Reinventing The Receipt Printer
By Brian Albright, Business Solutions magazine
Smart printers can be the basis of new cloud-based revenue centers.
Printers of every stripe and purpose have been treated as commodity peripherals for some time, crucial but largely interchangeable boxes that serve the POS solution. Printers, however, have benefited from the advancement of faster, cheaper processing power just as much as any other device, and a new generation of smart receipt printers has emerged that is changing the way VARs and retailers deploy these devices.
“A smart printer is one that supports a feature relevant to the retailer that is not directly related to printing without the device actually being an all-in-one PC,” says David Salisbury, global marketing center director for Star Micronics. Those features include the ability to store “mini” applications and transactional information, connect to and deliver Wi-Fi for personal mobile devices, and external peripheral control (bar code scanners, MSR [magnetic stripe reader], NFC [near field communication], and other printers). Some even facilitate payments and have touch screens to allow direct consumer engagement.
These are task-focused devices that can support multiple roles in the POS process by having a direct connection with the Internet, independent of the main POS solution. With computing power residing at the printer, these devices can control digital signage, deliver loyalty solution data, enable mobile POS solutions, be used as kitchen display systems, provide line-busting capabilities, and enable cloud-based services. They can also extract data from the receipts and upload that information to cloud-based applications for data analytics, loyalty programs, smart programming, and other solutions.
As such, they represent an opportunity for POS VARs and integrators to develop and sell a whole new suite of services to their clients. “Smart receipt printers can be added to virtually any POS system — even legacy, proprietary systems — to add cloud applications such as data analytics, loyalty, and digital and smart receipts,” says Gregg Brunnick, director of marketing at Epson America. “The most advanced smart receipt printers can complement or even replace traditional fixed-lane POS systems, including mobile and portable POS and in-store kiosks.”
Why Sell Smart Printers?
For VARs, the most compelling reason to add smart receipt printers to their solution offerings is that they will be an integral part of the next-generation of POS systems. As more retailers adopt mobile devices on the showroom floor, these intelligent printers will play an important role in managing other peripherals.
“That iPad or Android tablet POS looks cool and runs next-gen software (SaaS, PaaS), but there is a problem,” Salisbury says. “For example, the UnifiedPOS initiative has defined 36 peripheral devices that are to be controlled by the POS. With limited connections (sometimes no USB and never serial), connecting these devices via anything other than wireless is daunting. This limits next-gen POS smart device penetration as implementation forces a retailer to either give up using these peripheral devices or swap out all other peripherals for potentially unreliable wireless devices.” With a smart printer, legacy wired interface devices can be linked to these tabletbased POS solutions.
According to IHL Group, sales of mobile POS devices are growing more than 95 percent worldwide. “Smart receipt printers allow VARs to deliver a high-value solution that maps to mobile POS trends driving IT purchasing decisions,” Brunnick says. “VARs who take the time to learn about the many benefits of smart technologies will be the ones who come out on top.”
Retailers are looking for POS technology that can enhance the shopping experience for their customers and provide a competitive advantage. VARs and integrators can leverage smart printers to develop innovative solutions for these clients.
This is not going to be easy,” Salisbury says. “It will require much study and some initial risk-taking. The good news is that the developers of smart receipt printers have already identified some of the risks and are fully able to explain the opportunities; therefore, it’s in a VAR/integrator’s best interest to ensure that they fully understand the features and solutions. Perhaps then they can fully understand the value and opportunity being offered.”
Printers Enable New Apps
Receipt printing has traditionally been seen as a necessary, but secondary, function that completes the more important payment function. Smart printers change that dynamic, according to Salisbury. The printer verifies the transaction and provides an opportunity to engage with a customer at a level that compares to that of an online retailer.
“Why not enable data to the cloud and enjoy the ability to combine with other metrics such as foot traffic, weather, and digital signage to give a snapshot of what is really happening in a retail store?” Salisbury asks. “After all, it is just as important to know how many people come into the store to look at something as it is to know how many of those people actually purchased that item.”
By application-enabling the printer, retailers can potentially better understand how staffing, technology, and marketing are affecting sales. “We now have the ability to deliver sales data in the cloud where it’s easy to add to other Big Data and show the real ROI of any marketing activity,” Salisbury says. “The super coupon can be created. Imagine a scenario where it’s now possible to print a coupon based on who the shopper is (gender, age), based on what they purchased (or did not purchase), and based on the video that is playing on the digital signage in the store.”
Doing so can lead to lucrative new add-on sales and new product offerings for the reseller. “VARs and integrators have the opportunity to add revenue streams from SaaS applications that can be sold and maintained in tandem with the printer,” Brunnick says. “In addition to cloud applications/SaaS solutions, they can offer mobile POS add-ons, like complementary handheld devices and peripherals that enhance their solutions while adding revenue.”
Smart receipt printers can enable queuing, ticketing, information terminals, digital signage control, human resources and time clocking, kiosk, and other applications. When used as a peripherals hub, they can also provide payment functionality, customer interaction, and additional peripheral support. They also provide a more compact, integrated POS solution that can help reduce the solution footprint or even remove the cash wrap completely.
“The advanced computing power and mobility inherent to smart receipt printers provides retailers flexible configuration options for things like speedy checkout/cash wraps throughout the store, mobile and portable POS or pop-up stores, store-withina- store concepts, in-store kiosks, as well as other exciting possibilities such as iBeacon proximity marketing solutions,” Brunnick says. “In addition, cloud applications such as digital and smart receipts, data analytics, and loyalty programs can be added quickly and painlessly to existing systems with the addition of a smart receipt printer.”
Offer More Printing Options
VARs and their customers can’t assume that today’s receipt printer will remain the standard; things will change. With the advent of smart printers, resellers will be able to offer a wider variety of printing options and applications to their customers, including Bluetooth printers for iOS devices, LAN-based printers for mobile workers, and even portable belt-mounted printers for other types of mobile solutions.
Gregg Brunnick, director of marketing, Epson America
Sell the actual features and benefits of the printers, not just the ROI of the point of sale solution. “For example, businesses deploying smart receipt printers will gain functionality once unheard of on an old system, with very little upgrade cost and no software programming or downtime,” Brunnick says. “In addition, a smart printer can replace an entire POS system, along with cabling and network cards. Businesses can also eliminate the print server or Web server layer, taking advantage of a smart receipt printer’s ability to interface directly with current systems and next-generation POS mobile tablet solutions without custom development or middleware.”
For companies selling these smart receipt printers, it’s important to have both reliable products and a reliable vendor partner. Partner with a company that provides comprehensive service and support, along with field-tested solutions. That way, when your retail customers are ready to make the transition, you’ll be ready with a suite of options that can help them take their POS operations to the next level.