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Natural Foods Merchandiser

What's new in POS systems?

From iPad POS stands to RFID tags, these new POS system technologies will have you scanning your way to business success.  There may be no better time than the present to upgrade your system.

Is your point-of-sale system beginning to show its age? There may be no better time to invest in a new or upgraded POS solution.

“We are post recession, we are in a recovery and people are buying tech again,” says George Koroneos, editor of Randolph, N.J.-based Vertical Systems Reseller, a trade publication that focuses on technology such as POS terminals. “People are being a bit safer, but it’s definitely a time when you can get a jump on some of the new tech that’s appearing. You just have to search for the right solution.”

The POS industry, which focuses on devices used at checkout, has moved light years beyond its humble beginnings in the 1980s and gone far beyond the self-checkout devices that first appeared a decade ago. Now you can choose from numerous options for scanners, touch screens, LCD displays and business-intelligence tools. So how do you find the right solution for your store without breaking the bank?

Make sense of the tech

Koroneos reports that more and more POS keyboards are being replaced by all-in-one touch screens, which save space and are less susceptible to dirt and liquids. Often, these touch screens are paired with new LCD screens that clearly display register totals and broadcast special offers and other store information. The screens can also show personalized ads based on a shopper’s purchase items or customer loyalty information, similar to customized coupon systems already in place at many store checkouts.

Koroneos also believes scanners capable of reading 2D barcodes will become ubiquitous, which means POS employees will be able to read coupon codes from shoppers’ smartphones, doing away with the hassle of clipped coupons. And self-checkout continues to grow, with consumer acceptance and employee expertise having reached a point where roughly one attendant can be assigned a dozen or more retail stations.

Still, many of the biggest POS developments are going on under the hood. “Point-of-sale technology has evolved from a cash register to a computerized solution that includes the point of sale, back office, inventory control, reporting and more,” says Robert Symmonds, president of Alberta, Canada-based POS software company Auto-Star Compusystems. “Today, retailers will find POS systems designed to help them save time, reduce costs, improve accuracy, control inventory and manage customers.”

What POS developments mean for retailers

“We are starting to witness the needs of health food store operators becoming more sophisticated, and they are looking for solutions that offer more than just a glorified cash register,” Symmonds says.  He points out two new software features of upgraded POS systems that can be especially useful for natural products retailers: customizable shelf and bulk-bin labels, and automated expiration-date tracking and reporting.

The costs of such upgrades are coming down to a level that’s palatable to even smaller natural retailers, Symmonds says. “Retailers’ needs can be dramatically different and range from $2,000 per lane for an entry-level system to upwards of $10,000 per lane, including hardware and software,” he says.

If even these numbers are hard to swallow, Symmonds recommends software-as-a-service systems, which involve hosted POS software deployed over the Internet on a “pay-as-you-go” basis—a model with little upfront capital costs or ongoing information technology overhead.

Focus on your needs

Does this mean everybody should upgrade to souped-up, top-of-the-line POS systems? Not at all, says Jarret Paschel, an analyst at Bellevue, Wash.-based market research firm The Hartman Group. “Be careful about providing technology solutions to problems that don’t exist,” he says. “One of the things retailers often forget is, as attracted as they are to whiz-bang technology, it’s not always clear the customer wants the technology.”

For example, Paschel questions retailers’ desire to speed up the POS experience for shoppers, wondering, “Why do you want to get consumers out the door more quickly?” He suggests resources may be better used for employee trainings that encourage more personalized, engaged interactions with customers in the checkout line, or on efforts to tidy up cluttered shopping displays that still plague many checkout aisles.

It’s all about focusing on what customers actually care about, says Paschel. Take, for example, a recent conversation he had with his wife about a new technology that lets customers scan items for purchase as they shop, and then quickly pay and get out the door.

“I don’t want to use that,” his wife says. “I have relationships with the people who check out my groceries.”  


3 POS systems for the future

Hand scanner1. Scan as you go. Once limited to baby and wedding registries, mobile scanners are now being deployed in Fairfield, Conn.-based Stop & Shop and Landover, Md.-based Giant Food supermarket chains. Shoppers scan items as they fill up their carts, ensuring everything is already scanned by the time they reach the checkout lanes. Some systems even provide coupons and promotions based on customer-loyalty information entered into the scanner.

2. iPad POS stands. It didn’t take long for people to realize the POS potential of Apple iPads. The Danish-designed iStand locks an iPad into place so customers can use the touch screen to browse products and learn about promotions.

3. Radio frequency identification tags. RFID tags are miniature circuits that, when scanned, send data to a network system. Although these have already been installed on products for lightning-quick inventory control, experts believe customers will soon have their own personalized RFID tags pre-installed on their smart phones. From these tags, next-gen scanners can instantaneously pick up customer identification information, relevant promotions and payment processing, allowing shoppers to bypass checkout lines altogether.       

Resources for the best POS solutions

Check out these websites to stay on top of the latest POS topics and trends.

Secure POS Vendor Alliance
This nonprofit organization was founded by some of the largest suppliers of POS payment terminals to improve electronic POS security. On the website, you’ll find security standards and an SPVA-approved member directory of companies that offer secure POS systems.

Retail Solution Providers Association
This group offers a new RSPA Certification for POS software companies and value-added resellers that have been determined by the association to provide exceptional levels of competence and professional performance. The website lists more than 70 certified companies.

The Point of Sale News
This independent onlinemagazine is targeted to the POS industry.

Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards
Go here for a list of companies that are compliant with the Payment Card Industry’s new security standards.

POS Software Guide
The site offers a number of free tools and information about selecting a POS, including an online forum discussing POS software and hardware issues.

Natural Products Association Buyers Guide
Access a list of POS companies that adhere to NPA’s standards.    

Top questions to ask when upgrading your POS

Ready to refurbish your POS system? Auto-Star Compusystems President Robert Symmonds recommends keeping these key issues in mind as you comparison shop.

Security. Will customers be assured that their banking information remains private and secure? Are all systems up to code with the recently created Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards, which require increased data controls to prevent card fraud?

Efficiency. Will the solution allow POS transactions to be completed promptly, without error, in a way that leaves customers satisfied?

Ease of use. Is the new system easy to learn and operate? Are software training modes readily available?

Reporting capabilities. Does the technology offer real-time, relevant and on-demand reporting capabilities that allow store managers to quickly analyze their business?          

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