If you're new to cash registers, the lingo can be mystifying, even intimidating. Here's a short glossary of terms to get you started.
Alphanumeric printing: The printer's ability to print letters as well as numbers, thereby allowing (for example) a store name, marketing message, etc. to be printed on receipts.
Clerk: A specific code assigned to each salesperson, so that sales can be tracked (and reports can be generated) by individual.
Department: A specific key assigned to represent a group of products, so that sales can be tracked by group (e.g., grocery, health care; infants, juniors, etc.).
Impact printer: A printer that creates an image by means of ink "hitting" paper; relatively slow and noisy.
Media slot: The slot that cashiers slip a check or coupon into, without opening the cash drawer.
PLU: Price lookup number—a code assigned to each item and then programmed to automatically bring up that item's price.
Thermal printer: A printer that creates an image by "burning" it onto specially coated paper; faster and quieter than impact printers.
Tax tables: The tax rates that are programmed into the register during set-up, so that sales taxes are calculated automatically.
X reports: Reports that include a variety of data on daily sales, such as total sales, number of transactions, number of sales voided, taxes collected, cash vs. check vs. charge totals, received-on-account totals, department totals, and clerk totals. X reports can be generated at any time of day, and don't reset the data in the register's memory.
Z reports: The same information as X reports, but Z reports reset the register's memory. For this reason, registers typically require a key or password to generate Z reports.
Every retailer knows that lovely sound by heart: the ka-ching! that lets you know merchandise is moving, customers are happy, and business is healthy. But when it’s time to choose the equipment that makes that sound—the indispensable cash register—there are more choices than you might realize. Some specialty retailers give less than a few minutes’ thought to which one best suits their needs. So they head out to the business store or go online to a dozen sites and hope for the best. Is that any way to choose the equipment that handles your money? No, there’s a better, quick-and-easy way.
Take a look at this round-up of eight top cash registers priced at less than $500 MSRP. It can help you decide which one is right for you before you go shopping. You can buy from a local store like Office Max or Staples, or you can buy online, where you’ll likely find the best deals. (But be careful: buy only from a reputable seller.) No matter what mode of shopping you use, do an online search to make sure you’re getting a good price. Some vendors, whether in-store or online, offer extras like extended warranties and free programming, which can be very helpful and save a lot of time and frustration. In fact, that’s why street prices vary so much: “free” programming and set-up services can end up costing quite a bit.
In any event, use the following quick descriptions of each of these not-so-big eight, along with the chart that gives you an overview of each one at a glance, and the sidebars with tips on how to shop smart. And if you need help decoding unfamiliar terms, check out the “Lingo” sidebar.
Sharp XE-A101 (MSRP: N/A)
Sharp markets this entry-level register as “perfect for a small business, flea market vendor, or concession stand,” and it really is. With a reasonably small footprint (see chart for dimensions) and a price that can’t be beat (around $100-$119), this register is great for specialty retailers who need basic register features without the hassle of learning a complicated piece of equipment or training employees to use it. With eight departments, 80 PLUs (price look-up numbers)
and four clerk (salesperson code) options, sales can easily be tracked by product, department or salesperson. Financial reports, including X reports and Z reports, are easy to produce. Not bad for a register at this price level. One drawback: The printer doesn’t accept two-ply paper, so you’d have to choose between journal or receipt printing; it won’t do both.
The bottom line: A low-cost register with basic features.
Sharp XE-A201 (MSRP: N/A)
The XE-A201 has an electronic journal that stores all transactions and then prints a summary journal (not a running journal) on receipt paper at the end of the day, if the user requests it. Retailing for under $250, this unit also generates more reports than its cheaper cousin does, including daily, weekly or monthly totals. Other improvements over the A101 include an alphanumeric thermal printer that’s pretty zippy at 13 lines per second (quiet, too!); and a wide-key keyboard that makes inputting easier. And speaking of input, programming the register’s 99 departments, 1,200 PLUs and 15 clerks can be done with a regular PC keyboard—a vast improvement over using the register keyboard. A graphics program allows logos or graphics to be printed on receipts.
The bottom line: A versatile, function-rich register at a reasonable price.
Royal Alpha 583cx (MSRP: $299)
With programming for 26 clerks, 99 departments and 1,000 PLUs, the Alpha 583cx is competitively priced and has several nifty features, including a serial port that can connect the register to an external barcode scanner. Royal sells the optional barcode scanner for $129, which can be used not only at the register to ring up sales, but also to set up PLUs when programming the register at set-up. The 583cx comes with PC software that lets the register download end-of-day reporting totals directly into QuickBooks 2002 or Peachtree accounting software. A “true electronic journal” that details every transaction can be printed at the end of the day. (Note: The “true” journal is available only on 583cx models made after October 2003, which will have an extra-large label on the back to differentiate them from earlier models that just produce a summary journal.) Financial reports include sales by PLU or clerk, X and Z reports, and a general end-of-day report.
The bottom line: A modestly priced register for retailers who need PC connectivity or (optional) barcode scanning.
Samsung ER-350 (MSRP: $369)
For retailers looking for a register with a small footprint, the ER-350 is by far the “shortest” profile here (see chart for dimensions). It has eight departments (expandable to 16), 10 clerks (each with a security code), and 300 PLUs, each of which can be set up to correspond with 10-character alpha descriptors for easier identification by the user. The printer speed is only 3.2 lines per second, but the unit does produce both a journal and receipts if 2-ply paper is used. Financial reports include a daily report that breaks down net sales and number of customers, both per hour, so retailers can plan for busy or slow times; sales by department; function totals (checks accepted, for example); drawer totals; and a summary of daily reports (weekly, monthly and year-to-date). The alphanumeric printer can print up to five lines of information (store name, phone number, special message, etc.) on each customer receipt.
The bottom line: A solid, reliable register where space is at a premium.
Casio PCR 360 (MSRP: $389)
With 10 clerks, 40 departments and 400 PLUs, the PCR 360 has a 2-ply paper option that lets you print a journal and customer receipts simultaneously on an impact printer with a speed of 3.0 lines per second (the slowest of the bunch). A pop-up rotary customer display is standard and, as a security measure, requires a key to switch into reporting modes so that unauthorized personnel can’t access or reset reports such as daily sales reports. Financial reports the PCR 360 generates include daily sales, sales by PLU, hourly sales, department sales, and an overall report that details gross sales, net sales, cash in drawer and checks in drawer. Alphanumeric printing lets you put the store’s phone number or store name on customer receipts (but not both: not enough space on the receipt), plus the date and time.
The bottom line: A workhorse register suitable for most small businesses.
Royal Alpha 600sc (MSRP: $399)
Like the 583cx, Royal updated the 600sc in October to include a “true electronic journal” that can print all the details of every transaction at the end of the day, if the retailer chooses. Otherwise, the journal stores the summary information in its memory (to be printed when financial reports are requested), and the register prints a paper receipt at the time of purchase. The unit’s thermal printer runs at a respectable 10 lines per second, and can be programmed to include five lines of alphanumeric information (store name, phone number, etc.) on receipts. An alphanumeric keyboard is also standard, as are the customary financial reports (sales by PLU or clerk, X and Z reports, and a general end-of-day report) for a register of this caliber. Two other great features that complete the picture: an integrated barcode scanner; and a counterfeit-detector that uses UV light to look for the latest fluorescent security marks on US currency.
The bottom line: This register is the complete package.
Samsung ER-3720 (MSRP: $449)
The price difference between Samsung’s ER-350 and ER-3720 is $80 MSRP, but that difference basically disappears from street pricing. Which means that for little or no extra money, the ER-3720 gives retailers more departments, more clerks and more PLUs than its only-a-little-cheaper sibling. Plus, the ER-3720 has four programmable percent-discount or coupon keys, and can handle two currency-conversion rates as programmed by the user. The unit has a dual-station printer, so it produces separate journals and receipts without the need for two-ply paper. And the register can be set up to save paper by producing receipts by request only. The ER-3720 also has an “enforcement” function: a user has to sign in for each transaction; or it can be set up for only one user to use continuously. Security levels can also be established for each clerk, so only key salespeople can access certain functions including voids, returns, and reporting modes.
The bottom line: A security-conscious register that’s loaded with features.
Casio PCR-T2000 (MSRP: $499)
For a fast, reliable register with a dual-station printer for printing running journals and receipts, look no further than Casio’s PCR-T2000, the company’s lowest-priced, dual-station register. Its speedy (13 lines per second) “silent” printer features drop-in paper loading, making replacing paper rolls a snap. Plus, there’s a rear pop-up customer display as well as a two-line operator display, so that cashiers can check that the item they’re ringing up is the right item in the system. Thanks to 40 clerks, 96 departments and 1,600 PLUs, the T2000 can handle just about any retailer’s needs. In fact, Casio markets it as a great register for high-volume businesses, thanks in part to the heavy-duty cash till and keyboard.
The bottom line: A good buy for retailers needing a paper-based running journal and receipts that print with the speed of a thermal printer.