Point of Sale FAQs

POS history

Point of Sale FAQs

POS history

POS FAQs: What You Need to Know About POS Software

POS software is ubiquitous in the retail world, and for good reason — it’s a critical tool that allows merchants to ring up sales, stay on top of their inventory, and manage their customer base.

But what many people don’t realize is that POS systems have a rich history and they’ve evolved tremendously over the last 200 years. In this guide, we’ll answer the most common questions people have about POS software. We’ll also look back at the history of POS systems and shed light on key events that brought the technology to where it is today.

What is a POS system?

First things first. “POS” in retail, stands for point of sale. At its most basic level, a POS system functions as a cash register or till system that lets retailers ring up sales and keep a record of those transactions in their stores.

But thanks to advancements in technology, POS systems - or ePOS systems - can now extend beyond the point of sale. These days, many POS solutions serve as retail management systems that handle everything from sales and inventory, to customer management and ecommerce.

Learn about Vend POS

Why do you need a POS system?

POS software allows you to record transactions, accept payments, and issue receipts when shoppers make a purchase in-store. Simply put, you won’t be able to ring up sales (and stay in business) if you don’t have a point of sale system.

Modern POS solutions are integral for retail success, as they can help you stay on top of everything from sales and inventory to your employees and customers. As such, it’s important to choose a point of sale software that’s equipped with features to help you grow.

How much do POS systems cost?

POS system pricing varies widely depending on your needs. But to give you a really high-level average, Merchant Maverick states that businesses with a single register can expect to shell out an initial investment of around $1,250, and then pay about $1,000 per year to use the POS.

The cost of your POS system also depends on factors such as:

  • Your business' sales volume
  • The number of registers you need
  • How many products you have
  • The size of your staff
  • The size of your customer base
  • The features and functionalities you require

What are the different types of POS systems?

The common types of POS systems include:

  • A desktop POS system, which works on your computer or laptop either as a desktop application or an app that runs on your browser. Desktop POS systems are best used in retail stores that have cash dedicated cash wraps where cashiers ring up sales.
  • A mobile POS system or "mPOS". This is a point of sale solution that runs on your smartphone or tablet. Simply attach a card reader to the device and start ringing up sales.
  • The all in one POS system, which can work both on computers and mobile devices. Ideal for growing and established retailers, this type of POS system is flexible and works in various environments —e.g., brick-and-mortar stores, pop-ups, events, etc.

How did POS systems come about?

Now let’s dive into the history of point of sale systems. Here’s a look at 200 years of POS systems — how the technology came about, and where it’s going in the near future.

1800s - The cash register is invented, sold, and developed

The first cash register was the brainchild of James Ritty, a “dealer of pure whiskies, fine wines and cigars”. Ritty was running a successful saloon but had one major problem: he was getting ripped off by some of his employees.


So in 1879, Ritty invented the “Incorruptible Cashier,” a device that registered transactions made at his business. Some time after that, he patented his invention and sold it to salesman Jacob H. Eckert, who founded the National Manufacturing Company (NMC). Eckert later sold the company to John H. Patterson, a retail coal shop owner in Coalton, Ohio.


Upon acquiring the business, Patterson renamed the company National Cash Register (NCR), which still exists today. He also added new features, such as custom employee drawers and bells, as well as the all-important paper receipts.

1900s - Electric and computerized point of sale systems arrive

In 1906, inventor Charles F. Kettering, who worked for NCR, developed the first cash register powered by an electric motor. The device made it faster and easier for cashiers to ring up sales and keep tabs on transactions.


Over the next several decades, more improvements were made to the cash register, and NCR came up with better ways to market and sell the device. These efforts paid off well for the company. By the mid-1900s, the cash register had become a staple in retail stores.


In the 1970s, innovation helped traditional cash registers evolve into computerized point of sale systems. It was also during these years that devices such as credit card terminals and touchscreen displays were introduced.

By the time the 80s and 90s rolled along, the retail world saw the emergence of electronic registers, barcode scanners, PC-based point of sale systems, and credit card devices.

2000s - Point of sale systems go mobile

Mobile point of sale (mPOS) solutions have made such a huge impact in the industry that in 2014 a majority of UK retailers (53%) rated mPOS as the most important in-store technology for consumers. mPOS systems are also gaining market share. In 2015, the IHL Group found that mobile POS software installs are up 41% in North America year to year.


Over the years, we’ve seen POS systems evolve from cash registers that simply ring up sales to full-fledged retail management solutions that allow retailers to stay on top of inventory, reporting, customer management, and ecommerce from one platform.


It’s not just features that have evolved. Thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, retail point of sale solutions now look better than ever. Clunky registers and bulky computers are being replaced by sleek tablets and phones. These devices not only look good and save space, but they also help retailers improve the shopping experience.

Gone are the days when cashiers were anchored to the checkout counter. Thanks to mobile POS solutions, merchants can take the checkout process to the customer, enabling them to assist shoppers from anywhere in the store or even when they’re out and about at an event or pop-up shop.

And since these solutions run in the cloud, retailers can ring up sales and check in on their business no matter where they are.

Steve Taitoko of Magic Memories

STEVE TAITOKO, Chief Operating Officer, Magic Memories.

“Since we’re able to use tablets to process payments, our staff can actually go out to where the customers are, as opposed to just sitting behind the register waiting for people to come up.”


Advancements in mobile and cloud computing have also helped lower costs for retailers. Merchants spend more than twice as much on cash registers compared to mobile POS systems. A traditional register can cost up to $4,000 compared to an iPad POS, which costs around $1,500 including accessories.

Rather than spending thousands on bulky equipment and complicated systems, merchants can get up and running with just a few hundred or a few thousand.

Peter Charles from Shoes Feet Gear

PETER CHARLES, Owner, Shoes Feet Gear.

“We were paying $10,000 for a software package for our retail store, and when we wanted to integrate it with our website, we found that it was going to cost around $5,000 to connect everything. We then discovered Vend, which was already integrated with our online store, and that cost about $100 a month.”

What’s the future of POS systems?

In the near future, retail point of sale will be even more cloud-centric and connected.


Cloud apps will enable retailers to better manage their sales, inventory, and customers across several stores and channels. And as consumers increasingly use multiple channels to shop, POS systems will keep up by offering features that integrate online, offline, and social shopping solutions.

Better yet, POS providers will offer centralized or single-view systems to allow retailers to stay on top of various channels and stores from one platform. Boston Retail Partner’s 2015 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey supports this outlook. According to the study, “663% more retailers will have a single commerce platform in 4 years.”

Andrew Howson of Sitka


“Managing a single product catalog means we’ve eliminated our problem of double entry into multiple platforms. Perfect inventory syncing saves many hours of cutting, pasting, and stock updating.”


We can also expect in-store devices such as sensors, terminals, kiosks, and screens to integrate with point of sale systems.

Retailers will continue to transform the in-store experience through technologies like foot-traffic analytics, RFID, touchscreens, and beacons. This will prompt POS providers to integrate with in-store technologies so retailers can get the most from their services.

For instance, a POS system could “talk” to the store’s beacons and people counters and then include that data in its reporting. While a few companies are doing this now, we expect this trend to grow in coming years.


While cash and credit cards likely won’t go away any time soon, we can expect consumers to adopt more payment options in the future. The rise of mobile payments and the EMV mandate in the United States will drive retailers to upgrade to more modern POS and payment systems. That’s why in the coming months and years, consumers will not only see sleeker point of sale devices in retail stores, they’ll also have more flexible and secure payment options.

Moustache milk and cookies

DEANNA YANG, Chief Cookie Officer, Moustache.

“Long gone are the days when I had to rely on old cash registers that are so hard to use! Since everything is online, it’s so helpful being able to see our statistics from anywhere in the world. Where ever I may be, I can always see which cookies are selling the best or which milkshakes are the least popular.”