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New Trends in Retail Point-of-Sale Systems reported recently that more Americans shop at a Wal-Mart store in one week (140 million) than annually watch the Super Bowl (80 million) or weekly view American Idol (23 million). What does this have to do with retail point-of-sale (POS) systems? The answer is, in a word: everything.

Ubiquitous in large retail stores, supermarkets, fast-food chains, and white-cloth restaurants, point-of-sale systems continue to improve the consumer shopping experience by speeding up transaction time while delivering detailed and accurate receipts, which facilitate returns when necessary.

Since their introduction in the mid-1980s, businesses have benefited from retail POS systems through increased customer satisfaction, better inventory management, and reduced shrinkage. New developments are taking retail POS systems to a whole new level, however, helping to reduce labor costs and increase impulse purchases, both in stores and on-line. Heres how:

Self-Service Equals Labor Savings
Recently, supermarkets and home improvement stores have introduced self-serve retail POS systems. Although an attendant cashier is needed to help when items are missing their bar codes or RFID tags, when age verification is required, or when shoppers are flummoxed, the public is adopting the concept. The necessary expertise to operate the touch screens, scanners, and payment acceptance mechanisms is also growing. This means that one attendant can be assigned a dozen or more retail POS system stations.

Although there are still far fewer self-serve retail POS systems than those operated by cashiers, a European-based food market chain opened retail locations in the U.S. this year that offer only self-service retail POS systems, an indication of the belief in consumer acceptance and savvy.

Quasi-Personalized Advertising
Customers are now used to receiving coupons related to their purchases along with their grocery receipts. They have also become accustomed to seeing offers on their receipts for participation in surveys and sweepstakes.

In a new twist on this quasi-personalized interaction with retail POS systems, as customers in some U.S. and international retail outlets stand in line, they are being scanned and presented with gender- and/or age- specific advertisements on electronic displays based on algorithms that match patterns with ads.

Unlike coupons and receipts, electronic ads aim to influence in-store, impulse purchases. Advertisers have learned to be brief in these pitches. According to, people do not watch ads that are longer than seven seconds, which, interestingly, is about the maximum amount of time people spend on a website home page before deciding to stay or abandon.

Integrating Brick-and-Mortar and Online Stores
Speaking of websites, another recent development is the integration of brick-and-mortar with their online counterparts through their POS systems. Merchants with significant IT resources integrated robust accounting and POS systems with their Web stores early on. That ability is now available to small and mid-size businesses, as well. Benefits include greater understanding of customer behavior and the ability to promote slow-moving or overstocked items on websites with just a few clicks.

Each year, more and more people shop online. reported record sales for the last three months of 2008 despite the poor economy. Merchants need to be responsive to this trend. At the same time, in-store customer interaction is key to capturing additional sales. New POS systems give businesses a competitive advantage with both online and in-store customers.


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