The end of POS as we know it?

For most consumers, the worst thing about a shopping trip is the queues. Spotting a queue at POS means consumers may well decide to go elsewhere. Waiting to pay creates what the retail experts call friction in the sales process – something to be avoided at all costs if traditional retailers want to compete with the convenience of online shopping.

an image of a phone making an NFC

The end of POS as we know it?

While there are some situations, such as when shopping for a brand-new car, when consumers will want to take their time and have a more hands-on service, for most shoppers, a good shopping trip is one where they don’t spend time waiting to be served.

On a day-to-day basis, when buying petrol, groceries or even clothes, most want the transaction to go through as quickly as possible – according to Mike Callender, Executive Chairman, REPL Group.

Consequently, some of today’s most forward-looking retailers are finding radical ways to eliminate the need for tills, check-outs and everything to do with traditional point of sale (PoS) stations. Customers in Apple stores can scan their purchases on their phone within the store, paying directly through Apple Pay without even having to speak to anyone – and in some Nike shops staff roam the store taking payments on a mobile device to ‘bust’ the queues.

Even though, as yet, petrol is one commodity unavailable online, recognising the need for convenience BP has thrown down the gauntlet with its BPme app, “for those who need to save a few precious minutes at the pump – avoiding the queues of people buying other items in the garage.”

Today, online retailers have eliminated many of the glitches experienced in the early days of e-commerce. As a result, in-store shoppers are looking for a similar, seamless process, to help save those “precious minutes”. Imagine if payment could be taken from a mobile device in a changing room, so that the purchased clothes could be bagged and ready-to-go by the time the customer had put their current clothes back on or even worn straight out of the shop.

At the moment, retailers are trying out multiple methods of eliminating POS. Scanning is a popular solution, however at some point Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags and cameras could take over.

Imagine automatically logging in as you walk into a next generation shop and RFID and cameras track what you buy and then charge you as you leave – a totally frictionless experience. It’s likely that customers will need to log onto an app as they enter a store – with individual store apps eventually merging into one system such as Apple Pay.

The good thing about using customers’ mobile phones as a facilitating device is that it’s a two-way device and retailers can send them targeted special offers and discounts according to their in-store browsing.

In the short term all the technology needed is available; mobile phones, RFID tags, high-definition cameras for tracking – it just needs to all be brought together. It’s likely that retailers will select best-of-breed solutions to create their own personalised system.

Without their large POS stations, shops will have far more space to enhance the instore experience. This could be used for live demonstrations or furnished with easy chairs and used as an area for giving advice and discussing products. The apps will be able to track a customer’s journey around the store and so provide useful intelligence on ‘hot spots’ and browsing history.

With most retailers upgrading or changing their POS systems every seven years, many will be looking to replace these devices within the next year or two. This, combined with recent news that large retailers such as Sainsburys are currently trialling apps which allow consumers to scan and buy products on an app without ever going to a till, suggests that radical changes in the way we shop could be just around the corner – leading to the end of POS as we know it.

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