POS System vs Cash Register: Why Most Businesses Need a POS
This article is part of a larger series on POS Systems.
Having a cash management system is crucial for any small business. A basic electronic cash register (ECR) may be suitable for some small or temporary operations, but most businesses choose feature-filled point-of-sale (POS) systems that run operations much more effectively.
This is especially true now that POS hardware is more affordable than ever, and several of the largest ECR manufacturers, Casio and Sharp, have stopped production.
- POS systems: Best for most businesses and anyone who needs to ring sales
- Cash registers: Suitable for temporary or low-volume sellers
See the best POS systems for small businesses to find the right one for you.
POS System vs Cash Register Quick Comparison
$0 to $1,500; may include/require credit card terminal, receipt printer, touch screen, barcode scanner
$150 to $900; may include/require customer display, receipt printer
Monthly Software Pricing
Fees range from $0 to $100
Card Payment Processing
Has a built-in payment processor (or separate integration)
Requires separate merchant account
Payment Types Accepted
Cash, ACH, gift cards, online payments
Includes daily, employee, departmental sales tracking; applies tax
Can include daily, employee, departmental sales tracking; applies tax
Sales, inventory, customer, marketing
May include inventory management, employee management, marketing tools
Most offer customer support via phone, email, live chat, knowledge bases
Most manufacturers offer limited phone support*
*Support may not be available for cash registers that are no longer being sold.
POS Systems Offer the Best Value for Small Businesses
A cash register and a POS system are miles apart in terms of features. A POS system is best for most businesses because it allows you to manage all types of sales, transactions, and business operations under one streamlined computer system. Plus, many POS systems have built-in card payment processing capabilities, something cash registers cannot offer.
A cash register will cost you about $150 to $900 upfront and, as you can see from our comparison chart, offers very basic sales features. Many POS systems can operate on tablets and smartphones, with card reader options around $50 and cash drawer add-ons for under $200.
So, for a comparable price, you get dozens more features with a POS—including advanced sales reports, inventory management, employee management, and marketing features. Nowadays, many customers rely on digital payments, which POS systems are better equipped to handle. And there are simply fewer companies manufacturing cash registers, making it difficult to find a cash register for your business, especially if you want one that comes with a warranty or customer support.
Square is our recommended POS system for most small businesses. It is free to use, operates on iOS and Android devices, and offers an array of hardware options and specialty software for retail, restaurant, and appointment-based businesses. Visit Square to create a free account and start ringing sales today.
Read more about Square and its products for small businesses.
Cash Registers Are Suitable for Low-volume Sales
A POS system is best for almost every small business. In our guide to the best cash registers, you’ll even see several POS-driven registers featured.
However, a cash register can do the trick if you just need to ring sales, run receipts, and receive cash, check, and credit card payments. It may be best for you if you have a small volume of sales and are more comfortable with a cash register interface than operating software on a touch screen.
Note: Running credit card payments on a cash register will require connecting a separate merchant account.
POS System vs Cash Register In-depth Price Comparison
Startup costs (basic): $0–$650
Operate on a smartphone or tablet ($0 if you already have one, $400 to purchase), card reader ($0–$50), and optional cash drawer (~$200).
Startup costs (basic): $150–$300
Fewer cash registers are being manufactured, so they are harder to find and more expensive than they used to be.
Startup costs (advanced): $1,000–$1,500 This includes a full POS register with a touch screen, cash drawer, card reader, and barcode scanner.
Startup costs (advanced): $500–$900
If you need a cash register that tracks more than a few hundred products or has more than a few programmable keys, you’ll want a higher-end cash register.
Ongoing costs: $0–$100 monthly for a software subscription; receipt paper if not using digital receipts.
Ongoing costs: Receipt paper (under $2 per roll if purchased in bulk).
Both POS systems and cash registers require you to purchase hardware to ring up sales. However, a cash register is a one-time purchase of about $150 to $900 and includes the software built into it. A POS system requires an investment of up to $1,500 for the POS hardware, and it offers subscription-based software that usually ranges from free to $100 per month for a starter plan.
“A POS system is one of the best investments that a retailer can make because it doesn’t allow store performance issues to be swept under the rug. POS systems let retailers create more profitable operations by managing inventory flow and velocity of items, starting on Day One. We haven’t met a retailer who could give us answers about performance and profitability better than a POS system can. You have to look at a POS system not as an expense, but as an investment that will make the store money.”
—Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender, Retail Store Design Consultants at Kizer & Bender
A cash register’s cost goes up with certain features such as Bluetooth connectivity and backup capabilities. If you need to program many hotkeys for discounts, combos, departments, or other functions, expect to pay more for a higher-end model.
Basic POS apps can operate on a smartphone or tablet, which works well for mobile or low-volume sales, or businesses that just need to ring sales. Some POS systems with more detailed inventory, customer, or back-office management operate on computers or hardware that’s specific to the POS system. So, depending on the needs of your business and the program you choose, POS hardware costs can range from $0–$1,500 per station.
POS System vs Cash Register Feature Comparison
Usually built into the POS system, which is more convenient.
Usually not included, but it’s easy to sign up for merchant services.
Portability and Mobility
Many POS systems make it easy for you to swap to a mobile app and a portable card reader to take payments anywhere.
A portable cash register includes a cash drawer, making it easy to ring up cash sales—for card payments, you’ll need a separate card reader.
Sales Tracking and Reports
Run sales reports by time period and get details by product categories, payment type, employee, etc., on all modern POS systems.
Get sales reports, and in some cases, reports by department. You’ll have to track most data manually.
A POS system can do so much more than simply track sales—most include inventory and employee management; some offer loyalty programs and payroll addons.
Use a cash register to track sales by employee. Some cash registers may allow you to customize a receipt to add a coupon or discount to inspire repeat business.
Most cash registers track cash and check sales along with credit cards if you add a credit card terminal. You can print receipts for customers, add and track sales taxes, and tally the day’s sales. Prices can be entered manually or programmed with specific department keys. However, cash registers do not have credit card processing capabilities. You will need to apply for a separate merchant account in order to accept card payments.
Like cash registers, POS systems can accept cash and check payments. And unlike cash registers, POS systems typically have built-in credit and debit card payment processing. Having all of your payment processing tied together in one system allows for more accurate sales reporting and helps prevent human error at checkout.
Portability & Mobile Features
Traditionally, cash registers aren’t made for mobility. They sit on countertops and customers bring purchases to the checkout. There are a few models that can be considered portable, like the Sam4s ER-180u, which is compact and includes a cash drawer and receipt printer. However, you can’t integrate payment processing to accept credit cards, and there’s no mobile connectivity.
Many POS systems offer a mobile POS option. Square makes it easy to accept payments on the go with its card reader and mobile POS app. Square isn’t the only one, though—Shopify, Clover, and Toast all offer mobile options that may be better suited to your business. All solutions work well for mobile businesses or on-the-floor transactions to keep lines moving.
Sales Tracking & Reporting
Cash registers can offer basic daily sales totals, and some can provide reporting by departments if you configure that setting. However, basic cash registers don’t give very robust sales or tax totals, nor do they have a way to deduct inventory automatically as it sells. You’ll need to track inventory and business financials manually using spreadsheets or notebooks.
A POS system can run reports on dozens of data points. Square POS, for example, can offer you sales reports by any period—detailing your sales by product category, payment type, customer type, and employee. Square POS even includes a reporting dashboard that you can customize to display your key metrics at a glance. You can also access key metrics—such as gross sales, sales count, and refunds—from the Square app.
Pro tip: Get a thermal receipt printer that works with your cash register or POS system—there are even mobile printers available.
Business Management Tools
A cash register is a simple solution that focuses mostly on cash management and sales tracking. It doesn’t include features for back-end management, such as inventory or purchasing management. You can assign employees sign-on codes to track sales by employee, but usually, there are no time-tracking or payroll features.
Some of the higher-end cash registers let you customize your receipt, so you can add a thank-you note to the bottom of each receipt. This also gives you the chance to offer a coupon or discount. You can’t track customers or implement a loyalty program through a basic cash register, though.
The software that runs a POS system is much more robust and usually includes numerous features to help you manage the back-end of your retail shop or restaurant. Integrated inventory can help you track your stock—with each sale, your POS system updates the inventory, so you always know what you have on hand.
Many POS systems let you set up employee logins that track sales and employee hours. Some offer payroll and shift scheduling features. Plus, several POS systems have customer relationship management (CRM) features, making it much easier to keep in touch with customers and clients through email marketing campaigns or loyalty programs.
Pro tip: Use a POS system to create and print barcode labels and create purchase orders.
Cash Register vs POS System Ease of Use Comparison
Once you learn how to use your POS system, it becomes easy to navigate and can simplify day-to-day operations.
Most cash registers require you to manually enter prices and items, but the setup is minimal—there’s less to program and learn.
Both cash registers and POS systems are relatively easy to use. Cash registers have manual buttons for entering items or prices, whereas POS systems typically operate on a touch screen. Both have minimal training times and are built for use in fast-paced retail environments.
Cash registers have push-buttons for entering prices and items. A cash register’s functionality is very basic compared to a POS system, so there are fewer things to learn. However, whether someone is more comfortable with an analog system or a digital touch screen often comes down to personal preference.
POS systems might have a steeper learning curve than a traditional cash register, but this is mostly because they have many more capabilities than just ringing sales. However, if you are comfortable navigating other software programs and touch-screen devices, then learning how to use a POS system should be easy.
Cash Register vs POS System Customer Support Comparison
Most POS systems offer support materials in the software and access to customer support agents via live chat, phone, or email tickets.
Casio and Sharp have stopped manufacturing cash registers, though you may still be able to get limited support for defects or troubleshooting.
Comparing customer service for cash registers and POS systems is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. One is a piece of hardware and the other is a software program. If a cash register breaks or if you need troubleshooting, then your best bet is to contact the manufacturer. With POS systems, your monthly subscription fee typically includes speedy customer service and a designated account representative.
Cash registers can be purchased directly from the manufacturer or a retailer like Staples, Office Depot, and Walmart. Purchasing directly from the manufacturer often offers the best customer service and product warranty.
If you purchase a discontinued Sharp or Casio cash register through a site like eBay or Amazon, you may not be able to receive troubleshooting support. Purchasing a discontinued piece of hardware also means finding replacement parts will be difficult.
POS systems typically have customer service agents available via phone, email, and sometimes live chat on the POS’s website. Many POS companies, like Square, can offer users a dedicated representative. POS cash register systems also have community forums, whitepapers, and other guides available.
A budget-friendly electronic cash register runs about $150 and can handle basic retail checkout and payment needs. For some, it’s a just-right solution. But if you want to efficiently run your retail operation and have growth-driving data and tools at your fingertips, then a POS cash register system is the answer.
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- Is it time to do inventory again? Here’s a refresher on how to organize inventory for small businesses.
- If you’re hesitant about switching over from a cash register to a POS system, consider the big benefits of using a POS system.
- Ready to start selling online? Be sure you’re also prepared to accept credit cards online.