Close-up view on conceptual keyboard - Payment (green key)

Pay It Forward

April 25, 2016

Remember the old days when the cash register was literally a work of art?  Those old monsters that were made by National Cash Register and a few other companies.  Many of these devices were lovingly cast in bronze, while others in plated in brilliant nickel.  They came adorned with flowers, filigree’s, and even characters like cherubs.  For most retail establishments, they were the star attraction planted proudly at the front of the store.

Despite their size, some were nearly three feet tall, they didn’t really do much. As late as the 1970s, many cash registers did little more than record a sale. They didn’t even add and they certainly didn’t help manage the inventory.  Yet, for all their shortcomings they were the anchor of the store. When you saw them in all their glory you knew exactly where to pay and where to find a sales person. 

Times have certainly changed.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, asks where did the register go?  As stores change their philosophies for checking out, the register is being replaced with small handheld tablet-like devices that allow sales associates to wander throughout the store.  Instead of a customer coming to the sales associate, the associates are now free to stalk the customer, as they peruse the merchandise.

While the old mechanical cash registers were merely a pretty face that couldn’t really do much, iPads and other handhelds salespeople carry now can ring up the sale, check and order inventory, and even connect to the web.  They can run a credit card and print a receipt. Every transaction is untethered, wirelessly connecting to the store’s computer system.  In some stores, like the Prada store in New York City, the cash register is concealed behind doors. So the strategy of how cash registers are used has certainly come a long way.

According to the Journal article, at retailers such as Barney’s, the transaction is handled discreetly.  Shoppers relax on overstuffed furniture while their transactions are completed and their purchases are bagged in a back room.

The transaction evolution that began with Apple stores almost 15 years ago is slowly changing the way many retailers interact with their customers.  This new strategy is as much about  improving the relationship between the salesperson and the customer, as it is about streamlining the sale.  While it may not work in a Walmart, it may be a hint of things to come for some museum stores.

Another part of this rethinking of how transactions are handled includes continuing innovations in mobile payments.  The website, Chain Store Age, reports that Google is piloting a new mobile payment app.  It’s called Hands-Free, it works on both Android and iOS systems, and takes a different approach for paying.

After the customer says, “I’ll pay with Google,” the cashier uses the initials and a picture of the customer to confirm their identity and make the sale.  An in-store camera confirms the customers identity.  When the transaction is completed, the customer is given an immediate confirmation on their smartphone.  The hands-free camera deletes the images and data immediately.  The transaction has greater security, since credit card information is not exchanged with the store directly.

CNN recently reported that MasterCard is now rolling out their new Selfie-Pay.  While currently aimed only at online purchases, this new mobile app allows purchases to be completed using a selfie.  The consumer blinks to confirm that it’s a live transaction (not someone holding up a photo) and the purchase is completed.

Biometric security schemes like Selfie Pay and Apple’s fingerprint confirmation are another way that are changing  electronic transactions.  PayPal’s One Touch system is also positioning themselves to compete as an E-transaction provider.  The idea behind most of the new wireless transactions is to limit the amount of information that’s exchanged between the consumer and the retailer.  The result should be a more secure transaction for both parties.

Smaller operations, like many museum stores, may find themselves well-positioned to take advantage of these new technologies.  Higher security, reduced labor costs, increased sales and greater customer satisfaction are  potential benefits by rethinking your sales transactions.

Of course one downside to this, small handheld devices are easily misplaced, while no one ever accidentally left a 400 pound bronze cash register in their other pants pocket.


Patrick Mulcahy is the Director of Marketing for MSA

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