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Point of sale hardware (POS hardware) is equipment that accounts for a major portion of a point of sale system and may include card reading machines and printers, cash registers, servers and computer systems. This is different from point of sale software, which consists of the computer programs that operate the system and send information back and forth. Point of sale hardware can be very sophisticated or very cheap, depending on the need of the merchant and what that merchant can afford to spend.
Although not usually considered point of sale hardware, one of the most integral components to a system is a part that is not even owned or leased by the merchant. This is the credit or debit card itself. It is this piece of hardware that sets into motion a chain of events that eventually leads to the transaction being approved or declined. However, because the card is not kept with the merchant, even if it is a credit card sponsored by the merchant, it is not usually listed among point of sale hardware.
The most recognizable point of sale hardware component is the POS terminal. This is usually a cash register that includes the ability to read credit and debit cards of various types. Usually associated with this cash register is a small monitor, which may provide feedback for both the customer and the cashier. Often, these cash registers are connected by a constant connection to a main server, which is responsible for requesting and receiving information, as well as approving or declining the final sale. This information all shows up at the terminal.
It should be noted that the magnetic strip on credit cards, and the reader on point of sale hardware components, work in virtually the same way with every credit or debit company. Therefore, when a merchant accepts or declines certain cards from certain credit card companies, this is not because of a failure of the hardware. This is simply because the merchant does not have a current agreement in effect with those other companies.
The software that can run on a POS system is very similar to that which can be run on a computer. Therefore, the limitations are also the same. Just as if a consumer buys a state-of-the-art computer they can expect to run the best software, the same is true with a POS system. It is always best to remember the consumer often gets what they pay for. If more money is spent, chances are the point of sale hardware will be capable of processing more information.