Tuesday 15 June 2021
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A review of modern Point of Sale Technology

Point of sale terminals have come a long way from their humble origins as a manual, typewriter based system. Although replaced by technology from the early 1970’s to today, the same basic principals still exist, to process sales easier, reduce overall workload, and enable better management of purchases at point of sale.

Until around 10 years ago, most terminals resembled the first series of personal computers, similar to the Apple II and Apple III, terminals has a button style keypad built into the main terminal housing, accessories were then added such as a single line digital display for basic entry tracking by staff, a dual line display for confirmation by the customer, a wired receipt printer using paper rolls for proof of purchase and an input for a bar-code scanner. Since around 1990, these terminals also often save a spreadsheet type file which can then be exported into book keeping software such as MYOB. The most recent terminals still operating under this terminal build type, can have additional software such as direct MYOB integration (albeit the MYOB is controlled via a separate computer by management) and EFTPOS integration.

Since around 2000, LED and touch screen technology has developed at a rapid rate, as has the ability for GUI based software development to dramatically simplify sales processing for both cashiers and management. Initially extremely expensive, the cost today of these modern systems is now directly comparable to the old style terminal systems. It is expected that within the next 10 years, all business will be operating under a GUI point of sale terminal, as the development of retrofitted terminals utilising modern technology in an old design, is increasing the cost of these systems.

The benefits of using a modern GUI based system are mostly a extremely simple method of processing sales for cashiers, reducing their workload and increasing their ability to handle customer service requirements, inventory control is also often built into these systems, meaning if you are dealing with multiple suppliers, your stock levels and ordering limits can be set, triggering an alert when it is time to re-order from a supplier. This reduces the requirements of regular stock-taking, reduces paperwork and manual tracking, making management a much more simple process.

EFTPOS use now exceeds cash in terms of retail sales, with most people reporting carrying around $40 in their wallets, and using this only for emergencies, the definition given of such emergencies, are when they encounter a business that accepts cash only. Modern GUI systems integrate directly with EFTPOS, making upgrading from a cash based sale platform a single set up and use situation. Training may seem immense at first, however most Point of sale systems sales come with staff training, on site set up, and ongoing customer service. It is still possible to run a cash only system, however as more customers begin to directly avoid cash only businesses in favour of EFTPOS banking businesses, it makes sense to move away from a cash only system, both in terms of financial security and increased turnover.

Modern software is also often catered for specific business models, a retail store for example can be catered for with industry specific technology, hospitality can be catered for with kitchen reporting integrated and integration for liquor sales, service and re-ordering separate to that of wholesale food stock. Wholesalers point of sale software can also be catered for as opposed to retail only based systems.

A few things haven’t changed however from the introduction of computer controlled terminals. Many input devices are multi system compatible, for example receipt printers. Electronic receipt printers were mostly dot matrix based, these devices are still available today, in more recent years, the adaptation of thermal printing technology has over taken dot matrix uses for the simple reason that thermal does not require print cartridges. Both types initially used a serial input plug, but USB and Ethernet technology has since overtaken their input structure, even today the majority of point of sale printers still have all three input types at the rear, meaning they can be re-used even when changing between terminal systems. This standardised form reduces overall costs to the industry as a whole, as the same technology can be re-used reducing manufacturing costs, making replacing old technology simple, reducing costs by standardised paper sizes of which 3 main paper roll sizes dominate the industry, and due to this standard wholesale paper supply costs are able to be reduced to bare minimum levels while still producing a profit from the high turn over.

There are benefits in choosing the correct type of printer for your requirements too, dot matrix and thermal printers can be mixed on a single system, depending on the requirements of that specific terminal, you may have an array of terminals or extend terminals into different rooms for printing purposes, such as a point of sale system at the front of a restaurant offering the customers receipt, and an extension running into the kitchen where another printer returns a separate receipt of the customers order for preparation.

In terms of using dot matrix, this technology is superior when it comes to long lasting (more than 120 days) receipts, as this type of printer uses a ink cartridge (which resembles a small cassette) also known as a ink ribbon, the ink is directly transferred to the paper and will not fade away from the original. Dot matrix however also has the option of twin and triplicate ply bond rolls, these paper rolls will accept ink onto the first (white) paper layer, while carbon transferring a copy onto the second (yellow) and / or third (pink) paper underneath. The secondary and third copies are however prone to fading, so only the original is able to last a long period of time, if keeping receipts for purposes such as taxation references and book keeping, dot matrix is often considered as first choice instead of thermal printing.

Thermal printing receipts do not use ink, but instead have paper which reacts to heat, the heat affected sections react in a way that creates a black marking, hence resembling ink being pressed to paper. The downside of this technology is that thermal paper tends to fade within 120 days of first being printed, and often after 12 months has returned back to completely white, so for long term keeping of these receipts, a secondary copy is required via a photocopy or image scanner.

While thermal printing has taken over most applications for customer receipts and kitchen printers due to their low cost operation and non requirements of re-stocking ink, it may not be practical in certain circumstances where making a secondary copy of a receipt is considered a time wasting exercise. Many stores will print off customer and kitchen receipts using thermal, but if a permanent copy is required, also attach a dot matrix printer to make a copy using single ply white paper for retention purposes.

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