The Gradual Launch Of Wireless POS
Wireless remains the hot topic in hospitality POS (point of sale). Forward-thinking VARs must know how to pitch it to succeed in tomorrow's market.
Does the reality of offering a wireless solution to a mainstream hospitality venue still seem as far off as it did a few years ago? Is wireless still just something that sounds good to you, but is too revolutionary for your customers? If you answered yes to both of these questions, you might be missing the boat. Four leading hospitality POS (point of sale) vendors are telling VARs that if they haven't already gotten on board, time is running out.
It's been more than a year since we heard wireless POS was about to break wide open, but only a handful of installations have actually been completed. So, why should we believe that wireless POS, which has been building in hype for years, is about to go mainstream now? Because for the first time, the players in the space haven't left any questions unanswered. Now, somebody's got to be able to sell this stuff.
The Ways Of The Wireless POS Salesman
Listening to the pitches vendors of wireless POS solutions make for handheld devices in hospitality, one wonders how a restaurant owner could refuse. Next, one wonders if restaurant owners have even heard these pitches.
"I'm not surprised at all at where wireless applications are installed," says Jeff Pinch, president of System 3 POS (Windsor, Ontario). "But, I'm very surprised at where they aren't." To say this sentiment is a shared one among wireless POS vendors is a gross understatement. These tenacious, highly competitive market players are ready for the rivets to pop loose on this market and have been for some time now. Pinch, for one, admits there was a time the hardware and the market weren't ready. He even admits that, perhaps even prior to the hardware's hang-ups and the market's hesitancy, there was a time the software wasn't ready. Today, he says, all of the above are ready. But he adds, "The rumors of large-scale integration are out there, but the bigger story with wireless POS is where we're not rather than where we are."
So then, what are these irrefutable advantages to going wireless, and are you pitching them? Martin Siebert, VP of marketing and North America sales for Aloha Technologies (Bedford, TX), counts the benefits to the consumer as major advantages. "Great ideas in hospitality POS are only great to the extent that consumers accept them," he says. "Solutions like WAP [wireless application protocol] ordering and RF [radio frequency] tag tendering in hospitality give consumers control of the transaction." Siebert contends that this is a huge advantage to a restaurant that wants to use technology to make the lives of its clientele easier.
Handheld devices get managers on the floor with customers, allow clerks to line bust in fast-food environments (even at the drive-thru), and eliminate fixed terminals. As far as fixed terminal elimination is concerned, Ed Rothenberg, VP of restaurant research and development at Micros (Columbia, MD), has a good suggestion for that extra space. "Tell your client to add more tables," he says. And why not? In table service environments, handheld-equipped Micros end users have gone from an average table turn of an hour and 20 minutes to just an hour. They are making $2 more per table and have less staff overhead because wait staff can now service 10 tables each, as opposed to 4. Are you, the VAR, relaying this kind of benefit information to your audience?
Rothenberg says some VARs have found success with wireless handheld applications where speedy service is imperative. "Anywhere you have people waiting around to be seated, you have a good handheld application," he says. "Handhelds are popular in restaurants near movie theaters, where diners need to be served quickly. There's a lot of interest from airports, where customers have planes to catch." Michele Cote, VP and general manager at Posera (Montreal), adds bowling alleys, large clubs, and patio bars to the list of applications begging for portability at the POS. In all cases, "Wait staff can take and process orders constantly, while food and drink dispatchers run the goods," he says.
Wireless POS Still Presents Sales Challenges
While the barriers to the adoption of wireless handheld devices in hospitality are coming down and the list of likely end users gets longer, there are still a few issues VARs must address. Cost is one of them. "It's still a bit more expensive up front to install wireless due to the specialized networking and hardware," says Cote. "But prices keep coming down, and technologies keep getting better. If a VAR's justification for a wireless POS system is just based on reducing meal times, then these types of systems still may be too expensive for some customers. But, if you can maximize the technology, using the handheld for additional tasks such as physical counts, then you are providing more justification." From the VAR's perspective, however, margins aren't stellar on hardware an end user can buy from electronics retailers (like the popular Compaq iPaq). Second, people still aren't completely familiar with the advantages and form factor of handheld terminals. It's up to VARs and vendors alike to change that. The third issue is peripherals. While peripheral manufacturers are beginning to fill the need, as evidenced by such products as Citizen's hip-mounted receipt printer, Siebert says there's room for growth in areas like wireless receipt printing, magnetic stripe reading, etc. Finally, there's the perceived security threat made famous by wireless POS in retail environments. In hospitality, though, the issue isn't as threatening. VARs who are hit with resistance for security reasons can still pitch the efficiencies of wireless order entry for starters. The tender transaction can remain at a fixed POS station, while the restaurateur can still enjoy the benefits of wireless, like labor reductions, increased table turns, etc. There's no risk here. And even if you do choose to pitch wireless transaction processing, "There are many easier ways to get credit card information than sitting around trying to crack WEP [wireless equivalency protocol, a standard means of encrypting wireless data]," says Rothenberg. "Besides," he adds, "the standards for wireless security are evolving so rapidly that it's quickly becoming a non-issue."
More Than Just Table Service
Regardless of your place in hospitality, you must recognize that wireless POS has moved out of the original niche in which it was earliest adopted and is now ready for widespread implementation. "Originally, people thought wireless would be only good for table service, but I believe that's been proven incorrect," Pinch says. "For example, now we can enable pizza delivery drivers to conduct transactions at customers' doors. That type of application can give pizzerias an accurate look at their speed of service."
Remember when touch screens were just for quick service? The day will soon come when you and your colleagues will reminisce the same way about wireless POS. (Remember when it was just for stadiums?) For now though, the big question remains, are you selling it?