Today’s point of sale (POS) systems can do much more than put a sale through. Cloud-based POS software is capable of managing a wide range of business operations, both at the frontend (the till) and backend (your office computer).

Which are the must-have POS features, though? What should you look for in a till system?

The answer depends in part on whether you are a retailer, food business or provide some other kind of service.

Many POS functions are included in most till software, but some are specific to the industry you’re working in. Usually, there’s a distinction between hospitality and retail software in order to make the system more efficient.

Let us have a look at the top POS features you should be looking for. The last section lists functions specific to restaurant EPOS, while the rest apply to most POS systems – though sometimes more specific to retail than other sectors.

Checkout

1) Menus and action shortcuts

The jewel of a POS system is the default touchscreen menu you’re presented with at the till. The layout, buttons and availably features determine:

What you’re capable of doing at the till point

How quickly you can process sales and other actions

The physical interaction with the screen

In the old days, you interacted with a till via push-buttons – which is still the case with cash registers – but since POS systems started functioning on touchscreens, the design and selection of buttons has been completely down to the POS software.

When you look at POS functions, take a careful look at the main till interface:

  • Are products laid out in an intuitive way (e.g. grid view of images, ordered list of items, helpful colour coding, etc.)?
  • Is there a search field for looking up products quickly?
  • Are the most important actions available from the main screen, or do you need to tap several times to access them?
  • Are font sizes big enough to read easily? Does the colour scheme give you a headache? Buttons large enough to tap easily?
  • Can you customise the button layout and decide what functions to display and hide?
  • Do you tap-to-add products to a bill, or can you enter custom product descriptions with custom pricing?

Usability is important on a touchscreen, particularly with bigger teams and high staff turnover, as you want employees to learn the system quickly, reduce the likelihood of mistakes, and have a speedy checkout experience. To get a feel for it first-hand, we recommend making use of any free trials before committing to a POS system.

POS system features

The touchscreen POS interface is crucial to the experience and efficiency of a till.

2) Discounts and promotions

All POS systems should allow you to apply a basic discount to transactions. As a minimum, you should have the option to set discounts that can be added manually at checkout (e.g. 20% Student Discount, £5 Off Sales Items). More advanced till systems let you preconfigure promotions for a set period, such as a ‘Buy One Get One Free Happy Hour’ offer between 5pm and 8pm on weekdays.

Discounts can usually be applied to individual items or whole transactions. In an advanced system, you can specify which items can have a particular discount.

3) Sales prompts

Some POS systems allow you to trigger custom messages during transactions for certain products (e.g. “Ask customer if they want batteries for it” triggered when you add an electrical item to the bill). This can help increase sales and prevent issues if the customer later realises they forgot to buy the add-on needed for a product. Such sales prompts are not that common in cheaper till systems as it is not considered essential.

Payment options

4) Cash

Every till system should be capable of accepting cash, but you might have to switch it on in settings first. You should be able to type how much was given in cash, although a selection of popular amounts are shown so you don’t have to manually enter if someone gives you that amount. When you confirm the amount received, the till should display the total to give back to the customer.

5) Integrated card payments

All POS systems should be able to record card payments, but card processing is in many cases not integrated out-of-the-box with POS software.

If a card has been processed on a card terminal that’s not linked to the POS software, you have to manually enter the payment amount on the card machine, then confirm on the POS screen when the card payment was successful.

Integrated card payments automate transactions so that when you pick cards as payment method in the POS software, the transaction amount will automatically show on the card terminal, then communicate back to the POS software to confirm when the payment was successful.

It varies which card payment companies can integrate with which POS providers, and some integrations can cost extra.

Does the till sync with a card machine, or do you have to enter transactions manually on the card terminal?

6) Gift cards

The ability to sell and accept gift cards tend to be included on pricier POS subscriptions, or it is an add-on feature costing extra. POS systems may sell gift cards in a digital format via email, or give the option to order a stack of cards to sell in-store.

7) Other payment methods

A POS system may give you options to record other payment methods than cards, cash and gift cards. This could be a voucher (similar to gift card, but promotional rather than provided as a gift), manual card entry (for payment cards in a POS system with integrated card processing), payment card on file (retrieved through customer library with saved card details), cheques, store credit vouchers, invoicing, payment link and other methods recorded manually in the POS app.

8) Split bills vs. split tenders

Splitting the bill is mainly relevant to restaurants where people tend to pay separately for their own food from a shared group bill. This produces individual receipts for the particular items paid for by individuals. It varies how advanced split bills can be. For example, you can split the amount, divide an itemised bill by product, or divide by an equal proportion of the bill, e.g. 50/50 between two people.

In retail POS, splitting the bill is not so relevant. Instead, you should be able to split the tender so you pay some of the amount in e.g. cash and put the rest on a credit card. This produces one receipt for the whole transaction, as opposed to split bills that provide separate receipts for each payment.

9) Partial payments and layaways

Do you accept deposits for an item? Not all POS systems allow you to accept a partial payment of a product with a fixed price, but some have a layaway function for this purpose. This is especially relevant for customer orders or when someone wants you to reserve an item and come back later to pay the rest of the amount in full.

10) Receipts

Modern POS systems should be able to send itemised email receipts as the bare minimum, sometimes giving the option to send a text receipt to a phone number. Furthermore, you should be able to link the system with a compatible receipt printer for paper receipts. It varies which printer models are compatible with each POS system, so if you have a printer already, check that the software supports it.

11) Refunds

Refunds are a necessary feature for any business aiming to provide a good customer service. To refund a payment, a POS system may require you to search for the relevant transaction in a Transactions section and pick the item or amount to refund from the recorded payment. Advanced POS systems with a barcode printed on each receipt can let you scan the barcode to fetch that transaction easily rather than search manually.

Not all POS software can let you add a reason for the refund. Whichever way the customer paid, it is normal for a POS system to request it is refunded in that same way, and on to the same payment card if that’s how it was paid for (which requires the card to be present for the refund).

12) No sales and in/out expenses

A cash drawer usually opens automatically when you process a transaction if it’s connected to the till system. It might be the only way to open it for an employee, but what if they need to take out cash for a purchase for the shop? Or out the change and expense receipt back in the cash drawer after that business purchase? Or simply check something in the cash drawer, count the cash float, etc.? This requires a feature to open the till drawer, either through a No Sale, Cash Out/In or similar options in the software.

Inventory management

13) Product categories

Product categories help you find items quicker, sort inventory, organise food menus and apply advanced settings related to discounts etc. All POS systems should have some kind of product categories, which may be colour-coded too. Once you have the relevant categories, such as Hot Drinks, Sides and Mains in a coffee shop, you can categorise individual products under one of them, e.g. Americano under Hot Drinks.

14) Attributes, options, variants and modifiers

Apart from wider categories, the following may be applied to individual products:

  • Attributes – product characteristics, e.g. Size, Colour, Type
  • Options – choices within each characteristic, e.g. Black, Blue and Red within the Size attribute
  • Variants – the code or identifying label of a product based on chosen characteristics, e.g. a blue medium jacket can have one SKU code that’s different from a small red jacket.
  • Modifiers – option that changes the composition or/and price of the product, e.g. “with cream” can add 20p to the price of a latte

It varies which of these are included in a cheap POS system, but all should be included in some form in pricier EPOS.

Can you rely on your POS system’s features for all your inventory control?

15) Stock levels

Adding stock counts to products enables you to check for inventory discrepancies, track stock levels and view how much you have left of an item without having to check a stockroom first.

For retailers, that’s an essential feature for managing stock and identifying issues. If you, for example, notice a high stock count for something there’s none of, that can imply theft, or negative stock values (which some POS systems do not actually support) can imply mistakes at the checkout.

16) Stock alerts

Many POS systems send email alerts when you’re out of stock or running low on a product. These may be standard email reminders, but advanced POS systems let you determine when these are sent to you (e.g. when you have less than 5 of a particular product, an email tells you this). If something is out of stock, a POS system may automatically hide this item at checkout, but that can sometimes be configured by you.

Find a till system with good inventory features: Best retail POS systems in the UK

17) Supplier integration

Some retail POS systems include integrated supplier management. Such a system may allow you to look up or browse new products to order from a selection of suppliers, or let you register incoming stock deliveries on an order sheet complete with vendor information. You may have to manually enter supplier details that can be saved, or integrate with external software to import this information in your POS system.

Most POS systems do not have supplier management, but inventory-heavy stores would benefit a lot from connecting stock with suppliers in the same system.

18) Barcodes and product tracking

Products should be associated with a stock keeping unit (SKU) code for inventory tracking (unique to each retailer) and universal product code (UPC) for barcode scanning (same for all retailers). Advanced POS systems can have other codes associated with products – check that the codes you need can be recorded.

19) Product import

If your products – including details like options, price and product codes – are already saved in a digital spreadsheet/CSV file, these can often be imported into POS systems to automatically create your product library. This can save you heaps of time, as otherwise you need to manually enter all products into the new software. Suffice to say, product imports are especially important for large inventories.

20) Integration with ecommerce

Some POS systems offer out-of-the-box integration with one or more ecommerce platforms, meaning sales and products libraries can be synced across sales channels. That is, in-store and online sales can be linked to the same inventory library, prices and sales reports, or separated depending on settings.

Not all POS systems can link up with ecommerce, though, and if they do, there might be limits to what exactly is synced. If you already have an online store you want to link to face-to-face sales, check with the POS provider if they have a way to connect them.

Employee management

21) User accounts and logins

With a team, you should be able to create separate user accounts for individual staff members so the system can record who was responsible for which sales. These should have passcodes to enter on a logged-out POS screen.

A secure POS system should also let you set whether to automatically log a user out after a short time (usually, you decide how many minutes) so someone who’s not authorised to use the till cannot take over while staff are not there.

22) Admin account

An account holder can manage all settings, make changes to the POS subscription and access all data available in the POS system. This kind of account is called an admin (or administrator). Some systems allow you to have more than one admin so you can share management responsibilities and still track actions associated with an individual administrator.

23) Employee permissions

User accounts that are not admins generally have limited permissions in the POS software anyway, but not all till systems allow you to personalise the exact things a user is allowed to do. Some POS systems have a long list of permissions, for instance whether a user can perform refunds, sell certain items or what sales data is accessible in the app.

It’s common to have a particular combination of permissions categorised as Sales Assistant, Shop Manager etc. which you may be able to adjust according to your shop’s rules, but not all systems allow individualised permissions without such a group label.

24) Staff reports

A smart thing about user accounts is the ability to analyse sales and activities of specific team members. Not all POS systems allow you to distinguish between employees in the analytics, so that is something to consider. Individual transactions should, however, be stamped with the username or location of the transaction so you can see who performed which sale.

25) Timesheets and wages

Instead of using a special software system for employee management, a POS system’s timesheet feature is a great way to manage work shifts and upcoming wages – if it has this feature. With timesheets, you may be able to see (from the backend) who has clocked into the till on which days and when they clock out at the end of a shift. If you’re able to record hourly pay or payroll in any way, it helps you budget for the payslips as well.

Some POS systems have a training mode for practising using the till.

26) Training mode

Some POS systems have a training mode that – when switched on – lets new staff members practise putting through transactions on the till without actually processing sales in the system. Training mode is purely to learn how to use the system without the risk of mistakes happening as you perform actions for the first time. When you switch it back to live mode, the interface will resume registering the things processed from that point onwards.

Customer management and loyalty functions

27) Customer profiles

Most POS systems include the option to create customer profiles. This is where you record details such as name, address, email address, phone number and date of birth of customers. The use of a customer library is three-fold:

  • Practical – storing personal details in the POS system makes it easier to manage orders and repeat payments (if card details can be stored)
  • Analytical – attaching a customer to transactions enables you to analyse, thereby anticipate, customer behaviours
  • Loyalty – customer profiles enable you to reward individuals through loyalty schemes and personalised offers

At checkout, you should have the option to create or attach a customer profile to each transaction.

28) Customer analytics

If you can attach transactions to customer profiles, the rate of returning customers can be analysed too. Repeat customers can also be looked at individually, e.g. what products they tend to purchase at which times, so you can focus interactions with that person on what’s really relevant for them.

29) Personalised offers and perks

Personalised loyalty features could involve loyalty points to redeem on a reward, e.g. get the 9th coffee free, or individual perks relevant to the person’s purchase history. Often, you can integrate with additional customer loyalty tools from external platforms.

30) Integration with online marketing

Multichannel businesses can benefit if customer management is integrated across platforms, i.e. customers have both their online and in-store purchases recorded under their profile. If the POS system integrates with online marketing tools, you can then send tailored emails to customers that takes into account the entire purchase history across platforms.

31) Issuing store credit

Some POS systems can issue store credits if you’re not keen to provide a refund. This is basically a voucher that can be redeemed at a later date. Issuing store credits is not a given in till systems, so check for this when you browse POS options.

Reports, analytics and accounting

32) Daily sales reports

In retail, you might be used to the terms X report for a check-in sales report any time, and Z report for an end-of-day sales record that finalises the trading day.

The latter may simply be called “daily sales report” in till software, and they are a must-have feature of any POS system. These can usually be emailed or printed for your records, but officially resetting sales totals is irrelevant if the POS system automatically starts a new daily report the next day.

In today’s cloud-based POS systems, you don’t actually “generate” reports, as sales should always be accessible real-time through the POS app or back-office account.