What is a retail point of sale (POS) system? Does my business need one?

Retail systems are changing how retailers run their businesses. In the following guide, we look at what a point of sale system is, key features, and the top POS systems for UK & Irish retailers.

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Mark Allen
14 min read

Long gone are the days of the bulky, stationary cash register.

The one where the cashier manually inputted a cost, popped the register open and took your customer’s cash.

Soon enough, they’ll be appearing for sale as antiques on eBay.

That’s because, like most other industries, the retail sector has gone through a digital transformation over the last two decades.

Technological advances have made retailer’s jobs more manageable, more efficient, streamlined and flexible.

And most of that is thanks to the  POS, or Point of Sale system, for those of you not familiar yet with the vocabulary of this new field.

Today we’re going to give you all the info you need as a retailer, so you can choose a POS system that’s right for you.

After all, Point of Sale systems are not just the future of retail, but an absolute necessity in the present too.

We’ll cover all the basics and explain why a POS system could be the most incredible tool you’re not using.

What is a retail Point of Sale system (POS system)?

A point of sale system, also known as a POS system, is where a customer makes a transaction with a retailer.

A POS normally includes a cash register, a barcode scanner, computer or tablet device in the modern era.

But unlike those old, massive cash registers that stay in one spot and connect to an in-store server, a 2021 POS system is very different.

That’s because modern POS systems are made up of two critical things: POS software and POS hardware.

The marriage of both the POS software and hardware was made possible with the relatively recent introduction of cloud technology.

AirPOS POS System
AirPOS POS System

Why should a retailer use a POS system in 2021?

Well, for starters, it allows retailers unprecedented flexibility and mobility.

Instead of having a stationary POS system, retailers can now link their mobile phones and tablet devices.

That enables them to take payments on the move throughout their store.

And with a POS system, retailers now enjoy a firm grip on the overall health of their business through some very impressive link-ups with other analytics software.

That means that retailers can effectively manage their stock, scan barcodes, and keep on top of their finances in one app.

A POS system also enables retailers to accept all popular payment methods, including the increasingly popular contactless payment option.

But wait, there’s more!

Modern POS systems also serve as a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system, giving retailers extraordinary access to analytics, insights and actionable data.

This allows retailers to build relationships with - and understand - their customers like never before.

What are the benefits of a Point of Sale system for a retailer?

We live in a world of instant gratification.

When we want something, we want it right away with no delays.

And as our patience has dwindled, technology has had to adapt to changing customer expectations.

Say hello to POS systems, the all-in-one solution to fast and efficient management of your retail business.

A POS system makes a retailer’s life much easier by managing all the less glamorous parts of running a small business.

Some of the most impressive POS benefits include sales reporting and business analytics.

For you, that means that everything’s recorded automatically, giving you time to focus on other essential business tasks.

The flexibility and mobility of POS systems mean that you can accept payments quickly, too, helping you win back more time to make more sales with shortened queue times.

As we briefly mentioned earlier, the best POS systems also include a CRM or customer accounts, which allows you to manage customers - and reward their loyalty - through intuitive software that simplifies the process.

Regardless of your retail business size, you’ll know that inventory management is one of the most challenging things to get right.

“Have I ordered too much?”

“Will I run out of stock?”

Those are just some of the questions you’ll have no doubt lost sleep over in recent years as you try to get to grips with inventory management.

And that’s what makes a POS system like AirPOS pretty special; it will take care of all the sales, not just in one store, but also across multiple locations and even online (very few POS systems do this).

Our POS system will also monitor stock levels and management of your inventory and will alert you when you need to re-stock.

In a world of data breaches, hacks and embarrassing leaks, it’s no surprise that every POS system should focus attention on fraud prevention.

A good POS system will act as your first line of defence in fraud prevention; it will stop people from entering the wrong amount into card machines and at till and ensures the correct change is given.

Your POS system will also track which employees sell which items using unique employee logins. You can even track employee performance and offer further training where necessary, helping to grow your revenue.

And like most of us, accounting is never going to get the pulse racing or the adrenaline flowing; it’s a necessity that we grudgingly carry out. The good news is that a POS system will dramatically simplify accounting by integrating seamlessly with accounting software such as Xero.

Key features to look for in a retail point of sale system

Like any industry, there are a wide variety of different POS systems available.

And not all of them are suitable for your requirements.

Therefore, it’s always a good idea to first understand your specific needs before opting for a POS system.

Yes, some might have all the bells and whistles, but you mightn’t need all of them, and ultimately, you’ll be paying for features that you will never use.

However, there are some things that every good POS system should have, and for you, these should be non-negotiable.

  • Integrated accounting: All POS software should integrate with your accounting system, for example, Xero, Sage, FreshBooks and QuickBooks.
  • Contactless payments: In our post-pandemic world, contactless payments are an absolute necessity to keep up with changing consumer behaviour.
  • Omnichannel sales (online/in-store): Customers now expect a consistent experience no matter how they engage with retailers, whether on your website, app, desktop, in-store, telephone or tablet device.
  • Customer management and loyalty: You can increase the lifetime value of a customer by using gift cards, loyalty points and discount codes, all of which should be included in a good POS system.
  • Inventory management: A good POS system should help you seamlessly manage stock across multiple stores and through omnichannel sales.
  • Business reporting: Low on stock? Losing money? What are my best selling products? You won’t know all the vital information unless your POS system includes sales & business reporting.
  • Integrations: Good POS systems should include all popular integration capabilities, for example, payment and accounting integrations and marketing and CRM integrations. Selling on Shopify? Make sure your choice of POS integrates with your Shopify store!
  • Support: Mistakes happen. Confusion is common. And that’s when you’ll need high-quality support from your POS provider. Research all options before opting for one and read customer reviews.

What is the average cost of POS software?

Every retailer has different needs.

A multi-store retailer employing 130 people has very different requirements to a single-store restaurant with eleven employees.

As a result, costs can vary wildly depending on your circumstances.

But, as a general guide, AirPOS software starts from as little as £29.99 per month.

Other popular providers like EPOS Now start from £25.00 per month for software (however be aware of the additional fees for support and integrations, so it’s normally closer to £50 per month before hardware, see our full guide here), and Good Till by SumUp software starts at £29.00 per month (again pricing goes up as soon as you add more features, which can be pricey).

A general rule of thumb, if you can’t find a pricing page on a supplier’s website, or if pricing is at all unclear, be aware that you’ll probably be spending more than you initially thought. Oh, and make sure that you’re aware of support costs (our’s is free).

What hardware do you need for a retail POS system?

We thought you might ask that question.

And we’ve covered it in great detail in our recent blog post, The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Retail EPOS Hardware System [2021].

So, rather than giving you specific hardware recommendations in this article, we’ll instead explain the main things you need.

  • Touch screen/Tablet device
  • Tablet stand (optional)
  • Cash register
  • Credit card machine/scanner (You can use Zettle/SumUp)
  • Receipt printer
  • Barcode scanner

Of course, you’ll likely have another burning question...

How much does POS hardware cost?

The answer to this is...it depends.

Every retailer has different requirements and budgets.

However, you can expect to pay anywhere from £500.00 right up to £1,500.00 for POS hardware.

But there’s some great news.

If you choose AirPOS Pro on an annual package, we’ll provide you with free hardware, so you can pocket the vast savings and put it towards something else for the business.

View our FREE hardware deal here.

Top 3 UK & Irish Retail POS Systems

Now that we’ve covered the important topics, what are our 3 top recommendations for POS systems in the UK & Ireland that focus on retail?

EPOS Now
EPOS Now

Epos Now

Epos Now processes an impressive £2bn in transactions annually.

Retailers can move from single-site solutions to multi-site solutions with minimal fuss.

Pros

  • Straightforward software that is easily used even by the most tech-adverse
  • Essential hardware is included
  • Single-fee package options
  • Free 30-day trial so you can try before you buy

Cons

  • You have to pay for advanced 24/7 customer support; not ideal if you encounter any issues.
  • Poor support, with 1 star reviews happening daily
  • Long term contracts with no exit clause
  • Pricing is not transparent, what appears to be £399 normally costs over £850

What should I know about Epos Now?

Packed with features, Epos Now is an all-in-one POS solution that promises ‘scalable solutions’.

Epos Now has an app store and offers in-depth reporting, and accepts all payment methods.

Retailers using the system have access to customisable dashboards, data to help you manage sales, KPIs and the ability to keep track of employee information.

You’ll also be able to perform stock control checks and set minimum and maximum stock level alerts.

Accounting is relatively straightforward with Epos Now, too, with the ability to automatically run quarterly and end of year tax and VAT returns and vital financial data on profits, margins, staff pay and cash flow.

Epos Now’s CRM integration capabilities allow you to maintain customer databases and engage them in various ways.

How much is Epos Now’s retail system?

If you hate the idea of more monthly subscriptions coming out of your bank account every month, then you’ll love Epos Now’s payment options.

As an example, in July 2021, Epos Now is offering a deal where you have the option to pay an upfront fee of £399 for their hardware and software.

Be aware that this price is only available for those users who take the highest tier support package of £39 per month making the total cost £867 per year.

What you get in the bundle:

The £399 bundle includes:

  • Epos Now Pro-C15W terminal, including water-resistant touch screen and solid-state drive
  • Epos Now Retail Software
  • 80mm Thermal Epos Now GX Receipt Printer
  • High quality secure all-metal cash drawer
  • Installation, configuration and training

Who is Epos Now best for?

Epos Now is ideal for small or new businesses and those with big ambitions to scale.

It’s also an excellent option for those with smaller budgets who need a straightforward, cost-effective and efficient system.

Just be aware that you will be locked into a fixed-term contract (normally 3 years), and to get any offers you need to take their support packages costing upwards of an eye-watering £468 per year (on top of your offer price).

AirPOS POS System
AirPOS POS Systems

AirPOS

AirPOS allows you to sell anytime, anywhere, both in-store and online

Built by retailers for retailers, AirPOS is perfect for small and independent retailers.

With a handy end-to-end business management app and intuitive software, you’ll be comfortable selling in-store or online.

Easy to use and packed full of helpful features, retailers enjoy straightforward integrations and can manage inventory, make sales and analyse their business all in one place.

The Support service offered by AirPOS is completely free and is recommended by 96% of customers. Check out the reviews here.

Pros

  • Specifically built with small and independent retailers in mind
  • Accepts payment with all major providers at exclusive rates for customers
  • Free hardware bundle with AirPOS Pro package, saving you £600 per bundle
  • Easy to use and in-depth reporting, helping you grow sales and reduce waste
  • Track stock, sales, best selling items, employee performance and more
  • Simple Shopify integration, allowing you to sell online and in-store, with one version of the truth for all of your sales and inventory data
  • No fixed contract

Cons

  • It might not be suitable for large retailers
  • Not suitable for hospitality
  • Does not integrate with weighing systems

How much does the AirPOS retail system cost?

AirPOS has a transparent and straightforward pricing structure with no stealth charges or hidden fees that can skew a budget.

The AirPOS Basic package is £29.99 per month, while the AirPOS Pro is £39.99 per month.

Alternatively, there is the AirPOS Pro FREE hardware bundle for £480 per year, unlike EPOS Now support is free and the price is final.

What you get with AirPOS Pro Bundle:

  • Free hardware bundle including;
  • Android or iPad Tablet Stand
  • USB Receipt Printer
  • Cash Drawer
  • Bluetooth Barcode Scanner (optional)
  • One year subscription to AirPOS Pro Software

Who is AirPOS best for?

Unlike most POS providers, AirPOS doesn’t try to be everything to all different types and sizes of businesses.

AirPOS is proud of the fact that it was built by retailers for retailers.

With a focus on small and independent retailers, there’s no doubt AirPOS excels amongst this segment of customers.

Lightspeed POS
Lightspeed

Lightspeed POS

Marketed as an all-in-one cloud-based EPOS, Canadian company Lightspeed is fully customisable and enjoys a simple set up and has powerful marketing tools.

It does a job for both retailers and restaurants, the popular Apple-based POS software is packed full of helpful features, including business reporting and analytics.

Pros

  • Apple-friendly
  • Excellent reporting
  • Highly customisable templates
  • 24/7 support
  • Options available to suit your business

Cons

  • Expensive for most retailers
  • Apple-based only with no Android/Windows options
  • Time-consuming: With customisation comes an investment of your time
  • Hardware costs are extra
  • Because it works for such a variety of business types, it hasn’t been built specifically for the retail industry, and it shows.

How much does Lightspeed’s retail system cost?

Since Lightspeed specifically targets restaurants and retailers, pricing is split between both industries.

With that split, in addition to customers wanting to customise their package, pricing gets a little confusing.

As a general guide, though, the most basic Lightspeed package starts at £69 per month.

Other package options include:

  • Lightspeed Starter:£99 per month
  • Lightspeed Standard: £119 per month
  • Lightspeed Advanced: £129 per month
  • Lightspeed Pro: £199 per month

Want to save money and avoid monthly subscriptions? Opt for paying annually.

What you get:

Lightspeed says, “hardware is not included in a standard Lightspeed retail subscription”.

And there are no clear hardware pricing structures on their website; instead, retailers are advised to contact the company for a quote.

However, they can supply these hardware options at an additional cost:

  • Cash drawer
  • Customer-facing receipt printer
  • Barcode label printer
  • USB scanner

Who is Lightspeed best for?

Lightspeed POS is ideal for retailers and restaurants and those who specifically use Apple-based products and software.

Lightspeed is more beneficial for larger retailers with multiple stores that need a bespoke setup, but it will come at a cost.

Because of its excellent customisation options, retailers will need to commit time to explain their requirements.

Conclusion

In our fast-approaching post-pandemic world, cloud-based software will most likely change retail dramatically.

Expect to see more contactless payments, integrated ecommerce (omnichannel sales) and changing consumer habits that, just two years ago would have been deemed as unlikely.

And as the retail environment changes, so too must retailers like you to ensure you continue to survive and thrive in a hyper-competitive market.

But it would be best if you didn’t look at POS systems as something you’ll grudgingly have to accept and implement.

After all, they’re designed to make your life easier, help you manage and grow your business and provide you with real-world data on what’s working and what’s not working.

In addition, good POS software can save you time to focus on other parts of your business through automation.

And finally, you’ll find that using a good POS system will help you create a unique relationship with your customers, allowing you to engage them in ways they’ll appreciate.

Point of Sale systems aren’t just the future; your competitors are already using them today and enjoy a massive competitive advantage over you.

So, regardless of the size of business you have or your particular requirements, there’s a POS system out there that will be an incredible addition to your business.

Try out AirPOS with our FREE trial offer.

Try AirPOS today with zero risks and take advantage of our 14-day free trial.

Fancy a demo first?

Book in for your free remote demo with a member of our team.

Our team of experts will walk you through the system, tailor it to your business needs and answer any questions you may have, not only about AirPOS but POS in general.