Cash Register vs. POS System: What’s the Difference?

A dark purple Shopify POS and card reader on a light purple background.

A traditional cash register is a metal machine (also known as a till) where you can ring up the price of goods sold at the time of purchase, accept payment, and return change to the customer. 

But today’s sales process looks quite different: Businesses often use retail POS (point of sale) systems, a combination of hardware and software that gives you the option to accept payments in cash, by credit, debit, or gift card, and via mobile payment—plus, can integrate your online shop and other business activities. 

A cash register POS merges the best of both worlds. Here’s a look at how it works and why having a cash register POS in place can be important for your business.

POS system vs. cash register: What’s the difference?

A cash register is a mechanical box with a lock and drawer that helps you securely keep track of—and store—your business’s cash. The drawer contains separated compartments for various denominations of cash and coins. 

By comparison, a POS system combines hardware and software to process your store’s transactions. This technology enables you to sell products and services, accept various forms of payment, and gather important data about your business.

When you use a POS system and a cash register together, you can more easily accept and manage cash and other forms of payment. When you find a cash register that’s compatible with your POS system and connect them, your cash drawer will open when you select a cash transaction on your POS system. POS software comes with features that make it easier to balance a cash drawer at the end of the shift or day, simplifying your accounting.

POS system vs. cash registers: Key features

You’ve gotten a brief overview of what POS systems and cash registers are and how they work together. But what makes these critical retail tools unique? Here’s a closer look:

Key features of cash registers

A cash register helps your business do the following:

1. Ring up cash sales 

With a cash register, you can collect payment for purchases that customers pay for in cash. Without POS technology, you may have to manually input product prices and taxes, and calculate totals. POS software like Shopify POS does these calculations for you.

2. Securely store cash 

A cash register is where you store cash when you collect payments and make change. The cash drawer opens when it’s time to collect payment; otherwise it stays securely closed. Most cash registers come with a key or can be opened by staff logged in to your POS system, which gives added theft protection.

3. Track cash payments 

A cash register helps you collect cash payments and track how much cash is going in and out of your business. However, this is much easier when you connect your cash register to a POS system like Shopify, since it comes with tools that facilitate cash flow management.

4. Balance cash register

Balancing a cash register means counting the money in the cash drawer (at the end of a shift or day, for example) and removing all but what’s needed in the drawer to make change for customers.

A cash drawer simplifies the balancing process because it neatly separates cash and coins into different sections by denomination. This separation makes the cash more organized from the start, which makes counting faster and easier.

When you connect your cash register to a POS system, balancing the cash drawer becomes even simpler, thanks to cash tracking tools.

Key features of POS systems

A POS system has added capabilities that cash registers are missing, such as:

1. Portability

With a mobile POS system, you can turn every employee into a walking checkout counter. When employees are equipped with handheld devices like Shopify POS Go, they can check out and assist customers from anywhere in your store. If customers want to pay with cash, they can still do so at your store’s primary checkout point.

2. Inventory management 

A POS system does so much more than just facilitate sales. This technology also simplifies inventory management.

POS systems automatically track inventory data. For example, when a customer buys an item, it’s deducted from your physical inventory count. Your POS lets you know when you’ve reached your reorder point and can even automatically order new inventory for you.

3. Collect and view customer data 

A POS is also a treasure trove of customer data. You can collect customer information such as purchase history, purchase frequency, and more. Then, you can use that information to send targeted marketing offers and create hard-to-resist personalized shopping experiences to engage customers. 

4. View store reports and analytics 

APOS enables you to collect data and analytics about your business to make more informed (and faster) business decisions. 

For example, by looking at retail reports, you can determine which items sell the best, how often to replenish stock to avoid stockouts, and which products to put on sale.

5. Track all payment types 

POS systems enable you to take all kinds of payments—including cash, card, and mobile wallet—and track data about those transactions. You can use that information to understand customers’ preferred payment methods, introduce new payment options, and shop around for a payment processor that can give you the best deal.

6. Ecommerce integrations 

Using a POS system makes it easier to sell online by integrating with the best ecommerce platforms that suit your needs. When your ecommerce platform integrates with your POS, you can see all of your business data—including customer information, inventory, and sales—in a centralized location. 

Can POS systems connect to cash registers?

POS systems can connect to cash registers to allow you to easily manage cash payments and get the data-driven perks of using a POS. With a cash register POS, you get an all-in-one solution.

To take advantage of this powerful system, look for a cash drawer that’s compatible with your POS, such as these Shopify POS-friendly cash registers.

Not sure which cash registers are compatible with your POS system? Your POS provider should be able to give you that information and provide resources to help you connect your cash register hardware to your POS software.

How to use a POS system and cash register

  1. Find a cash register compatible with your POS system
  2. Connect your cash drawer to your POS system
  3. Use the POS system and cash register
  4. Balance the cash drawer

Ready to get started with a POS system and cash register? Follow these four steps to learn how to use the tools together, from setup to balancing the cash drawer.

1. Find a cash register compatible with your POS system

Your POS vendor should be able to provide you with a list of compatible cash drawers. If you’re looking for cash registers that are compatible with Shopify POS, you could use the following cash drawers:

2. Connect your cash drawer to your POS system 

Connect your cash drawer to your POS system per your POS vendor’s instructions. The best POS systems are able to sync data from both your retail and online shops. 

3. Use the POS system and cash register

At the start of each cashier’s shift, have them (or a manager) start a payment tracking session on their POS and enter how much cash is in the cash drawer. This system of accountability helps balance your books, reduce errors, and deter fraud. 

If a customer wants to pay with cash, the cashier must select cash payment when ringing up a customer. The cash drawer opens, and the cashier collects cash from the customer. The cashier counts the cash and places it into the cash drawer. If needed, the cashier issues change to the customer. Finally, the customer receives a receipt for their purchase.

The POS system can also handle card payments, as well as other contactless payment methods like mobile wallets.

4. Balance the cash drawer

At the end of the day or their shift, the cashier balances the cash drawer. They start by ending the tracking session. Each cashier counts how much cash is in the register and input the final amount into the POS. A manager may confirm the final balance. Ideally this number will match the amount recorded in the POS, but due to human error there may be minor discrepancies from time to time.

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Cash registers vs. POS systems FAQ

What are the 4 types of cash registers?

The four types of cash registers are mechanical cash registers (traditional cash till devices that are rarely used today), electronic cash registers (updated versions of the traditional register that can connect to payment terminals), point-of-sale systems (electronic systems that accept credit cards and track inventory), and POS cash registers (systems that combine the best of both worlds).

What are the disadvantages of a cash register?

There are several disadvantages of traditional cash registers. They’re limited in the collection and tracking of business data (such as customer data and inventory levels). You also can’t easily integrate them with online sales. A cash register POS system solves these problems while still allowing you to accept cash and give change.

Do cashiers use a POS system?

If your business has implemented a POS system, then cashiers can use it to complete the sales process more quickly. They can use the touch screens on a mobile or tablet POS (with card readers) for on-the-go checkout, or countertop POS terminals to calculate sales order totals, process returns, checkout customers, and print receipts.