A retail point of sale system typically includes a cash register (which in recent times comprises a computer, monitor, cash drawer, receipt printer, customer display and a barcode scanner) and the majority of retail POS systems also include a debit/credit card reader. It can also include a conveyor belt, weight scale, integrated credit card processing system, a signature capture device and a customer pin pad device. While the system may include a keyboard and mouse, more and more POS monitors use touch-screen technology for ease of use, and a computer is built into the monitor chassis for what is referred to as an all-in-one unit. All-in-one POS units liberate counter space for the retailer. The POS system software can typically handle a myriad of customer based functions such as sales, returns, exchanges, layaways, gift cards, gift registries, customer loyalty programs, promotions, discounts and much more. POS software can also allow for functions such as pre-planned promotional sales, manufacturer coupon validation, foreign currency handling and multiple payment types.
The POS unit handles the sales to the consumer but it is only one part of the entire POS system used in a retail business. “Back-office” computers typically handle other functions of the POS system such as inventory control, purchasing, receiving and transferring of products to and from other locations. Other typical functions of a POS system are: store sales information for enabling customer returns, reporting purposes, sales trends and cost/price/profit analysis. Customer information may be stored for receivables management, marketing purposes and specific buying analysis. Many retail POS systems include an accounting interface that “feeds” sales and cost of goods information to independent accounting applications.
A multiple point of sale system used by big retailers like supermarkets and department stores has a far more demanding database and software architecture than that of a single station seen in small retail outlets. A supermarket with high traffic cannot afford a systemic failure, hence each point of sale station should not only be very robust both in terms of software, database and hardware specifications but also designed in such a way as to prevent causing a systemic failure – such as may happen through the use of a single central database for operations.
At the same time updating between multiple stations and the backend administrative computer should be capable of being efficiently performed, so that on one hand either at the start of the day or at any time each station will have the latest inventory to process all items for sale, while on the other hand at the end of the day the backend administrative computer can be updated in terms of all sale records.
This gets even more complicated when there is a membership system requiring real-time two-way updating of membership points between sale stations and the backend administrative computer.
Retail operations such as hardware stores (lumber yards), electronic stores and so-called multifaceted superstores need specialized additional features compared to other stores. POS software in these cases handles special orders, purchase orders, repair orders, service and rental programs as well as typical point of sale functions. Rugged hardware is required for point of sale systems used in outdoor environments. Wireless devices, battery powered devices, all-in-one units, and Internet-ready machines are typical in this industry.
Recently new applications have been introduced, enabling POS transactions to be conducted using mobile phones and tablets. According to a recent study, mobile POS (mPOS) terminals are expected to replace the contemporary payment techniques because of various features including mobility, upfront low cost investment and better user experience. Convenience of conducting remote financial transactions is expected to augment the demand from small and medium businesses for mPOS.
In the mid-2000s, the blind community in the United States engaged in structured negotiations to ensure that retail point of sale devices had tactile keypads. Without keys that can be felt, a blind person cannot independently enter her or his PIN. In the mid-2000s retailers began using “flat screen” or “signature capture” devices that eliminated tactile keypads. Blind people were forced to share their confidential PIN with store clerks in order to use their debit and other PIN-based cards. The blind community reached agreement with Walmart, Target, CVS and eight other retailers that required real keys so blind people could use the devices.