Cloud point-of-sale (POS) systems allow small businesses to accept in-person payments. Transactions happen in person while the payment processing happens in the cloud. The best cloud-based POS systems will also manage other business operations like inventory management, customer loyalty programs, and employee scheduling. Prices range from $0 upfront to a few hundred dollars per month.
Cloud POS systems are incredibly popular because they cost less upfront than locally installed POS systems that require an on-site server. Cloud POS systems also give business owners more flexibility to update and analyze their operations from anywhere with an internet connection.
Best Cloud-Based POS Systems for 2021:
- Lightspeed: Best overall cloud-POS system
- Square: Best free cloud POS
- Shopify: Best for omnichannel sellers that process ecommerce, mobile, and in-store sales
- Toast: Best restaurant cloud POS
- Vend: Best cloud POS for customer loyalty
- Shopkeep: Best cloud POS for flexible payments
How We Evaluated Cloud POS Systems
- Price: We evaluated cloud POS systems based on installation fees, monthly software fees, payment processing fees, and any add-on costs.
- Ease of use: The best POS systems should be intuitive and easy for anyone to use at any type of business.
- Payment processing: We looked at systems with built-in payment processing as well as those that allow businesses to bring their own merchant services provider.
- Inventory management: We considered what retail and/or restaurant inventory management features each POS includes, from low stock alerts, purchase order management, to ingredient-level tracking.
- Customer relationship management: The best Cloud-based POS systems have robust customer directories. Options for email marketing, loyalty programs, customer feedback, and gift cards are increasingly necessary for customers that like digital options.
- Employee management: Modern Cloud-based POS are quickly becoming end-to-end small business solutions. Many now feature employee management tools like built-in scheduling, time clocks, and user permissions.
- Online sales: As more consumers are shopping from home, buying online, and picking up in-store, we looked for cloud POS systems that include built-in options for online stores or integrated solutions.
- Integrations: From bookkeeping to marketing, to third-party delivery platforms, all POS software should offer integrations to help complete your ability to manage all aspects of your small business.
- Customer support: We considered the level of customer support satisfaction and availability for each system.
Based on these criteria, we found Lightspeed to be the best cloud POS. This POS system offers purely cloud functionality; all it needs to operate is a tablet and an internet connection. It also features software tools for retail, restaurant, and service businesses like salons and golf courses. Lightspeed POS pricing also starts at an incredibly reasonable price of $69 per month.
Lightspeed: Best Overall Cloud-Based POS
Lightspeed is a cloud-based POS system that operates on iPads or as a browser-based POS. Lightspeed offers tools for all types of retail and restaurant businesses, as well as a 14-day free trial of its software. Lightspeed features in-built tools for in-store and online purchases and has its own ecommerce platform that allows businesses to easily create an online store. Lightspeed’s pricing is competitive and starts at $69 per month for a single terminal.
Lots of options for several business types
Best pricing requires enrolling in Lightspeed Payments
Offers a free trial
Offline functionality is limited
Strong ecommerce features
- Software: Lightspeed offers five different subscription tiers; more than any other option on this list. They are Basic, Starter, Standard, Advanced, and Pro. A Basic subscription starts at $69 per month for a single terminal, while Pro memberships start at $229 per month.
- Hardware: Lightspeed operates in iPads or iMac desktop computers. You can purchase these through Lightspeed or bring your own. Lightspeed sells peripheral hardware like bar code scanners, receipt printers, cash drawers, and card readers at custom quoted prices.
- Installation: Lightspeed does not charge an additional installation fee.
- Payment processing: Lightspeed Payments is the built-in payment processor. In-person transactions are processed at a rate of 2.6% + 10 cents per transaction. Manually keyed in are 2.6% + 30 cents each. Lightspeed also integrates with TSYS and Vantiv if you want to bring your own processor. Though getting the lowest software fees requires singing on for Lightspeed Payments.
- Add-on modules: Lightspeed has its own set of add-ons for Loyalty, ecommerce, accounting, and analytics. You can try any of these for free for 14 days, after that prices vary. Contact Lightspeed directly to get a quote, as most rates aren’t listed on its site.
- Integrations: In addition to Lightspeed’s robust suite of functions, this cloud POS works with more than 80 third-party integrations. Integrations are available for employee scheduling, appointment scheduling, accounting, chatbots, payroll, equipment rental tracking, and third-party delivery platforms.
- Inventory management: Lightspeed POS’s inventory management features allow you to add items in bulk or individually. You can track stock levels across multiple locations and set low stock alerts. Advanced inventory features include integrated product catalogs and purchase orders, multiple item variants, aging product reports, work orders, layaway, and detailed product tagging and organization.
- Customer management: In addition to basic CRM functions like creating customer profiles, Lightspeed offers additional tools in LightSpeed Loyalty, allowing businesses to create a rewards program, build SMS and email marketing campaigns, send coupons and special offers, automatically segment customers for targeted messaging, create customer credit accounts, and detailed customer analytics.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Lightspeed offers a robust ecommerce platform that enables businesses to create custom websites with Lightspeed’s templates. From there you can sell locally or to an international customer base. Additional features allow you to sell your products on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram.
- Reporting and Analytics: Your cloud POS data can be accessed from any connected device to get a real-time look at what’s going on in your business. You can see how many customers visit your store, which items experience the most stockouts, and which hours your employees are working. Exporting your data into the reports module provides a more detailed picture.
For more robust analytics options, Lightspeed customers can use an accounting integration or purchase the Lightspeed Analytics add-on. The latter will add aging stock insights, customer loyalty metrics, and staff KPIs.
What Lightspeed Is Missing
Ballpark pricing is listed on Lightspeed’s website, but to get an accurate idea of total costs you’ll need to contact Lightspeed for a custom quote. Getting the best pricing requires signing up for Lightspeed payments and paying your fees annually rather than monthly, which can add to upfront costs.
Square: Best Free Cloud POS
Like Lightspeed, Square offers cloud POS solutions for a vast array of businesses. Square POS is an all-in-one cloud POS and credit card payment processor that is easy to set up and use, with no contracts or monthly fees. Brick and mortar shops or eateries will find industry-specific functions by opting for Square for Retail or Square for Restaurants. Square’s POS software requires using Square as your payment processor, but if your transactions average $20 or less, Square offers some of the lowest payment processing rates available. Square’s versatility and low price points make it one of the best POS systems for small businesses.
Baseline POS is Free
Loyalty and CRM are add-ons
Excellent Online Store functions
Must use Square payment processing
Does not require long term contract
- Software: Square POS is free to get started. You get your first magstripe card reader for free after you download the app. Retail or restaurant businesses that want additional POS functions like upgraded inventory or table-mapping, will want to explore Square for Retail or Square for Restaurants. Both of these targeted POS systems have a free baseline membership, though higher-tier functions are available by upgrading to a monthly fee of $60 per month.
- Hardware: Square POS operates on iPads or Android tablets. Square sends your first magstripe reader for free, but if you want chip or contactless readers, you’ll need to purchase them from Square’s website. It also sells POS bundles, alongside individual tablet stands, cash drawers, bar code scanners, and handheld Square Terminals. Prices range from $199 to $700 plus depending on your selections. Square POS stands are currently only compatible with iPads, however.
- Installation: Setting up your Square POS is an entirely do-it-yourself affair. The only thing it will cost you is the time it takes to customize to your preferences.
- Payment processing: Square lists payment processing rates publicly on its website. Currently, they are 2.6% + 10 cents per in-person swiped, dipped, or tapped transaction. Card-not-present, card-on-file, or manually keyed, payments are 3.5% + 15 cent fee.
- Add-on modules: Square’s POS integrates with the full suite of Square software solutions. Service businesses can connect to Square Appointments and Square Invoices. Brick and mortar shops and restaurants will love the Team Management, Payroll, Loyalty, and Marketing add-ons. Retail stores and restaurants can get additional functions by upgrading to Square for Retail or Square for Restaurants.
- Integrations: Square integrates with dozens of third-party solutions for everything from third-party delivery to kitchen display screens. Best of all, Square integrates with QuickBooks for easy accounting functions.
- Inventory management: Square POS includes standard inventory management features like the ability to view, manage, categorize, and track individual items across all locations in real time. It has daily stock alert emails, including low-stock alerts to avoid stockouts. You can add inventory items one at a time or in bulk with CSV imports and exports. The retail and restaurant POS offer more dynamic, industry-specific inventory tools.
- Customer Management: Square POS creates basic customer profiles that include purchase history. There’s also a customer feedback tool on digital receipts for collecting real-time feedback. Square Loyalty offers more robust features for an additional $45 per month. If you want to run email and social media campaigns via your Square POS, you’ll also need to add Square Marketing at an additional $15 per month.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Square POS has lots of support for businesses that want to sell online. The built-in Square Online Store syncs online and in-person sales data to a centralized location and is free to set up. Square POS also integrates with other ecommerce platforms, including WooCommerce, and Wix.
- Reporting and Analytics: Square POS reporting shows standard data like total overall sales and sales trends. You can see how much customers spend, how often they return merchandise, and which products they buy the most frequently. Square for Retail and Square for Restaurants offer additional reporting functions for those industries.
What Square Is Missing
Square POS is a terrific starter POS system, but it’s not great at fine customization that multi-unit or expanding businesses might need. The payment processing fees mostly stay the same regardless of sales volume; small businesses that process more than $30,000 per month in sales can find lower processing rates elsewhere.
Shopify: Best Cloud POS for Ecommerce
Shopify is an ecommerce platform first and a cloud POS second. It is especially good at integrating online channels with in-person sales channels. The cloud POS comes with standard features like inventory management, CRM, and payment processing. Additionally, it supports order tracking for shipped purchases. Shopify is ideal for online merchants who want to break into brick-and-mortar retail or pop-up shops that need support for temporary in-person activations.
Best in class ecommerce functions
Not many options for non-retail businesses
Competitive payment processing rates
Charges a fee for using third-party payment processors
Omnichannel selling tools
- Software: Shopify POS is an add-on to the Shopify ecommerce platform. The Shopify platform has three main plans: Basic Shopify, Shopify, and Advanced Shopify. Its respective monthly fees are $29, $79, and $299. The POS has two subscription options: Shopify POS Lite and Shopify POS Pro. POS Lite is included free in all Shopify plans. Pro POS comes at an additional $89 monthly fee.
- Hardware: Shopify POS operates on iPads. You can purchase peripherals like iPads stands, cash drawers, bar code scanners, receipt and label printers on the Shopify Hardware Store website. Kits that include an iPad stand and card reader start at $299.
- Installation: Setting up Shopify is do-it-yourself, so there are no installation fees.
- Payment processing: Shopify’s in-built payment processor charges 2.7% per in-person transaction, and 2.9% + 30 cents per online transaction. If you choose to use a third-party processor, Shopify charges a 1% to 2% fee on all transactions. This is in addition to the fees you pay to the payment processor. You’d need to score an incredibly low processing rate to make a third-party processor worth it.
- Add-on modules: Shopify POS can link your online store to commerce channels like Facebook, Instagram, or Amazon. An additional 40 apps work specifically with the Shopify POS, and 3,000+ additional apps work with the ecommerce platform. Some of these apps are free, while others come with download or subscription fees (which can add up if you’re not careful).
- Inventory management: Shopify is ecommerce-centric, so the inventory management function keeps your online and in-store stock levels in a central place. Shopify POS is also excellent at tracking stock through the various stages of receiving, selling, and shipping. Shopify’s higher-level plans also track stock levels across multiple store locations.
- Customer management: Shopify’s CRM features are not incredibly dynamic. You can create basic customer profiles with purchase history, contact information, and shopping preferences. You can also use automated emails to send order updates, digital receipts, and post-purchase promotions. Additional CRM features are available via integrations.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Shopify offers a comprehensive ecommerce platform for merchants, allowing you to build and customize your site with templates or custom coding. Everything is synced in real time to ensure that you don’t sell something online that you don’t have on hand.
- Reporting and analytics: Like the CRM, Shopify’s baseline reporting features are serviceable, but not robust. From the POS dashboard, you can check basics like sales, orders, traffic, and returns. Popular items and high-dollar items are featured, and you can compare the number of new versus returning customers. For advanced reporting, you’ll need to upgrade to Advanced Shopify.
What Shopify Is Missing
Shopify is all about ecommerce. Stores that don’t do a lot of online business will probably find the POS functionally thin. Getting the most out of the system is all about linking up the right third-party integrations, so it’s easy for costs to add up. Shopify POS also lacks detailed analytics reporting such as costing tools and comprehensive CRM features.
Toast: Best Cloud-Based Restaurant POS
Tailored for food-based businesses, Toast POS has standard inventory management, payment processing, and reporting features. It also adds restaurant-specific features like menu management, table mapping, online ordering and delivery, tableside ordering, and kitchen display integrations. Toast POS helps businesses control both back-end and front-of-house operations. Plans start at $69 per month, with custom-quoted, flat-rate payment processing rates.
Consistently Top-Rated POS for restaurants
High up-front cost
Continually developing new features to meet shifting business needs
Regular software updates can create a steep learning curve
Excellent offline functionality
All hardware must be purchased through Toast
- Software: Toast has three subscription tiers: Starter, Essentials, and Growth. Pricing starts at $69 per month for a Starter membership that offers baseline functions. To get online ordering and delivery functions, you’ll need to upgrade to Essentials at $99 per month. Growth includes Loyalty and Marketing modules as well, at $189 per month.
- Hardware: Toast operates on custom Toast Flex tablets. These are designed to withstand the challenging restaurant environment, but they can only be purchased via Toast. Options include POS terminals, self-service kiosks, kitchen display screens, and hand-held ToastGo devices to process orders and payments. Toast does not list hardware pricing publicly, you will need to contact Toast for a quote.
- Installation: Toast POS hardware comes with a steep one-time installation fee that starts at $499. This amount increases as you add hardware (like a kitchen display system) or complexity (like an in-house online ordering and delivery management).
- Payment processing: Toast’s built-in payment processing fees are a fixed flat rate. This is typically ideal for businesses that have a high average order value (AOV), but it’s hard to assess as the rates aren’t disclosed on its website.
- Add-on modules: Toast POS offers features that most other cloud POS systems don’t, including tableside orders and payments, table mapping, order ready notifications, and split checks. Toast also has tools to collect customer feedback in real time at checkout.
- Inventory management: Toast POS tracks inventory down to the ingredient. You can create menu categories, subcategories, and multiple modifier screens. You can adjust modifier pricing and view item countdowns to avoid stockouts. Toast’s dynamic ingredient-level inventory tracking is the backbone of its menu management module, which identifies which dishes should be removed from your menu in an easy to scan grid.
- Customer management: Toast POS allows you to create customer profiles, send digital receipts, and collect and respond to feedback. For an extra monthly fee, you can add Toast Loyalty, which supports a customizable rewards program. Create milestone or points-based rewards and get analytics reports on who your most loyal customers are. Toast Marketing further allows you to create custom, targeted emails to reward regulars or entice customers to return.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Toast offers in-built online ordering and delivery management at the Essentials and Growth membership tiers, or through their ToastNow ordering platform. You create an online ordering website via Toast and all those orders go directly to your kitchen. Toast also integrates with all the popular third-party delivery platforms.
- Reporting and analytics: Toast POS is the only one on this list with restaurant-specific reports that focus on ingredients, tips, and table turn time. Toast shows you how many patrons each employee served in any given shift, compares locations, and shows which days and times are busiest. Toast POS will also send an email at the end of each night with a comprehensive snapshot of the day’s sales and costs.
What Toast Is Missing
Unlike most other cloud POS systems, Toast only works on its own, custom-built Android devices. It’s also focused on food-based businesses, so it’s not the best option for “traditional” retailers interested in things like product bundling. Basic pricing information is on their website. For a total cost breakdown, schedule a demo to get a custom quote.
Vend: Best Cloud POS for Loyalty
Vend POS is an iPad, Mac, or PC compatible cloud POS option that includes a full suite of inventory and reporting features. CRM functions are where Vend shines. This system offers a robust customer loyalty program that supports store credit offers and point-based loyalty. Ecommerce functions require a third-party integration, though. Starting at $99 per month, Vend is one of the pricier options on this list.
Works on iPads, Macs, and PC’s
Offers a free trial
Some sales volume limitations
Can choose your payment processor
Ecommerce function requires third-party integration
- Software: Vend POS has three pricing tiers: Lite, Pro, and Enterprise. The Lite POS is offered at $99 per month when billed annually ($119 when paid month to month). Pro is offered at $129 per month with annual billing; $159 when paid monthly. Enterprise subscriptions require a custom quote. Vend offers a 14-day free trial to test drive the system.
- Hardware: Vend works on iPads, Macs, and PCs. You can purchase hardware separately or through Vend. Through Vend, retailers can purchase hardware bundles with printers, registers, cash drawers, and scanners. Bundle pricing ranges from $600 to over $1000, depending on your preferences.
- Installation: There is no installation fee. Vend POS can be downloaded from the Apple app store for iPad users, or accessed via a browser from any internet-connected device.
- Payment processing: Vend uses third-party processors for credit card transactions, so you can shop around for the best rate and bring your own processor. Unlike Shopify, Vend does not charge any additional transaction fees on payments processed through third-party processors.
- Add-on modules: If you want to take advantage of Vend’s loyalty program capabilities, you’ll want to upgrade to Vend Pro. Vend doesn’t have any in-built add-on features, though there are several available third-party integrations for accounting, ecommerce, staff management, and wholesale management. Vend also has an open API, so a software programmer can easily build a new integration if you need one.
- Inventory management: Similar to ShopKeep, Vend allows you to bulk upload/export, add variants, bundle products, and split groups. You can manage wholesale stock and use groups and tags to organize products in a central product database.
- Customer Management: Vend Lite has basic CRM features like customer profiles that track purchase history and contact information. Upgrading to Vend Pro unlocks VIP customer groups, gift cards, store credit, and a flexible loyalty program with customizable rewards and points. You can easily upload your customer database via a CSV file and manage your customer list across any platform you have integrated with Vend.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Vend doesn’t have built-in ecommerce functions, so you can’t launch an online store with Vend alone. Instead, Vend integrates with ecommerce platforms, like Shopify, BigCommerce, and WooCommerce. Vend’s Shopify integration is the most seamless, and it’s also the one Vend recommends small businesses use.
- Reporting and Analytics: Vend Lite and Vend Pro both include custom analytics reporting with the ability to filter data, similar to Lightspeed Retail. Pro comes with advanced reporting functions, including discounts, employee insights, seasonal trends, and gift card analytics.
What Vend Is Missing
Vend’s entry-level Lite plan is limited to businesses that process $20,000 in sales per month. To process anything higher requires upgrading to the Pro plan, at $129 to $159 per month. Adding ecommerce features or additional integrations to customize your Vend POS can add more subscription costs. Depending on your store’s needs, Vend can get pretty pricey pretty fast.
ShopKeep: Best Cloud POS for Flexible Payments
ShopKeep’s cloud-based POS works on iPads or Android tablets. Built for small to mid-sized retailers, ShopKeep focuses on user-friendly inventory management and flexible payment options. This is great for boutiques, specialty shops, or restaurant-retail hybrid businesses that sell packaged foods alongside made-to order dishes. Other features include high level reporting, staff management, and ecommerce sites.
Works on iPads or Android tablets
Some functions only available at higher price tiers
Shopkeep Payments offers flat rate or interchange plus processing rates
Doesn’t support credit card pre-authorizations on bar tabs
Tons of payment options, including pay by text
Doesn’t support dual cash drawer tills
- Software: ShopKeep has three pricing tiers: Basic, Essential, and Advanced. When paid annually, the Basic package starts at $49 per month for a single terminal. Essential and Advanced are $79 and $179, respectively. You can also pay month-to-month, in which case prices are $20 higher ($69, $99, and $199). You can also contact Shopkeep for a custom quote based on your business’s specific needs.
- Hardware: Shopkeep works on iPads or Android tablets. You can buy supported devices and accessories via Shopkeep’s website, either individually or as part of a bundle. The Basic hardware kit for retail includes an iPad enclosure, cash drawer, card reader, and receipt printer and starts at $809. The Basic Restaurant bundle includes those items plus a kitchen printer and ethernet cable and starts at $1,166.
- Installation: Shopkeep does not list an installation fee on its website.
- Payment processing: ShopKeep offers built-in payment processing, called Shopkeep Payments. Shopkeep Payments offers flat rate payment processing at a rate of 2.5% plus 10 cents per in-person transaction. You can also contact Shopkeep to get a custom interchange plus rate for your business. Shopkeep Payment supports in-person swiped, dipped, tapped, contactless and mobile wallet payments. There are also online and ecommerce payment features built-in. Customers can even pay you via text.
- Add-on modules: ShopKeep is designed to be an all-in-one POS tool, so there aren’t a lot of features that are offered separately, though some features like loyalty and ecommerce are only included in the higher-level subscription tiers.
- Inventory management: Shopkeep’s inventory module is very user-friendly and includes standard features like bulk upload, and product variants. Inventory reports show inventory value, sales trends, and revenue-driving products. You can also create sales projections and delegate order-receiving to a specific employee.
- Customer management: ShopKeep’s Loyalty module is available to Advanced customers and supports a standard customer profile with point-based rewards and reports to identify top customers. While it doesn’t have built-in email functionality, Shopkeep’s integration with Mailchimp is seamless when you want to run targeted email campaigns.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Shopkeep’s ecommerce functions are included at higher tiers of membership and powered by Ecwid. Shopkeep users can build an ecommerce site using Shopkeep templates. These sites sync with your central inventory so you never sell items that you don’t have on-hand. The ecommerce site is also the foundation of Shopkeep’s online ordering function for restaurant users.
- Reporting and analytics: Shopkeep’s BackOffice dashboard shows both high level views and nitty-gritty details. ShopKeep features several reporting options that illustrate staff productivity. You can quickly identify top-selling employees and drill down further with hourly labor and shift-specific sales reports.
What ShopKeep Is Missing
Shopkeep has put in a lot of work recently to expand its POS offering. This system is only missing granular features like dual drawer cash tills to support high-volume shops or credit-card pre-authorizations on open tabs to support bars. It would also be nice if the Basic subscription tier included ecommerce functions.
Alternatives to Cloud POS Systems
Cloud POS systems are only one type of POS. Locally-installed and Hybrid POS systems may support businesses that need additional security or offline functionality.
A Locally-Installed POS is a system that is not connected to the internet. It’s most popular in foodservice businesses. These are systems like Speedline, Aloha, and Micros that have been around for decades and operate by networking several terminals through a central server that is usually housed in a business’s back office. Locally-installed POS only work on-site and cannot be accessed via the internet, so you can only make updates and view reports from your business location.
Locally installed systems tend to be more secure than purely cloud-based systems and they have no problem with offline functionality since they are not connected to the internet. They also tend to be much more expensive upfront, however. A brand-new locally-installed solution will set you back $10,000 to $15,000 or more.
A hybrid POS is a system that combines the flexibility of a cloud-POS and the stability of a locally-installed POS. Many popular cloud-based POS, like Toast and Lightspeed, actually offer a hybrid installation option. A hybrid installation networks your terminals, printers, card readers, and other hardware through a free-standing server in your business location. The connections are usually made through Wi-Fi signals, though some rely on ethernet cabling.
This hybrid installation option is usually what gives some cloud-based POS stronger offline functionality. Hybrid systems tend to come at a slightly higher upfront cost than a purely cloud-based system, but they don’t even come close to the expense of a locally installed system. You can expect hybrid installations to add $500 to $1,000 to your upfront costs, because they usually require a visit from an installation technician to set up.
Small business needs are changing faster than they ever have before, and the flexibility, speed, and mobility of a cloud-based POS can help businesses navigate an ever-shifting consumer landscape. Every business has different requirements, and the type of software tools they choose will reflect that.
Lightspeed POS’s dynamic cloud-based tools come the closest to supporting the widest variety of small businesses. Lightspeed offers just about everything a small retail shop, restaurant, or service business needs to get started, and it can scale with you as your business grows. To see if Lightspeed is a fit for your business, sign up for a free demo by clicking the button below.