Once upon a time, a POS system was nothing more than a cash register that allowed shopkeepers to process and record transactions.
Today, however, a POS is a sophisticated, internet-enabled system which also enables you to manage stock, staff, and sales, reward customer loyalty, and track vital performance metrics.
But with increased sophistication comes increased complexity, and in order to get the most out of your POS system, you need to understand how to set it up and use it properly.
Whether you’re a restaurant or a retailer, this article will explain exactly how to set up a POS system for your small business, and delve into the hardware, costs, and capabilities you need to know.
If you’re still looking for the perfect POS system for your small business, we can help. Just provide some basic details about your business using the form above and we’ll match you with the best providers for your needs.
How to set up a POS system: A deep dive
What is a POS system?
A point-of-sale (POS) system is the hardware and software that retailers use to process sales transactions.
A POS system usually includes a tablet or touchscreen device, a card reader, a barcode scanner, a printer, and a cash register.
But modern POS systems go beyond just taking payments – they also operate as complete retail management platforms, allowing you to track stock, manage customer relationships, and monitor performance with in-depth analytics.
How to set up a POS system
No two POS systems are exactly the same, but most include similar basic hardware, and follow a similar setup process.
The first thing to know is that you don’t necessarily need to do the setup yourself. Some providers will send an expert to install your hardware and train you and your staff in how to use the POS system correctly.
However, this article is for those who are setting it up themselves.
Create an account
All POS providers will require you to create an account using your business email address. As most systems are now cloud based, you can do this before your hardware arrives.
You’ll need to provide some details in order to properly configure your account, including your business name, your location(s), and your business bank account details, so that you can get paid.
Set up your hardware
Depending on the complexity of your system, this could be as simple as plugging in a tablet and switching it on or it could require you to integrate a number of different devices and items into your setup.
In order to trigger the correct series of actions during a transaction, you need to connect your receipt printer to your tablet or touchscreen monitor using a USB, and then the receipt printer to your cash drawer using the provided cable. They will also each have separate power adapters that will need to be plugged into the mains.
Once everything is connected, when you ring up a sale on your touchscreen, the printer will produce a receipt and trigger the cash drawer to open. You may still have to configure some of the settings in your system. For example, you may not want the cash drawer to open with every transaction.
Finally, you just need to connect your card reader to your terminal using a USB, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi.
Connect your POS system to your Wi-Fi
Depending on your system, this will either involve joining your device to your router using an ethernet cable or just keying in the password for your network in your device’s Wi-Fi settings.
Connecting to the Wi-Fi enables your POS system to connect to your provider’s software and full range of functions.
Create your product library
Your product library is going to be the foundation of every action taken on your POS software, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. This is where all the data will be drawn from to track sales and inventory and produce all your valuable analytics. Any error in information entry could produce discrepancies further down the line.
Firstly, you need to create categories for each product to sit inside. For example, a clothing store might have categories like shirts, trousers, and shoes, or different brands. A restaurant might have drinks, starters, pizzas.
For each item or product, you’ll then be required to provide a name, description, tags and category (so it’s easy to find in the system), cost price and sales price, barcode, and multiple choice options (if needed). There will be other optional fields to fill in, and you should also be able to create custom fields if you don’t see one that’s relevant to you.
If you have a large number of products, you may be able to bulk import the information from a Microsoft Excel CSV file, which is much quicker than manually adding each item.
Add user accounts
All modern POS systems give you the ability to create user profiles for individual team members, which can track login times and monitor performance. You can also decide the access level and admin privileges of each member of staff so that, for example, a manager will be allowed to cash up, but a floor assistant won’t.
Refine your settings
The above is a crash course in how to complete the basic setup of your POS system. However, there are plenty of tweaks you can make to the settings to ensure your system is tailored to the needs and goals of your store or restaurant.
There’s no one way to do this, so the best thing is just to spend some time exploring the software’s capabilities and making the necessary adjustments. If you’re finding it all a bit bewildering, there’s usually loads of help available on your POS provider’s website, or you can call their support line.
How to use a POS system
Once you’ve set up your system and adjusted the settings to your preferences, you’re ready to start using your POS. On an ongoing basis, the main things you’ll be doing are processing transactions, managing inventory, and tracking analytics.
The great thing about modern POS systems is that almost all of these are automated in some way. Sure, when transacting, you’ll have to scan the barcode or key in the bill amount and then take a card payment or cash from the customer. But once you’ve done that, your system will automatically update the stock level of that item, record all relevant sales data and import it into your analytics.
It can then do everything from sending reorder alerts when you’re running low on inventory to giving you daily or even hourly breakdowns of sales. And that’s just for starters. It can also record sales by customer, so you can reward their loyalty, and even remind you of their most frequent purchases, so you can start making their oat milk flat white as soon as they sit down.
Thanks to user accounts, you can also check that your staff are checking in and out on time and see who is making the most sales and when. This information is vital for making informed staffing decisions. For example, you can choose to have top performing staff on at peak times, reward them for promotion, and reprimand or let go of consistent latecomers.
What hardware is needed for POS
Tablet or touchscreen monitor
The nerve centre of your POS system. This is where you or your staff will perform every action from adding products and taking transactions to cashing up and viewing analytics.
Many systems are now iPad-based, and you can buy a special stand to mount the device at your till, though some providers still offer their own touchscreen monitor.
As many POS providers now give you the option to send email receipts, which is good for your overheads and the environment, this is an optional part of your POS setup. However, paper receipts and paper bills are still expected in most retail and restaurant environments, so it’s a good idea to have one.
Make sure to stock up with a good supply of till roll – you don’t want to suddenly run out during the busiest hour of the day.
A card reader or PDQ machine connects to your POS terminal and allows you to process card transactions. There are three different types: mobile, portable, and countertop.
Mobile card readers use a phone signal and can be used anywhere from a field to a high street. Portable card readers rely on Wi-Fi and are great for restaurants as they can take payments at customers’ tables. Countertop card machines are fixed to your till, making them perfect for shops.
A must in retail environments, you’ll use this device to scan the barcode of any item the customer is purchasing, which will automatically bring it up in your system. Some POS providers now allow you to turn your smartphone into a barcode scanner.
A lockable, enclosed tray with separate sections for different denominations of notes and coins. They come in different sizes, so make sure to get one that’s large enough to store the amount of cash you’re likely to be taking on a daily basis.
The overall cost of your POS consists of the price of your hardware, the subscription to your POS provider, and card transaction fees.
These prices can vary wildly, so we’ve tried to give an accurate range based on an assessment of top providers.
|Subscription||£25-£100 per month|
|Transaction fees||1-3% per transaction|
|Card reader||£15-£20 per month|
|POS hardware bundle||£700-£2,000+|
For most POS systems, setting up the hardware is relatively straightforward – you just need to plug your devices into a power source and connect them to each other using the correct wire or via Bluetooth/Wi-Fi. Then you just need to create your product library and user profiles, and tailor your settings to your requirements.
Some things may require a bit of trial and error, but the great thing about modern POS systems, whether you work in retail or hospitality, is that everything from the hardware to the software is entirely customisable to your requirements.
Don’t take cash? No problem – don’t buy a cash drawer. Need to set different prices for the same item in different locations? That’s possible. Want to find out which are your top performing products and at what times they sell? It’s all in your analytics.
If you do need help with your setup, don’t hesitate to check out your provider’s help pages or call their helpline. Or your POS provider should be able to send round an expert to set up your system and show you how to use it.
Remember, the more time you take to learn about your POS and its capabilities, the more you’ll get out of it.
You can jump straight to one of the providers below to learn more or keep reading to compare them all.
POS systems: a deep dive
Lean: £59 per month
Standard: £79 per month
Advanced: £119 per month
Enterprise: Custom pricing
- Quick keys and easy search to keep sales moving
- Custom fields and customisable buttons and receipts
- Built-in inventory counting and low stock alert
- Retail analytics across multiple locations
- Integrations with accounting, ecommerce, and marketing apps
Lightspeed Retail is an all-in-one POS system and commerce platform for busy retailers, offering everything from customisable point of sales features to mix and match hardware bundles.
Lightspeed doesn’t sell its own hardware but allows you to combine elements from different brands within your setup. This means you can integrate an industry-leading printer with an industry-leading scanner and cash register.
The inventory management function is pretty comprehensive, with reorder points and low stock alerts to significantly reduce the chances of bestsellers being out-of-stock, and the ability to track unit costs, margins, and inventory levels across multiple locations. And with built-in inventory counting features, you can also minimise errors associated with manual entry.
There’s plenty of analytics and reports to get your teeth into as well, including staff performance and customer spend, all of which can be customised to align with your business metrics.
Finally, Lightspeed Retail offers integrations with loads of leading accounting, ecommerce, marketing apps, and more, allowing you to sync data across multiple platforms and even develop custom solutions with its open API.
Plus: £49 per month per location
Premium: Custom pricing
- Multi-location inventory management and stock forecasting
- Multi-channel selling both online and in-store
- In-depth sales reports
- Manage your team with unlimited employee passcodes and timecard reporting
- Next working day and instant transfers
Founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey, the man who started Twitter, Square has grown to become one of the most popular point of sale systems in the world for retailers.
And it’s not hard to see why: Square POS is fully stocked with everything a busy retail business needs to handle sales, customers, inventory, and more.
Let’s start with payments. Square integrates all payments, whether they’re through card, Apple Pay, or gift card into your POS, and can deliver funds into your account instantly or the next working day for just a 1% transfer fee. Meanwhile, in-depth, by-the-minute sales and profit margin reports give you granular insights into performance that you can act on.
Square also helps keep your queue moving with barcode scanning, item search, and customer profiles, and can quickly process itemised returns and exchanges. Its inventory counting tool makes it easy to update, review, and stock take, and stock forecasting alerts you when you need to reorder.
Finally, Square sells a variety of sleek, compact, and affordable hardware, including terminals, card readers, iPod stands, and accessories, so you can find your perfect retail POS setup.
Shopify POS pricing is on top of the cost of your Shopify store plan.
Basic: £25 per month
Shopify: £65 per month
Advanced: £344 per month
Shopify POS Pro: $89 per month per location
- Offer customers a fully omnichannel experience by integrating online and in store shopping
- Smart stock monitoring offers sales and inventory recommendations
- Control staff permissions and track the performance of each team member
- Comprehensive checkout function with customisable receipts, discounts, and sales
- Full range of Shopify POS hardware available
Befitting a company whose primary business is online commerce, Shopify has cornered the market in omnichannel selling. For example, a customer can buy in store and have the product shipped to them from the nearest location with it in stock. They can also purchase online and return in store, and you can send them emails promoting an item they were interested in but didn’t buy in store.
When it comes to stock management, Shopify’s Stocky app is a cut above. It uses smart technology to suggest purchase orders based on product performance and can make recommendations for releasing cash and inventory based on what isn’t selling. It also offers detailed inventory reports and tracking, so you can keep on top of stock and plan ahead.
The customisable checkout is also worth highlighting. You can create customised printed, email, and SMS receipts, and there’s a tailored smart grid that adapts based on cart actions, which makes it easy to offer a seamless experience to both staff and customers.
Lastly, it might have started online, but Shopify now offers its own complete ‘plug-and-play’ POS hardware package through the Shopify Hardware store, all available with a one-year warranty.
£399 or £25 per month
- Full EPOS Now POS hardware available
- Multi-site and omnichannel store management
- Import, update, and manage thousands of products
- Customer profiles that automatically update with every purchase
- Access reports on everything from best sellers to top performing employees through the cloud
EPOS Now is the real deal when it comes to retail. As well as selling its own retail POS hardware, it provides all the features and functions you could ever need, whether you’re a florist or a farm shop.
EPOS Now’s award-winning hardware starter kit includes a touch screen, printer, cash drawer and software, which can be expanded through the addition of other devices and accessories as your business grows. That’s not to mention the hundreds of software integrations, including Mailchimp, Sage, and a variety of ecommerce platforms, so you can build a fully comprehensive setup.
The analytics are also worth shouting about. You can access insights and reports at any time and on any device through the cloud, including individual product performance and employee performance. You can also use the search function to identify trending items or non-selling stock and use reports to identify peak sales times.
What’s more, you can manage customer relationships and build loyalty with customer profiles, which automatically update every time they make a purchase, allowing you to create targeted campaigns and award points.
Zettle card reader: From £29
Full POS setup: From £149 (excluding VAT)
- Full range of sleek and compact hardware
- Bulk import thousands of products and manage them within the app
- Bank deposits made within 1-2 business days
- Accepts all major cards, as well as Apple, Android, and Google Pay
- Daily reports on sales and staff performance
Zettle’s range of hardware is both aesthetically pleasing and compact, making it a great option for small retailers with limited space. You can connect the Reader 2 and barcode scanner to your smartphone or tablet or use the in-built barcode scanner on the Zettle app.
Zettle also makes it easy to build and manage your product library. You can bulk import thousands of products from Excel, add photos and descriptions and group products by category and collection for easy search. All products are then synced online, and in-store and sales are tracked so you can keep an eye on inventory, with automatic alerts for low stock levels. You also get automatic daily reports on sales and staff performance.
The payments and fees really set Zettle apart. Card transaction fees are set at a flat rate of 1.75 per cent, so you always know how much of your revenue will be charged, and bank deposits are made in a speedy 1-2 business days, which is much quicker than the average. Zettle accepts all major debit and credit cards, as well as Apple, Android, and Google Pay, so you shouldn’t ever be in a situation where a customer isn’t able to make a purchase because their payment type isn’t supported.
Essential: £49 per month
Pro: £69 per month
Unified: £119 per month
- Tap, scan, or search barcodes to add items or use your smartphones camera
- Product sync across multiple stores
- Intuitive, easy-to-learn system
- Accept multiple payments on one order and take deposits or partial payments
- 14-day free trial
Saledock might only be just over two years old (it was founded in 2020), but as a Yorkshire-based, family-run POS which has been designed specifically for the UK market, we think it’s worthy of your consideration.
Saledock is an all-in-one, cloud-based POS, ecommerce, and inventory solution which aims to give retailers only the features they need to make their lives easier. In practice, this means an intuitive, responsive system which staff can quickly get to grips with, and which reduces mistakes at checkout. You can add multiple stores and manage stock across each one with reorder alerts, product sync across devices and online, and top product data.
As well as being able to tap, scan or search barcodes to add items to an order, you can use the camera on your smartphone as a scanner. You can also accept multiple payments for just one order and even take deposits and partial payments if the customer wants to secure an item and settle the full payment later.
With pricing ranging from £49 to £119 per month, it is quite expensive compared to our other top POS systems. And on top of the subscription cost, if you don’t already own hardware, you’ll have to buy third-party equipment through Saledock.
That said, you do get a 14-day free trial, so you can always give it a go and see if it’s right for your business before committing to a subscription.
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