Mobile Point-of-Sale (mPOS) Systems Explained (2022)

Mobile point of sale (mPOS) systems explained

A mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) system consists of software and portable hardware that processes your shop’s transactions. It calculates sales totals, processes payments, tracks inventory, collects business data, and much more. 

An mPOS system turns any tablet or smartphone into a checkout point. This capability enables you to ring customers up anywhere in your store, at pop-up shops, and even on the go. Our guide to mPOS systems has what you need to know about this essential retail technology.

What is a mobile POS system?

A mobile POS system (mPOS) is a portable hardware and software system that processes sales. An mPOS is nearly the same as a traditional POS system, except that it doesn’t have to be anchored to one checkout counter. 

With a mobile POS system, you can install POS software onto a tablet or smartphone and serve customers wherever they are. Because your checkout moves wherever you need it, your shop doesn’t even necessarily need a checkout counter.

How does an mPOS work?

Here’s an overview of how transactions work on an mPOS system:

1. Customer selects products

A shopper chooses the items they’d like to buy and brings them to a sales associate. With a mobile POS, the associate begins the transaction by scanning the item’s barcode with a barcode scanner, the tablet’s or smartphone’s camera, or by searching for it in the system.

2. mPOS calculates the total price

After all the items have been scanned, the mobile POS system calculates the total price of the purchase, including applicable sales tax and discounts.

3. Customer pays

Now the customer pays with a credit or debit card, cash, digital wallet, gift card, or loyalty points. If the customer is paying with cash away from the register, the associate will need to bring them change.

4. Transaction is completed

The sale is finalized after the mPOS processes payment. After the shopper decides if they want an emailed or printed receipt, they’re free to leave with the items they bought. At this point, the POS updates the store’s inventory count, factoring in the newly sold items.

What are the benefits of a mobile POS?

These are just some of the many advantages of using an mPOS:

Mobile checkout

With a POS that moves wherever you need it instead of being tethered to a checkout counter, you can checkout shoppers wherever they are. Mobile checkout virtually eliminates lines at the checkout counter, creates a faster checkout experience, and helps with line busting.

Flexible customer service

With a POS system in the palm of your hand, you have the information and tools you need to better serve customers. 

You can, for example, lookup inventory availability without abandoning customers. Or, you can email shoppers a pre-loaded cart of products they tried on so they can buy online when they’re ready.

If you often find yourself serving more than one customer at a time, mobile POS systems let you save the customer's cart and retrieve it later. This helps you move from one interaction to the next without losing order details and precious spending time at checkout re-entering products into the customers cart. 

Secure payments

Mobile POS systems like Shopify come with built-in payment processing. Payment data encryption, PCI compliance, and 3D Secure compliance ensure that payment information and business data are safe.

📌 GET STARTED: Shopify Payments is the fastest way to start accepting payments in-person, online, and on-the-go. It’s included in all Shopify plans, so you can skip lengthy third-party activations and go from setup to selling faster.

Easy to use

mPOS systems run on hardware you’re already familiar with and on software that’s similar to other iOS and Android apps. That makes mPOS systems intuitive to use, so you’ll understand how to use it quickly.

Dustin Kroft of furniture brand Kroft says he, “basically learned how to use Shopify in five minutes.”

Intuitive design also simplifies staff training. "Shopify POS is really easy to use and learn. I only have to spend about 20 minutes teaching our new hires how to use the system," says Sophie Rankine, Co-Founder of elph ceramics.

Scalable

Getting up and running when you open a new location or sell at an event is quick and easy with an mPOS. While some POS systems have a lengthy set up process, Dustin Kroft appreciated how straightforward it was to open Kroft’s first retail store with Shopify POS

I can set up Shopify POS in 10 minutes and it’ll already be synced with my Shopify online store’s inventory. I’m kind of blown away at how little I have to do to start transacting at the store

Dustin Kroft, President, Kroft

Customizable

Every business is unique. With an mPOS, you can customize your home screen with shortcuts that speed up checkout. You can also expand your mPOS with loyalty, bookkeeping, and staff scheduling integrations.

💡 PRO TIP: Shopify POS has a fully-customizable checkout experience. Create shortcuts to keep your most-used apps, promotions, and products at your fingertips so you can fly through checkout.

What hardware does an mPOS need to work?

A tablet or smartphone and a mobile card reader is all the hardware you need to get started with an mPOS

That said, some merchants need more hardware to keep their store running smoothly. 

  • Tablet or smartphone
  • Mobile card reader
  • Barcode scanner 
  • Cash register
  • Receipt printer  

Tablet or smartphone

Most mobile POS software can run on any iOS or Android tablet or smartphone. Download your POS software onto these devices, and you’re ready to make sales.

Mobile card reader

To take full advantage of an mPOS, you should have a mobile card reader that accepts magstripe swipes, NFC chips, and contactless and mobile wallet tap payments.

Barcode scanner

Barcode scanners make scanning products easy and convenient. And, since they're wireless, you can take them to your back store or warehouse to quickly count inventory.

However, barcode scanners are an optional part of an mPOS system because you can scan products with your tablet’s or smartphone’s camera.

Cash register

If you want to accept cash payments as part of your mPOS system, you’ll need to keep a cash register at one of your counters.

Receipt printer

mPOS systems make it easy to go paperless with email receipts. But, if you want to give customers printed receipts, keep a receipt printer next to your cash register.

📌 GET STARTED: Ready to start shopping for point-of-sale hardware? Head to the Shopify POS hardware store to shop for hardware designed to help you check out customers at the counter, curbside, and everywhere in between.

Is an mPOS right for your business?

If you want any of the following capabilities at your store, consider using a mobile POS system.

Accept payments anywhere

With an mPOS you can accept payments at a register, anywhere in your store, at pop-up events (like markets), and even at customers’ residences. 

Checkout customers faster

Because you can ring customers up from anywhere, you can check them out faster. As a result, you won’t have sales-deterring lines throughout your store.

Count and manage inventory efficiently

With an mPOS and wireless barcode scanner, you can count inventory faster and more accurately in your back store or warehouse than if you were counting manually or with a spreadsheet. 

Plus, you have a virtual record of every inventory count and stock quantity adjustment.


Unify your inventory management with Shopify

Only Shopify POS helps you manage warehouse and retail store inventory from the same back office. Shopify automatically syncs stock quantities as you receive, sell, return, or exchange products online or in store—no manual reconciling necessary.


Grow your customer list

Email receipts at mobile checkout help you collect customer contact information and build profiles. You can use emails and phone numbers to send offers customers won't be able to resist.

💡 PRO TIP: Sending digital receipts via email is a great way to collect customer contact information at checkout and build an email list to fuel your retention marketing. Just make sure they’ve opted in to hearing from you before sending them anything.

Bust lines

Line busting refers to strategies that reduce checkout queues. An mPOS helps you prevent lines by turning employees into mobile checkout points. When lines are inevitable, staff can approach queued-up customers to process transactions as they wait.

Questions to ask mPOS providers

Shopping for retail technology can be overwhelming. Keep these questions in mind and ask them of mPOS vendors as you shop around:

  • Can the mPOS work for both iOS and Android devices?
  • How many POS terminals can I have? 
  • Can the mPOS help me speed up my checkout? 
  • Does the mPOS have integrated payment processing? 
  • Does the mPOS connect with my ecommerce platform?
  • Does the mPOS have accurate inventory and sales reporting? 
  • Does the mPOS have enough user logins? 
  • Can the mPOS help me manage staff permissions
  • Is the mPOS reliable? 
  • Is the mPOS easy to set up?
  • Is the mPOS affordable?

What makes Shopify the best mobile POS system for retail?

When it comes to mPOS providers, one stands out from the competition: Shopify POS. Shopify is easy to use, priced competitively, and comes with features that help your business grow.

Unlimited staff accounts

Some POS systems limit the number of staff accounts you can create and force you to pay for more accounts. With Shopify POS, you can create as many as you want. Our POS encourages you to expand your team instead of punishing you for it.

Unlimited POS terminals

While some POS providers charge per POS terminal, Shopify charges per store location. If, for example, you have 2 stores and 10 employees, with Shopify you’d only pay for 2 locations instead of 10 terminals, which is typically more cost effective.

Mobile device compatibility

You can install the Shopify POS app on any Android or iOS tablet or smartphone. You can pick hardware that you prefer and fits your budget, rather than being forced to use a specific type.

Hardware rental program

If you’re selling at a pop-up for a limited time, why sink money into hardware you’ll need for a few days? With Shopify's hardware rental program, you get best-in-class hardware – from card readers and cash registers to POS terminals and receipt printers – for when you need it.

Customizable checkout

A big benefit of Shopify POS is its customizable checkout. You can build your own workflow and make the POS work for your specific needs. 

Unified inventory management

If you have a Shopify online shop, your Shopify POS will connect with it and update inventory as it's sold, returned, or exchanged online or in-store. 

This means you can spend less time on inventory and avoid stockouts and overstocking. 

Centralized reporting and analytics

Only Shopify POS brings reporting for brick-and-mortar and online stores in one place. Instead of working on several platforms, exporting data, and creating spreadsheets, you can find everything in one place. 

Centralized reporting helps you access the information you need faster, identify trends, take advantage of opportunities, and reach the right business decisions sooner.

💡 PRO TIP: Only Shopify POS integrates your online and retail store data into one back office–from customer data to inventory, sales, and more. View easy-to-understand reports to spot trends faster, capitalize on opportunities, and jumpstart your brand’s growth.

Control staff permissions

Shopify POS makes it easy to assign staff roles and customize permissions. For example, you could set up your mPOS to require a manager’s approval  for returns and discounts. 

Omnichannel selling features 

When you use Shopify’s mPOS and a Shopify online store, you unlock features that unify sales channels and give customers a holistic shopping experience:

    • With a store pickup option, online shoppers can save on shipping costs and collect products at your shop. 
    • Shopify’s ship-to-customer option lets you send products customers have paid for in-store to their destination of choice. This feature comes in handy with pre-sale products, large items, or products sold at pop-ups where a specific size or color wasn’t available.
    • Email carts are useful when a customer finds an item in your store but you only have the color or size they want online. Shopify users can email pre-loaded carts to customers. When customers are ready to pull the trigger, there’s nothing standing in the way.
    • With Shopify POS, you can accept returns or exchanges for purchases made online or at another store location and your inventory will be updated instantly—no manual reconciliation required. 

How to set up Shopify’s mobile POS

You can get up and running on Shopify’s mobile POS system in a matter of minutes. Here’s how:

1. Sign up for Shopify POS 

You’ll need to share your email address, choose a password, and tell us your store’s name to sign up for Shopify POS.

2. Download the Shopify POS app

Next, you’ll download the Shopify POS app on your hardware of choice: an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.

3. Connect your hardware

Connect your mobile card reader and any other hardware, like a barcode scanner, cash register, and receipt printer, to your tablet or smartphone.

4. Start taking payments

Now, you’re ready to start accepting transactions and taking payments!

Run your business your way with a mobile POS

A mobile point-of-sale system helps you open new shops faster, meet customers where they are, reduce wait times, offer secure payments, and more. Shopify’s mPOS helps your business grow with unlimited staff accounts, a cost-effective pricing model, hardware rental, customization options, and cutting-edge omnichannel features.

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 sales reports.