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by Justin Guinn,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: January 17, 2017


Mobile devices are saturating the retail and hospitality industries. Nearly 4 million tablets will have been shipped for use as mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) systems in North American retail and hospitality operations by 2017. Furthermore, mobile POS systems are expected to reach almost 80 percent market penetration by 2019.

Easy-to-use interfaces, consumer familiarity and affordability make mPOS systems great options for retailers and restaurants. Thus, many vendors are offering (or moving entirely to) mobile POS options.

But not all of these systems are created equal: Be it an iPad tablet, Android tablet, mobile phone-based system or something else, each POS system offers benefits and drawbacks. Making a decision can be difficult, especially when considering how central the POS system is to the success of the business. That’s why we’re here to help you find the best one for your business. In this guide, we’ll cover:

What Is mPOS Software?
Benefits of mPOS Systems
Common Functionality of mPOS Software
Typical Hardware for mPOS Systems
Market Trends to Understand

What Is mPOS Software?

Mobile POS software systems are the convergence of legacy counter-top POS systems and sleek, easy-to-use consumer devices. The difference between legacy and mobile systems is that mPOS software is built to function on tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices—turning your entire store into a point of sale. What’s more, some systems even offer customer-facing functionality that benefits businesses while improving customer experiences.

While mPOS software can run on any mobile device, buyers looking exclusively for a tablet-based system should check out our tablet POS guide.

Benefits of mPOS Systems

Mobile POS systems are fantastic options for smaller retail and restaurant operations. They are much more affordable than standard POS systems and are relatively easy to implement. And of course, they can be used on the go—allowing merchants to set up shop at markets, street fairs and other remote locations

Apart from the advantages listed above, there are many other benefits to mobile point of sale systems. These can include:

Affordability. Prices for mobile POS systems vary based upon hardware requirements and number of terminals/mobile needed. After upfront costs, merchants can typically expected to pay a monthly fee depending on how many users need to access the system. Regardless, it’s very affordable compared to traditional POS systems.

Increased mobility. Aside from offering remote functionality for use outside the store, mobile POS systems empower your employees to engage customers and complete transactions from anywhere within the store, as well. With an mPOS on hand, employees can search inventory to find items in a different color or size, upsell customers with other items they might like and place online orders for out-of-stock items right on the spot.

Reporting and analytics. Much the same as standard POS systems, mPOS software also offers detailed reporting and analytics capabilities. These translate customer and transaction data, which is often difficult to record and understand, into more decipherable charts, graphs and other types of reports. Through these reports, you’ll be able to better understand your business and more confidently make important decisions.

Common Functionality of mPOS Software

For the most part, mPOS systems offer the same standard functionality as their terminal-based counterparts, including:

Point of sale Expedites the checkout process by automatically assigning prices, calculating change, printing receipts and adjusting inventory counts for the back office.
Reporting and analytics Centralizes and articulates sales data into easily understandable charts and reports. Gives business owners a snapshot into top-selling items, busiest hours and more.
Inventory management Automates product/stock counting. Notifies staff when items are running low so they can order more.
Customer management Tracks valuable customer information and purchase histories. Serves as the jumping-off point for POS-driven loyalty programs.
Employee management Includes scheduling, time clock and wage management functionality. Some systems allow employees to swap and trade shifts online.

Typical Hardware for mPOS Systems

Many mPOS solutions can also operate as stationary systems. Most mPOS vendors offer hardware enabling their systems to complete additional, crucial operations. Here is a typical list of mPOS hardware add-ons you should make sure your system includes:

Cash drawers Cash drawers are an affordable must-have for any business accepting cash.
Barcode scanners Most mobile devices have built-in cameras that can work as barcode scanners. However, merchants relying heavily on barcode scanning should consider hand-held or mounted scanners.
EMV card readers Card readers for mobile POS systems have not traditionally been EMV compliant chip-card readers. But now that the EMV standard is in place, you’ll want to consider a chip-card reader, especially if you sell high-priced items.
Receipt printers Receipt and label printers are valuable time-saving tools (not to mention communication tools for food and beverage operations).

Market Trends to Understand

Chip-and-pin credit and debit cards. As mentioned above, the new EMV standard is finally in place in the United States. As a result, consumers are increasingly making purchases with their new chip-and-pin cards. Keep this in mind when shopping for a mobile point-of-sale system, as you’ll likely decide you need one that includes the hardware (a chip-card reader) necessary to process EMV payments.

Android Pay and Apple Pay. Though slow to catch on, consumers in the US are warming up to the idea of paying for offline purchases with their Android smartphones and Apple iPhones. As a retailer that doesn’t want to miss out on these sales opportunities, you’ll need to have a payment terminal that includes Near Field Communication (NFC) functionality and ensure that its “contactless” payment feature is enabled.

RFID and Internet of Things technology. The tech world is buzzing with talk about the Internet of Things (IoT) and it’s safe to say that more and more “things” are going to be internet-enabled and digitally connected. RFID is one of the main technologies behind many early IoT initiatives and, incidentally, the world of retail helped popularize RFID in the first place. But now isn’t the time to rest on their RFID laurels: smart retailers continue to look for opportunities as new IoT innovations continue rolling out.

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