Ka-ching! Even in an age when fewer shops and retailers use physical cash registers, the classic sound of the opening of its drawer, or till, remains symbolic.
Originally invented in the 1870s as a way to prevent store employees from stealing, the traditional cash register has evolved into a streamlined machine for tabulating bill totals, accepting payments, calculating and issuing change, and keeping records of overall sales.
With the rise of credit card payment systems, modern registers often include technology such as touch screens, tap-to-pay, or even cloud-based point-of-sale (POS) systems.
In this article, we’ll walk you through how to figure out which cash register is best for your business.
Types of cash registers
While the need for businesses to have a place to process payments has remained constant over the years, there are now several different types of cash registers to choose from:
- Mechanical registers. The original version of the cash register, these typically metal boxes use physical buttons and levers (much like a typewriter) to record sales and create receipts.
- Electronic cash registers. First popularized in the 1970s, electronic cash registers (ECRs) use internal computer systems and digital readouts to add up sales numbers and the required amount of change. Many also include a function to print receipts.
- POS cash registers. Point-of-sale (also known as point-of-purchase) cash registers are the modern version of the electronic cash registers, popular with retailers across the world. Sporting digital displays with internet access, these systems can be customized to include cash drawers and receipt printers.
- Cloud-based cash registers. Cloud-based cash registers look much like their POS counterparts, but with an important distinction: collected data is stored in the cloud. That means a business owner can access the register’s information remotely. Cloud-based registers can also track sales figures, inventory, and customer information.
What to look for when choosing a cash register for your store
Not all cash registers are right for your business. Identifying the functionality you need will help narrow down which to buy.
- Basic functionality. A cash register is a tool for businesses to complete sales and issue receipts. So an effective one should be able to quickly and efficiently add, subtract, and total figures. This will give you the ability to process payments quickly, getting more customers in, out, and on their way.
- Receipt capability. Do you want to offer customers paper receipts or retain them for your own recordkeeping? With many modern POS systems, receipt printing capability is not a standard feature, so make sure to check for this option when choosing a register system.
- Inventory management. Some digital POS and cloud-based cash registers offer the ability to import inventory data, making it easy to track both what your business has in stock and items sold.
- Customer tracking. Knowing as much as you can about customer behavior is the key to maintaining a successful business, helping you better tailor your sales and services to meet demand. Certain cash registers can track customer habits, including data such as the dates and times when consumers shop.
- Promotional potential. Modern POS systems can also collect customer data like emails and phone numbers, which business owners can use to drive engagement and repeat business through loyalty programs or one-time promotions.
Benefits and limitations of using cash registers
Cash registers are essential for retail businesses. There are advantages and drawbacks to consider when deciding whether to use a cash register for your business.
Two key benefits of using a cash register are:
- Centralized record keeping. Registers help keep all your sales records in one place, making it easy to see historical data and use that to inform business decisions.
- Swiss Army knives of the business world. Registers have multiple functions including inventory management programs and customer engagement systems, all while simultaneously processing sales transactions and issuing receipts.
There are drawbacks as well, which include:
- Cost. Modern POS systems are often costly to implement and require cloud subscriptions.
- Training and upkeep. Compared to their mechanical counterparts, electronic registers often require training to properly operate, as well as ongoing maintenance to ensure proper inventory input and data collection.
Five top cash registers on the market
Businesses have a wealth of choices when it comes to picking a cash register. Evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of various offerings will help you decide what’s right for your company. Here are 5 top options:
1. Shopify POS
Ideal for brick-and-mortar retail stores with a thriving online business, Shopify offers a fully customizable POS system that includes inventory tracking, staff management, and advanced sales tracking and analytics. Shopify’s system offers built-in payment processing for standalone POS hardware and mobile devices. Shopify plans start at $29 per month, offering an affordable and scalable option for businesses.
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2. Royal POS 1500
Used for small businesses that require the ability to process both cash and contactless payments, Royal’s POS 1500 includes a touchpad and a separate cash drawer. It is also customizable, with users able to add:
- Optional attached credit card readers
- Bar code scanners
- Radio-frequency identification (RFID) or tap-to-pay readers
- Weight scales
- Wireless thermal printers
The registers typically cost $700 to $900. Although the Royal has plenty of add-ons for a variety of businesses, it lacks the ability to connect to the cloud, and its size might make it a tough sell for more technically minded business owners.
Square offers a variety of POS systems, including a mobile tap-to-pay version and a remote invoicing program that can automatically send e-bills and reminders for increased flexibility for mobile business owners. Square’s lowest-cost monthly POS plans are free, but add a processing fee per transaction. Square is easy to set up and use, however, the flat rate processing fee can prove costly for larger operations.
Toast’s POS systems are popular options for restaurants and service industry businesses. These systems can simultaneously manage on- and off-premise orders, as well as online ordering and delivery. It also has the ability to automate marketing and customer engagement, pushing promotional efforts via email or text. You can start using Toast’s POS systems for free, although there are payment processing fees. Toast’s processing fees can add up if you expect your company to have many transactions.
In addition to sales data and inventory monitoring, Clover’s POS systems include employee management software that can integrate shift scheduling and performance measurement metrics to help managers check in on how their staff is doing. Depending on the plan, there is no cost to start using Clover’s POS systems, although there can be a payment processing fee (starting at 2.6% + 10¢ per transaction). Unfortunately, businesses looking to use Clover will need to buy Clover hardware, because its apps and software can’t be downloaded onto third-party systems.
How to incorporate a cash register system into your ecommerce store
Modern POS systems offer everything from online ordering to mobile contactless payment through their own apps, as well as inventory management. They can also connect to other apps, like order routers or accounting services like QuickBooks. If a business has its own app, it can integrate a POS system into it using an application programming interface (API), which allows the POS to function within the app.
For those vendors not trying to go cashless, marrying a physical cash register with a digital POS system can be tricky. However, many modern registers have the ability to easily record and track cash transactions either on-premise or through the cloud.
Many POS companies offer guides for training users and employees on the intricacies of their systems (see our Shopify POS training guide, for example). These can be a helpful resource for business owners onboarding employees or when shifting to a new register system. Business owners can develop training modules for workers that incorporate these guides and offer incentives for their completion.
Cash register FAQ
What is the difference between a cash register and a POS?
The biggest difference between a cash register and a POS is that a cash register has three main jobs: to record sales, hold money, and offer receipts. Point-of-sale systems do all that and more, including tracking inventory and customer information, automating marketing, scheduling employees, and even handling ordering and delivery. POS systems also have the potential for cloud compatibility, making them particularly useful for businesses with multiple locations—and allowing owners to access data on the go.
What is a cash register in an online store?
Ecommerce sites typically have checkout portals that handle customer-facing ordering and delivery. On the back end, these systems offer business owners information about sales figures and customer behavior. An online checkout system can be included (along with physical registers) in modern POS systems, such as Shopify’s, and offer a valuable alternative for vendors that sell online.
Can a cash register be integrated with my ecommerce platform or inventory management system?
Yes. Modern registers and POS systems realize that many businesses sell in both brick-and-mortar as well as online spaces. Their systems must be adapted to both registers and POS systems. POS systems, in particular, readily marry with existing ecommerce platforms, or offer their own alternative. Both registers and POS systems also offer advanced inventory management to help business owners track sales and ordering. They can also help measure the popularity of certain items based on how many are sold over a given period.