Cloud point-of-sale (POS) systems are online or web-based software that allow businesses to process customer transactions and manage business operations like inventory and customer management. Because cloud POS systems operate online through a browser or app, they are usually easy to set up and use and cost a lot less to install than a local POS that requires an on-site server.
Plus, online POS systems allow business owners flexibility to update and analyze their operations from anywhere with an internet connection. This flexibility, combined with easy setup and low price points, makes cloud POS systems an ideal option for most small businesses.
5 Best Cloud POS Systems for 2021
How We Evaluated Cloud POS Software
Cloud-based POS systems are designed for businesses that want the convenience of managing their stores remotely while reducing the amount of physical paperwork in the back-end. Compared to traditional POS software, cloud POS stores the majority, if not all, of its data online. This means a business owner can access all information about the business in real time, whether it has just one location or multiple across various sites and time zones.
In this review, I looked at the most popular online POS systems with cloud capabilities and based my evaluation on what’s important to small businesses, paying particular attention to price, inventory management, customer relationship management (CRM), online ordering, mobile reporting, contactless payment, and other mobile tools. I also considered ease of use and whether the service offered 24/7 customer support and online tutorials and training.
Based on our criteria, I found Lightspeed to be the best cloud POS, receiving a total score of 4.70 out of 5. This system offers a purely cloud functionality, and all it needs to operate is a tablet and an internet connection. It features software tools for retail, restaurant, and service businesses, like salons and golf courses. Lightspeed POS’ monthly fees start at an incredibly reasonable rate of $69.
Click through each of the tabs in the box below to see our evaluation criteria in detail:
20% of Overall Score
For this criterion, I considered the following features to be key to a fairly priced cloud POS software: a base plan that costs under $75 per month, zero installation fee, and the availability of volume processing discounts. I also gave points to those that allowed more than 10 users and devices, as well as an unlimited number of transactions.
25% of Overall Score
Second to cloud and mobile functions, I looked at whether the software had the basic features that would help a business operate on the cloud. These include inventory management, employee monitoring, and customized reporting. Also considered in the evaluation are whether the software provided robust CRM and loyalty tools.
30% of Overall Score
The most important feature that a cloud POS needs is the ability to consistently function online. I looked at whether or not the software can log into the system from any device, offers a mobile reporting feature, and provides options for on-the-go and contactless payments. The ability to continue processing transactions in offline mode was also a key consideration.
15% of Overall Score
Ease of use is important to operating a software that works remotely. Thus, I gave points to those that offer online training and tutorials, as well as provided 24/7 access to customer support.
10% of Overall Score
I considered any standout features for each system, how easy to use each product is, user reviews, and whether it generally offers a good value for its price.
- Lots of options for several business types
- Offers a free trial
- Strong ecommerce features
- Best pricing tier requires enrolling in Lightspeed Payments
- Offline functionality is limited
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||4.69||OUT OF||5|
|General Features||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Cloud and Mobility||4.38||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.50||OUT OF||5|
Lightspeed is a cloud-based POS system that operates on iPads or as a browser-based POS. The software offers tools for all types of retail and restaurant businesses, as well as a 14-day free trial. Lightspeed features built-in tools for in-store and online purchases and has its own ecommerce platform that allows businesses to easily create an online store. Its pricing is competitive, starting at $69 per month for a single terminal.
Lightspeed is affordable and offers robust mobility, inventory, and online reporting features, making it the best overall cloud-based POS. In our evaluation, Lightspeed scored 4.70 out of 5. It offers a complex user interface, and limited mobile options prevented Lightspeed from getting a perfect score.
- Software fee: Lightspeed offers five different subscription tiers, which is 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: The software operates on iPads and iMac desktop computers. You can purchase these through Lightspeed or bring your own. The company also sells peripheral hardware like bar code scanners, receipt printers, cash drawers, and card readers at custom quoted prices.
- Installation fee: Lightspeed does not charge an additional installation fee.
- Payment processing: Lightspeed Payments is its built-in payment processor. In-person transactions are processed at a rate of 2.6% + 10 cents per transaction, while manually keyed in transactions cost 2.6% + 30 cents each. Lightspeed also integrates with TSYS and Worldpay if you want to bring your own processor, though getting the lowest software fees requires signing onto 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, but after that, prices vary. Contact Lightspeed directly to get a quote, as most rates aren’t listed on its website.
- 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’ 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 via Lightspeed Loyalty. This tool enables you 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 generate detailed customer analytics.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Lightspeed offers a robust ecommerce platform that enables businesses to create custom websites with built-in 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.
- Robust ecommerce functions
- Competitive payment processing rates
- Omnichannel selling tools
- Not many options for non-retail businesses
- Charges a fee for using third-party payment processors
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||4.38||OUT OF||5|
|General Features||4.25||OUT OF||5|
|Cloud and Mobility||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.81||OUT OF||5|
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.
In our evaluation, Shopify earned an overall score of 4.67 out of 5. Robust cloud and mobility features and ease of use earned the system a high score. Shopify POS is only available to Shopify ecommerce subscribers, and key features—such as multiple staff roles and permissions, unlimited register, and detailed reporting—are available only with the Pro plan. These limitations prevented Shopify from earning a perfect score.
- Software fee: 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, while 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—from the Shopify Hardware Store website. Kits that include an iPad stand and card reader start at $299.
- Installation fee: Setting up Shopify is do-it-yourself, so there are no installation fees.
- Payment processing fee: Shopify’s built-in 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 location. Shopify POS is also excellent at tracking stock through the various stages of receiving, selling, and shipping. Its 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 vs returning customers. For advanced reporting, you’ll need to upgrade to Advanced Shopify.
What Shopify Is Missing
Shopify is all about ecommerce, so 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 costs can add up. Shopify POS also lacks detailed analytics reporting tools, like costing and comprehensive CRM features.
- Has integrated intake forms and waivers
- Resource booking options
- Can design and sell memberships with autopay
- Has a free trial
- Expensive payment processing fees
- Very basic reporting tools
- Can be slow and glitchy
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|General Features||3.50||OUT OF||5|
|Cloud and Mobility||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||3.75||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||5.00||OUT OF||5|
Square 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 and 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.
In our evaluation, Square earned a score of 4.44 out of 5, with perfect marks for mobility and cloud tools. Though Square POS is free, features like loyalty programs and marketing are only available with a separate subscription. Limited reporting tools and customer support hours also prevented Square from earning a perfect score.
- Software fee: Square POS is free to get started, and 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 and 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 and Android tablets. The provider 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+, depending on your selections. However, note that Square POS stands are currently only compatible with iPads.
- Installation fee: 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 fee: Square lists payment processing rates publicly on its website. Currently, they are 2.6% + 10 cents per in-person swiped, dipped, and tapped transaction. Card-not-present, card-on-file, or manually keyed, payments cost 3.5% + 15 cents.
- 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, while 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 (KDSes). 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 histories. 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. Also, the payment processing fees mostly stay the same regardless of sales volume, so small businesses that process more than $30,000 per month in sales can find lower processing rates elsewhere.
- Consistently top-rated POS for restaurants
- Continually developing new features to meet shifting business needs
- Excellent offline functionality
- High upfront cost
- Regular software updates can create a steep learning curve
- All hardware must be purchased through Toast
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||3.00||OUT OF||5|
|General Features||3.25||OUT OF||5|
|Cloud and Mobility||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||3.75||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.81||OUT OF||5|
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.
Having a robust cloud and mobility feature with multiple options for payments and detailed inventory management and reporting tools make this a good cloud POS solution for those in the foodservice industry. In our evaluation, Toast earned a score of 3.96 out of 5. Toast has just about every feature a restaurant could need, but many key functions like online ordering and team management are available as add-ons, which can make Toast pricier for some users.
- Software fee: 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 and costs $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, so you will need to contact Toast for a quote.
- Installation fee: 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, as well as 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: The software 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. Use it to create milestone or points-based rewards and get analytics reports on who your most loyal customers are. Toast Marketing further allows you to create customized and targeted emails to reward regulars or entice customers to return.
- Online sales and ecommerce: Toast offers built-in online ordering and delivery management at the Essentials and Growth membership tiers or through its ToastNow ordering platform. You create an online ordering website via Toast and all those orders go directly to your kitchen. The software 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. It shows you how many patrons each employee served in any given shift, compares locations, and highlights which days and times are busiest. The software 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 its website. For a total cost breakdown, schedule a demo to get a custom quote.
- Works on iPads, Macs, and PCs
- Offers a free trial
- Can choose your payment processor
- Has sales volume limitations
- Ecommerce function requires a third-party integration
|RATING CRITERIA||Pricing||2.00||OUT OF||5|
|General Features||4.00||OUT OF||5|
|Cloud and Mobility||4.38||OUT OF||5|
|Ease of Use||5.00||OUT OF||5|
|Expert Score||4.81||OUT OF||5|
Vend POS is an iPad-, Mac-, and 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.
In our evaluation, Vend earned a 3.94 out of 5. Its basic plan is rather expensive and offers limited access to online ordering and employee management features. However, if you upgrade your plan, you get quite a comprehensive mix of customer loyalty capabilities to make this software perfect for those who want to expand their CRM reach.
- Software fee: Vend POS has three pricing tiers: Lite, Pro, and Enterprise. 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), while Enterprise require a custom quote. Vend offers a 14-day free trial.
- Hardware: Vend works on iPads, Macs, and PCs. You can purchase hardware separately or through Vend. Via the provider, retailers can purchase hardware bundles with printers, registers, cash drawers, and scanners. Bundle pricing ranges from $600 to over $1,000, depending on your preferences.
- Installation fee: There is no installation fee. Vend POS can be downloaded from App Store for iPad users or accessed via a browser from any internet-connected device.
- Payment processing fee: 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 built-in 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: Vend allows you to bulk upload/export, add variants, bundle products, and split groups. You can also 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 using the software 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 that Vend recommends for small businesses.
- Reporting and analytics: Vend Lite and Vend Pro both include custom analytics reporting with the ability to filter data, similar to Lightspeed. 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.
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 and an offline functionality.
A locally-installed POS system stores data to a specific computer or device and cannot be remotely accessed. This is most popular among foodservice businesses, typically operating legacy POS systems. For example, SpeedLine, Aloha, and Micros 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.
Such 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, however, tend to be much more expensive upfront. A brand-new locally-installed solution will set you back $10,000 to $15,000 or more, but they usually don’t have ongoing monthly fees.
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 such 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’ 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, and 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.
Vanessa Doctor contributed to this article.