March 13, 2024

5+ Different Types of Point of Sale (POS) Systems

Ryan Christman, POS Channel Sales Manager
5+ Different Types of Point of Sale (POS) Systems
The point of sale you choose for your business should fit for your needs, but deciphering the differences between various kinds of POS systems can be difficult, especially when nearly every vendor uses different terminology. In this article, we’ll explain each kind of POS option, clarify where you might see overlaps, and offer some tips on selecting the right type for your business.

Intro to point of sale systems

Point of sale (POS) refers to the system merchants use to process customer transactions. Typically, a POS includes hardware and software components, and many modern POS systems go beyond simple payment processing to offer added benefits like inventory management and real-time sales tracking.

Categorizing types of POS systems

There are multiple ways to evaluate POS systems, but some of the major categories that they can vary across include:

  • Hardware type and interface: The look and feel of the actual technology
  • Deployment method: How the POS stores data, on-premise or in the cloud
  • Industry focus: Whether or not the POS has specific features for specialized industries
  • Mobility: The ability to function at different physical locations
  • Compatibility with other technologies: How well the POS integrates with your existing hardware and software solutions
  • Customization options: How much room you have to adapt your POS as your business grows

Below, we’ll use these criteria to evaluate the various types of POS you might encounter in your research.


A legacy or traditional point of sale system is an older, hardware-based model, such as a terminal or cash register. These typically store data locally (without cloud backup), cannot be moved from their dedicated location, rely on manual inputs, and offer limited options for customization and integration.

Legacy systems are declining in popularity, but some businesses use them because they are more familiar with them. Still, in virtually every category, modern POS systems offer more than traditional systems can.

Desktop and terminals

While the desktop and terminal POS category technically also applies to terminal-based legacy systems, you’ll almost always see the desktop/terminal terminology used these days to refer to the modern systems that build on the functionality of the traditional versions we discussed above.

Like legacy systems, desktops and terminals are meant to remain in a fixed location. The desktop variety is simply a desktop computer capable of running POS software, while terminals are strictly POS systems. You can find local, cloud-based, or hybrid versions of these solutions.

Not all desktop POS programs and terminals have comparable features, but a good POS will feature a user-friendly interface, robust integration capabilities, and customization to your industry and business’s specific needs.

Mobile and tablets

Mobile solutions typically run on third-party smartphone and tablet devices. While many businesses do use tablets in-store for convenient, user-friendly transactions, the major benefit of mobile POS systems is that they use a cloud-based system to work on the go. This makes them a great fit for businesses like food trucks and vendors that sell at festivals. You may also use a mobile device in-store to meet your guests wherever they are to create a dynamic, modern atmosphere or reduce the time customers spend waiting in line. Plus, mobile devices typically offer many of the same customization and integration benefits as their fixed counterparts.

Other types

As you look for a solution, you may also see these less common terms to refer to POS varieties:

  • Multichannel and omnichannel systems integrate transactions across multiple platforms to allow flexible buying methods according to customer needs.
  • Open-source POS systems offer free source code and plenty of opportunity for customization—with the caveat that you’ll need developers and technical expertise to manage and support them.
  • Touchscreen POS systems can take several forms, from tablets to some terminals. Typically, your POS will fall under this category unless you choose a desktop program or a legacy system.
  • All-in-one POS refers to a system that unifies hardware and software components within a single solution.
  • Self-service kiosks are dedicated, stationary POS systems that allow customers to complete purchases independently in-store.
  • Virtual POS enables remote purchases by processing via Internet.
  • Integrated or cross-platform POS systems include features that make them compatible with other hardware and software applications.
  • Mobile wallet POS systems accept near-field communication (NFC) payments.
  • Restaurant POS systems have features specifically for the dining industry, such as kitchen display systems.

You may come across some other, more obscure POS terms beyond what we’ve discussed here, but as you can see, many of these POS “types” are not mutually exclusive. A single POS solution can offer multiple features. So, the important question for you is less about the kind of system you need and more about the features you want in your POS.

Tips for choosing between different POS systems

Here’s what we recommend as you look for the perfect match:

Consider where you need to make transactions

If your business moves or doesn’t align with a traditional checkout structure, gravitate towards POS systems equipped with mobile payment options. A stationary POS won’t meet your needs, so you should prioritize systems that you can carry with you, either out on the sales floor or from location to location.

If you do work in a single, fixed location, the choice may be a little more complicated, as a mobile tablet can (and often does) work well in that environment. You’ll need to consider the kind of interface you prefer for your brand and customer experience.

Enable diverse payment options

The type of POS you choose—whether it’s mobile, stationery, touchscreen, or button-based—should be designed for the wealth of payment options we now have. Not offering the right payment method can mean a lost sale, so try to find a system that accounts for the most common, like NFC, EMV, and card swipe.

Take your existing solutions into account

Unless you’re starting your business from the ground up or overhauling all your tech, you’ll likely be using your new POS alongside some third-party equipment. Many POS systems offer integration capabilities, but not all, and not for every possible endpoint. Take note of the hardware and software you want your POS to work with and check your options against that.

Prioritize features that support your needs

Does the POS you’re evaluating offer security and compliance features for your industry? Do other businesses in the same industry recommend it? Is there anything unique about your business that you really need support for? And will your POS be able to help your business scale? Choose a solution that really solves your current pain points and that won’t limit your ability to grow.

Explore your options

Ultimately, you need to pick the point of sale option that fits your business. Not every type of POS will be able to, but you should shop around to see what’s out there.

Exatouch® is our flagship point of sale product, designed to meet merchants’ most critical needs across multiple industries.

Start researching your next POS today—explore Exatouch’s comprehensive features.