A point-of-sale (POS) system combines hardware like touch-screen terminals and payment processors with software tailored to accept payments and track sales. Because the hardware you need is dependent on the POS software you’re using, it’s important to choose a POS software system before purchasing hardware. Below, we’ll go over everything you need to know about POS hardware.
POS Hardware Basics
A POS system is more than an advanced cash register. Just like there’s a wide range of POS software options to suit your needs, POS hardware varies too. You might need something as simple as an iPad or as complex as a whole setup with cash drawers, barcode scanners, and a kitchen display system (KDS). Many POS providers offer starter packs with the basics for making sales and collecting payments, with other tools as add-ons.
The hardware you need and how much your POS system will cost depends on the type and size of your business.
POS Hardware Starter Packs
Most small businesses
Restaurants and cafes
Hardware Bundle Cost
Touch-screen register, customer display, card reader, cash drawer, receipt printer, and paper
Card reader and dock, iPad stand, mounting kit, dock cable*
Terminal, card reader, cash drawer, receipt printer
*iPad not included
You can also build your hardware bundle by purchasing items individually. The easiest way to purchase POS hardware is through your POS software provider because you’ll have peace of mind that each part is compatible. Plus, many popular POS software providers offer interest-free financing on hardware purchases that allow you to pay in installments. However, it’s also possible to get a list of compatible hardware from your software provider and purchase elements on your own for a lower cost.
Below are some of the most common point-of-sale hardware elements, average costs, and when to use them:
POS Hardware Costs
What It Does
It connects your POS system’s back end to its front end, allowing customers to pay
$350–$2,000 per monitor
Most retail businesses like stores and supermarkets
Helps to arrange and keep your money safe
~$100 per drawer
High-volume cash businesses like cafes and gift shops
Credit Card Reader
Credit card readers are a secure way to collect credit, debit, and contactless payments
Most small businesses and multichannel retailers
Generates receipts for items a customer purchases
Most small businesses and multichannel retailers
Helps cashiers easily identify the prices for different items or products
Gift stores and supermarkets
Creates labels to help customers and cashiers track an item’s inventory and pricing
Most small businesses and multichannel retailers
Works in hot or humid environments like a kitchen to create receipts using impact printing
Bars, cafes, and restaurants
POS Self-Serve Kiosks
Allow customers to pay for items themselves without a cashier’s help
Gas stations, medical facilities, and hospitality centers
Measure an item’s weight along with its pricing and labeling
Bakeries, kitchens, and seafood businesses
Kitchen Display Systems
Help waitstaffs communicate a customer’s order to the kitchen staff
Cafes and restaurants
Digital Menu Boards
Let customers know your current offering, service, or menu
Most small businesses, movie theatres, and restaurants
Handheld Ordering Devices
Offer you the freedom to take orders and collect payments from different locations while still connected to a central POS system
Bars, cafes, and restaurants
Serving as the backbone of the system, the touch-screen monitor lets your cashiers run the front end of the POS program to ring up orders, clock in, set appointments, and more. A few monitors have an integrated credit card reader. In many cases, you’ll need to use a tablet and purchase a stand that may connect to a customer-facing display and peripherals. Non-tablet monitors usually come in kits with a cash drawer.
Price range: Approximately $350–$2,000 per monitor
Tip: For many brick-and-mortar businesses, separate monitors and card readers are ideal because they allow for more sophisticated software. However, mobile businesses, service-based businesses, and anyone else who only needs basic POS functions could benefit from one streamlined piece of hardware like Square Terminal.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best touch-screen POS systems.
This seemingly simple device gets an upgrade when applied to a POS system, with drawer-open sensors and signals to protect your cash flow, along with the ability to integrate with your POS terminal. You can choose from several styles, colors, and locking options. Before purchasing a cash drawer, inquire about its durability and whether it includes a till.
Price range: Approximately $100 per drawer
Tip: Some high-volume cash businesses, such as cafes and coffee shops or those in the hospitality industry like gift shops in tourist destinations and hotels, may benefit from dual cash drawers. This allows multiple cash drawers to connect to a single terminal or receipt printer. Multiple cash drawers allow cash drawers to be assigned to one employee at a time for easier cash tracking.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best cash registers for small businesses.
Credit Card Reader
Credit card readers come in various styles, from a small card-swipe device you plug into your tablet to a full terminal with a touchpad and receipt printer. Some work for contactless payments, an increasingly popular payment option. If you go simple, be sure to get a terminal with at least a chip reader. Chip payments are EMV compliant and offer greater security for your POS system.
Price range: $10–$500
Tip: Traditional countertop card readers work fine for static sales, but any business wanting to complete transactions throughout the sales floor, at events, or curbside would benefit from a more portable option like a Bluetooth reader, handheld terminal with a card reader, or a card reader that plugs into a smartphone or tablet.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best credit card readers.
Even in this digital age, some people prefer a printed receipt. Most receipt printers use thermal printing. Some offer multiple grayscale levels or limited color options, a useful feature if you’d like to include coupons in your receipts.
Price range: $150–$600
Tip: Even if your setup calls for multiple monitors and cash drawers, you can likely share one receipt printer between two monitors. You’ll also want to consider sending email receipts to make returns easier for your customers and also cut down on the environmental and financial impact of printing physical receipts.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best thermal receipt printers.
POS Hardware Accessories
Many POS system providers offer other tools, including stands, routers, caller ID devices, special cables, and rolls of label or receipt paper. It may be more convenient to purchase these along with your POS devices because they are designed to be compatible. However, such items are seldom proprietary.
Below are some of the additional point-of-sale hardware items commonly used in retail stores and restaurants.
Like touch-screen monitors, barcode scanners have improved a lot. You can still get the pistol-grip wired models, but now there are alternate hand-held styles, scanners built into kiosks and scales, and even apps for your phone.
In addition to the style, be sure to match the scanner to the types of barcodes you will scan (1D, stacked, and 2D) and the area you’re scanning (a flat surface or a flexible tag, for example). Laser scanners are the most limited and least effective. 2D area imagers can scan in any direction and are generally faster and more accurate.
Price range: $50–$800
Tip: Mobile barcode scanners can also quickly take inventory counts and upload the data to your POS system.
Labels not only help customers but allow your POS system to track inventory and pricing. Label printers range from simple black-and-white barcodes to complex designs in color (think things like visitor passes or items crafted in-store).
They also usually use thermal printing, which means you need to get paper specific to your needs. (Paper for color differs from that for grayscale.) Many label printers support more than one paper size to make it easier to create labels for multiple purposes.
Price range: $100–$500
Tip: For retail businesses, most products come labeled with a manufacturer’s UPC code. However, organizing and tracking inventory is a lot easier with internal barcoding and SKU number label system that allows you to sort products by category, vendor, and more.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best barcode label printers.
Additional Restaurant POS Hardware
Restaurants often have special POS hardware needs to accommodate their complex workflows. Streamlined restaurant POS systems will typically have extra components like kitchen display systems, self-ordering kiosks, and handheld POS systems.
Here are some of the most common options:
They may look similar, but kitchen printers and receipt printers actually use different technology. While the former uses thermal printing technology, kitchen printers use impact printing, which does not smudge easily.
So if you have a restaurant, cafe, or bar where you need to prepare orders in a kitchen—and you won’t be using a digital KDS—you’ll need to purchase separate kitchen printers.
Price range: $50–$350
Tip: Kitchen printers often come with color options so any modifiers or allergies stand out.
POS kiosks let your customers order and/or pay for their items themselves. They’ve increased in popularity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which introduced many ways of shopping and doing business with limited person-to-person contact. As reported by Restaurant Business, research from Technomic Insight shows as many as 46% of consumers want self-service kiosk or tabletop ordering options at restaurants. Furthermore, 13% of Americans will only dine at restaurants with contactless dining options.
The styles vary from small pads at a restaurant to the self-service checkout at the grocery store. In addition, kiosks are used to check-in at medical facilities and hotels and to purchase gas. Originally intended for customer convenience and to reduce labor costs, they may grow in popularity as social distancing becomes a more regular practice.
Price range: $200–$7,000
Tip: Kiosks allow patrons to customize their orders and enable sellers to prompt customers with specials and add-ons, leading to higher average order values. So while kiosks are a significant upfront investment, they can make your business money over time with higher overage orders or ticket amounts while allowing staff to focus on fulfilling orders.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best POS kiosks.
POS software takes scales to a new level, with price calculations, label printing, and more. Be sure to research their accuracy, load capacity, and how easy they are to calibrate.
Price range: $300–$1,500
Tip: Businesses that need to weigh goods like meat and produce likely need a specialized POS system. Our guide on the best grocery POS systems features solutions with native scale integration.
A KDS lets the waitstaff or cashiers send orders to the kitchen staff through the POS system and helps reduce errors while monitoring time to prepare a dish. A KDS can be as simple as a touch screen but may also include a printer and a bump bar. A KDS should be easy to read at a distance and durable in hot and greasy environments.
Price range: $100–$1,500
Tip: KDSs efficiently prioritize orders, ensure they don’t slip through the cracks, and separate orders by course. Some systems can also connect with online ordering, so those orders appear in the queue.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best kitchen display systems.
Whether you’re taking orders on the floor or working at an off-site location like a craft fair or trade show, a handheld or mobile POS (mPOS) device can let you take orders and process payments while still remaining part of your main POS system. For restaurants, these devices also interact with KDSs.
Price range: $150–$600
Tip: When choosing an mPOS, pay extra attention to durability, range, ability to work offline, and payment processing features.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best mobile POS apps.
What to Consider When Purchasing POS Hardware
Here are five factors to help choose a POS system suitable for your business:
It’s no use getting POS hardware that doesn’t work with the software you’re using for your business. Many POS software providers feature a list of compatible hardware somewhere on their website. Look for their POS integrations page or reach out to support if you have trouble finding the information. Likewise, your POS hardware should also be able to provide a list of compatible software platforms.
If you’re still unsure about the kind of POS software to use, our guide on the best POS systems can help.
Each POS hardware has its own pricing structure, so you’d need to consider your current business needs and revenue before purchasing hardware. However, you should note that most POS hardware has high upfront costs but low running costs.
Overall, you want to weigh the pros and cons of purchasing POS hardware vs leasing it. When you lease POS hardware, fees are typically 20%–50% less than equipment loan payments, but there’s also usually a large payment due at the end. You can use our equipment lease calculator to help determine the best route for your business.
It’s important to find POS hardware you and your team can comfortably and confidently use. Check review sites for comments about ease of use and system reliability. You can also check out what resources the POS hardware has available for users, be it an online knowledge base, tutorial videos, or a training mode to help bring new employees up to speed. Some even offer installation and setup help (free or for a fee).
Inventory control is an essential feature to look out for in POS hardware. From your POS system, you should be able to tell when you’re running low on stock, perform inventory analysis, manage variants, forecast demand, and track special orders.
Choose a POS hardware system that’s unlikely to be out-of-date in a few years. Sure, it might cost more money now, but it can benefit your business in the long run.
Other features to consider include customer profiles, appointment management, and marketing automation.
Set Up Your POS Hardware
Once you’ve decided on your POS hardware and software, it’s time to get it set up. You can go a few ways here: do it yourself, hire an outside professional, or use your POS provider, as some offer installation services for free or at an additional cost.
Installing a POS system by yourself isn’t always complicated, especially if you’re a small business selling from a single location. It’s also a good opportunity to cut costs and learn the system more intimately.
However, DIY still requires a certain level of technical aptitude. And if there’s a steep learning curve, this could take a lot of time—not to mention frustration.
Using a pro ensures your system is properly installed. You can even ask for onboarding and training help to get you and your employees up to speed with the system. The downside here is that it costs more, and you might need to wait for some time to get a professional to set up your POS system.
Learn more: Read our guide to learn more about how to set up a POS system.
Another factor to consider concerning your POS system is its setup. There are three general types of setup—traditional, cloud, and hybrid—with each having its merits and demerits.
The traditional POS setup allows you to collect payments and store customer and inventory data on a closed network or server—meaning you’ll need to be in the same physical space (like your cafe or store) as the POS system to access any information. Though limiting, it’s more secure.
Unlike the traditional setup, a cloud POS allows you to store data virtually, accessible from any compatible device with an internet connection. However, while this setup offers flexibility, it’s less secure and can be easily crippled by poor internet connection if you don’t have offline capability.
Lastly, we have the hybrid POS setup. With hybrid, you get the flexibility of cloud setups and the security and reliability traditional setups offer. This means you can still process transactions and manage your inventory with ease, even with an internet outage.
POS systems have come a long way, with advances that make it easy to run all aspects of your business—sales, inventory, marketing, employee management, and more. POS hardware provides the physical tools you need to make the most of the POS software.