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The point of sale is going mobile

By Owen Williams / December 18, 2013

The point of sale is going mobile

The point of sale hasn’t seen a whole lot of change in the last decade, but as smartphones and tablets overtake PC shipments, the market is beginning to take notice. Retail businesses around the world are looking to delight their customers by implementing new solutions to simplify the checkout process, and there’s a variety of ways to do it.

Keep a close eye on NFC

NFC (near field communication) technology is slowly gaining momentum around the world as one of the first steps to overhauling the entire checkout experience. Retailers using an NFC-equipped payment terminal let customers pay for their merchandise with a simple tap of their NFC-ready mobile device, without ever making them remove their wallet from their purse or back pocket (unless they’re buying booze or another item requiring an ID check).

As I mentioned before, the user will need a compatible phone and mobile wallet like Isis to fully take advantage of the NFC capabilities, but once they do, it makes paying at supporting locations a breeze. The customer doesn’t even need to open an app or actually interact with her device. Despite the magical convenience, NFC isn’t catching on as quickly as expected due to an ongoing dispute over who should control the software wallet element.

Google believes its Wallet solution, which is independent from the banks, should be used by all. Financial institutions, such as Visa and Bank of America, believe they should be building the wallets. The standards mess also extends into the hardware sector, with Apple refusing to adopt NFC altogether, building its own payment system using iBeacons as the foundation.

According to Apple, this technology would allow people to make payments without any physical interaction (such as the close proximity NFC requires to the terminal). As long as the customer is within a predefined range, their payment can be processed.

Fortunately for NFC, it doesn’t look like the Apple solution is on the horizon just yet. However, others are stepping in to fill the void, such as Proxima, which will allow customers to make these kinds of payments in the near future.

Combining old and new ways to pay

Luckily, innovative solutions are emerging that push the limits of existing technology while introducing new things we haven’t seen before. Square, a company founded in the U.S. in 2009, allows retailers to turn any iPhone or iPad into a terminal that accepts credit or debit card payment. The magic is in a small device that plugs into the headphone jack of the phone or tablet and allows the retailer to swipe cards for reading.

What’s amazing is that the company actually gives away the readers, only charging retailers when they make a sale. The simplicity of building a reader into a mobile device like the iPhone means a retailer is truly free to go wherever it pleases and continue to make sales. It’s perfect for businesses that want to accept money in almost any form and that move around a lot, such as a coffee cart or an independent business that sells only at town fairs or stalls.

But the real shining example of this segment is the Y Combinator-backed solution, Coin. Coin takes all of your credit, debit and value card numbers and stores them on a single digital card that can be read by any standard card reader. It’s a perfect example of modernizing a pre-existing technology without replacing it entirely, and it racked up an astounding $50,000 in pre orders within the first 40 minutes of launching its website. If that doesn’t illustrate the public’s demand for this kind of solution, what will?

Point of sale software doesn’t have to suck

Point of sale software shouldn’t be something employees hate using, and that’s the exact philosophy behind a New Zealand startup called Vend. Vend is a cloud-based software that supports almost any device with a wifi connection. The entire checkout process, from payment to receipt, can be completed almost anywhere in a store, making the experience for the customer smoother and much more personal than a traditional front desk could ever be.

In a restaurant, this means a waiter could have the whole point of sale system in his hands while on the floor and taking orders. Instead of jotting down the notes, he can make the orders in real time along with multiple staff due to the cloud back end. It also would allow integration with products such as PayPal’s mobile card reader (Square’s competitor) for a complete solution, making payment easy and frictionless for both the retailer and the customer.

Vend also offers sales and inventory tracking capability so staff on the floor of a warehouse can track and keep stock of goods in real time by scanning barcodes on products as they go out the door. Lastly, Vend offers a simple CRM built into its point of sale solution to help track relationships with customers over time as well as manage ways to interact with them.

A better shopping experience

Customers are more intimate with the point of sale process than retailers often believe, so by making the entire payment process painless for the customer, they can build stronger and longer-lasting relationships. When you remove any hassle from the checkout process, customers are more likely to return because they’ve enjoyed the entire experience.

Apple retail stores are a perfect example of this. They allow customers to pay for almost anything in the store using an app on their device. Then, the customer can get on with their day without ever needing to swipe a card or discuss the purchase with a human being. The entire payment process is unbelievably simple, but it delights customers in ways that other retailers have yet to achieve.

By combining solutions for payment and point of sale computing, retailers can become more flexible and personal with their customers and break down the old norms of shopping. Stores could get rid of their checkout areas altogether and simply use staff members equipped with an iPad and Square reader. Such an experience allows potential customers to interact with a store in a friendly manner and check out wherever they are in the shop, making it easier for retailers to capitalize on spontaneous purchases. Everybody wins.