Magazine Article | June 1, 2002

Get In Touch With Your POS

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Touch screens are popping up all over from ATMs to kiosks. The next place to consider them is at the point of sale.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, June 2002

The greatest technology in the world doesn't find a universal home until the price is right and customers see a need for it. Refrigeration is one example of a technology that was developed long before it became a household product. Everyone had a need for harnessed home refrigeration, but the original product was cost prohibitive. In many ways, the adoption of touch screen technology by the retail industry has taken a similar path. The technology has proven itself, but has not yet spread across the retail industry.

Hospitality was the first vertical market to install touch screens more than a decade ago, mainly because the terminals could resist the greasy fingers and soda splatters of the hospitality environment. The industry was an early adopter of touch screens, even when each one cost $1,000 or more, because hospitality recognized the value of touch screens for their speed and decreased training costs. They are so widespread in hospitality now that touch screen systems are running third- or fourth-generation software.

Retail seems like the next logical industry to adopt touch screen technology, but retailers are asking whether now is the time to do it. Chuck Renfroe, professional services manager at CompuRegister (Rocky Mount, VA), doesn't suggest that retailers break the standard buying cycle for POS (point of sale) hardware since it is a large capital investment, but if it's time to look for a new system, touch screens are something to seriously consider.

A Touch Of Touch Screens Everywhere
Retailers can already find touch screens throughout their stores in the form of ATMs, PDAs (personal digital assistants), kiosks, signature capture devices, and time and attendance terminals. Adoption of touch screen technology has increased now that the price gap between touch screens and the less expensive keyboard-based systems has decreased to about $400 to $500. "Four to five years ago, a typical 15-inch CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor cost about $300. Back then, that same monitor with touch features cost about $900 to $1,200. Today a retailer can get a similar touch screen monitor for around $600," Renfroe said. Newer LCD (liquid crystal display) flat panel monitors are also becoming popular among retailers because they take up less space and look more modern, which is an important look for specialty retailers. "The cost of LCD monitors has dropped about 50% in the last 18 months, bringing them down to about $800 each," said Renfroe.

Now that touch screens are more prevalent in hospitality and other verticals, retailers are realizing that touch screen benefits do justify the cost. Although there has been hesitation to replace traditional keyboard-based POS hardware with touch screens, they are appearing in a self-service mode on kiosks and self-checkouts. "In an unattended environment it is important to have technology that is easy to learn and operate and that can withstand a harsh environment," said Todd Renner, VP of sales and marketing at Touch Industries, Inc. (Atlanta). "You didn't get any training when you first got an ATM card. It is a matter of making the systems so simple to use that people with a range of educational backgrounds can use them." Retailers have recognized for years that touch screens are a good choice for unattended systems, but now is the time to realize that retailers can provide the same intuitive look and feel for their employees by installing touch screens at the POS.

A Change In Software Is Required
When looking to replace a keyboard-based POS system with touch screens, retailers need to think beyond just a hardware change. "You need to replicate your POS functions on a touch screen, but you don't want to replicate a keyboard itself," Renner said. "There are so many things that a touch screen interface can do, and a retailer should take full advantage of that."

There is a big difference between clicking a screen with a mouse and with a finger, and retailers need to consider that difference when adapting old or installing new software systems. Renfroe agrees with maximizing touch screen's efficiency. "Keyboard keys don't change as an employee goes through a transaction; employees have to hunt and peck," he said. "On a touch screen, depending on the stage of the transaction, there may only be two options for an employee to choose between. All POS functions are presented to employees simply, and the touch screen format eliminates the need for them to memorize key functions. This reduces errors and increases the speed of the checkout."

Even by reducing an employee's checkout time by 30 seconds, a retailer can keep its lines shorter or provide its employees another minute to ensure quality customer service. In an industry that experiences 200% employee turnover each year, the cost justification for touch screen POS systems can be found in employee training alone. Renner said the cost savings could total $100,000 for a company that trains 1,000 clerks a year. You, as retailers, are trusting touch screen technology in the hands of your customers who serve themselves; why not expand the cost savings by putting touch screens at the fingertips of your employees?