data within one system. The best POS systems also have employee management and marketing features for your business built in. These cloud-based programs are typically $50 to $100 per month and can be operated on a variety of tablets and computers.
Specific POS cash register software features and pricing include:
POS System Pricing
Cash registers have one upfront fee for the physical hardware, whereas POS systems are software systems that typically have a monthly subscription fee. Lightspeed Retail is $99 per month and can operate on tablets or computers. However, unless you already have an iPad or extra computer handy to operate your POS, you will also need to purchase one.
Here are all the necessary costs associated with setting up a POS system:
- Software fees: $99 per month for Lightspeed Retail
- Hardware fees: Varies; need a tablet or computer; iPads can be purchased for under $400
- Cash drawer: Quoted pricing from POS provider, typically under $200
“Modern POS systems are far less expensive and easier to use than old cash registers. They feature intuitive interfaces on bright, clear touch screens and even work on iPads and smartphones.”
– Josh Phillips, Nobly POS
Payment Processing on POS Systems
Like cash registers, POS systems can accept cash and check payments. Unlike cash registers, POS systems typically have built-in credit and debit card payment processing. Having all of your payment processing tied together in one system allows for more accurate sales reporting, and helps prevent human error at checkout.
Sales Tracking & Reporting on POS Systems
Cash registers can provide daily totals and sometimes departmental totals. But POS systems can run reports on dozens of data points. Lightspeed Retail, for example, can offer you sales reports by the hour, day of the week, product category, and employee. Lightspeed includes 40 built-in reports, which can show you which products and product categories are the most profitable and best-selling. You can also create custom reports and have them automatically sent to you at the end of each day.
“Successful retailing is about having the right data about what is selling, at what price, and ultimately who is purchasing. Without a POS, you’re guessing. With that POS data, you can ultimately determine who you should be targeting with advertising based on customer data you’re capturing at the point of sale.”
– Ray Riley, Chief Executive Officer, People in Progress Global
Inventory Management on POS Systems
Cash registers do not track inventory—you have to create a separate system, which often means relying heavily on manual stock counts. POS systems automatically tie each sale to your inventory levels to deduct the specific products from your on-hand quantities. You can also set up low stock alerts and create purchase orders right from your POS.
Employee Management on POS Systems
POS systems almost always have settings to create specific employee logins to track their hours and transaction activity. Many POS systems also have options for processing payroll and scheduling shifts. Lightspeed Retail lets businesses run reports on employees, including sales per employee and average transaction value per employee. Lightspeed also helps predict peak times so you can staff accordingly.
Marketing Features on POS Systems
POS systems have customer databases where businesses can track customer names, contact information, and extra tidbits like birthdays and product preferences. POS systems also tie each transaction to a customer, so you know who shops at your business the most, and who your biggest customers are. Many POS systems also have options to create email marketing campaigns or loyalty programs based on your customer database.
For example, Lightspeed has a solution called Lightspeed Loyalty, which is a points-based rewards programs and marketing solution. You can create email campaigns with a drag-and-drop builder and send text messages with promotions. Lightspeed Loyalty automatically segments your customer data based on factors like purchasing history to send personalized and relevant offers.
Cash Register vs POS System: Ease of Use
Both cash registers and POS systems are relatively easy to use. Cash registers have manual buttons for entering items or prices, whereas POS systems typically operate on a touch screen. They both have minimal training times and are built for use in fast-paced retail environments.
Cash Register Ease of Use
Cash registers have push-buttons for entering in prices and items. A cash register’s functionality is very basic compared to a POS system, so there are fewer things to learn. However, whether someone is more comfortable with an analog system or a digital touch screen often comes down to personal preference.
POS System Ease of Use
POS systems might have a steeper learning curve than a traditional cash register, but mostly because they have many more capabilities than just ringing sales. However, if you are comfortable navigating other software programs and touch screen devices, learning how to use a POS system should be easy.
Cash Register vs POS System: Customer Service
Comparing customer service for cash registers and POS systems is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. One is a piece of hardware and the other is a software program. If a cash register breaks or if you need troubleshooting, your best bet is to contact the manufacturer. With POS systems, your monthly subscription fee typically includes speedy customer service and often a designated account representative.
Cash Register Customer Service
Cash registers can be purchased directly from the manufacturer or from a retailer like Staples, Office Depot, or Walmart. Purchasing directly from the manufacturer often offers the best customer service and product warranty.
POS System Customer Service
POS systems typically have customer service agents available via phone, email, and sometimes live chat on the POS’ website. Many POS companies, like Lightspeed, can offer users a dedicated representative. POS cash register systems also have community forums, whitepapers, and other guides available.
Cash Register vs POS System: Customer Reviews
Our chosen cash register (Casio) and POS system (Lightspeed) both have high user reviews. Casio’s reviews come from retail sites like Amazon, Walmart, and Office Depot. Lightspeed reviews come from software review sites, so their customer reviews are not a direct comparison. However, both systems are reported to be strong and reliable.
Cash Register Customer Reviews
Casio cash registers have very positive reviews. Users say that Casio models are lightweight, easy to use, and don’t take up a lot of space. Users also say it is easy to program different keys and functions.
POS System Customer Reviews
Lightspeed Retail also has positive reviews. Currently, Lightspeed Retail has 4 stars on our review page. Users like that it is easy to use and, unlike cash registers, provides a lot of real-time business data and insights upfront.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Deciding between a traditional cash register and a POS software system is a huge decision, especially if you are opening your first business. If you don’t find the answer to your question here, ask in our community forum, where an expert will get back to you.
When should I use a cash register?
If you simply need to receive payments, an inexpensive cash register will handle it all for you. If you have limited or no internet connection, a cash register also may be the better choice. If you don’t have internet access on a regular basis, a cash register with a phone line connection for credit card processing (if needed) is your best bet.
Are POS systems expensive?
They are more expensive than a cash register. But, if you’ve avoided switching to (or starting out with) a POS cash register for financial reasons, modern POS cash register systems may surprise you with their low operating costs and ease of use.
Having all of your data stored and accessible within one system makes your operations more efficient and, in many cases, more profitable. With a POS cash register, you get more than an electronic cash till with a glorified calculator. You get an entire retail store management solution.
What are the necessary hardware components of a POS system?
A POS system requires a tablet or computer to run the software and a cash drawer. If you are a retailer, you will also want a barcode scanner and a receipt printer. As with a traditional cash register, you will also need a card reader for accepting credit and debit card payments. Altogether, the hardware for a POS system can cost about $500 to $5,000, depending on whether or not you already have an iPad or computer, and what model hardware you purchase.
Which types of businesses should use a POS cash register system?
POS systems are ideal for any brick-and-mortar business because they make inventory tracking, sales reporting, and customer management much easier. Particularly, restaurants, boutiques, and specialty shops should use a POS system.
A budget-friendly electronic cash register runs about $100 and can handle basic retail checkout and payment needs. For some, it’s a just-right solution. But if you want to efficiently run your retail operation and have growth-driving data and tools at your fingertips, a POS cash register system is the answer.
If you choose a POS system, we recommend Lightspeed Retail. It offers the most comprehensive data and custom reporting out of all our top picks for small business POS. Plus, it has inventory management features that help you create purchase orders and actually place orders right through the POS. Visit Lightspeed for a free trial.