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A Guide to Buying POS Hardware: Getting the Most for Your Money

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pos system buyers guide

The Hardware Dilemma

Choosing the right point-of-sale (POS) provider for your business is difficult, considering the hundreds of systems currently available for both retail and food service establishments. For some vendors, selecting the right hardware for their POS of choice is an equally arduous task. Ordering appropriate equipment can be an agonizing process, and you may find your head spinning at times as you try to determine how few barcode scanners you can actually get away with or if you really need that iPad mount. There are any number of stressful, mind-numbing decisions to be made, and after the ordeal of choosing a POS software and picking out proper equipment, it’s easy for retailers and restaurant owners to feel like they’re in the clear. However, there is one POS dilemma that people often don’t consider: how do you get the best deal on equipment that is both good quality and fully compatible with your POS system? Many business owners, especially those new to the game, have no idea even where to begin tackling this issue.

Read the following POS buying guide and we’ll help you solve this dilemma at speed. 

What Are Your Purchasing Options?

These days, the majority of POS companies offer hardware bundles, specially designed to work well with their particular software. Bundles are easy and convenient, and you can have peace of mind knowing that each printer, scanner, and register you receive will be 100% compatible with your POS system. Beware, though; purchasing items from the vendor does not necessarily ensure that you’re getting the most value for your money. If you have the time and need to save money, sometimes it’s cheaper to find the right equipment yourself, buying from wholesale providers or even trolling sites like eBay or Craigslist for second-hand bargains. Likewise, if you’re opening a new location or starting from scratch after a failed business, you may simply want to use the hardware you already own. The decision is entirely up to you (no matter what your POS provider tells you), and you have the right to buy the equipment that will serve you best and save you money. But how can you know for sure that you’re getting the best deal? Let’s examine each hardware purchasing option in greater detail and find out.

Buying From Your POS Provider

Almost every modern POS system offers at least one hardware bundle or package, usually scaled  according to business size. A small retailer, for example, only needs a basic bundle with a few items, while larger companies or chain restaurants might require multiple iPads, registers, and scanners. Certain POS providers, like Revel (see our review) and Lightspeed (see our review), also allow you to cherry-pick through categories of compatible peripheral hardware so that you can buy single items or create unique packages based on your specific requirements. That way, even if you’re up to your ears in iPads, cash drawers, and coin dispensers, you can still snag a few printers or that wireless router you so desperately need. Buying hardware from your provider is easy and safe, and you never have to worry about compatibility issues between different pieces of equipment. If you value convenience and security more than saving money, then it’s a good idea to purchase everything you need through your POS company. Another important thing to consider is that usually when you order directly from your provider, you can return or exchange items for no cost, your hardware will shipped for free, and your items will come with a 1-2 year warrantee.

Cutting Out the Middleman: Finding Hardware Yourself

When deciding between buying hardware from your POS company or scavenging the items you need on your own, it’s is basically a crap shoot; you roll the dice, and see what happens. Sometimes your your number will come up, and sometimes you’ll leave the table with only the shirt on your back. A lot depends on the piece of equipment you’re trying to buy and the frequently changing whims of the POS hardware industry. To illustrate this point, let’s take a closer look at some of the items sold by ShopKeep (see our review), a leading POS vendor. ShopKeep sells hardware packages, but it also allows customers to buy individual items, like the Socket Mobile 7Qi Bluetooth Barcode Scanner. ShopKeep offers this particular scanner for $449. I did a little research of my own, and found that if you buy the same scanner from its manufacturer, Socket Mobile, you would have to shell out $509. The price on Amazon.com is even steeper, at $575.21, though you can get the identical scanner on eBay for as low as $398.98. Similarly, ShopKeep sells the Dymo LabelWriter 450 Professional USB Printer for $119, but you can get the same printer on Amazon for $79.80, while Dymo itself charges a whopping $152.99. There isn’t a whole lot of rhyme or reason to any of these prices, and the really frustrating thing is that if I check back on Amazon or eBay next week, it’s likely that the costs will have changed for both the scanner and the label printer.

The point of all of this is that there is no hard and fast intrinsic value to any piece of hardware: printers, scanners, registers, and the like are only worth what people will pay for them, so there’s always a little wiggle room in prices. If you’re willing to suffer a little, do your research, and wait for sales at warehouses and discount websites, you’ll nearly always be able to find POS equipment for less money than the manufacturer or your provider would charge. Bargain hunting is an excellent strategy when you’re looking to buy one or two things to round out your inventory. However, if you are in need of multiple items or are starting from scratch, it’s not equally certain that you’ll save enough money scavenging to make your effort worth the hassle. Let’s look back to ShopKeep for an example. ShopKeep’s most basic hardware package, designed to work with the iPad Air, includes a standard duty cash drawer, an ethernet printer, an iPad Air enclosure, and a bluetooth credit card reader. This starter bundle is priced at $809; it is shipped to your location for free and comes with 24/7 technical support. I attempted to locate each item in this package individually and searched the web for the best deals around. After nearly an hour of research, with the lowest prices I could glean from independent vendors, the best I could do for those four items was $824.75 (and that didn’t include shipping and handling fees, for which you could run up at least another $25-50). In this case, you would be way better off purchasing your stuff from ShopKeep, and the same is true of most other POS providers.

Using Your Own Equipment

Implementing a new POS system for your business is a difficult and expensive process, no matter how feature-rich or intuitive the software is. Sometimes removing just one variable from the equation can make life seem a little more bearable during your time of transition. Whether you’re opening a second location or simply changing over to a new POS, if you already have all the hardware you require, there’s no need to make your life harder by purchasing new stuff. It’s true, some POS providers don’t/won’t work with certain brands or really outdated equipment, but you don’t have to work with them.

It’s easy to determine whether or not your printers, scanners, and readers will operate properly with new POS software. Look on the website, under ‘Hardware.’ If you see your item listed there for sale, then it’s compatible You don’t have to buy it from the company; the software will recognize the brand, regardless of where you got it. And if it turns out that your equipment won’t integrate with the POS you’ve chosen, it might be cheaper and easier to just look for a provider who is compatible. There are plenty of companies out there who make a point to integrate their with lots of different brands and technologies. For example, POS provider Revel sells hardware directly, but it also make sure that the system is compatible and communicates quickly with all leading hardware brands, labels, and models, no matter when or where they were purchased.

Final Thoughts

Choosing how, when, and where to buy your POS hardware is a very personal decision, based largely on the size, age, and scope of your business or restaurant. There are three important things to remember. First, if you need lots of equipment and don’t have anything, your best bet is always to buy a bundle from your POS provider. It’s cheaper, faster, and easier that way, and you get the benefit and protection of knowledgeable customer service, product warrantees, and free shipping. Second, if you’re looking for just one or two items to add to your inventory, it’s possible to save a significant amount money by looking around a little and seeing what deals you can dig up on the web. And finally, if you’re one of those people who is already sitting on a load of perfectly good equipment, make sure you find a POS software that will work with what you already have. Good luck, and happy hunting.

Julie Titterington

Julie Titterington

Managing Editor at Merchant Maverick
Julie Titterington is a writer, editor, and native Oregonian. She graduated from George Fox University in 2004 with a BA in Writing/Literature. Julie has appeared in a variety of industry publications, including YFS Magazine, PM Times, and SmallBizClub. For the last five years, she has specialized in SMB software and services, particularly project management, point of sale, and small business lending.
Julie Titterington
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    Paul Langley

    This is some really helpful information for anyone looking to purchase point of sale equipment. I hadn’t ever realized that there was such a big difference between retail and food service equipment, but it makes sense that you would need more of a readout working in food service. I’ll have to look into equipment bundles. that sounds like a great way to save some cash. Thanks so much for writing!

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