What is an Electronic Cash Register (ECR)? [Pros, Cons, and Why a POS System is Better]

Illustration of a pos system

Picking the right cash register for your retail business is key to improving the customer payment experience and operating your retail store efficiently. If you’re considering an electronic cash register (ECR), it’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages. 

ECRs have a few benefits compared to traditional mechanical cash registers, but if you’re looking to streamline business operations and keep customers coming back, you may want to step up your cash register game and go for an integrated POS system. 

In this article, you’ll learn the pros and cons of electronic cash registers and how they compare to other point-of-sale devices so you can make an educated decision about the best option for your retail business. 

What is an electronic cash register (ECR)? 

Picture of an electronic cash register

Source

An electronic cash register is a countertop device that retailers use to collect cash and credit card payments. It’s a step up from a traditional mechanical cash register because it can calculate and add sales tax to the purchase amount. 

It usually has a small screen to show the customer’s total purchase amount, a keypad to plug in product prices, a cash register drawer, and in some cases, a barcode scanner to make ringing up customers faster and easier.

If you want to connect an ECR to other business software such as accounting, sales, or inventory management tools, you need contracts with third-party providers.

This makes it a more expensive and less integrated option when you’re considering which type of cash register to use in your retail store.

That’s why most retailers today use an integrated POS system that lets them unify in-store and online data like customer profiles, inventory, and sales history, as well as accept alternative payment methods like Apple Pay and Google Pay. 

Advantages of ECRs

Electronic cash registers have a few advantages compared to traditional mechanical cash registers, including: 

  • Faster transaction processing time 
  • Fewer errors
  • The option to integrate with third-party inventory management software

You don’t get a whole lot more than you get with a mechanical cash register. If you want to increase productivity and give customers the best possible in-store checkout experience, ECRs have limitations. 

Disadvantages of ECRs

An electronic cash register is better than a mechanical cash register, but it still has its disadvantages. Let’s review them: 

  • The machine itself can cost up to $500, but with a POS system, you can use a smartphone or tablet that you already own, and purchase a card reader for less than $50.
  • You can’t process alternative payment methods like Google Pay and Apple Pay. 
  • You need multiple software integrations to track inventory and sales, making it more expensive and less secure than using one system to manage it all. 
  • Electronic cash registers lack mobility and take up space—they’re fixed to a checkout counter and aren’t portable. 
  • ECRs always need a power source—if you lose electricity, you won’t be able to process payments.
  • Aesthetically speaking, ECRs are not appealing if you’re going for a modern in-store design—they’re clunky and outdated.

Choose an integrated POS system instead 

Image of Shopify POS tablet, smartphone, and desktop

Whether you’re a weekend warrior selling products at pop-ups and markets, have a permanent store, or have multiple retail locations, a POS system is by far the best solution for taking payments and streamlining business operations. In addition to improving the customer experience and your productivity, there are many more benefits. 


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Benefits of using a POS system for retail 

Easy inventory management

Whether you have one location or 10, or have an omnichannel retail business, an integrated POS system makes keeping track of inventory effortless. The data is centralized, so whenever you make a sale, the numbers update across channels. 

💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS comes with tools to help you control and manage your inventory across multiple store locations, your online store, and warehouse. Forecast demand, set low-stock alerts, create purchase orders, know which items are selling or sitting on shelves, count inventory, and more.

Create customer profiles 

Keeping track of your customers makes it easier to stay in touch with personalized post-purchase emails and other marketing tactics. Staying top of mind can help boost repeat orders and customer loyalty.

Accept secure payments anywhere

Shopify POS Go

Mobility in your store is key. Forget the checkout counter, free up space for merchandise, and meet customers wherever they are, with a sleek POS system that’s the size of a smartphone. And use it to accept card payments, contactless Google Pay or Apple Pay digital wallet payments, gift cards, and card-not-present transactions.

Boost in-store sales and customer experience

A faster, frictionless checkout experience means you can complete more sales in a day.

And shoppers will be happier if they don’t have to wait in a long queue to buy your products—or even better, if they can buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS), or return products via any channel.

💡 PRO TIP: With Shopify POS, you can accept exchanges for purchases made online or at another store location and your inventory will be updated instantly–no manual reconciliation required.

Manage staff permissions 

Not all your store staff have the same roles. With a POS system, you can set different permissions. For example, you can give managers access to historical sales data and the option to add products while only giving store staff the ability to look up inventory and create discount codes. 

Analyze real-time sales data 

With all your transaction history in one place, you can check up on your business anytime (across channels—online and off). And you can do it from any device that you’ve downloaded your POS app onto.

Adapt quickly to changing business needs

As your business grows you’ll need to hire and train more staff, add more products, and potentially open more store locations. The right POS system will have hardware and software that scales with your business. App integrations can also help you customize your POS system from one back office so you can improve marketing, invoicing, order fulfillment options, and more.

📌 GET STARTED: With Shopify, it’s easy to customize your POS system and extend its capabilities. Find apps built by our trusted partners the Shopify App Store to help you do anything–from counting foot traffic, to launching a loyalty program and more.

Open new locations faster

A major benefit of POS systems is that there’s usually a mobile option. So whether you’re opening more permanent locations, are spreading your staff between a few pop-up shops, or have more than one booth at a holiday market, it’s easy to expand. 

For example, with Shopify POS, you don’t have to complete the setup process again. Simply add a new POS location, download the Shopify POS app on any smartphone or tablet, connect your card reader, and start selling.

Electronic cash registers vs. POS systems: make the right choice 

Now that you know what an electronic cash register is and its advantages and disadvantages, it’s time to make an easy choice. Stay competitive and keep up with the future of retail by opting for an integrated POS system. It will make your life easier, delight your customers, and help you grow your retail business faster.


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