A POS (Point Of Sale) system is a combination of devices and software that allow a vendor to calculate price and make a sale to a customer. This kind of system began with the ubiquitous cash register and has since evolved to encompass various aspects surrounding a sale including inventory management, customer relationship management, and other business operations.
Point of Sale systems have come a long way since the advent of the humble cash register.
Saloon owner James Ritty patented the first cash register in 1883. “Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier” aimed to prevent sticky-fingered employees from skimming profits. This basic mechanical adding machine featured a bell that rang every time the cash drawer opened. The machine did little more than alert the manager that a sale was taking place.
Over a century later, POS systems have expanded beyond a single piece of machinery and into a computerized system of record keeping and industry-specific business solutions.
No two POS systems are exactly alike, but most are composed of some combination of these components:
- Transaction Processing Software
- Business and Operations Management Software
- User Interface
- Barcode Scanner
- Card Reader
- Cash Drawer
- Receipt Printer
- Network Connection Device
Most systems include proprietary hardware and software. Other lower-cost options require minimal hardware purchases, using pre-existing devices such as the iPad for their system interface.
Recent POS developments can give us some insight into the POS of the future. Systems like Kroger’s Scan, Bag, Go eliminate human cashiers and streamline the checkout process. Customers scan their own items while they shop using a handheld scanner or the Kroger smartphone app. Shoppers then pay at a kiosk. The grocery store chain plans to phase out the kiosk, eventually allowing customers to pay directly through the app.
Amazon takes it one step further with their no-checkout convenience store. The Go store in downtown Seattle eliminates item scanning and checkout completely. Using a system of video surveillance and weight-sensored shelves, customers simply grab what they want and leave; their Amazon account is automatically charged when they walk out the door.
As our society becomes more digitally oriented, it seems plausible that POS systems will continue to become increasingly automated and cashless. Time will tell if the scan and pay checkout system will go the way of the cash register.