A point of sale (POS) system is the tool retailers use when collecting payment from a customer at the time of purchase. Think of it as the location where a consumer transaction takes place. The history of POS systems spans multiple centuries and a variety of technologies. They existed before automobiles, telephones, or antibiotics. Wherever money was exchanged for goods or services, there was a POS system of some sort. It began, simply enough, with the bartering of goods and progressed to the exchange of hand counted cash. In more recent history, point of sales system features help retailers track customer metrics, manage inventory, and integrate multiple locations and channels into one system.
Think back to the wild, wild West when the owner of a general store kept a money box behind the counter, right next to his Smith and Wesson. He knew to prices of the products in his store; kept credit accounts with a pencil, paper, and a handshake; and counted inventory by hand when the store was closed.
From the money box, POS systems progressed to cash registers. These machines did the math and had a built-in drawer for keeping the hand-counted cash. As long as a product had a price tag, any employee could ring up the purchase. There was no need to have all of the prices memorized.
As retail stores expanded and became chains, another system emerged that both advanced point of sales and simplified inventory management: barcodes. Technological advances allowed retailers to input prices into the system once and apply to multiple registers. Checkers didn’t need to memorize prices or trust a price tag would stay affixed to a product. Barcodes are (typically) printed on the product packaging itself.
Barcodes offered another advantage, too: inventory management. The history of POS systems had evolved to help retailers track inventory.
Computers became more and more accessible to the general public, and the technology necessary to run them became smaller and smaller until the day arrived when the average person carries a supercomputer in their pocket everywhere they go. Smart phones and the Internet have combined to completely revolutionize POS systems.
Mobile POS Systems
POS systems can now be completely mobile, tracking sales receipts, customer loyalty, employee time cards, and inventory in the cloud. Retail employees can close a sale on the sales floor using a mobile POS system instead of inviting a customer to wait in line at the checkout counter.
Online POS systems allow customers to make purchases from the comfort of their own homes using a laptop or tablet or place an order on their phone while they sit in the waiting room at the doctor’s office.
Retailers that integrate in-store and online sales into the same POS system can track customer metrics and inventory for multiple locations via multiple channels using one system.
Add mobile wallets to the mix and the sounds of a cash register cha-chinging will be a thing of the past. Customers with mobile wallets who shop with retailers whose POS systems have been enabled to accept mobile wallet transactions need only to wave their smart phone near a console to finalize their purchases.
As payment methods have changed, POS systems have adapted. As technology has advanced, POS systems have ridden the wave. From money boxes with a pencil and paper to mobile POS systems with Apple Pay, it’s safe to say we’ve come a long way.
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