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Thanks to mobile devices and the cloud, iPads and similar devices will replace traditional cash registers in many stores over the next three to five years, predicts Mercator Advisory Group emerging technology analyst Dave Kaminsky. This is already happening in large chains such as Walmart, which earlier this year extended 200 new stores using the Scan and Go app that lets customers scan items with iPhones, instead of using a traditional check-out scanner.
But do all businesses need this new technology? More importantly, does your company need to make the switch to a mobile point of sale system? To answer this question, it helps to understand more about the technology, its varieties and its applications.
How POS Technology Works
You can picture the basic concept of a POS system by visualizing a cash register. Since the rise of microcomputers, the typical cash register has consisted of a computer with a monitor, customer display, barcode scanner, receipt printer, and cash drawer. Usually this comes with a supporting system that includes debit/credit card readers, signature capture devices, PIN inputs, conveyor belts, and scales.
In all-in-one POS systems, these various features come integrated with software that supports not only sales, but other customer service needs, such as returns, exchanges, gift card redemptions, and discounts. The various cash register units in the store form a network supported by back-office computers that handle related functions like inventory, shipping and accounting. Industries such as hardware stores and restaurants have POS systems with additional specialized features.
Mobile POS systems consolidate on-site hardware and software equipment by tapping into the cloud. Devices such as smartphones and tablets can serve to input purchasing data, potentially removing the need for traditional scanning equipment, as well as a cash drawer. Cloud-based servers and software can then handle the heavy lifting that would traditionally require in-store computers.
This represents significant advantages in efficiency and cost for businesses. Traditional POS systems typically cost at least $3,000 up-front, with costs sometimes running as high as $50,000. Annual software license fees and maintenance fees can amount to 18 to 20 percent for upgrades. Cloud-based POS systems can be set up for as little as $1,000, with no up-front fee, and ongoing on-demand fees that can be cancelled at any time.
This new technology offers a variety of new solutions for merchants. For simple mobile payment processing, many businesses are turning to solutions such as Intuit GoPayment, PayPal Here and Square. For more comprehensive POS systems, many options are available. Some of the most important factors distinguishing different solutions are software integration, terminal devices, mobile support, service agreements, and price.
For example, AccuPOS represents a premium POS solution that integrates with QuickBooks and Sage accounting software and supports Android device POS. Harbortouch supports Android, as well as iPhone, iPad, Blackberry, and Windows Mobile smartphones for a low $25 shipping fee and a five-year payment processing agreement, with a service plan averaging $78 a month. POS Guys does not support Android or iPad POS, but offers a flexible solution for companies that require hardware and software customization options. Netsuite retail POS software is intuitive and comes with customer data capture capabilities and detailed purchase history.
Who Uses It
Mobile POS systems have proven especially useful for two businesses in two main industries: retail and restaurant/hospitality. Retailers find mobile POS useful for shortening long lines, reducing employee labor loads, and enhancing customer experience and loyalty. Restaurants find the same advantages beneficial for speeding up service lines and table dining, as well as drive-through experiences. Additionally, any small business seeking an efficient and affordable way to process mobile payments and integrate them with accounting data can potentially benefit from POS technology.
* Prices quoted in US dollars