While Color Catches On, Wireless Looms
As color receipt printing blossoms, vendors are looking at wireless functionality as the next stage of the receipt printer's evolution.
The addition of color and graphics to receipts is still the hottest buzz among printer manufacturers, and the general consensus among them is that end users are catching on now more than ever.
Color And Graphics Are Still Hot Topics
VARs who have been reading about the color and graphic receipt printing revolution - but who haven't cashed in on it yet - ought to see some payoff soon, according to Mark Bauer, sales VP at TransAct Technologies. "We began talking about color and graphic receipts in May of 2000, and they're really catching on now," he says.
According to Bauer, when color and graphics were introduced to receipts and heavily advertised in the POS (point of sale) media a couple of years ago, retailers noted that it was something they'd one day implement. He says that one day is here. "Now that they are embracing color and graphics, retailers need to face the cost and mechanics of deploying them," he says. He cites the low cost of today's multifunction ink jet printers versus hybrid (thermal and impact combination) printers as a catalyst for their adoption.
"Before, end users needed a hybrid that implemented two print technologies in order to validate checks and print receipts. Hybrid printers were a transitional technology," he says. "Only a few hybrids offer color and graphics options, and that requires a retailer to purchase expensive two-color thermal paper. Today's ink jet printers provide speed, color, and check validation in a single package, with low-cost plain paper and inexpensive ink cartridges."
But speed, color, and functionality can still be found in printers built for specialty applications, and while their paper might be more expensive than ink jet paper, thermal printers don't need toner, ink cartridges, or ribbons in order to print. Star Micronics' showcased thermal printer is capable of printing two-color, wide format (80 or 92 columns), graphic receipts at 150 mm per second with the aid of Star's LogoStore toolkit. Star cites Internet transaction pages, hotel folios, maps, e-mails, work orders, spreadsheets, manuals, invoices, and reports as the TSP800's best uses.
A Colorful, Ongoing Revenue Opportunity
Tools that make the creation of logos and graphics on receipts easy are popular among VARs who want to add another service element to their product offerings. Several vendors are offering toolkits that help VARs implement graphic elements on receipts without making major changes to the POS application. So-called "smart printers" store logo and coupon graphics in the printer itself, with the aid of software like TransAct's POSjet Toolkit. The POSjet Toolkit converts electronic or scanned images into files that can be downloaded to the printer, and it also includes a coupon making utility. Axiohm also offers its VARs a graphics package called Logo EZ. "This gives a VAR control and value add," says Steve Bergeron, sales and marketing director at Axiohm Transaction Solutions, Inc. (Ithaca, NY). "A smart VAR hangs on to this tool, and uses it to stay in front of customers and generate continuous revenue. Maybe the VAR can charge customers $25 or $50 per week to manage their receipts," he says.
Bergeron says a VAR must rethink its value proposition every day of the week. "At one point, we at Axiohm said, 'let's build better hardware,'" Bergeron says. "For all intents and purposes, everybody's hardware is 'better' today. So what's next? Service, support, and development tools. A VAR has to look at the guy that's down the street selling any good quality peripheral, from scanners to keyboards to receipt printers. What can he do to differentiate himself?"
Besides color and graphics, some progressive VARs are adding wireless receipt printers and modules to their repertoire to distinguish themselves. Wireless receipt printers complement other wireless hardware options, like handheld computers, in the end user's quest for a flexible point of sale.
Everything Else Is Going Wireless, Why Not Receipt Printers?
Vendors have developed wireless modules for existing printers that allow them to communicate with the POS via RF (radio frequency). According to Robin Pierce, director of marketing at Citizen CBM America Corporation (Torrance, CA), wireless solutions are currently only available for the parallel interface, but a serial version will be available soon. "We're looking at restaurants and hospitality as the major focus for wireless printing right now," she says. Outside of the POS arena, manufacturers have targeted field service and route management with similar products. "An integrator simply needs to install a PC card and a 'dongle' to get a printer up and running on a WLAN [wireless local area network]."
Pierce sees wireless printing taking off in table service applications and for adding the flexibility to set up portable points of sale. "It is an ideal product for rush scenarios -for setting up a portable bar, addressing holiday rushes, or adjusting your POS according to traffic patterns," she says. Extech Instruments has also begun offering Bluetooth- and IrDA (infrared data association)-compatible printers during the first quarter of 2002. A battery-operated RF printer further reduces the boundaries created by wires. Pierce says NiCad (nickel cadmium) rechargeable batteries offer 2.5 hours of continuous print time and 8 hours of standby. CBM's IDP3240 is another wide-format (60- to 80-column) printer that the company markets to POS and hospitality applications where report-sized receipt printing is the standard.
VARs with progressive customers should take advantage of wireless receipt printing while it is still new to get the best margin opportunities. Identifying end users who require the most flexibility at their POS is a start. With vendors offering prices that are comparable to traditional wired units, cost justification is as simple as computing the amount of money saved on cabling.
Wireless Receipt Printers Follow In Color's Footsteps
Color and graphic receipt printing is proving itself more than a fad as it moves away from novelty status. While wireless receipt printing solutions aren't established yet, end users will deploy them when, like color and graphics on receipts, they realize just what a good idea it is. With so many vendors beginning to offer wireless, color, and graphic receipt printing options at reasonable costs, VARs should have no trouble finding solutions that put the power of all these functions in their hands.