The Consumerization of the Countertop

by Greg Cohen 0

The countertop point-of-sale has been consumerized. What does this mean? Well, for a long time, consumer devices were much easier to use, more elegant and sleeker than business-focused devices. However, today merchants can have the best of both worlds, with all the benefits of a consumer device built right into their POS systems, along with a powerful suite of business-focused marketing, inventory and analytics tools.

The benefit of the consumerized countertop goes far beyond having a cool device at the point-of-sale. The consumerized countertop is changing the way merchants run their businesses and improving the customer experience at the same time. As these devices evolve and become increasingly accessible and powerful, they are likely to completely transform the retail and shopping experience as we know it.

That said, there are a few things that merchants should be wary of, including the staying power of various new POS solutions. In this article, I’ll explain why the consumerization of the countertop is such a positive development and also outline some questions merchants can ask to avoid the potential pitfalls of tablet POS systems, mobile payments and other consumerized innovations at the point-of-sale.

What is the Consumerized Countertop?

When the tablet first arrived, it was clear that this mini, portable computer would change the way we, as consumers, operate. Now, the convenience and portability of the tablet has infiltrated the point-of-sale with cloud-based iPad® and Android tablet solutions that offer certain features found in a traditional $2,000-$5,000 standalone point-of-sale solution. Moreover, merchants can now both accept payments via a tablet-based point-of-sale and accept payments from customers’ smartphones or tablets with ease. This provides brick-and-mortar businesses with the opportunity to offer customers a convenient and cool way to pay, as well as adding in a whole new layer of business intelligence.

Everyone from Starbucks to PayPal to Google to the major Telco providers — not to mention a wide variety of purpose-built apps and devices from startups in Silicon Valley and beyond — is throwing their hats into the ring here, providing solutions that range from consumer-facing apps to countertop hardware in an effort to gain mindshare with both merchants and their customers.

Of course, tablet-based POS systems won’t work for every business. For some, it is possible to use a tablet to extend the capabilities of the POS and bring consumerized technology to the countertop without throwing away powerful ERP systems managing the existing enterprise. It’s important to do a complete analysis based on the size, scale and needs of your business and to ensure that you choose the best solution for your needs.

Why the Consumerized Countertop Matters

But it goes beyond the simplicity and mass appeal of using consumer devices to accept payment. Many brick-and-mortar businesses have long been stuck buying expensive terminals that go obsolete quickly and that are frustrating to maintain. Others have not been able to afford them at all, and this has served as a barrier to entry. Consumerized terminals, many of which are tablet- or smartphone-based, make it easy for merchants to purchase and upgrade terminals. They are smaller and less expensive, so merchants can test out new ones and figure out what works best for them without making a huge monetary or equipment commitment.

In fact, many of the new, more consumerized POS providers either offer the tablet or mobile device as a part of their monthly service fees or rely on one that merchants can simply purchase on their own (at relatively low cost) and run using cloud-based apps. Square is now even being sold at BestBuy. The ultimate goal of these products is to offer merchants a peripheral or a full POS that is ready to go right out of the box and just as user-friendly as a consumer-focused gadget.

This enables new merchants to get off the ground faster, and it lets older merchants upgrade their customer experience quickly and inexpensively. Most consumers in major cities have already experienced the seamless nature of these new point-of-sale systems and can attest to the power of what is often a more transparent and tech-savvy way of buying items. Emailed receipts, touch-screen signatures and contactless NFC payments are just a few examples of how these consumerized POS systems are improving the consumer experience. From a merchant perspective, consumerized POS systems make analytics and reporting available that help them optimize their marketing and manage the business more effectively.

And this is just the beginning. While a frictionless checkout experience is undeniably positive for consumers and merchants alike, it’s the ability to personalize and enhance the shopping experience that will really make the consumerized countertop such an important innovation.

Personalization and the Omnichannel Revolution

Consumers increasingly want their online, mobile and brick-and-mortar shopping experiences with a retailer to look and feel unified. That’s why omnichannel is becoming a priority for the consumerized countertop. Omnichannel creates a seamless consumer experience across all platforms. It’s a win-win for consumers and merchants alike, and all smart payment acceptance and mobile commerce solutions are headed in this direction.

In addition to providing a sleeker interface for merchants and consumers alike, the transformation of countertop technology to a more consumerized design heralds an age of increased personalization in shopping (think Amazon-like recommendations for the real world). Imagine as a merchant that you were able to offer deals and discounts specifically tailored to each individual customer. This is a powerful option and one that can and will drive unprecedented loyalty.

Location services are another way to increase personalization. If merchants, using consumerized countertop technology, are able to provide location-based offers and reach consumers at the right time in the right place, there is a tremendous opportunity make the shopping experience better. Moreover, the omnichannel revolution can offer consumers a truly seamless experience, connecting their activities from web-browsing at home to the hand-held smart device to the store.

With these new consumerized countertop devices, merchants can be sure to provide the best possible service and to wow customers each time they engage, regardless of their shopping medium, ensuring repeat business and guaranteeing loyalty.

Potential Pitfalls

The consumerized countertop is, on the whole, a very positive development for merchants and consumers alike. That said, merchants who are using consumerized countertop devices must protect themselves in the face of a large and growing bubble.

At the outset, merchants should be careful about which products and services they choose to deploy. Before switching over to a tablet POS, mobile wallet or rewards app to better engage customers, it’s important to do some due diligence. No one wants be in the position of having a relied-on service suddenly disappear, taking customer data and carefully built marketing and loyalty systems with it.

So how can merchants figure out which services to trust?

Here are five questions that should be used to vet potential partners:

  1. How many customers do they have?
  2. What is their history in the space?
  3. What is the complete value of the solution? What value-adds do they offer? (Including loyalty, gifting, business analytics, e-commerce, etc.)
  4. Do they offer or have plans to offer mobile commerce?
  5. Are they enabling omnichannel or providing a seamless cross-channel experience?

With these questions in mind, merchants should be well armed to take advantage of the consumerized countertop movement and realize the benefits of this powerful and cutting-edge technology.