Over the past few years, point-of-sale hardware used with mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones has become more and more common in restaurants and retail stores, even grocery stores and specialty shops such as wine sellers and tux shops. You might think the primary goal of businesses adopting this technology is payment processing. But in many cases, companies are focused on different parts of the consumer buying process, such as ordering, up-selling or so-called "suggestive" selling of complementary products.
And while the Apple iPad is probably the most sexy and well-known in the group, manufacturers are creating products for all brands and types of tablet computers and smart phones, such as the iPhone, Blackberry and Droid, and even the iPod Touch. Here are some trends in the three largest industry groupings.
Industry Trends for Mobile POS Hardware
For most early adopters, using mobile devices within a POS system offers a "cool" factor for their customers, and for smaller businesses may present a lower initial investment. The most important considerations when integrating mobile hardware into a POS system (new or existing) are security encryption, wireless capability, and durability. Taking payments can be the most challenging problem, since any type of credit card transaction requires several layers of security. Using mobile hardware for other tasks can often be just as difficult, since the device must dovetail with point-of-sale systems and have the necessary wireless connectivity. And while durability comes last on the list, it certainly can make a big difference in many consumer environments.
Restaurant Mobile POS
A chain of fast-casual restaurants in southern California called Stacked: Food Well Built opened just a few months ago with an iPad on every table top. Diners use the tablets to consider different meal options, designing custom burgers, pizzas, and salads. Then the orders are transmitted directly to the kitchen, removing the need for a server as a go-between. Patrons are not forced to use the tablet devices, but are given the option, especially when it means they can order more quickly or take a little more time without having to attract the attention of a server or feel rushed during the process. Customers also have the option of paying via the iPad.
Pricier restaurants, like Bone's Steakhouse in Atlanta, Georgia, use iPads to showcase an ever changing wine list. Customers can search for wines by name, region, and price. And one of the owners reports that wine sales have jumped 20% in the six months the tablets have been in use.
Grocery Mobile POS
Many grocery stores now offer self-checkout lanes, but supermarkets located primarily in the northeastern United States have gone one step further in simplifying the grocery-buying experience. As customers enter the store, they pick up wireless, handheld scanners and use them to scan their purchases before placing each item in the grocery cart. The device keeps a running total of purchases and allows items to be removed from the list as needed. And if, for example, the buyer adds coffee beans to the cart, the scanner may prompt an additional purchase of creamer by offering a coupon.
This system provides benefits for both business owners and consumers. Customers save time by touching each product just once and avoiding checkout lines. And retailers can suggest complementary products during the shopping trip, generally increasing consumer spending by 10 to 20 percent.
Retail Mobile POS
Like the restaurant and grocery industries, retail store owners have different motivations when integrating mobile devices. Often customers find a specific product in a store and want to buy more than what's on the shelf. That's when employees look for a simple and portable system that allows them to check inventory levels from anywhere in the store without leaving the customer.
Nordstrom has distributed mobile devices to salespeople, allowing them to search the store's inventory for specific garments. And these handhelds also give the customer the option to pay for the item on the spot rather than searching out a cash register.
Another application is similar to the ordering process in a restaurant. For example, a tuxedo rental shop has mobile devices that walk customers through the selection of a tux. From sizing to colors to all the components, they can come in the store, choose a tux and have it waiting in the dressing room within minutes.
Each of these three industries shows tremendous possibilities for growth in POS hardware used with mobile devices. And much of that growth will be driven by the comfort level of customers with the technology. As more and more people seek out an experience that's similar to the streamlined process of online shopping at home, the more likely companies will seek to match that experience.