Where is POS Going?
Over the course of the past dozen years or so, we have had a ringside seat to witness some really interesting changes in the POS landscape.
- We saw the shipment growth curve change from a fairly constant 4-5% uptick each year to one with a more sinusoidal look due to massive POS rollouts for the Convenience Store segment (from the remodels related to Federal requirements for in-ground tank replacement) and other retailers (from Y2K). We saw so many POS shipped during a fairly short 2-3 year period that it suddenly became tough to find POS units that were older than the cashiers that operated them.
- We saw the transition of the POS system from simply recording sales to being THE central system in the store.
- We saw hardware providers invent a new term for their hardware…OS Agnostic. The intended meaning was that their hardware would run any operating system. Personally, I’ve never liked the term, since it literally means the hardware doesn’t KNOW what OS is running. I think that is problematic, which is why I prefer calling it OS Apathetic, because the hardware doesn’t CARE which OS is running.
- We saw Windows become stable enough that it started to show up at the POS in a big way. In fact, Microsoft took such an interest that they created WEPOS, their first-ever industry-specific operating system. Along with the adoption of Windows at the POS came a serious decline in development and training costs.
- We saw non-traditional providers like HP and Dell enter the POS hardware market, in spite of the fact that they had actually been in the market for years with PCOCD devices.
- We saw touch screens begin to dot the landscape, to the point where Walmart, that longstanding bastion of the 40 character display, is outfitting their current Supercenter remodels with new IBM touch screens.
- We saw the Windows vs Linux battle subside to a dull roar, to the point that both are able to grow market share in the current environment.
- We saw USB take a prominent place as the interface of choice.
- We saw fast food restaurants accept everything from cash to cards to key fobs for payment, and we saw the initial steps towards self-service ordering, which might result in the elimination of the order-taking role of the restaurant employee.
- We saw all manner of kiosks and self-checkout take hold.
So what do we see ahead? For the near future, in no particular order:
- We expect to see continued rollouts of self-checkout, but we don’t expect very many retailers to follow the Tesco Fresh & Easy model of 100% self-checkout lanes.
- We expect to see more and varied transaction kiosks such as Redbox and NCR / TNR.
- For TCO considerations, we expect to see more thin-client architecture, including what we like to call anorexic thin client (where an IP-enabled hub device sits in the lane and provides interface to displays, scanners, printers and cash drawers).
- We expect mobile commerce to have more of an effect than anyone imagines right now, and the most critical limitation will be the infrastructure of the various telcos.
- We expect technology providers to develop upgrades to their scanners (rather than a new separate device) that retailers will use to receive payments via mobile phone.
- We expect RFID to make its presence felt in POS, but certainly nowhere near the widespread expectations of five years ago.
Bottom line, we expect POS to continue to evolve, not only in form but also in function, in a direction consistent with consumers performing the transactions rather than store personnel. The degree to which mobile commerce reaches will be dictated by the level of touch/form/fit needed by the consumer for the retailer’s product line. There will come a time where, just as our children look at an old brass cash register and wonder what it is, their children will look at a current touch screen setup and wonder what it is.