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 are using, it’s critical to select a POS software system before purchasing hardware.
If you are just starting out, Square offers a top-rated POS system with software solutions for small businesses, retailers, restaurants, and appointment-based businesses, along with a variety of sophisticated and affordable hardware options. Square POS hardware includes mobile card readers, contactless payment processors, and full in-store register bundles with interest-free financing. Visit Square to get started.
A point-of-sale (POS) system is more than a glorified cash register. Just like there’s a wide range of POS software options to suit your needs, point-of-sale hardware can be as simple as an iPad or as complex as a full system with cash drawers, bar code scanners, and kitchen display systems. Most POS providers offer starter packs with the basics for ringing 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 own hardware bundle by purchasing items individually. After choosing your POS software, you can typically purchase all kinds of hardware from your software provider, and they can tell you what specific hardware products are compatible with the software.
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, and because many popular POS software providers offer interest-free financing on hardware purchases, so you can 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 POS hardware elements, average costs, and when to use them:
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 have an integrated credit card reader. In many cases, you’ll use an iPad or Android tablet, purchasing 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 businesses, and anyone else who only needs basic POS functions could benefit from one streamlined piece of hardware such as 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 and the ability to integrate with your POS terminal. You can choose from several styles and colors, and hard-key locking options. Ask about 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 gift shops in a tourist destination, may benefit from dual cash drawers. This allows multiple cash drawers to be connected 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 a variety of styles, from a small card-swipe device you plug into your tablet to a full terminal with 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.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best thermal receipt printers.
POS Hardware Accessories
Many POS system providers offer other tools as well, including stands, routers, caller ID devices, and special cables, as well as 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 POS hardware items commonly used in retail stores and restaurants:
Additional Retail POS Hardware
Bar Code Scanner
Like touch-screen monitors, bar code scanners have come a long way. You can still get the pistol-grip wired models, but now there are alternate hand-held styles, scanners built into kiosks and scales, even apps for your cellphone. In addition to the style, be sure to match the scanner to the types of bar codes you will scan (1D, stacked, and 2D) and the area you are scanning off (a flat surface or a flexible tag, for example). Laser scanners are the most limited but least effective. 2D area imagers can scan in any direction and are generally faster and more accurate.
Price range: $50 – $800
Tip: Mobile bar code scanners can be used to 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 bar codes to complex designs in color like for visitor passes or for items crafted in-store. They, too, usually employ 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 size paper 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, but organizing and tracking inventory is a lot easier with internal bar coding and SKU number label system that allows you to sort products by category, vendor, and more.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best bar code label printers.
Additional Restaurant POS Hardware
They may look similar, but kitchen printers and receipt printers actually use different technology. So, if you have a restaurant, cafe, or bar where you need to prepare orders in a kitchen, and will not be using a digital kitchen display system, you will need to purchase separate kitchen printers. Receipt printers use thermal printing technology, while kitchen printers use impact printing that does not smudge as easily.
Price range: $50 – $350
Tip: Kitchen printers often come with some limited color options so that any modifiers or allergies stand out.
POS Self-Serve Kiosks
POS kiosks let your customers order and/or pay for their items themselves. The styles vary from small pads at a table in a restaurant to the self-service checkout at the grocery store. They are used to check in at medical facilities or hotels or 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 can prompt customers with specials and add-ons, which can all lead to higher average order values. So, while kiosks are a large up-front investment, they can make your business money over time with higher overage order or ticket amounts and allowing staff to focus on fulfilling orders.
Learn more: Read our guide on the best POS kiosks.
You’d think a scale would be a simple tool, but POS software takes it 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 needing a scale to weigh out 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.
Kitchen Display Systems
A kitchen display system (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 good kitchen display system should be easy to read at a distance and durable in environments that have heat and grease.
Price range: $100 – $1,500
Tip: KDSs make sure orders don’t slip through the cracks, easily prioritizes orders, and can 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.
Digital Menu Boards
Digital menu boards are a great choice not just for restaurants or movie theaters, but any service or retailer with a limited but changing offering or where orders are taken. Many POS software systems allow you to create a digital menu, so you only need a screen and a router. However, there are also dedicated signage boards and handheld options.
Price range: $130 – $1,000
Tip: Digital menu boards are a great way to professionally showcase your sales and specials, but can also be used to help shoppers navigate through stores or shopping centers, or as an advertisement to lure in window shoppers.
Handheld Ordering Devices
Whether you are taking orders on the floor or are working at an off-site location like a craft fair or trade show, a handheld POS device can let you take orders and process payments while still remaining part of your home POS system. For restaurants, these devices also interact with kitchen display systems. Things to consider: durability, charge, range, ability to work offline, and payment processing capabilities.
Price range: $150 – $600
Learn more: Read our guide on the best mobile POS apps.
Point-of-sale systems have come a long way in recent years, with advances that make it easy to run all aspects of your sales, inventory, and even employee and customer management from one system. POS hardware provides the physical tools you need to work your software at its best. The first step in purchasing POS hardware is choosing which software you want to use.
Square POS is a top-rated POS system with hardware and software solutions tailored for all kinds of small businesses. If you need a complete hardware and software package, we recommend choosing Square. They have several mobile, countertop, and contactless payments options with interest-free financing available. Every free Square account also comes with a free magstripe card reader to get started.