The end of point of sale as we know it?

Mike Callender of Repl Group

There are certain situations where consumers will want to take their time when making an important purchase and enjoy the whole buying experience – when searching for a brand-new car, for example. However, on a day-to-day basis, when buying petrol, groceries or even clothes, most want the transaction to go through as quickly as possible.

Spotting a queue at the till 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, says Mike Callender, executive chairman of 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 ecommerce. As a result, instore 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 instore 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.

It’s been shown that retailers upgrade or change their PoS systems every seven years – there are even some with systems implemented almost a decade ago – with many looking to replace these devices this year or next to keep up with the latest technologies. This could be the drive that brings about a radical rethink – leading to the end of PoS as we know it.

The author of this blog is Mike Callender, executive chairman, Repl Group.

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