New Point-of-Sale Strategy Boosts Service and Security

The tools used to ring up sales have come a long way since the cash register. The first point-of-sale (POS) software for Microsoft Windows emerged in the early 1990s. POS systems have since evolved from souped-up cash registers that did nothing more than record sales into hubs for business management, operations, and analysis. The past decade has seen the rise of touchscreen interfaces, customer self-checkout stations, and payment kiosks.

By Elsa Wenzel
Thu, September 08, 2011

PC World — The tools used to ring up sales have come a long way since the cash register. The first point-of-sale (POS) software for Microsoft Windows emerged in the early 1990s. POS systems have since evolved from souped-up cash registers that did nothing more than record sales into hubs for business management, operations, and analysis. The past decade has seen the rise of touchscreen interfaces, customer self-checkout stations, and payment kiosks.

Technologies on the horizon include smart RFID chips for tracking merchandise wirelessly, and thin-client checkout terminals at that feed into a beefier central device. While such shifts will push retailers to upgrade their in-store systems, the rise of mobile e-commerce will challenge telecom providers to upgrade their infrastructure.

As for the changes in the way consumers make and businesses take payments at the point of sale, near-field communications (NFC) is the most highly touted upcoming development. NFC will enable a shopper to wave a smartphone over a scanner instead of swiping a credit or debit card's magnetic stripe through a card reader. Contactless technology would enable stores to analyze consumer behavior and easily access data during a transaction that would help them entice customers with customized reward programs and coupons.

Google is stepping into the wireless payment realm by testing its Google Wallet service on the Sprint Nexus S 4G phone, which runs Android 2.3. Still, widespread adoption of NFC remains at least several years in the future, according to most analysts' estimates. Merchants and consumers must have supporting hardware--payment scanners and smartphones--to make the sale. NFC will probably be common among big brands--such as Walgreen's and RadioShack--long before it reaches most small retailers.

Meanwhile, small businesses selling wares online or on the road have an increasingly large array of choices for processing sales. PayPal rules e-commerce, while Google Checkout and other alternatives lag behind. The Square Card Reader and Intuit GoPayment smartphone attachments turn a handset into a mobile credit-card terminal, ideal for selling goods or services out of, say, a food truck or a mobile office.

Yet traditional POS systems remain a staple in shops that have a physical presence. Big names in POS hardware include Dell, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, and MCR. Participants on the software side are Epicor, IBM, Intuit, MCR, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP, to name a handful.

Though software such as Intuit POS, which integrates with QuickBooks, may be just right for the local stationery shop, small businesses with multiple locations are wise to consider centralizing their POS systems to simplify reporting, data analysis, and inventory management. That's the challenge faced by the shoe seller in the case study, below.

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