The Mobile Point Of Sale
VARs who aren't taking steps to help retailers adopt emerging technologies such as mobile POS (point of sale) and self-checkout kiosks will be left in the dust as wireless and self-service hit prime time.
History has shown that only time stands in the way of the migration of new and sophisticated technology from, say, New York's upscale restaurants to the corner diner on your street. After all, unless you live in the Ozarks or Appalachia, not even your local convenience store is still running a mechanical cash register. To get a handle on the technologies employed and requested by market leaders today (coming soon to a diner near you), one need look no further than the technology providers who outfit them.
"Retailers, especially grocers and mass merchandisers, are beginning to buy technologies that aren't necessarily traditional for POS [point of sale], but that are in the sweet spot of a POS VAR," says IBM's Jocelyn Furniss, worldwide brand marketing director for the company's Retail Store Solutions division (Raleigh, NC). "We're finding a lot of desire for self-service in these segments, things like kiosks and self-checkout lanes," she says. Foodservice is the highest growth market for IBM, and according to Furniss, it has been for a couple of years. Furniss says the growth of self-service kiosks and self-checkout hasn't hit restaurants and is still mainly in general merchandise and grocery. "These are market segments that deployed POS systems earlier in their life cycles, so technologies that support consumer self-service or access offer high growth opportunities."
NCR's (Dayton, OH) Steve Keller, director of POS sales specialization, agrees that today's VARs have opportunities that reach beyond selling a traditional POS system. "We see VARs looking for a product line extension, and that's provided in the form of things like self-checkout kiosks and mobile POS. These are technologies that help a VAR expand its market reach," says Keller. "VARs should be looking beyond the traditional POS, because these technologies are going to hit prime time." Tom Moore, NCR's director of strategic alliances, says that end users want to know how they can use mobile points of sale for line busting and setting up temporary checkout lanes to expedite transactions. As a result, he says NCR's VARs and channel partners are extending their applications to accommodate the wireless networks that support mobile points of sale and handheld POS devices. For many of these consumer-centric POS solutions, a wireless infrastructure is a necessary foundation.
With New Networks Come New Business Opportunities
The popularity of wireless networking brings VARs a whole new focus area, and one that's being adopted rapidly. The success of mobile POS depends on a sound wireless network. "The flexibility of the infrastructure is what creates opportunity for the new applications we're discussing," says Furniss. The affordability and increasing reliability and security of wireless networks are driving their growth from front office applications to store floors. "But you can't deploy a technology in a store unless you've got return. Five years ago, management had to decide which wireless project would produce benefits that would justify the expense of the infrastructure," she says. "Now that so many applications support wireless, the infrastructure expenditure is justified."
But that doesn't mean VARs are free of hurdles to selling wireless solutions. While standards are improving and 802.11b is stable to the point that implementations will stay up and running indefinitely, many retailers still want wires connected to mission-critical, front end operations. "VARs should begin with applications that aren't so mission-critical, like scanning in the checkout lane and handheld POS devices," advises Furniss. "Kiosks are also attractive to wireless, because their placement is an art, not a science," she says. "Your customers are going to want to move their kiosks around the store."
Wireless networking and the hardware to support it offer VARs new revenue opportunities beyond the initial sell and integration. "VARs want to sell things beyond just hardware and installation," says Moore. "They want to resell services - help desk services, for instance." Wireless network support services are offered by many technology providers who sell wireless solutions, helping the VAR maintain customers and generate revenue.
Help Retailers Focus On Retail
So the general store proprietors in town aren't asking for self-checkout just yet? No need for an 802.11b network at the local hardware store? Don't rest on your cash registers. Trends are set at high levels, and the ones that work always trickle down. "We all try to segment the market with demographics, but end users have this in common: they are retailers who want to focus on what they do well - retailing," says Furniss. "Big chains adopt early and buy more, but all retailers, big and small, want to grow sales, cut costs, and improve customer service."