Humankind has been selling goods since ancient times. In the earliest days of retail—some 10,000 years ago—people traded to get what they needed. Several thousands of years later, currency was introduced and became an integral part of the shopping experience.
Retail changed forever when, in 1879, a saloon owner in Ohio named James Ritty invented the first cash register. The so-called “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier” kept track of how many sales were made and the value of each sale, and helped him prevent employee theft.
The industry was revolutionized once again when point-of-sale (POS) systems entered the scene in the 1980s. Today, POS systems and cash registers work together to make businesses easier to run than ever.
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What is a POS cash register?
A cash register, also known as a cash drawer, is a piece of hardware that helps you securely and reliably keep track of and store your business’s cash. A cash register looks like a metal box with a lock and a drawer. The drawer contains separated compartments for various denominations of cash and coins.
A POS system is a combination of hardware and software that processes all of 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 payments. 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 the cash drawer at the end of the shift or day, simplifying your accounting.
POS system vs. cash register: What’s the difference?
You’ve gotten a brief overview of what POS systems are, what cash registers are, and how they work together. But what makes these critical retail tools different?
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 them added protection from theft.
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 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 to start with, 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.
Stay on top of your finances
With Shopify POS, it’s easy to create reports and review your finances including sales, returns, taxes, payments, and more. View your financial data for all sales channels from the same easy-to-understand back office.
A POS system has added capabilities that cash registers are missing, such as:
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.
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 inventory count. Your POS lets you know when you’ve reached your reorder point and can even automatically order new inventory for you.
Collect and view customer data
A POS isn’t just for collecting payment, it’s also a treasure trove of customer data. You can collect information about your customers, such as purchase history, purchase frequency, and much more.
Then, you can use that information to send targeted marketing offers and make personalized suggestions customers won’t be able to resist.
View store reports and analytics
In addition to collecting customer information, a POS also gathers data about your business as a whole. You can use that data to reach the right business decisions faster.
For example, by looking at retail reports you can determine which items sell the best, how often to replenish stock, and which products to put on sale.
Track all payment types
While cash registers can only collect cash payments, POS systems enable you to take all kinds of payments (e.g., cash, card, mobile wallet, etc.) and can 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.
Using a POS system makes it easier to sell online by integrating with ecommerce platforms. When your ecommerce platform integrates with your POS, you can see all of your business data—including customer information, inventory, and sales—in one place. Say goodbye to data segmentation!
Can POS systems connect to cash registers?
Yes! The good news is POS systems connect to cash registers to allow you to easily manage cash payments, while getting all of the data-driven perks of using a POS. With a cash register POS, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
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 cash register
Ready to get started with a POS cash register? Follow these steps to learn how to use one, from setup to balancing the cash drawer.
Set up your POS cash register
- Find a cash register that’s compatible with your POS system. Ask your POS vendor for a list of compatible cash drawers.
- Connect your cash drawer to your POS system per your POS vendor’s instructions.
The POS cash register in action
- At the start of a cashier’s shift, they need to start a tracking session on their POS, and enter how much cash is in the cash drawer into the system.
- If a customer wants to pay with cash, the cashier needs to 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.
- The customer gets a receipt for their purchase.
Balancing 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.
- Then, they have to count how much cash is in the register and input the final amount into the POS.
POS cash register examples
In order to unlock all of the benefits of a cash register POS, you need to find a cash register that’s compatible with your POS system. Your POS vendor should be able to provide you with a list of compatible cash drawers.
For example, if you’re looking for cash registers that are compatible with Shopify POS, you could use the following cash drawers:
- Arlo 13" Cash Drawer
- Star Micronics' 14" Cash Drawer
- VPOS 14" Cash Drawer
- Star Micronics' 16" Cash Drawer
- VPOS 16" Cash Drawer
How much does a cash register POS cost?
Here’s a breakdown of those hardware costs for a cash register POS system.
- Cash register: starts at $139
- iPad: starts at $329
- iPad stand: starts at $99
- Card reader: starts at $49
- Bar code scanner: starts at $229
- Receipt printer: starts at $299
If you’re looking for a more cost-effective alternative, you can get an all-in-one hardware and software combination mobile POS system like Shopify POS Go for $399. You’ll still need to purchase a cash drawer if you want to accept cash payments.
Along with the cost of hardware, consider the cost of your POS software and payment processing fees.
Where to buy a cash register POS
There are many places where you can buy a cash register POS. Because you’re purchasing POS software and cash register hardware, you can source these components from various vendors.
However, it’s best and most convenient to purchase cash register hardware from Shopify’s hardware store. Purchasing a cash register (and other hardware) through your POS provider ensures you’ll get one that’s compatible with your POS software.
Compare POS systems
Wrapping up: What’s a cash register POS?
Cash registers make it possible for retail businesses to collect cash payments, securely store cash, and simplify accounting. They’re one of the earliest forms of retail technology, with roots dating back to the 19th century.
Retail has come a long way since the 1800s. Many retail businesses now use POS systems to manage transactions, gather business data, and track inventory.
When you combine cash register hardware with POS software, you get a cash register POS. These powerful systems give you the best of both worlds by facilitating cash payments, accepting other payment types, making cash drawer balancing easier, and much more.
To take full advantage of a cash register POS, purchase a cash register through your POS provider. This will ensure you buy a cash drawer that works seamlessly with your POS system.
Sell the way your customers shop
Only Shopify POS unifies online and in-store sales and makes checkout seamless. Get all the tools you need to break free from the counter and sell wherever your customers are without worrying about your tech stack, integrations, or fragmented reports.