Guide to Buying POS Hardware

May 13, 2019

May 13, 2019



With the incredibly vast selection of POS hardware available for your business, shopping can be overwhelming. Between barcode label printers and POS terminals, you need a system with components that are all compatible with one another. You also have a whole slew of different brands to consider, all offering hardware with different POS features. But […]

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With the incredibly vast selection of POS hardware available for your business, shopping can be overwhelming. Between barcode label printers and POS terminals, you need a system with components that are all compatible with one another. You also have a whole slew of different brands to consider, all offering hardware with different POS features.

But fear not. Read on to find out how to cut through the noise and buy the best POS hardware for your business with our expert buyer’s guide:

Component Options

To run both your retail front end and your back office, you need lots of different POS components. Without POS hardware, there’s no way for you to accept payments. To start off our guide to buying POS hardware, let’s run through the most common necessities:

POS Computer

Your POS computer, with POS software installed, is the system your employees will use to check out customers. There are tons of options for POS software depending on the type of business you run, and many have inventory and accounting software features built in. Most POS computers are Windows-based PCs, rather than Macs.

Cash Drawer

The cash drawer is where your money is stored after a cash sale. It needs to integrate with your POS computer so that when a sale is made, the POS software adjusts its balance and automatically opens your drawer for cash to be deposited. Once the drawer fills, a cash drop should be made to a safe so that large amounts of cash are protected. Then, the balances need to be adjusted through the POS system.

Receipts for card-based sales are also stored in the cash drawer for recordkeeping and accounting purposes.

Barcode Scanner

The barcode scanner uses infrared light to read barcodes, each of which is unique. With a unique barcode for every item you sell, the scanner registers the item in your POS system so that it is taken out of your inventory. This automates the process of inventory control, reducing errors. If you need to return an item that is brought back, you can use the scanner as well. This could apply to a warehouse, if you run an e-commerce website, or to reading barcodes in a brick and mortar retail shop.

Credit Card Reader

Your credit and debit card reader connects with your POS computer and cash drawer. A credit card reader allows customers to pay using credit cards, connecting with your payment processing partner and merchant account to clear the transaction. In your POS computer, a log of the transaction is created for your records and receipts are printed for your cash drawer and for the customer. This brings us to our next piece of POS hardware.

Receipt Printer

POS receipt printers are used to create two types of receipts: one for cash transactions, and one for credit card and debit card transactions. The receipt is generated and printed automatically after each sale. For cash sales, you’ll automatically have a record of cash transactions logged in your POS computer, and don’t need to keep physical copies. For credit and debit card sales, however, keep a merchant copy of all receipts for thorough recordkeeping.

Barcode Label Printer

Remember the barcode scanner we listed earlier? Well, you need to somehow print all those barcode labels for the products you carry. For certain types of retail, manufacturers will already have unique barcodes printed on the packaging. In other cases, you will need a barcode label printer to create your own. These printers create unique barcodes that can be logged in your POS computer for each inventory item, and are then scanned by a reader during checkout.

POS System Keyboard

Just as with any computer system, your POS computer needs a keyboard and mouse in order for employees to use it. Functionally, this will be no different from a keyboard meant for any other computer, it just happens to be connected to a POS computer.

What Types of POS Hardware Suits Your Business?

What POS solutions you need to buy depend entirely on what best suits your business. The hardware you need all depends on how much space you have, what kind of business you run, whether you offer online ordering, and other factors.

There are two major categories of POS equipment to choose from: mobile and desktop. Some businesses have both, but this isn’t usually necessary. Allow us to explain:

Due to the boom in web and cloud-based retail technology, pretty much every business has a fully digital POS system. However, there is different hardware you can choose to run your POS functions, and it will either take the form of a mobile POS or a desktop POS.

Mobile POS hardware enables you to check out customers using a POS system that lives on a mobile device, such as a phone or tablet. Desktop systems allow you to check out customers using a desktop-based PC. Many merchants get confused between a mobile POS and mobile payments. Here is the difference between the two:

Mobile payments are a feature that integrates with your POS to allow customers to pay for goods or services using their mobile phones. You can choose to accept mobile payments even if you use a desktop POS. They merely allow, from the customer’s side, a payment using Apple Pay or a similar app. All you have to do is make sure your POS hardware and software offer the right mobile payment features.

One downside to accepting mobile payments, however, is that it can slightly complicate the process of ensuring your POS system is PCI compliant. PCI compliance refers to a set of security standards that merchants need to adhere to if they do any debit or credit card processing, especially for card not present transactions on e-commerce platforms.

As another potential downside, a certain number of customers need to take advantage of mobile payments in order for the extra hardware and software to be worth the investment. Always research your customer base to figure out if it will benefit your business to offer mobile payment options. For tech savvy buyers, having a mobile payment option might be the secret to getting more of their business.

Should I Buy a Bundle or Individual Pieces?

You have the option of buying your POS hardware a la carte, or purchasing a “bundle” that includes a full suite of POS hardware components, sometimes with software pre-loaded. Whether you need to buy a bundle or individual pieces depends on your particular needs. Different retailers won’t need all the same equipment.

For example, a bundle might include hardware or equipment that you don’t need. However, the cost savings may still be worth it, especially if you can easily sell one of the unneeded components. Oftentimes, a bundle is a good deal because it includes all the hardware you need to get started. Companies sometimes offer the bundle for a discount versus buying everything separately, especially as part of new customer discounts and similar promotions.

Another benefit to hardware bundles is that you’ll know all the different parts are completely compatible. Since the POS components need to be able to share data and communicate with one another, you won’t have any issues setting them up to work together.

Buying individually, however, allows you a more fully customized POS set-up. You can also add and take away components as you please, allowing you full control over your own upgrades as technology changes. With bundles, you’re locked into whatever equipment you’re given.

Do You Want Included Support?

For added monthly fees, POS hardware manufacturers often offer varying levels of support. The added support increases the POS system cost, but acts as a kind of insurance policy when something breaks or some glitches pop up. The longer your POS system isn’t working, the more customers you lose. That’s why paid support is usually worth the extra fee… you get the help you need, right when you need it.

If your POS setup is very simple, you may be able to troubleshoot and solve problems on your own. The more complex your system gets, and the more components you have, the more important it is to pay for technical support. Losing your business’ POS system when a rush of customers is at your door can lose you tons of precious revenue. That’s when added customer service is a life-saver.

Look Carefully at the Terms of Your Contract

Before agreeing to a deal with a POS hardware provider, look through the contract in detail. The cancellation policies are especially important, as some companies will try to lock you in for a long period, then blast you with early termination fees. Also look carefully at how much, if any, support is included. Be sure to know exactly what the support program includes.

For example, are hardware repairs free of charge? How about software updates, if retail software is bundled with the system? Always be wary of “free POS” features, as sometimes you get what you pay for…or will owe hidden fees later on. You always want to read contracts carefully to avoid any surprises.

Should I Buy From my POS Provider or Find the Hardware Myself?

When it comes to the choice of buying from your POS company’s website or finding your own hardware, there are pros and cons to each.

One of the advantages to finding your own hardware is that you can save money. However, to know if you’re saving money, you’ll have to do a lot of extra research. Sometimes buying hardware directly from the manufacturer gets you a lower price, other times the price will be higher. If you have time you can devote to digging through pricing from different sources like the manufacturer, eBay, and Amazon, it may end up being worth the savings.

By the same token, you could also spend the extra time, only to discover that you wouldn’t have saved money anyway. With enough searching, however, you can usually find individual components for cheaper if you find them yourself. It all depends on how important it is that you know for sure you’re getting the best deal, and how much time you feel you can spend shopping.

Final Thoughts

Buying POS hardware is all a matter of figuring out what your needs are, and then finding the best possible deal to satisfy them. Since POS technology is undergoing rapid changes all the time, versatility and adaptability are both important factors. Quality of customer support is also a top priority when you shop for hardware.

Your POS hardware forms part of the core of your entire business. Take the time to find the right partners and shop for the right components, and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble in the long run.

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