Everything You Need To Know About Choosing & Buying POS Hardware The Smart Way
If you run a store or restaurant, you may think you already know all there is to know about POS hardware. But trust us, there’s always room to learn. Whether you are looking to upgrade your POS hardware or replace one or two old pieces, there’s a lot to know about how to choose and purchase the best hardware for your business.
Read the following POS buying guide and we’ll walk you through the cost of POS hardware, what types of equipment you might need, and the benefits and drawbacks of different systems.
Table of Contents
- Proprietary VS Open Source Hardware For POS Systems
- Essential POS Hardware: The Beginner’s Guide
- Additional Equipment For Small Businesses
- How Much Should You Pay For POS Equipment?
- POS System Hardware Is An Investment, Not Just An Expense
Proprietary VS Open Source Hardware For POS Systems
Let’s start out by briefly explaining what type of hardware options most companies make available. Traditionally, many companies would create and sell their own devices that were made exclusively for running their own software and served basically that sole purpose. And there are still plenty of companies that use this model. For example, Clover has multiple Clover-branded devices ranging from a simple card reader to a large, full-scale, restaurant-specific system that can run your entire business. These devices are built specifically to run Clover software and, in this instance, can be purchased either directly from Clover or from a wide variety of retailers.
The model for POS hardware has changed dramatically in recent years, however. Now, many companies are creating software that can run on what we refer to as open-source hardware, which basically just means that the hardware is multi-use. In the POS industry, this refers to hardware like iPads, Android tablets, and mobile devices. Instead of software simply coming pre-loaded onto one of these devices, you can download an app that syncs up with the device. Of course, there are companies that come with both types of hardware. Square, for instance, can run on regular iPhones or iPads but also has more specific proprietary devices (Square Terminal or Square Register come to mind) that a customer might want, depending on their needs.
So what are the benefits and deficiencies of each type of hardware? Well, I’m glad I asked myself that as means for a convenient transition. Proprietary hardware is obviously custom-built to run one specific company’s software which, generally speaking, means there are fewer chances for bugs. Plus, if there’s a need for tech support, customer service will be familiar with the specs of all of your hardware. There’s a built-in convenience and security with proprietary hardware. But there are plenty of benefits to open-source hardware as well.
For starters, open-source hardware will usually be less expensive. Also, chances are that you actually have the type of hardware you need right now. Got a relatively current iPad? You may be good to go already. Obviously, there are also more opportunities to buy used open-source hardware since it’s much more prevalent. And while there is an increased risk that the software will not sync up perfectly with an open-source device, particularly if you’re wanting to use or purchase add-ons, companies can give you a complete rundown of what you will need before you make a purchase.
Where Do You Buy POS Equipment?
You have options in this area as well. If you want to be safe, it’s often easiest to purchase directly from a POS company. This will ensure that you are getting exactly what you’re expecting. POS vendors often offer hardware packages, combining different types of equipment you’ll need for your business; this makes things very cost-effective. However, if you’re looking for a deal, feel free to shop around. Online sites like Amazon or eBay will have a variety of products, some new and some used, that may allow you to save a few bucks. More specifically, a site like POS Portal will offer a wide variety of hardware to operate your small business. In this instance, you’ll want to do your research ahead of time to make sure you’re getting a product that can run the software you’re planning on using. Also, when buying used, keep in mind that — just like most technology –, these devices do have a shelf life and may start to give you issues sooner than a brand new device would.
Essential POS Hardware: The Beginner’s Guide
Now let’s briefly look at what type of hardware you might need to turn your small business into an optimal selling machine.
- Computer, Tablet, Smartphone etc.: You’ve got to start somewhere and this should probably be one of your first purchases if not your very first. Once you’ve picked your POS company, see if they run on iOS, Android or Windows devices, check the operating system requirements, and make your selection. Many small to mid-sized businesses can run their entire operation from front to back on a single device.
- Cash Drawer: Unless you’re selling strictly via credit cards or digitally, you’re going to need a place to store your cash. Cash drawers are simple but necessary devices. Some you can open with a key to disperse cash but, if you’re making a lot of transactions, you’ll want one that syncs with your device to open with transactions. A synced-up cash drawer can also provide security with a system in place that logs each time it opens.
- Receipt Printer: While the trend in retail is to go to paperless with digital receipts, many customers may still want a physical copy. A receipt printer is an inexpensive device that can also sync up seamlessly to your system either with a cord or wirelessly.
- Card Reader: Who just pays with cash anymore? In today’s world, you need a way to take credit card payments and, ideally, additional types of payments like ApplePay or GooglePay. If you’re a small-volume seller, you may just need a simple card swiper that can attach to your phone or tablet. However, if you’re wanting to upgrade to a device with a chip reader, you’ll either need a proprietary device with one built-in or you’ll have to buy a separate reader to take those payments.
Additional Equipment For Small Businesses
Of course, there are some more niche items that you can purchase to get more out of your POS depending on what you’re planning to sell. These include:
- Scales: If you’re running a grocery or a butcher shop, for example, having a digital scale that syncs up directly to your POS can be incredibly convenient.
- Label Printer: Many POS systems allow you to custom make your own labels. Combined with a printer, this can streamline your inventory management.
- Barcode Scanner: A scanner can get people through lines quickly and accurately. If you opt for one that connects via Bluetooth, you can ring people up from anywhere in your establishment.
Special Considerations For Restaurant Point Of Sale Hardware
- Kitchen Display Systems: If you’re running a larger, full-scale restaurant, a KDS or Kitchen Display System could be a life-saver. This is a system set up in your kitchen that generally has a large, easy-to-read interface and allows servers to send orders directly to the kitchen, complete with any special instructions or modifications and it can dramatically cut down on ticket times.
- Mobile Ordering Devices: Many of these devices fall under the line of proprietary hardware, but handheld devices, allowing servers or other employees to move around an establishment and take orders or show items directly to customers, can also be a huge time-saver. If you opt for a tableside device that allows customers to input their own orders, it cuts down on inaccuracies as well.
Special Considerations For Retail Point Of Sale Hardware
- Customer Facing Displays: Another trend in the POS world is the addition of customer-facing displays for ordering. This gives customers more ownership in the transaction and peace of mind as they can see exactly what they are purchasing itemized in front of them. In many cases, they get to walk themselves through the entire checkout process, cutting down on errors and removing the liability from your employees.
- Routers: While we love to tout the benefits of cloud-based systems and the convenience of mobile ordering, those benefits are pretty worthless without a reliable internet connection. If you’re using multiple devices or have a POS system without a reliable offline mode, this can be an even bigger issue. Having a strong router that can handle running multiple devices and reaches all areas of your location can be extremely important.
How Much Should You Pay For POS Equipment?
This is always the big question isn’t it? How can I make sure I’m getting the most for my money and the best deal on equipment? Unfortunately, there’s not an exact answer to the question, but here are a few ballpark guidelines to get you on the right track.
As mentioned, cloud-based systems will always be cheaper than legacy, locally-installed systems which are durable, but will set you back thousands of dollars just in hardware alone. Proprietary cloud-based systems are cheaper, but will still require you to put down some cash upfront. To use Clover again as an example, the Clover Station will set you back $1399 through its website, which includes a cash drawer, while Mini will cost $749. Square Register comes in at $799 and Square Terminal will set you back $299.
Keep in mind that you can almost always make an arrangement to pay in installments as well. Some lenders will also give you the option to lease your hardware and we always strongly advise against this. It is not cost-effective and almost always advantageous to own your hardware directly.
With open-source hardware, you will have the ability to get a little more creative with your spending. Prices for iPads or other tablets will obviously vary. You can currently get the iPad Mini on Amazon for $349 but you can also search deals for used equipment. If you know that you need multiple pieces of hardware, one of your best options might be going through the POS company directly as they will usually have hardware packages for sale that include basic equipment, like stands, tablets, printers, and cash drawers, for a competitive price.
Choose A Hardware Bundle To Save On Hardware Costs
Almost every modern POS system offers at least one hardware bundle or package, usually scaled according to business size. A small retailer, for example, may only need 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 be shipped for free, and your items will come with a one- to two-year warranty. And don’t forget that these purchases are also tax-deductible.
POS System Hardware Is An Investment, Not Just An Expense
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 plenty of 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 warranties, and free shipping.
If you’re not strapped for cash while starting your business and you know you’ll be using your hardware for the foreseeable future, it’s not bad to go with proprietary hardware, as it does provide some peace of mind. If you’re looking for just one or two items to add to your inventory, it’s possible to save a significant amount of 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 solution that will work with what you already have.
Good luck, and happy hunting.