What is a POS System? Getting to Know the Parts & Pieces | Barcode Scanner | Receipt Printer | Staples®

POS 101: The Elements of a Point-of-Sale System

Gone are the days when a ledger and cash register were all you needed to run a retail operation. Today you need a POS system, and even the most basic of these requires multiple elements and accessories. Let's take a look at them.

POS computer. The heart of your POS system is the computer that runs your POS software and syncs with your cash drawer and EMV-compliant credit card reader to process transactions. Many smaller retailers are moving to tablet-based POS systems, which take up less room and are portable. Traditional displays are still the standard, but many retailers are moving to touch screens, which mimic the gestures customers and clerks are used to on mobile devices. Learn more about the pros and cons of touch screens and traditional POS screens.

POS keyboard & mouse. These are required for traditional point-and-click POS computers. Unlike a regular computer keyboard, POS keyboards like this one also come with a built-in card reader. Be sure to choose one that's EMV-enabled. Keyboards can also be used with touch-screen POS computers to save time with data entry, but those systems don't require an external mouse.

Barcode scanner. If your retail small business uses barcode labels on merchandise, this device is a must-have. It can save a lot of time when ringing up customers, and help you keep accurate records by sending information directly to your POS software when scanning items. Choose one that's light and easy to handle.

Customer-facing display. These screens show customers a preview of the total purchase price; some can be programmed to display custom messaging. They can be purchased separately or come built in to your POS computer.

EMV-compliant external credit card reader. You need this device if your POS keyboard doesn't have one built in or if you want to enable mobile devices to handle transactions. Readers typically have built-in PIN pads and/or signature pads so customers can tap/sign when prompted.

Cash drawer. You work hard for the money, so safeguard it! Though most cash drawers have a lock that enables manual opening, many require an input message from your POS computer or receipt printer to open. When purchasing a cash drawer that isn't part of a bundled system, make sure it's compatible with your POS computer.

Receipt printer. If your system doesn't include one of these, you need an external thermal or dot-matrix unit. When selecting a model, consider the cost of POS paper, ink, ribbons and anything else it requires to operate properly. This gives you a clear total cost of ownership.

One-box POS system. Of course, you can skip the individual parts in favor of an all-in-one desktop POS system that includes the basic hardware accessories to run your retail small business. Many of today's POS systems can be purchased in a bundled package that includes all of these hardware accessories, as well as system software. Purchase the components separately when they need to be replaced or upgraded.

This all-in-one desktop POS system includes all the basic hardware accessories you might need to run your retail small business. Many of today’s POS systems can be purchased in a bundled package that includes all of these hardware accessories as well as system software. You can also purchase all of these components separately if they need to be replaced or upgraded.

At the heart of your POS system is the computer — this is a touch-screen model. Your system’s computer will run your POS software and sync with your cash drawer and credit card reader to process transactions. Touch screen systems are popular today because they are efficient and easy to use, but point-and-click systems are still available.

An external keyboard and mouse are must-have accessories for traditional point-and-click POS computers — without them, it would be impossible to operate your system. Keyboards can also be used with touch-screen POS computers to help save time with data entry, but those systems don't require an external mouse. POS keyboards like this one also come with built-in magnetic stripe readers for credit card processing.

If your retail small business uses barcode labels on merchandise, you’ll need a barcode scanner at your register. Handheld barcode scanners are a popular choice for small retailers, as they are easy to handle, mobile and don’t take up a lot of counter space. They can save you a lot of time when ringing up customers, and they help you keep accurate records of your store’s purchase history by sending information directly to your POS software when scanning items.

Customer-facing displays can come built into your POS computer or can be purchased as an additional piece of hardware for your system. They’re used to show customers a preview of their total purchase price but can sometimes also display custom messaging as shown here.

External credit card readers are must-have pieces of hardware if your POS keyboard doesn’t have a built-in magnetic stripe reader. You can plug external readers into your POS computer and transfer credit card information into your POS software database during purchases. External credit card readers typically have built-in PIN pads so customers can enter their own PIN numbers when prompted.

Your cash drawer is another essential piece of hardware for your POS system. Cash drawers store money, checks and receipts from customers. If you’re purchasing a cash drawer that isn’t part of a bundled system, make sure it’s compatible with your POS computer. Though most cash drawers have a lock that enables manual opening, a lot of them need to receive an input message from your POS computer or receipt printer to open.

The last piece of hardware you’ll need is a receipt printer. Some POS computers have built-in receipt printers, but if yours does not, you’ll need an external printer (the most common are thermal or dot-matrix). No matter what kind of printer your POS system has, be sure to keep plenty of ink, paper and ribbons on hand to keep things running smoothly.

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