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Retailers know it, so do restaurant managers, field service reps and train conductors: There's a disruptive force at play in the use of point-of-sale systems.
Once fixed POS terminals, where consumers paid for their goods and services while a clerk at the counter completed the transaction with them, are giving way to mobile POS or mPOS.
The forces shaking POS foundations are smartphones and tablets, both industrial-grade for professional use and consumer-class devices. Sales associates and service reps now use portable gear to communicate wirelessly with transaction systems and beyond — to inventory management and financial systems, as well as to any relevant mobile applications available.
Mobility lets sales and customer service staffs quickly answer questions about price and availability, accurately discuss product and service options, access reviews and recommendations from third-party experts and accept payments to close a sale.
The combination of information access and convenience can forge closer relationships with customers and boost revenues for businesses.
Retail is leading the mPOS charge, fueled by companies that want their physical stores to stay relevant in the age of e-commerce.
“Make no mistake, this is a major trend,” says Ray Carlin, vice president and general manager for retail solutions at HP. “Some retailers are reporting that by better serving customers they are increasing sales and average order sizes. And it’s important to recognize that mobility is not just for the biggest organizations. It’s beneficial for large and small organizations alike.”
The mobile point-of-sale solution allows for a non-wired, point-of-purchase payment of products or services, offering a paper or electronic receipt. In addition, such systems can be used to streamline a variety of processes (i.e., line-busting, order-taking and up-selling, bank transactions, management functions, delivery applications, traffic ticketing and much more).
“POS is not a ‘point’ anymore,” says Ed Weiser, principal consultant for retail solutions at Motorola. “There isn’t always a set physical location where interactions between customers and sales people take place, which is making POS part of the overall shopping experience.”
New data shows the extent of mPOS adoption. In a recent survey by VDC Research Group, 54 percent of retailers reported that they are currently supporting mPOS, and 31 percent are planning to implement it in the near future, says Eric Klein, senior analyst for mobile software.
“For the past two years, we’ve seen people in retail conducting small pilots,” says Michelle Tinsley, director of transactional retail for Intel’s Retail Solutions Division. “Now, this interest is reaching critical mass.”
But retail is not the only sector that’s keen on mPOS. New implementations are coming to the transportation industry too, where digitally empowered train conductors in Europe are selling tickets via their mobile devices, for instance. At hotels around the world, agents roam lobbies to check-in guests and send them to their rooms without a stop at registration desks.
Field service personnel are capturing orders, scheduling follow-up visits and taking payments armed with mobile devices. Diners at mPOS-powered restaurants are ordering meals using tablets, playing game apps while their food is being prepared and then paying their tabs via these same devices before they leave.
So what are the drivers most critical to mPOS expansion? Here are the business truths about this technology implementation:
Use of mPOS empowers sales associates: Tablets and smartphones give salespeople anytime, anywhere access to data about product availability, pricing and third-party reviews and recommendations. This creates what some retail industry experts call “endless aisles,” where if a customer needs a particular size and color sweater that isn’t available in an individual store, for example, an associate can locate the desired item on the company’s website or in a different facility.
Handheld devices enable line-busting: Store employees can complete transactions on the fly when queues at checkout counters grow too large, which helps keep customers satisfied with their in-store experience.
The technology provides an antidote to show-rooming: A lingering fear among retailers is that their physical locations will become venues where consumers examine products first hand, but then shop the web for the lowest prices at competitors. A mPOS approach, combined with an omni-channel sales strategy that integrates brick-and-mortar facilities, e-commerce sites and call centers, means that associates can negotiate and close deals before customers buy elsewhere.
Mobility encourages new and bigger sales: The use of mPOS can spur additional sales through what Weiser calls “creeping commitment.” As they’re advising customers on a new purchase, associates can suggest additional items for the shopping basket. The upselling of extras might include an extended product warranty for a household appliance, new cables for an electronic device or a leather handbag that complements a new dress.
Security can be increased: Because added security may be required for implementation, retailers may need to beef-up security guidelines.
Organizations can manage costs closely: Store layouts often include multiple checkout lanes for peak traffic periods that remain idle during less-busy times. Store managers can avoid the expense of implementing excess hard-wired registers — and their associated hardware, software and retail space — with the right mobile strategy.
Floor space can be freed up: Mobile POS can help retailers reclaim floor space that was previously used for cash registers.
Mobility enhances marketing activities: As associates use mobile hardware to have close interactions with customers, they create opportunities to collect data about buying preferences, service needs and contact information for future communication. When retailers combine this data with sophisticated analytics, they can develop detailed profiles of their most valuable customers and strategies for staying in close contact with them.