The faithful old cash register could be heading the way of the vinyl record player thanks to a clutch of apps that turn iPads, iPhones and other tablets into point-of-sale devices.
Apart from the cool factor, the attraction of using a software program on an iPad to take sales is that transactional and customer information is stored securely online and can be imported automatically into accounting or business analytics programs.
The problem with a typical cash register is that they aren’t connected to anything else, says Nick Houldsworth, chief marketing officer for Vend, a PoS software company.
“All you get is a record of how much you have sold at the end of each day printed out on a piece of paper and you have to take that piece of paper and put it into something else,” Houldsworth says.
Cash registers often aren’t connected to payment terminals so a retailer has to manually key in credit card sales which leads to user error. It can take up to two hours to check the takings once a store has called the bank to check EFTPOS earnings and copied information into spreadsheets.
“Running a cash register adds a whole day in a week in admin time,” Houldsworth says.
Vend is one of a handful of companies that use iPad apps to record sales and push the data online to a central database. Others with similar models include Kounta and Retail Express, both developed in Australia.
iPads and other tablets have become a symbolic replacement for cash registers because they are always connected to the internet and highly mobile. Both are clear trends in retail, says Kounta CEO Nick Cloete. “We live in an online world, the future of retail is online, the future of online is mobile. So it makes sense for point-of-sale to be both online and also mobile,” he says.
Retailers tend to think of in-store sales as the foundation and then try to expand into online. PoS apps on tablets operate almost as an extension of online retail which makes it easier to pursue omni-channel strategies.
“Everyone from big retailers to hole-in-the-wall cafes are looking for some way to promote their products, services and experience to customers through online channels,” Cloete says. “But with a cash register you can’t integrate with an e-commerce platform very easily.”
Larger retailers stand to benefit enormously by using tablet-based PoS systems to connect to an online database, says Aaron Blackman, CEO of Retail Express, a PoS software company that sells to mid-size retailers.
“A 40-store retailer would have a database in each location with customer, inventory and transaction information. It’s not common for other industries to have so many databases in their business,” he says.
Retail Express uses a single database for all stores which eliminates duplication and data corruption, and provides immediate to near-real time updates for head office.
A central database also makes it much easier to view total inventory and the position of items in the supply chain. A sales clerk standing on the retail floor can see the stock available in all stores, what stock is in the next shipping container and when it will arrive, and tell a customer when they can receive a desired pair of shoes.
“That’s an amazing transformation from the situation 10 years ago,” Blackman says.
While the future of the cash register looks bleak, it will hang around for some years yet. Not every store has a great internet connection, and some retailers prefer the familiar over the functional.
Vend’s Houldsworth compares the cash register to the landline telephone; both have their place, but it’s shrinking.
“Technologies that have taken a while to embed are generally slow to unentangle. But at some point people will realise there is a much better way of doing business.”