Restaurants, retailers, hotels, and service providers use point-of-sale (POS) systems to handle customer transactions as well as backend features like inventory management and analytics reporting. For new small businesses, setting up a POS system can be as easy as downloading an app. For more complex businesses, setting up a POS system may require professional installation.
1. Choose a POS System
The first step to take when determining how to set up a POS system is to pick the right POS for your small business. Each POS has unique features specifically tailored to different business needs. Whether you are a retailer, restaurant, hotel, or service provider, you’ll want to choose a POS with features that are specific to your business model. POS systems also operate on different types of hardware and have varying pricing models. The right POS system for your business also depends on your budget and preferred hardware.
Evaluate Industry-specific Features
Start by understanding which features are built for your business type. For example, retail POS systems will have features to manage complex inventories including product variations and barcodes. Restaurants will need a POS system that can take customer orders, split checks, and manage tables. Service providers will need a system that can handle appointments or invoicing.
Retailers should look for a POS system with:
- Inventory management: Track inventory in real time as it is sold, including variants like sizes and colors, and easily reorder items as needed.
- Multiple payment options: In addition to cash and credit cards, retailers need options for eWallet payments, store credit, refunds, and alternative payment options like PayPal.
- Multichannel: Retailers that also sell online or at events need a POS that can connect with other sales channels.
- Customer relationship management: Create customer profiles with contact information and purchase history to use for email marketing and loyalty programs.
Restaurants should look for a POS system with:
- Table mapping: Create floor plans for your dining room to track guests and open tables including their servers, orders, and how long they have been seated.
- Menu management: Enter menus with pricing and recipes for different meals, days of the week, and special discounts like Happy Hour.
- Ingredient-level inventory management: Track stock levels as each dish is sold and prepared.
- Split checks and tipping: Servers need to be able to easily split checks multiple ways and let guests add tips.
- Customer relationship management: Create customer profiles with contact information.
Hotels should look for a POS system with:
- Booking integration: The ability to manage room reservations or integrate with a third-party booking software.
- Event organization: Manage events and rentals for ballrooms and conference spaces.
- Guest feedback and surveys: Send and collect surveys after each guest’s stay.
Service providers should look for a POS system with:
- Appointment management: Customers need to be able to book appointments, service providers need to be able to manage their calendars and sync appointments to a payment processor.
- Retail sales: Service providers like spas and salons also need to be able to process retail sales.
- Online booking: Customers need to be able to log in to their accounts and book appointments online.
- Invoicing: Some service providers, like mechanics, cleaning agencies, and repair people need to be able to generate invoices for appointments.
Consider Hardware and Compatibility Issues
If you’re an established business, you’ve likely already made investments in other hardware and software to manage day-to-day operations. When choosing a POS system, you want to find one that will seamlessly fit in with the rest of your existing technology, so be sure to check integrations and compatibility before you invest in a POS.
For new businesses, make sure you are choosing a system that you are comfortable with and find easy to use. For example, if you are familiar with the iOS operating system because you use an iPhone, you might be best-suited with an app-based POS that runs on iPads. Or, if you prefer a desktop computer, consider a browser-based POS system.
Should You Rent or Lease POS Hardware?
The option to lease a POS system is attractive: it offers lower upfront costs, reduced ongoing fees, and you get to return the products when you’re finished. However, if you crunch the numbers, renting hardware doesn’t always save you money in the long run. When you purchase the hardware outright, this is a business investment—you own the POS equipment and can sell it when you’re finished with it.
If you want to own your POS system, but want lower upfront costs, there is a third option. Some POS companies will offer payment plans or installment payment options. That means you can pay for the product over time with monthly fees and still own the hardware.
2. Decide Between DIY and Professional Installation
After choosing a POS system, you’ll need to get the hardware and software up and running. Choosing between installing the POS yourself and hiring a professional to do it for you comes down to your resources. Booking a professional installation typically comes with an extra price tag, while doing it yourself requires technical know-how.
When to Have a POS System Professionally Installed
If you have room in the budget, it’s a good idea to have your POS system professionally installed. This is especially true for small businesses with lots of customization, integration, and add-on needs. Larger and multi-location businesses are also wise to enlist a professional.
Pros of hiring a professional:
- Accuracy: When a POS system is professionally installed, you can be sure the setup is done correctly.
- Training: Professional installations typically comes with training for you and your team.
- Data entry: For retailers with lots of SKUs and product information, or restaurants with recipes, ingredients, and menus, professional installation usually includes entry and setup for inventory items and tracking.
Cons of hiring a professional:
- Additional costs: There’s often an added cost for professional installation, typically $500 or more.
- Scheduling: You have to wait to schedule an appointment instead of setting up the POS on your own time.
When to Install a POS System Yourself
For starters, if you don’t have money to fund a professional installation, you might be looking at doing it yourself. However, there are also times when it makes sense to install the system yourself.
For example, if you’re getting started with a base package, you’ll likely be able to plug and play. If you have a single-location small business, there won’t be many customizations, so the setup is more straightforward than for a chain store or a large restaurant. Plus, many POS systems have robust content libraries to help users get up and running.
Pros of installing a POS system yourself:
- Learning the system: You really get to know the software and how to use it by setting up the system yourself.
- Lower costs: You’ll save money on any associated installation fees by setting up the system yourself.
Cons of installing a POS system yourself:
- Complications: It could take longer to set up the system than you had initially planned.
- Room for error: You might set it up incorrectly.
- Missing features: By setting the system up yourself, it’s possible you will overlook some features or functionality of the system.
3. Set Up Your Inventory Management System
Once you have chosen and installed your POS system, you’ll need to square away the inventory management process. Whether you are a retailer or restaurant, tracking on-hand and sold goods is one of the most valuable features of a POS system. Just about every POS system has some level of inventory management features. If you have a larger business, you will likely need a more sophisticated system, and in some cases, businesses may choose to use third-party integrations to connect inventory management software to the POS.
Import Your Stock List
To start, import your stock list. Depending on how you are tracking products or managing inventory before the POS system, this might mean uploading data from an Excel spreadsheet or turning on an integration with your third-party software. While many POS systems can handle this process automatically, it’s still a good idea to do a manual review when the import’s complete to ensure the data looks clean.
If you choose to have your POS system professionally installed, that service often includes importing or setting up your stock list. There are also some POS systems that have features to let businesses manually enter individual products, but require support for importing product data in bulk. If you have large inventories, make sure you ask about how this process works before signing on with a POS provider.
Organize Your Products
Once your inventory data is in the POS, it’s time to add more information for each SKU. Set stock levels with the amount of each product you have on-hand. Categorize each item by product type. Some businesses also add seasonal categories or note which area of the store or stockroom products are located. Add tags to each product to help locate items when associates search for them—such as descriptions or vendor names. Then, add other identifying data like vendor name, barcode and SKU information, wholesale pricing, and retail pricing and markup.
Once you have all of the data in, make sure all of the automations surrounding your inventory data are in place. Most importantly, make sure the settings are in place to automatically adjust on-hand stock levels when a product is sold. Some POS systems will also allow you to customize low stock alerts so you get a notification or report when on-hand counts of each item reach a certain level.
4. Import Customer Data
After setting up your products, you’ll need to set up your customer data. If you have a customer database, even if it’s just a list of first names, you’ll want to import this into your POS system as well. Most systems can handle a basic Excel spreadsheet or CSV import. Update each customer profile with whatever information you have available, including email address, phone number, physical address, age, occupation, and even purchase history.
Create Customer Profiles & Segments
After you’ve added your customers to your database, you want to organize them in a way that will allow you to send targeted, personalized promotions. Identify top spenders, frequent shoppers, habitual returners, and other key customer groups based on similarities.
Some POS systems have features to generate reports or automatically segment your top-spending customers and most frequent visitors. You can also create lists based on the types of products each customer buys.
Set Up Automated Marketing Campaigns
Use your customer segments to build automated marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) campaigns. Some POS systems have built-in features for email marketing, loyalty programs, social media promotions, and/or customer feedback collection. Other systems integrate with popular third-party solutions for marketing.
POS marketing campaigns with easy setup include:
- Customized email receipts: Many POS systems let retailers customize email receipts with contact information, social media handles, and coupon or promotional information.
- Automated surveys: After a customer makes a purchase, have an email or text message automatically sent to them with a survey on their experience.
- Points-based loyalty program: Most POS systems have a feature, add-on, or integration for a points-based loyalty program where customers can automatically earn points with each purchase.
More advanced automated marketing campaigns that you can manage from your POS include email campaigns to send customers welcome emails, birthday coupons, and reminders for customers to come back. Many systems also sync with Facebook and Instagram so you can create, share, and even boost posts from your POS dashboard.
5. Establish Employee Accounts & Permissions
If you have a team or staff, you’ll want a POS system that allows for employee profiles and permissions. Once you have your inventory and customer data set up, the next step is to manage your employee accounts. Start by designating yourself as the administrator and owner of the entire account.
Then, think about how many different employee roles and permissions you will need. If you have a retail store, you may just need an associate and manager level—one to handle sales and manage customer data, and another role that can process returns, voids, and adjust inventory. However, restaurants may need several different roles and permission levels for servers, bartenders, and managers. Create each role and assign appropriate permission levels.
Next, create a login for each staff member and designate them with their corresponding role or permission level. It is important for each employee to have their own login so that you can track sales and run reports to see how each of your employees are performing. If there are register or inventory discrepancies, it’s also a lot easier to find out what happened when a specific person is assigned to each transaction.
Many POS systems also have time-tracking features or scheduling add-ons, so you can use your POS to track hours worked for payroll. Some systems have tools for employees to clock-in and clock-out, and generate payroll reports so you can see exactly how many hours each person worked and when.
6. Train Staff on How to Use a POS System
The final step in setting up a POS system is training your employees. Your business tools are only effective if your people are using them correctly. In addition to finding a POS that’s intuitive and easy to learn, you need to bring your team up to speed on how to use it properly.
Schedule a Training With the POS Provider
Your POS software company should offer some sort of onboarding for teams new to the system. This could include a video walk-through, small group or one-on-one sessions, and even on-site training. Ask if the POS will offer hands-on training for new hires as well. After the initial training, see if the POS has an online library with video tutorials, guides, or FAQs to support any new employees.
Distribute a Manual
After the team has been trained on how to use the POS system, you’ll want to have technical documentation that’s easily accessible. Keep printed documents in the staff room, add notes to your workplace communication system, and remember to train all new hires on how to use the POS too.
Look for Ongoing Customer Support
You might face technical difficulties with your POS after you’ve gotten it up and running. Find out what type of technical support your POS provider offers. Sometimes this is included with every package, others require higher-tier packages for complimentary support. You should also determine how to contact support—phone, email, ticketing system, live chat, etc.—and what their availability is.
How to Use a POS System
Once your system is set up and employees are trained, make the most out of your POS system by utilizing all of the inventory and analytics features. POS systems offer many reports and data points that small businesses can use to help inform business decisions.
Use POS Data Analytics to Manage Your Business
POS data analysis is the measuring, tracking, and interpretation of data. For small businesses, this data typically includes sales, inventory, employee, and consumer demand information. Small businesses can pull these metrics from their POS system to learn which products sell fastest, which customers spend most, and which employees perform best.
Some POS systems automate these reports, others allow customization, and some require you use their templates. Analytics reports you’ll want to look at include:
- Average transaction value: ATV, also called average order value or AOV, is the average amount a customer spends during each transaction. This metric is useful for retail stores, online businesses, hotels, salons, and food-based businesses.
- Items per purchase: Also referred to as units per transaction (UPT), this data point measures how many products customers purchase during each visit for a specific time period. This is helpful for retailers, ecommerce businesses, and restaurants.
- Sell-through rate: This is the percentage of an individual product sold during a certain time frame. Sell-through rate compared how many units of a particular item you started with to how many are left at the end. Retailers and restaurants benefit from looking at this report.
- Gross margin: Gross margin looks at the percentage of store or product revenue that is profit. This is a valuable metric for all kinds of small businesses.
- Sales per category: Sales per category or sales per department examines the total sales for each type of product. It shows which types of products drive the most sales, generate the most profit, and are the most popular with customers. Retailers in particular should look at this, as well as restaurants, salons, and hotels.
- Sales per employee: A helpful metric for any small business with staff, this will tell you which employees are responsible for closing the most deals. Pro tip: Look at your staff’s average retail sales per hour to fairly compare full- and part-time workers.
- Customer retention rate: This data point reflects a small business’s ability to keep customers coming back. High customer retention rates typically indicate strong customer loyalty, and strong customer satisfaction with the business’s offerings. This metric is also helpful for all kinds of small businesses.
How to Use a Retail POS
Using a POS systems looks a little different depending on your business type. When figuring out how to set up a POS system in a retail business, you’ll want to focus on inventory management in particular. It’s also a good idea to look for multichannel capability, even if you don’t sell online yet.
Inventory Management for Retailers
In retail, inventory management is critical to smooth operations and profitability. Inventory management features for retail POS systems may include real-time tracking, low stock alerts, vendor database, and purchase order management. When using a retail POS, businesses should receive notifications or reports when it is time to reorder products. These reports and automated stock tracking save retailers plenty of time by reducing manual counts.
For example, when using Lightspeed Retail, there is a built-in vendor catalog to reorder items directly through the POS. The analytics dashboard also shows retailers visuals on their most popular items and offers low-stock alerts. Using Square POS is similar to other systems available, but a bit simpler to set up.
Managing Ecommerce Through a Retail POS
Multichannel ecommerce is becoming increasingly important for retailers, including in the POS system. A retail POS should be able to sync with your ecommerce store and other online selling channels, such as social media, Amazon, Etsy, and eBay. Having these channels synced means your inventory, order, and customer information is all in one place and you won’t oversell stock or lose an order.
Customer Relationship Management for Retailers
To drive customer retention, retailers need POS tools to automate the nurturing process. Automated emails and customer loyalty programs are two key features to look for. Retailers also need features to communicate with customers about their experience and orders. When using a retail POS, businesses should have post-visit emails and surveys automatically sent to customers, as well as loyalty points.
How to Use a Restaurant POS
Restaurant POS systems have standard payment processing capabilities, but they also include industry-specific features. Restaurants use a POS to track ingredients, manage menus and customers, price out items, and manage employees. For example, in a Square for Restaurants POS guide, you can learn how to set up the system for front-of-house and back-of-house specific features.
Inventory Management for Restaurants
For restaurants, using ingredient-level inventory tracking through a POS system can provide detailed insight into the profitability of each menu item and help spot errors that can impact profit margins such as over-portioning. Similar to retailers, restaurants can automate low stock alerts and reorder reports to purchase the right ingredients at the right times to avoid stockouts and expired goods.
POS Front-of-House Features
When it comes to managing the front-of-house, a restaurant POS should have table mapping for sit-down restaurants. This feature allows front-of-house staff to easily see how long each table has been occupied and view the status of their orders to accurately seat guests and predict wait times.
Many restaurant POS systems also have kitchen display features so once a server enters an order, it is automatically sent to a display screen or printer in the kitchen. The server then gets a notification when the order is ready. This automation reduces human error and lets managers monitor order prep time.
Menu Management Through a POS
Using a POS to manage a restaurant’s menu helps eliminate guesswork and allows businesses to make informed decisions. Managers can use sales data to identify bestselling and worst-selling dishes, and see the profit margins on each dish. These features allow restaurants to design menus that feature both desirable and money-making dishes. POS systems also automatically remove menu items that are out of stock and switch menus or pricing when it changes from Lunch to Dinner or to Happy Hour.
For example, Lightspeed Restaurant has standard table mapping and tableside ordering features. Additionally, the POS has upsell reminders for servers for combo orders and chef specials.
How to Use a Mobile POS
A mobile POS (mPOS) processes credit cards and other forms of payment via smartphone and/or tablet. mPOS systems include features for managing your business from inventory to customer relationships. They’re helpful for retailers and restaurants who want to make employees more visible on the floor, as well as small businesses that sell on the go.
Cloud-based Business Management
Most mPOS systems are cloud-based, meaning they will sync information to the cloud via an internet connection. This makes the POS data accessible from any compatible device, as well as syncs the data with other business locations, meaning businesses can view reports from anywhere.
Mobile POS Integrations and Add-ons
mPOS systems are typically part of a larger POS ecosystem. This means a mobile POS is a scalable option for businesses starting small that have big growth plans. Ensure that the mPOS is compatible with both the mobile devices, hardware, and software you plan to pair it with.
For example, Square POS is a starter mobile POS system for many new and small businesses because it is free and easy to use. Square also has many add-ons for marketing, ecommerce and online ordering, loyalty programs, and payroll, so businesses can add features as they grow.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Set up a POS System
Have questions about learning how to set up a POS system? Below, get answers to four of the most frequently asked questions about small business POS setup.
What is POS reconciliation?
POS reconciliation is when you compare the data and statements from your POS system to the data and statements from other tools. This could include your accounting software, merchant account statements, inventory management system, customer database, and other connected tools.
How long does it take to set up a POS system?
Technically speaking, you can be up and running with a POS system in a matter of minutes—so long as you have all the necessary hardware on hand. More complicated or custom solutions may take more time. In many cases, you can install the POS system yourself, even with limited technical expertise. More complex systems may take hours, days, or even weeks for custom solutions.
How much does a POS system cost?
POS systems cost anywhere from free to about $200 per month per terminal. Basic POS systems and open source POS systems are on the lower end of the spectrum, while advanced features and robust software cost more.
Can I create my own POS system?
It’s definitely possible to build your own custom POS system. This requires advanced technical skills or the resources to hire individuals who possess those skills. You can also use an open source POS system as a base and customize it to your needs. Each of these options requires ongoing maintenance and updates.
Learning how to set up a POS system depends on the resources you have available, the type of POS you’re installing, and your small business needs. There are options to install your POS yourself, or you can hire a professional to do it for you. From there, import data for inventory management, customer profiles, staff management, and other essential business operations to create a control center for your biz.