Complete POS Hardware Buyer’s Guide
The type of hardware you might need for your point of sale system will depend on your business needs. Read our guide to POS hardware to find out more.
POS hardware is easy enough for businesses to buy; what’s harder is determining which POS hardware components your business really needs. POS hardware needs can vary a lot depending on your business size and industry.
For example, a small retail business might need just a basic hardware POS setup with a credit card reader, cash register, and barcode scanner, while the best POS system for a large restaurant will likely need additional POS equipment, such as a kitchen display system and handheld ordering devices.
Keep reading to figure out what POS hardware you need, which items you can do without, and the role POS software plays in a well-functioning POS system.
Table of Contents
What Is POS Hardware?
POS, or point of sale, hardware includes the equipment businesses use to process payments. At a minimum, the best POS for small businesses will have a hardware setup that will include a tablet (or smartphone) and a credit card reader. Most POS systems also include a cash register, receipt printer, and other POS components.
Guide To Basic POS Hardware
Here are all the basics you need for a solid countertop POS. With some POSs, some of these components are combined (for example, the credit card terminal might also print receipts).
The word “cash register” has a slightly different meaning these days, and with modern cloud POS systems, the “cash” part is usually dropped off, as the “register“ usually consists only of a computer or touch-screen tablet PC with an enclosure. Most registers only need an operating system and a computer of some kind to run the POS software on. Depending on which POS system you choose, this piece of register hardware will probably be a laptop or an iPad. Some systems, such as Lightspeed Retail, let you choose from a laptop or iPad register.
Most systems that use an iPad or other tablet usually sell a stand or enclosure to house and protect the device. The stand may have a swivel base that allows you to turn the register tablet around so the customer can sign off on their payment right from the register interface. You can find this type of swivel stand with Shopify POS hardware, for example.
In lieu of a swivel stand, many POS systems have a customer-facing display that customers can use to see their total, sign for their payment, and leave a tip. This display could be another iPad, or a smaller proprietary screen that’s different from the one the cashier is using. For example, Square Register has a built-in customer facing display.
Credit Card Terminal
Another essential piece of POS hardware you will need for your mobile POS system, the credit card terminal/reader, comes in many different varieties and form factors. It could be just a basic magnetic stripe card reader or one that can also accept chip cards and tapped payments (such as Apple Pay and contactless credit cards).
Your terminal might be a standard reader that works for multiple POS systems, such as the Ingenico iCT220, or a proprietary reader that only works with your particular POS software. The reader might be a separate item that plugs into your tablet, or be incorporated into the register interface as an all-in-one terminal, as is the case with Clover Mini and some Square POS hardware.
Some very lightweight, mobile POS solutions, such as PayPal Zettle, are super minimalistic, consisting of just a portable Bluetooth reader. Square’s original free (magstripe-only) reader doesn’t even have Bluetooth and just plugs into your iPad’s Lightning port.
Ideally, your card reader will be EMV-compliant, meaning it can accept chip-card payments, and will also accept contactless NFC payments (mobile payments) as well. Many credit card terminals also print receipts.
Receipt Printer (& Paper)
Though many customers prefer emailed receipts, if your POS software has this function, you still need to offer the option of a paper receipt. As mentioned, some credit card readers will print receipts, while other POS systems use a separate receipt printer.
For quick, high-volume receipt printing, a thermal receipt printer is usually a good choice, though hot environments, such as a food truck, might use an impact printer. The printer may be either wired (Ethernet) or wireless (Bluetooth) and you’ll need one per register.
Barcode Scanner (Paired with Label Printer & Labels)
In just about any retail setup, you will require a barcode scanner so you can scan items to ring them up. The scanner typically pairs with a label printer, which, though not technically a piece of “POS hardware,” is still essential to your POS, as are any additional scanners you may need to use for inventory purposes.
The scanner is usually a hand scanner that includes a stand and a USB cord. However, the scanner may also be wireless, or even built into the register itself—with a POS like Clover Station, you scan items using the built-in front-facing camera on the register. Some scanners (like Clover’s) can also scan QR codes as well as UPC barcodes.
While a lot of businesses no longer deal with large amounts of cash, as with printed receipts, your customers still need it as an option. With a cash drawer, you can accept cash payments and give change. As with many POS peripherals, the cash drawer may connect to the register via USB cord, or it could even be wireless.
Most modern POS systems require an Internet connection, at least most of the time, so you’ll probably need a modem, router, and associated cables to get online. Most cloud POSs run on wireless (or sometimes data connections), but some, such as Revel Systems, give you the option of a more secure wired (Ethernet) connection, which plugs directly into your iPad.
Depending on how large your store is and how many register stations you have, you might also need wireless access points, which boost your wireless signal. Alternatively, POS that stores information locally instead of in the cloud (e.g., TouchBistro) may require you to have a local server, which is basically just a Mac or a PC.
Industry-Specific POS Hardware You May Need
Not all businesses have the exact same POS needs, and depending on your industry, you might also need some these items.
A POS-integrated scale may be necessary if you ring up items based on weight rather than quantity (for example, a frozen yogurt shop).
Handheld Ordering Tablets
In addition to your main POS, you might have handheld tablets or iPads used for tableside ordering and/or tableside payments. Though usually used in a restaurant or bar environment, handheld ordering devices can also be used in some retail situations where employees take sales from the floor.
Kitchen Printer Or KDS
The best POS for restaurants will communicate with the kitchen. With a restaurant setup, a kitchen printer prints food orders sent from the point of sale to the restaurant’s kitchen. These orders may come from your main POS, handheld ordering tablets, and/or online orders. Alternatively, your restaurant might use a digital kitchen display system, or KDS, which displays orders on an iPad—e.g., Square KDS—or another type of screen.
Electronic Menu Board
Restaurants may have other types of digital signage that connects to their POS, such as an electronic menu board. The benefit of having an electronic menu board is that the offerings change based on information sent from the POS. For example, the items might change based on availability or timed promotions. Quick-serve restaurants and breweries often use digital menu boards.
A self-service kiosk allows customers to check out on their own, such as in a grocery store scenario. As with other types of POS screens, your kiosk can be an iPad, Android tablet, or proprietary hardware. Kiosk POS systems are used in both retail and restaurant applications.
Why POS Hardware Is Only As Good As The POS Software
POS hardware works alongside POS software to perform its various functions. If you don’t have fast, reliable POS software, your POS hardware won’t be fast or reliable either. Your POS software company will also determine which types of hardware you can use with your system. Thus, it’s important to choose a high-quality POS software provider. To make sure you choose a good POS company, make sure you refer to our best-of lists, such as our list of the best retail POS systems, or our post on the best gym POS systems.
Where To Buy POS Hardware
There are various ways to buy POS hardware. Depending on your POS system, you may or may not have a choice of where to buy your POS hardware. Here are the main ways to buy POS hardware.
Buying Hardware From POS Provider
Most POS system providers sell bundled hardware sets. These are convenient because you get everything you need, and you know that the hardware you buy will be compatible with your particular POS system, and with the other POS hardware components. POS companies may or may not list hardware pricing on their website, but you should be able to contact the company for a hardware quote.
Sourcing POS Hardware On Your Own
Many POS systems allow you the option of sourcing most or some of the POS hardware yourself. You may be able to find the hardware you need at a cheaper price if you go through an outside vendor, or you might reuse parts that you have leftover from your old POS system. However, if you go this route, you will need to pay careful attention to make sure the hardware is compatible.
Buying Proprietary POS Hardware
Some POS systems, like Clover, require that you use their proprietary hardware, meaning you can’t assemble your own system from various individually purchased parts. With these sorts of systems, you don’t have a choice in which hardware you use with your POS, and often you can only buy the hardware directly from the vendor. Be very skeptical of third parties selling Clover hardware, as Clover systems cannot be reused.
Leasing POS Hardware
Generally, we do not recommend leasing POS hardware. Hardware POS leases are expensive, and usually by the end of your lease term, you will have spent enough to buy the equipment several times over. A hardware lease can also keep you tied to a POS system that you don’t like for years. For this reason, we recommend using a POS system that lets you buy your system outright.
If you decide after a period of time that you don’t like the system and want to use a different POS, you’ll usually be able to reuse your POS components with another system, or you can sell your old POS hardware (with the exception of Clover hardware).
POS Hardware: FAQs
Final Thoughts On POS Hardware
Having the right POS hardware is important, especially if you run a fast-paced business like a restaurant or a busy retail shop. Processing payments is arguably the most crucial aspect of any business, and your POS hardware should make payments quick and convenient for your customers.
When shopping for your POS hardware, make sure to consider your customers’ needs—do you have a lot of younger customers who ask to pay with Apple Pay or other mobile apps? Would customers get their food faster if waitstaff could fire orders directly from handheld ordering tablets?
You know better than anyone what your customers want, and these unique requirements should inform your POS hardware purchase above all else.