At its most basic level, a POS system functions as a cash register that lets retailers ring up sales and keep a record of those transactions in their stores. But thanks to advancements in technology, POS systems can now extend beyond the point of sale. These days, many POS solutions serve as retail management systems that handle everything from sales and inventory, to customer management and ecommerce.
The POS market is huge. According to Transparency Market Research, when it comes to revenue, the global point of sale industry stood at US$36.86 billion in 2013, with the retail sector accounting for 34% of the market. Moreover, the POS industry is projected to have an 11.6% compound annual growth rate for the 2014-2020 period.
The first cash register was the brainchild of James Ritty, a “dealer of pure whiskies, fine wines and cigars”. Ritty was running a successful saloon but had one major problem: he was getting ripped off by some of his employees.
Meet the Incorruptible Cashier
So in 1879, Ritty invented the “Incorruptible Cashier,” a device that registered transactions made at his business. Some time after that, he patented his invention and sold it to salesman Jacob H. Eckert, who founded the National Manufacturing Company (NMC). Eckert later sold the company to John H. Patterson, a retail coal shop owner in Coalton, Ohio.
NCR takes the reigns
Upon acquiring the business, Patterson renamed the company National Cash Register (NCR), which still exists today. He also added new features, such as custom employee drawers and bells, as well as the all-important paper receipts.
In 1906, inventor Charles F. Kettering, who worked for NCR, developed the first cash register powered by an electric motor. The device made it faster and easier for cashiers to ring up sales and keep tabs on transactions.
NCR ramps up sales and development
Over the next several decades, more improvements were made to the cash register, and NCR came up with better ways to market and sell the device. These efforts paid off well for the company. By the mid-1900s, the cash register had become a staple in retail stores.
The cash register meets the computer
In the 1970s, innovation helped traditional cash registers evolve into computerized point of sale systems. It was also during these years that devices such as credit card terminals and touchscreen displays were introduced.
By the time the 80s and 90s rolled along, the retail world saw the emergence of electronic registers, barcode scanners, PC-based point of sale systems, and credit card devices.
Mobile point of sale (mPOS) solutions have made such a huge impact in the industry that in 2014 a majority of UK retailers (53%) rated mPOS as the most important in-store technology for consumers. mPOS systems are also gaining market share. In 2015, the IHL Group found that mobile POS software installs are up 41% in North America year to year.
From POS to retail management
Over the years, we’ve seen POS systems evolve from cash registers that simply ring up sales to full-fledged retail management solutions that allow retailers to stay on top of inventory, reporting, customer management, and ecommerce from one platform.
Sleeker and more portable devices
It’s not just features that have evolved. Thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices, retail point of sale solutions now look better than ever. Clunky registers and bulky computers are being replaced by sleek tablets and phones. These devices not only look good and save space, but they also help retailers improve the shopping experience.
Gone are the days when cashiers were anchored to the checkout counter. Thanks to mobile POS solutions, merchants can take the checkout process to the customer, enabling them to assist shoppers from anywhere in the store or even when they’re out and about at an event or pop-up shop.
And since these solutions run in the cloud, retailers can ring up sales and check in on their business no matter where they are.
Advancements in mobile and cloud computing have also helped lower costs for retailers. Merchants spend more than twice as much on cash registers compared to mobile POS systems. A traditional register can cost up to $4,000 compared to an iPad POS, which costs around $1,500 including accessories.
Rather than spending thousands on bulky equipment and complicated systems, merchants can get up and running with just a few hundred or a few thousand.
To infinity and beyond
In the near future, retail point of sale will be even more cloud-centric and connected.
Centralized retail systems and tighter integrations
Cloud apps will enable retailers to better manage their sales, inventory, and customers across several stores and channels. And as consumers increasingly use multiple channels to shop, POS systems will keep up by offering features that integrate online, offline, and social shopping solutions.
Better yet, POS providers will offer centralized or single-view systems to allow retailers to stay on top of various channels and stores from one platform. Boston Retail Partner’s 2015 POS/Customer Engagement Benchmarking Survey supports this outlook. According to the study, “663% more retailers will have a single commerce platform in 4 years.”
The rise of connected stores
We can also expect in-store devices such as sensors, terminals, kiosks, and screens to integrate with point of sale systems.
Retailers will continue to transform the in-store experience through technologies like foot-traffic analytics, RFID, touchscreens, and beacons. This will prompt POS providers to integrate with in-store technologies so retailers can get the most from their services.
For instance, a POS system could “talk” to the store’s beacons and people counters and then include that data in its reporting. While a few companies are doing this now, we expect this trend to grow in coming years.
Additional payment options
While cash and credit cards likely won’t go away any time soon, we can expect consumers to adopt more payment options in the future. The rise of mobile payments and the EMV mandate in the United States will drive retailers to upgrade to more modern POS and payment systems. That’s why in the coming months and years, consumers will not only see sleeker point of sale devices in retail stores, they’ll also have more flexible and secure payment options.