A Complete Guide to Cash Registers

A Complete Guide to Cash Registers

Every business that deals directly with customers and conducts transactions has a checkout point where the payment is made. This checkout point has evolved drastically over the years, from manually storing cash to mechanical cash boxes, and the modern cash registers and point of sale (POS) systems.

The development of high tech and advanced POS systems has affected the popularity of cash registers. Nevertheless, cash registers still hold a reasonable portion of the market demand. For small to medium sized businesses such as retail shops, convenience stores, markets, hospitality environments, and restaurants, a cash register is a long lasting, durable, and affordable checkout solution.

There are several features and benefits of cash registers due to which many businesses continue to prefer them over fancier POS setups. By learning all about cash registers, you can decide if they are a suitable match for your needs.

What is a Cash Register?

A cash register is a single machine with multiple components that indicates the amount of a product, accepts payment, stores cash, and gives a receipt. The different components of a cash register include the main keyboard, display screens, a cash drawer, and printer. Additional components can be connected such as a scanner, EFTPOS and other payment providers.

The cash register records all the transactions, storing them in the form of an electronic journal. Any applicable taxes can be incorporated into the transactions directly. Overall, the cash register helps keep track of sales, transactions, and the amount of money moving in and out of your business on a daily basis.

Managing a cash register is easier since various components are integrated into a single machine. Advanced cash registers have ports that can connect them with computers, scanners, scales, additional printers, and journal surveillance. There are USB ports to support additional connectivity.

To enable quick transactions, cash registers also come with category keys, price look up (PLU) codes, and flexible keys. Dual displays help support transparency and clarity while the attached printer helps complete transactions quickly. A cash register can function independently or be connected with a wider POS system.

Evolution of Cash Registers

The initial concept of the mechanical cash register was invented in the US state of Ohio in 1879 by James Ritty with a goal to prevent employees from stealing from the store. The inspiration was a mechanical device that counted propeller revolutions on a steamship. The cash register prototype was patented in 1883 and named Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier.

The early mechanical cash registers did not have receipts, instead employees would enter each transaction and the cash drawer would open upon pressing the ‘total’ key. A bell would ring, alerting the store manager that a sale had taken place.

Ritty sold the cash register business to Jacob H Eckert, who then sold it to John H Patterson in 1884. Patterson renamed it as the National Cash Register Company, and supplemented the cash register design with a paper roll to record transactions and print receipts. Using receipts further helped businesses prevent internal theft, and frauds from customers claiming false transactions. In 1906, an inventor with the National Cash Register Company designed a cash register that run on an electric motor.

Over the years, with advancements in technology cash register designs have further evolved, to suit varied payment modes, printing options and keyboards. Connectivity, integration, and speed of operations have been increased while sizes have reduced resulting in compact, effective, and efficient cash registers.

Cash Register Vs POS Systems

The basic purpose of cash registers and POS systems is the same – to carry out transactions at checkout points. However, there are significant differences between the two options. While a cash register is an all-inclusive device, a POS system involves hardware components and software services. There are far more features offered by a POS system, but the costs are also correspondingly higher.

Selecting a suitable checkout system for your business is a major decision. There is an option for an independent cash register, a POS system, or a cash register connected with a POS system. Here are all the differences between cash registers and POS systems.

  • Price

The price of the checkout point can be a major decision influencing factor for many businesses. When considering the price, think about the total cost of ownership, in addition to installation costs.

Cash Register: A cash register is notably less expensive than a POS system, as a single device has all the required components. Also, as there is no specialised software, there are no subscription or software costs involved.

POS System: A POS system requires a considerable investment to purchase all the hardware components and pay for the software costs. There are more maintenance costs for a POS system as compared to a cash register.

  • Features

There is a big difference in the number of features supported by cash registers and POS systems. Depending upon your business needs, consider which features are essential.

Cash Register: A cash register offers the bare minimum functionalities, to conduct transactions, generate taxes, record sales, process payments, store cash, and print receipts.

POS System: A POS system, in addition to supporting all of the features offered by a cash register, also enables inventory management, customer relationship management, employee management, advanced analytics, and promotions.

  • Integration

The integration capability of a checkout point helps in streamlining the overall operations of a business. Smaller businesses can manage with fewer integrations, but for a larger business, integrations can prove valuable.

Cash Register: Most cash registers have limited integration capabilities, and can connect only with external payment processors or hardware components such as scanners.

POS System: A POS system has advanced integration abilities and can be connected with other business solutions such as accounting software, eCommerce sites, scheduling apps, loyalty programs and marketing automation software.

  • Portability

The requirement for having a portable checkout point will vary depending on the unique business needs. Some businesses would be fine with a larger fixed checkout point while others may require a smaller more flexible solution.

Cash Register: A cash register tends to be large, heavy and difficult to move. Although there are a few smaller cash registers available, they tend to have limited features.

POS System: A POS system can be setup with a mobile interface, and is ideal for greater portability and flexibility. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi functionalities also add to the portability of POS systems.

  • Ease of Use

If you have or expect to have a large staff, then it helps to consider the ease of use of the checkout point. Employees would need to be trained in its operations, and a complex system can be challenging to operate.

Cash Register: A benefit of cash registers is that they are easy to learn to use and operate for anyone. There are basic functions that can be taught to employees as required.

POS System: Modern POS systems are easy to use for people who are familiar with operating mobile apps. A basic level of computer literacy is needed to use a POS system effectively.

  • Reporting

Sales reports and analytics help in efficient business management. The reporting capabilities refer to the information that the checkout point is able to record and track.

Cash Register: A cash register offers only the most basic sales reporting. It can track and report the transactions, sales, and payments made through the cash register.

POS System: A POS system has a more evolved reporting system and can provide multiple deep insights into the business performance. These include reporting on inventory, customers, sales, payment options, employees, and more.

  • Durability

An important consideration for a checkout point is its durability, how long lasting the setup is, and what environments it can withstand. For example, restaurants and warehouses may have harsher environments than a convenience store.

Cash Register: A cash register is immensely durable and long lasting, with excellent reliability. It is suited for any kind of environment without an impact on performance.

POS System: A POS system is relatively more delicate and requires careful handling. Depending upon the individual hardware components, there are restrictions on the environments a POS system is suited for.

Benefits of a Cash Register

Even after the development of more technologically advanced point of sale systems, cash registers have still maintained their own position. Many new businesses prefer traditional cash registers for several reasons. Despite their limited features, cash registers offer major benefits, fuelling their popularity in modern times.

  • Simple to manage: A cash register is a stand-alone unit fitted with all the necessary components to carry out basic checkout point tasks. As a result, it is easy to use and manage since there is no need for multiple pieces of hardware or a centralised system to connect.
  • Safe and secure: Hacking and theft are big security concerns, and cash registers protect against both. Cash registers typically do not have networking capabilities, or store customer data and cannot be hacked. The large size and heavy weight of cash registers prevents thievery of the entire device, while locked cash drawers protect payments.
  • Easy maintenance and long life: Cash registers are sturdy and robust by their build, giving them a long life. Fewer components mean less risk of complications or problems that would need repair. Even when repair is required, cash registers are simpler to fix.
  • Low expenses: The key benefit of cash registers is that they drastically cut down the expenses of a POS system. A cash register involves only an initial purchase cost and a recurring cost for paper for the receipt printer. There are no software or subscription costs involved.

How to Choose a Cash Register

If you are considering purchasing a cash register, then there is a diverse range of options available. Cash registers are available with varying keyboard sizes, displays, cash drawer sizes, printer types, and optional ports. By identifying your specific business needs, you can choose a suitable cash register.

  • Keyboard size: For a best fit, the keyboard size should correspond to the range of products offered by your business. Larger keyboards can have dedicated category and price look up keys, making transactions faster and convenient. Aim for a cash register with a keyboard slightly larger than your existing product range, giving you space to expand.
  • Displays: A cash register typically has two displays, one that faces the customer and the other for the employee making the transaction. Displays come in a range of sizes and display types, including backlit options for environments where there is insufficient lighting. Employee displays can have touch screen capabilities and show multiple items, to help accuracy in transactions.
  • Cash drawer sizes: There are several sizes of cash drawers available with different configurations of note and coin compartments and media slots. Depending upon the volume of cash transactions your business has, you can choose a small or large cash drawer model of cash register. The cash drawer is generally the single largest factor contributing to the overall size of the cash register.
  • Printer types: A cash register comes with an inbuilt receipt printer, generally based on thermal printing technology. The quality of prints, and the ability to add graphics and logos will vary based on the specific printer and cash register. Consider how complex you want your receipts to be, and how long they should last.
  • Optional ports: Cash registers can come with any number of optional ports that can be used to connect external hardware components. Based on your need for additional hardware, you can consider a cash register that will support all the extra components.


Cash registers have been around for more than a century and are still used by businesses across the world. While they admittedly have fewer features and functionalities than modern POS systems, cash registers have their own range of benefits. They are sturdy, efficient, cost-effective and well-capable of conducting payments and transactions.

Over the years, cash registers have evolved and can be connected with additional POS hardware components such as scanners, scales, and printers. Long lasting and robust, cash registers are suitable for any environment, and ideal for small to medium sized business.

POS Plaza offers a wide range of cash registers at a variety of price points, capabilities and capacities. Reach out to our expert team to help you find the best solution for your business needs.

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