In a new opinion column on Retail Times, Ray Cranston, business development manager for business systems, Epson UK, explores how the retail industry should react to advances in cloud technology and POS systems
Since the advent of electronic point of sale systems in the 1980s, they have been ubiquitous in retail stores of all shapes and sizes. For many retailers they are viewed as essential as electricity and running water, yet the fundamental technology behind point of sale (POS) hasn’t significantly changed since it was introduced.
A number of trends in the wider market means POS technology today is undergoing a refresh. Cloud computing is playing an increasingly larger role in this area, and the adoption of new retail technology is being fueled by the popularity of smart phones and growing expectations from customers.
Shoppers’ expectations are starting to mature, and they are looking for more than the typical retail experience. POS technology is changing in response to these trends, yet the biggest challenge for retailers is ensuring this new technology will provide a platform for future growth and developments.
One growing POS trend, and one being driven by developments in cloud computing, is the idea of paperless receipts.
While it isn’t a new concept, it has only recently started to gain traction as current technology means it is now a viable concept.
While there are a number of companies offering this kind of service, the concept is relatively simply to explain. Rather than receiving a printed, paper receipt at the point of sale, customers instead receive their receipt via an email or text message.
This has the advantage of cutting down on paper costs and improving retailers’ environmental credentials, as well as making it easier for them to offer vouchers and special offers.
While it hasn’t yet been widely adopted, it is a viable alternative to traditional receipts in certain places, such as bars or shops serving tech-savvy customers. At the moment it is too soon to say whether e-receipts will dominate the market, or whether consumers will doggedly stick to paper receipts. As with most technological advancements, many retailers will take a pragmatic approach, using both technologies simultaneously.
Cloud acts as bridge
One of the main problems with this approach is POS systems are often tightly coupled with the proprietary software they come with, making it difficult to add additional processes or services during the lifecycle of the product.
A cloud-based infrastructure, where the points of sale are connected to servers in the cloud, allows retailers to take advantage of solutions provided on a “Software as a Service model” (SaaS).
If this infrastructure is in place, then e-receipt solutions can easily be added, as well as other future innovations in shopping and POS.
The cloud can act as a bridge between the physical aspects of a POS system, including the terminal and the receipt printer, and new retail solutions such as e-receipts, allowing both solutions to be offered. When looking at any new POS system, retailers need to be aware whatever POS they choose, it can easily integrate with emerging technologies, especially those based in the cloud.
Possibilities for mobile POS
Another advantage of cloud-based POS systems is they allow retailers a greater choice of devices to be integrated into the POS system. For example, being able to use consumer devices as POS terminals, and having the flexibility to create custom applications, opens up the possibilities for mobile POS in the retail industry.
The cloud is becoming a turning point for the industry, in much the same way barcode scanners and touch screen have been over the past decades. However, it is less that the cloud itself is innovative, but more it allows retailers to deliver innovative solutions. By making efficient use of existing technology and standards, as well as a new generation of consumer and retail devices, retailers are able to take advantage of true cross platform solutions.
Improved shopping experience
However, the key consideration behind this technology, and the number one consideration for retailers today should be how it can be used to improve the customer experience.
When looking at any investment in new POS equipment, retailers should consider the ‘Apple store experience’. The level of customer engagement and hassle-free shopping in Apple’s stores causes customers to want to stay and spend money. When it is time to pay for a product, its ‘checkout anywhere’ aspect of mobile POS is unmatched, and leaves a customer with a fond memory of their experience and the brand.
For those retailers affected by online sales, this can provide a great opportunity to bring customers back into the store and offer additional services and products that complement their sales proposition.
With the right innovation, backed up by a cloud-based POS, retailers can retain more customers and improve the overall shopping experience.
Customers are demanding more than ever before from the shopping experience, in part fuelled by the information on demand nature of shopping online. They are less willing to accept queues, or a lack of information on a product. Adopting the right technology will allow retailers to not only avoid those pitfalls but to maximise their sales opportunities by adding new sales channels, offering true customer experiences and empowering their sales staff.
Technology must help not hinder innovation
Whatever technology retailers choose to adopt, using it to improve customer service should be the number one priority.
Ultimately, technology must support retail innovation, rather than hamper it by forcing retailers to choose between different standards and systems. Whether choosing to adopt mobile POS, or paperless receipts, or any other new retail technology, the right cloud-based infrastructure can help, rather than hinder innovation and the customer experience.
Epson UK contact details:
Epson customer information number: 0800 220546
(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)