You’ve picked a name for your store, purchased merchandise, and found the ideal location to set up shop—it’s an exciting time! But now you need to figure out how to process payments in your store, and you want to do it in a way that delights customers and streamlines your business operations.
You already know a cash register is an essential investment for any retail store, but there are a few different types of cash registers to consider depending on your business needs.
Traditional cash registers are still in use, but having a system to ring up customers and do things like track inventory across locations, create discount codes, and set up staff permissions are key to running a successful retail store.
Traditional cash registers have transformed over the years into more powerful and technologically advanced point-of-sale systems.
In this article, you’ll learn a brief history of how the cash register started, the most common types of cash registers, and the best type of cash register for retail.
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Types of cash registers
Cash register usage started more than 140 years ago, but businesses globally still rely on them today. Thankfully though, the days of keying in numbers and listening for a bell that indicates the cash register drawer is opening are over. Nowadays, cash registers are used for more than just adding up products and calculating change. Modern cash registers (also known as point-of-sale systems) are integral to retail stores.
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Let’s start with a brief cash register history lesson.
Mechanical cash register
The mechanical cash register was invented in 1879 by a Dayton, Ohio, saloon owner named James Ritty. As one of the earliest versions of a cash register, its primary purpose was to help prevent theft by having a place to store and keep track of the money he made.
The cash register device was entirely mechanical and only tracked income—merchants used it as an adding machine to ring up sales. It was essentially a big calculator and a place to store cash and distribute change from.
Ringing up customers was simple. Cashiers entered the sale amount and then pressed the total key, a bell would ring, and the cash register drawer opened. Eventually, mechanical cash registers also had receipt printers.
Here’s a video showing how an antique mechanical cash register from 1910 works:
These traditional cash register devices are rarely seen in retail stores today. More powerful options like electronic cash registers and point-of-sale systems help retailers increase efficiency.
Let’s take a look at some of today’s cash register types for retail.
Electronic cash register (ECR)
The electronic cash register is essentially an electronic version of the mechanical cash register. It takes up less space on the checkout counter and comes with more features including the ability to connect with payment terminals. With the electronic cash register, you can still accept cash payments, but it’s also possible to process credit card payments in your store.
Unlike the mechanical cash register, ECRs automatically calculate and add tax to the purchase amount.
But when it comes to useful features, that’s about it.
Electronic cash registers don’t have the technology or software that let you connect to the internet and link to other business software you may need to streamline your operations. Inventory management, sales tracking, staff accounts, customer profiles, and more useful features aren’t available.
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In some cases, you can export sales data via a USB and then import it into your other business systems (like accounting tools), but this often results in errors and lost time.
Today, most retailers use a point-of-sale system, otherwise known as a POS or POS cash register. In fact, the global point-of-sale software market is expected to grow in the coming years, reaching a size of $42.5 billion by 2027.
POS cash register
The modern-day cash register is a point-of-sale system.
These systems come with hardware and software to help you process payments in your store, but the additional features that come with POS systems (more on those below) go above and beyond to help improve the customer experience and your business operations.
There are many different types of POS cash register systems to consider depending on your needs, but here are a few of the most common ones:
A mobile POS or mPOS has the same functionality as a traditional POS system, but it doesn’t limit you to checking out customers at a specific place or counter in your store. This portable point of sale (or mobile cash register) includes hardware and software and lets you process sales from any corner of your store or in another location (like a pop-up shop or event).
With an mPOS, you can install POS software on a tablet or smartphone to meet shoppers wherever they are, reduce customer checkout queues, and free up space in your shop to display more merchandise.
A tablet POS, also known as a touch-screen cash register, can be mobile or fixed to a countertop POS stand.
This is a good option if you mainly want to keep your POS anchored to a checkout counter but still want the option to make it portable.
It’s smaller and sleeker than an electronic cash register making it low profile, and if you need to accept payments from another location—like a pop-up shop—a tablet POS is easy to transport.
Visually, a countertop POS is most similar to an electronic cash register in that it’s larger and fixed to a checkout counter. While it offers the same modern POS software and features, there’s no option for mobility due to a larger digital display and other hardware, including a cash drawer, receipt printer, and barcode scanner.
This is a good option for larger retailers that have multiple checkout counters operated by cashiers.
What’s the best type of cash register for retail?
Whether you have a designated checkout counter or prefer to offer mobile payments in your store, a modern POS system—portable or fixed—is by far the best type of cash register for retail.
The right retail POS system will help you:
- Manage inventory for multiple locations (online and off)
- Create customer profiles so you can personalize marketing campaigns
- Set up staff roles and monitor their performance
- Add unlimited products and create barcodes
- Analyze multichannel sales from a centralized dashboard
- Accept credit cards and alternative payment methods like Apple Pay and Google Pay
- Offer mobile checkout in your store
- Apply discount codes
- Provide flexible order fulfillment options like buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS)
- Recover abandoned in-store sales with email carts
- Customize your POS with apps and add-ons
- And much more
📚 Further reading: How to Choose the Best Retail Point-of-Sale (POS) System
Wrapping up: types of cash registers for retail
Now that you know the history of the cash register and the benefits of using a modern POS system, it’s time to get started.
Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the world of physical retail with pop-up shops and events, are opening your first permanent store, or already have multiple retail locations, choose a point of sale that lets you break free from the checkout counter and unify your physical and digital store data and inventory—choose Shopify POS.
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