POS, or Point of Sale, systems arrived on the market about fifty years ago to the joy of businesses and consumers alike. Now ubiquitous across almost all industries, POS terminals were revolutionary in their time, allowing marketplaces to dramatically reduce wait times. As the technology grew, POS systems became integral for inventory management, as well as in improving accessibility and speed exponentially. Today, POS systems retail at about $4,000 on average, according to Entrepreneur. And while that may seem like a hefty price tag, it’s virtually nothing compared to the investment required for archaic POS systems.
Lately, the evolution of POS systems has made another huge leap, the leap to mobile. Up until now, nearly every major POS innovation can be explained as an evolution, but this latest transformation qualifies as a revolution for several reasons. First, mobile POS systems, like the ones offered by Shopify, connect to iPads and other tablets, even smartphones are included. Since a significant portion of the public already has access to these devices, the massive investment required by a traditional terminal becomes obsolete. This increase in accessibility has vast repercussions for small business owners, artisans, farmers, and other individuals who don’t have the vast resources of a major corporation. Furthermore, as many of these POS systems offer high levels of cloud encryption, businesses and customers don’t have to fear the massive leaks besetting companies like Home Depot, which recently revealed that over 56 million credit cards were compromised, according to the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a brief overview of the evolution of POS systems, with a focus on modern advances and what we can expect from the future.
POS terminals have their beginnings in the distant past, when the abacus, an arithmetic device utilizing round beads, was used by mathematicians in the ancient world. More recently, around the turn of the century, key-operated adding machines came onto the scene. The first cash register arrived in 1883, explains The Tech Storm. Skip ahead about a century and you’ll get to the digital revolution. In the early 1970s, tech giant IBM started offering point of sale devices to major retailers across the United States. The first devices were essentially mainframe computers, but they could print out records and receipts, a huge step up from previous methods.
A major innovator in the early POS world came, not from the tech sphere, but from fast food. McDonald’s, of all corporations, was extremely important in bringing POS systems to the every day man. Their POS network included a visual display with 11 buttons that customers could press to ring up their orders. This interactive experience changed the public’s expectation not only in fast food, but any time they stepped up to the register.
Today, Point of Sale systems are sleek, fast, and even more user-friendly than ever. Full graphic displays allow users to access information without any specialized knowledge, and major grocery stores and superstore chains have made self-checkout a modern phenomenon. However, these technologies necessitate major financial backing, which is often unavailable to small business owners. A further complaint is that they are not mobile, and as the world increasingly mobilizes, successful technology must as well.
The Advent of Mobile POS
Several benchmarks needed to be reached before POS systems could make the leap to mobile. The first are a bit obvious; computers needed to get more efficient and smaller. However, another major obstacle preventing the advent of mobile POS terminals was the question of storage. Any modern POS terminal must keep detailed records of all orders for business reports, taxes, and returns, among other things. Even as computer technology kept improving, the question of storage remained. That’s when the Cloud showed up.
Technically, the Cloud has been around as long as the internet has, so about fifty years. As Computer Weekly states, the Cloud didn’t really reach consumers until the nineties and it didn’t offer business solutions until the turn of the century. However, shortly after the dawn of the new millennium, the Cloud had arrived in a form that is pretty much identical to its current one.
This was big news for the POS world because instead of storing data on one central computer, as had been the case since the beginning, individual devices could run POS systems as software and communicate with a storage bank as long as they had internet connection. Records were simply moved into the Cloud, where they are accessible at any time and do not require a huge amount of storage capacity. Thanks to this breakthrough, devices with relatively small amounts of storage, such as smartphones and tablets, have been able to provide top-notch POS services to people in all sorts of industries. And, with the quality encryption offered by leading companies, customer information is safe and secure, as it should be. Analysts now show that the transition to mobile is only just beginning, but within the next ten years, we should see drastic changes in the way that we shop on the move.