iPad Cash Registers: Coming To a Store Near You?

by Reads (8,860)
Whether you frequent coffee shops or major chain stores like Urban Outfitters or JC Penney, you’re more and more likely these days to come across an iPad — or some other mobile device — all decked out as a cash register. Low costs are one reason cited by retailers, but stores and restaurants are also being lured by the tablet’s easy portability, intuitive user interface (UI), and large display, Still, though, the vast majority of retailers are sticking with more traditional types of POS (point of sale) systems
.”The iPad does cost less, but what we really like is its user friendliness,” said Dana Blaisdell, cafe manager at Mighty Good Coffee, a coffee shop in Ann Arbor, MI, in an inteview with TabletPCReview.

An iPad configured as a cash register can cost a store as little as $800, with minimal accessories, or maybe $1,500, if more fully equipped. Although a store can buy an old-fashioned, bare-boned, key-driven cash register for under $100, the cost can run to several thousand dollars for a high-end PC-based POS.  So a tablet-enabled cash register can cost a retailer either more or less, depending on what features are needed.

Like larger retailers such as Nordstrom, Mighty Good has been one of the earliest pioneers in tablet-enabled transactions. Mighty Good’s Apple Tablet is outfitted with a credit card reader from Square, a cash drawer, a ShopKeep mobile POS app, and the idynamo app from Mercury Payment Systems (MPS). ShopKeep’s app sends information about sales to ShopKeep BackOffice, so that retail managers can track sales in real time, manage inventory, and run reports. It can also play a “ka-ching” sound, and it’s capable of printing out receipts. MPS lets businesses process credit cards and gift cards from an iPad or iPhone.

“We’ve recently added the ability for customers to sign their credit card transactions and add tips directly on the iPad screen. We flip the iPad around to face the customer,” Blaisdell told TabletPCReview. Previously, customers signed off for credit card transactions on a separate piece of hardware.

Mighty Good places its iPad on an open stand. On the other hand, the Joe outlet at New York’s City Grand Central Station has been known to conceal an iPad cash register beneath the counter, apparently to ward off theft. In San Francisco, CA, the Sightglass coffee shop shows off its iPad in a custom-built wooden swivel stand.

From Farmers Markets To New York’s Upper East Side

Tablet-based cash registers are also popping up at places as farflung as farmers markets, supermarkets, and trendy clothing shops like Barneys, located in Manhattan’s posh Upper East Wide.

The iPad isn’t the only mobile device getting spiffed up as a cash register. JP Penney has already issued iPods to its sales associates. Apple uses both the iPod and the iPad to take payments from customers from anywhere within its own stores.

Traditional POS cash register manufacturers such as VeriFone, Equinox, and Hypercom are also getting into the act, adding models to their line-ups which revolve around either Android tablets or iPads, said Richard Crone, CEO of Crone Consulting, in another interview with TabletPCReview. (VeriFone, by the way, recently introduced a Square-like credit card reader dubbed “Sail.”)

The roomy screens on iPads and other tablets give retailers a chance to gather more data about customers. Sales personnel can enter information like phone numbers and email addresses, for sending out personalized coupons to customers electronically, according to Crone.

“The older PIN-entry credit card devices don’t have full keyboards and they have little screens. So there’s no room for putting in phone numbers and email addresses,” he told TabletPCReview.

If the tablet-based POS is spiffed up with voice recognition software, too, “you can just get customers to ‘say’ their email addresses, for instance,” Crone elaborated.

“So you can essentially eliminate all paper. But the real advantage is for CRM (customer relationship management).” With what they glean about customers,sotrescan “oersonalize the shopping experience and make it more relevant to the individual consumer,” according to the analyst.

Tablets Hit the Supermarkets of the South

To illustrate, Crone mentioned that Harris Teeter, a Kroger-owned grocery store chain with over 200 stores across the South, is now launching a tablet-based system from Verifone known as HT Express Pay. HT Express Pay will rely on the same Paydiant “brandable” white label software that’s also being used in a mobile wallet system now under development at the Subway restaurant chain. (See related story called “Is There a Mobile Wallet in Your Future?” in our sister publication, Brighthand.) 

Customers taking part in HT Express Pay can save time on shopping by going to a special express lane to pick up their groceries after ordering in advance online. To start participating, the customer downloads an Android or iPhone app on to his or her phone and sets up a profile on the Paydiant server which includes personal credit card information.

When customers arrive at the express lane, they scan a QR code that a store employee sends to them from a tablet. Then, after selecting which credit card to use for the Paydiant server, the customer just taps the “pay” button to on the phone get a digital receipt and take ownership of the groceries.

Touch Screens Aren’t Limited to Tablets, Though

Of course, a retail system doesn’t need to be tablet-equipped in order to incorporate a large touchscreen.

In Brooklyn, NY, for instance, the Mirage Diner has installed two types of PC-based touchscreen systems which don’t use tablets at all: a POS system at the front counter, connected to an accompanying small-sized credit card device, plus five standalone kiosks.

After writing up customer orders with traditional pen and paper, waitpersons walk to the kiosks to enter the orders into the restaurant’s cumputer system. Billing its systems to “replacements” for older types of cash registers, Aldelo claims to have over 70,000 retail and restaurant customers.

“The day of waiters yelling their orders into the kitchen are long gone,” observed Nathan Smith, manager of the Mirage, in another interview with TabletPCReview.

The Advantages of Mobility

Meanwhile, some retailers are exploiting the mobility aspects of handheld devices, thereby freeing up staff to move around the store and spend time with customers. In a practice known as “line-busting,” roving salespeople at JC Penney are getting rid of long wait times at the POS by ringing up sales on their iPod touch devices.

Urban Outfitters is gradually rolling out a system combining the iPod with the iPad. The clothing retailer’s iPad cash registers can be swiveled to let customers interactively see their orders, add personal info, and create gift registries.

Stores also find that tablet-based POS systems take up less floor space — and that when not in use, they can be detached to free up counter space for tasks like merchandise packing.

But Not Everyone Is Buying In

Yet of the nation’s seven million retailers, less than one million are now using tablet-based systems at all, according to Crone.

Well, it does seem as though some environments might be more conducive than others. If an iPad falls on to a carpeted floor at Nordstrom, it might well survive the spill. Conversely, a mobile device would be less likely to withstand a nosedive into a customer’s bowl of soup at a luncheonette.

What’s more, a waiter or waitress might find it tricky to balance a food-laden tray in one hand with an iPad in the other. Some of the real world logistics here are challenging indeed.

The bottom line is that tablet-enabled cash register technology is still quite new and not entirely foolproof, especially when it isn’t packaged as a turnkey system. Blaisdell acknowledges that the credit card system at Mighty Good doesn’t always function right. “The Square reader doesn’t always cooperate entirely. Sometimes, a transaction has to be done two or three times before it goes through,” she told TabletPCReview.

Over in Brooklyn,Smith says that the Mirage is considering giving out handheld devices to the wait staff – but not until at least next year. Handheld wireless devices from Aldelo are already on the market, for instance. “But we’ve heard from a technician that the tablet technology doesn’t really work well at this point,” Smith contended.

Momentum is mounting, however, and sooner or later, tablet-based cash registers are bound to become as commonplace as signage in the front of a a retail establishment and cartons of goods in the back.

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