How to set up and use a POS system: small business guide

Knowing how to set up and use an POS system is a crucial part of getting your retail or hospitality business off the ground. Get the lowdown with our easy guide.

Our Research

When judging the best POS systems, our writers work with expert researchers to focus on key features that matter most to small businesses. These include value for money – setup, hardware and transaction fees – help and support, plus the till, stock, and business management tools available.
Written and reviewed by:
Heleana Neil is reader supported – we may earn a commission from our recommendations, at no extra cost to you and without impacting our editorial impartiality.

The best way to think about setting up your POS system is to think of it as a computer (it basically is a computer).

You’ll need to plug it in so it has power, connect a cable or connect to WiFi so it’s connected to the internet, and connect things like receipt printers and other hardware.

Once that side of things is sorted, then you need to get to grips with the POS software and add products etc.

Fancy some expert assistance finding the right POS system for your business? Our free EPOS comparison tool can help. Just answer a few questions and receive bespoke, no-obligation quotes from some of the UK’s leading POS companies.

Our quick guide will take you through this whole process, and cover which POS features are crucial for retail and hospitality businesses.

POS systems can vary so make sure you read your instructions carefully but here are the general steps:

1. Check you’ve got everything

Before you set anything up, make sure you’ve got everything you ordered. Check the box and mentally tick off all the hardware and cables etc.

2. Plug it in

A good proper first step is to plug in your receipt printer and screen. Ensure both are powered up and turned on, and put the paper spool in the receipt printer.

3. Connect your POS system to your WiFi network

Next, you’ll need to get online.

One way to do this is to connect your POS system to your router with an ethernet cable but you can also connect to WiFi for a slick wireless option.

Your POS instructions should explain how to do this but generally you’ll need to go into settings on your POS screen, find your WiFi network and enter the password.

4. Connect your screen to your cash drawer

An obvious but important step is to use the supplied cable to link up your cash drawer and POS screen, so your cash drawer will spring open when you tap the button.

5. Add your products

Whether you’re running a retail or hospitality business, adding your products is another vital step. You can use the POS software to add a small number of products manually but, if you’ve got a large inventory, then look into whether you can import a Microsoft Excel CSV file that includes all the necessary information.

6. Add users

You’ll also need to add users and decide which should have admin privileges, so they can change settings etc.

7. Configure payment methods

Finally, you need to make sure that the cards and other payment methods you accept are added to your POS system, your POS provider should have provided instructions on how to do this.

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While this is a general guide, there are lots of POS systems available and they can vary quite widely – from advanced setups to systems that just need an iPad and a card reader. So, you might not need to follow all these steps to get going.

To learn more, check out our guide to the best small business POS systems.

How to use a POS system

In the early days, a POS system was a till and employees had to manually enter prices. Then barcodes arrived and the process really sped up, and now we have cloud-based POS systems that mean you can access your sales data from anywhere.

As our what is a POS system guide explains, you need a POS system to take in-person payments, whether that’s by card or cash.

A connected receipt printer will also let you issue receipts to your customers, which is a legal requirement in the UK.

And, as you’ll see in our closer looks below, POS systems have added benefits for restaurant and retail businesses:

How do restaurants use POS systems?

Whether you’re running a pub, casual dining outlet or fine dining restaurant, a top restaurant POS like Lightspeed POS can make things much easier.

Its handy features include:

  • A customisable menu that allows you to easily add or remove items, and add photos and descriptions
  • Take orders from anywhere and send them directly to the kitchen, speeding up the whole ordering process
  • Add an adjustable floor plan so you can effortlessly assign tables to staff members and ensure every diner gets their meal

To learn loads more about how a POS system can help your restaurant business, check out our rundown of the best POS systems for restaurants.

How to use a POS system in retail

EPOS now retail

EPOS Now came out on top in our list of the best retail POS systems, and its specialised retail features give a good idea of how a high-end retail POS can help your business.

It offers:

  • Detailed sales analytics that show you your top selling products and most valuable employees
  • Real-time inventory management that updates automatically
  • Effortlessly integrate your ecommerce and in-person sales

Whether you’re running a retail or restaurant business, it can be hard to work out which POS system is the best fit for your business. To speed things up, head to our free EPOS comparison page, take a minute to answer a few quick questions, and receive no-obligation tailored quotes from some of the UK’s top EPOS companies.

How to use POS hardware

Whenever you’re looking at POS systems, a key question should always be “what is this actually going to be like to use”?

Most providers offer live demos and you should ask for live demonstrations of key tasks like adding products to the system, adding users, processing transactions, and using sales analytics to get greater insight into your sales.

Make sure to also check what sort of training/onboarding is provided for new users. Top POS systems generally claim their systems take 15 minutes to learn, but see what this claim is based on and really think about whether it’s realistic for your workforce.

Apply a similar process to any additional equipment you might need, such as receipt printers or barcode scanners. Don’t be seduced by what the salesperson says, but really imagine what the day-to-day experience of using these things will be.

The more you think about these things at the selection stage, the fewer problems you’ll encounter when it comes to actually using POS hardware.

What hardware is needed for POS?

Exactly what POS hardware you need depends on the size and nature of your business.

Startups and small businesses may be best off opting for an all-in-one iPad POS like Zettle, but more established businesses will probably need at least some of the equipment listed below:

  • EPOS touchscreen (either via tablet or separate unit)
  • Cash drawer
  • Card machine
  • Receipt printer
  • Barcode scanner

This list is not complete and additional hardware may be required in certain industries, such as a self-service POS tablet for casual dining outlets.

What’s the difference between POS hardware and software?

If you’re struggling to tell the difference between hardware and software, think about it in terms of your smartphone.

The hardware is the equipment that you use, so in this case the smartphone.

While the software is the programs you run on that equipment, so the apps you install on your phone like Spotify, Twitter, YouTube etc.

And it’s the same with POS software – the hardware is the touchscreen computer or tablet that you use to select items and payment methods etc, while the software is the program that runs on that hardware and dictates all the things you see when you press the touchscreen.

Fundamentally, software runs on hardware, and neither can be effectively used without the other.

What should a good POS system do?

So, how can a POS system help your business?

Below, we run through some of the key features of top POS systems and how they benefit your business:

Inventory managementSaves time
Sales analyticsBetter plan future operations
Integrate ecommerce and in-person salesKeep track of your whole business
Mobile POS systemDo business (almost) anywhere
Staff managementEasily track hours worked

Need a POS quote?

While it’s clear how an advanced POS system works, it can be much much harder to figure out which is the right POS system for your business. To help you navigate this murky jungle, check out our free EPOS comparison site. Take just one minute to answer a few quick questions, and you’ll receive no-obligation bespoke quotes from some of the UK’s leading POS companies.

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Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is a POS system?
    POS stands for Point of Sale and a POS system allows you to make in-person sales. A simple POS system might just consist of an iPad running POS software and a card reader, but specialised hardware is also available for larger businesses.
  • How do POS systems work?
    A POS or Point of Sale system is a combination of hardware and software that allows your business to make sales and process payments. You’ll generally need a touchscreen computer or tablet and a card reader, as well as a cash drawer if you want to accept cash.
  • What is the best POS system?
    Our in-depth POS research found that Lightspeed was the best POS for restaurant businesses and EPOS Now was the best overall POS for retailers. is reader-supported. If you make a purchase through the links on our site, we may earn a commission from the retailers of the products we have reviewed. This helps to provide free reviews for our readers. It has no additional cost to you, and never affects the editorial independence of our reviews.

Written by:
Alec is Startups’ resident expert on politics and finance. He’s provided live updates on the budget, written guides on investing and property development, and demystified topics like corporation tax, accounting software, and invoice discounting. Before joining, he worked in the media for over a decade, conducting media analysis at Kantar Media and YouGov, and writing a wide variety of freelance pieces.

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