The Past, Present, and Future of POS Systems

Some forms of technology become obsolete more quickly than they enjoy relevance in our society. Point of sale (POS) systems are a case in point as they continue to evolve as easy, seamless, and mobile solutions.

Digital technologies are vital to how individuals and retailers make and receive payments. Cash registers are becoming a thing of the past as business owners strive for greater flexibility and control, and basic systems and fixed credit card readers are long gone.

As restaurateurs and other business owners seek capabilities that were unfathomable 20 years ago, restaurant POS systems are changing, developing, and evolving.

A POS timeline

In place of the cash register, POS systems have transformed into powerful and sophisticated control modules and are an integral part of small and large restaurant establishments.

In some cases, a solid POS is one of their most valuable assets, working like back-office teams to ensure that operations are running smoothly. Today’s POS systems track sales, inventory, cash flow, and much more.

Creating an accurate system to record and maintain purchasing transactions has been an historic challenge for merchants, with struggles recorded as far back as the late-1800s.

James Ritty, a business owner in Dayton, Ohio, created the earliest iteration of POS, albeit rudimentary. During his travel between the US and Europe, Ritty discovered a mechanical gadget on a steamboat propeller that tracked the number of its rotations—which in turn signaled the need for maintenance.

Upon Ritty’s return to Dayton, he teamed with his brother to adapt the mechanism to capture and track cash transactions at his tavern. The resulting device was successful and played a key role in preventing theft by his work staff.

Years later, the Ritty brothers built a factory that produced the origins of the modern cash register.

Automation begins

Computer-based cash registers emerged in the 1970s by IBM, as Ritty’s cash drawers were augmented with paper documentation of the day’s transactions—aka, receipts.

The earliest system was straightforward, with very basic terminals connected to a mainframe processor. Although the terminals introduced screen-based cash register systems, they lacked their own processing capabilities.

By the middle of the decade, IBM’s client-server technology, peer-to-peer connections, LAN backup, and remote initialization in a commercial setting were in place at grocery and department stores in the US Northeast.

Manufacturers overseas began applying micro processing technology after IBM launched the electronic cash register, but the earliest models’ capabilities were limited to recording and reporting simple inventory levels and top-selling items.

To this day, it remains a source of concern for business owners pushing for increasingly innovative POS.

The Original Point of Sale

The invention of independent, secure, and intuitive credit card devices took strong root when Martin Goodwin and Bob Henry launched their POS software, IT Retail, in 1992, to run on the Windows platform.

Apple and Windows computer systems made it possible to run more robust POS systems with greater capabilities and user-friendly interfaces at the height of Silicon Valley’s boom.

New York restaurateur Gene Moshel pioneered a system for his deli using the new technology and, for years to come, it served as the foundation for POS systems.

As technology progressed, more elements were added to enhance Moshel’s design, with the introduction of touch displays and graphic elements being the most notable features.

Point of Sale systems at the turn of the century

At the turn of the century, retail POS systems developed into the most complex, powerful, and user-friendly computer networks in commercial use. New point-of-sale systems do much more than record transactions.

The POS has now integrated financial reports, inventory monitoring and management, customer relationship management (CRM), service management, operation reporting, and payroll modules, thanks to the software supplier innovation.

Several other solutions were developed at this time to run on various sorts of devices and operating systems (OS).

Today, electronic POS systems, especially fast food POS solutions, are commonplace. Restaurant operators no longer rely on huge metal drawers to run their businesses and enjoy access to technology that improves the customer experience.

Even the tiniest, most compact mobile phone devices pack a powerful data punch by generating unified dashboards that provide quick and easy access to their performance metrics.

Enterprise-wide communication with the swipe of a card

Restaurant POS systems now integrate back-office and front-office operations, including inventory and sales management, waitlists, and reservations.

Deployed effectively, the technology allows personnel to stay on the floor instead of relaying between the kitchen and the cash register to significantly improve customer service.

Customers are always in line-of-sight and earshot to let staff resolve issues and respond to needs in a timely fashion.

The latest POS systems synchronize and simplify financial data, product information, and customer insights into real-time data. New POS software provides clarity on both sides of the retailer / customer transaction.

POS evolved from a cash register to a corporate hub that seamlessly collects, stores, and reports on vital data that can maximize profitability. As customers’ payment preferences change, merchants around the world are preparing to make the switch.

Customers have more control over how they pay their retailers, who can accept credit card payments from anywhere with an Internet connection. A credit card reader wirelessly connected to a smartphone or tablet is all that is needed for mobile credit card processing services.

Smartphone wallet providers and loyalty mobile apps, on the other hand, read barcodes on their screens with a POS scanner.

What ‘s next for POS?

While it is impossible to predict the future of POS technology, it’s a given that the technology will continue to evolve to meet shifting market demands. Mobile POS is gaining traction and it remains to be seen how and if it will take over the restaurant business and replace existing POS systems.

With the advancement of technology, the evolution of POS will continue. For brick-and-mortar businesses that use multiple channels to contact and interact with customers, POS terminals should remain dominant.

As mobile POS continues to develop and boost the customer experience with the ultimate flexibility, expect it to add another layer of value to enterprises by making technology more efficient and timesaving.

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