Magazine Article | June 1, 2000

POS Products, Paradigm Shifts, And Other Tricky Trade Show Secrets

Source: Innovative Retail Technologies

Innovations in IT products can be of great benefit to business. However, that doesn't mean they cause paradigm shifts.

Integrated Solutions For Retailers, June 2000
When Thomas Kuhn wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, he didn't anticipate that his book would become a 20th century classic. No less did he anticipate that his neologism, "paradigm shift," would become a cliché. I read an interview with Kuhn in his later years. It was the portrait of a man with doubts about his landmark book and a particular disgust for the misuse of his idea.

At this year's Retail Systems show in Chicago, I shared in Kuhn's disgust. As I visited exhibitor booths and press conferences, "paradigm shifts" were rampant – or at least vendors would lead you to believe so.

Technology By Any Other Name...
Nevertheless, I was still intrigued by several POS (point of sale) products: color receipt printers, digital-video pole displays, and handheld kiosks designed as portable POS stations. Specifically, I was intrigued by the novel application of the products: using POS devices as marketing tools, and then finding an ROI and revenue with promotions, coupons, and ad sales.

On color receipts, I took notice of icons, marketing messages, and coupons that I had never noticed with black-and-white receipts. Compared with black-and-white, the color wasn't just an attention grabber; it was a stranglehold. I later learned that studies support my observation. In fact, the guest opinion in this issue discusses how color commands attention and facilitates retention – and how this phenomenon crosses into other technologies, as well.

I stood mesmerized as a movie trailer played before my eyes – on a pole display. What vendor wouldn't want to capitalize on captive consumers during checkout, consumers with nothing to wait for except their change – and a marketing message.

I found portable kiosks equally amazing. Should you frequent a restaurant that uses them, expect your children to play games on the kiosk as you wait for a table. And don't be surprised when the hostess' likeness appears on the screen to audibly announce that, "Yes, Mr. Jones, your table is ready now."

Repeat customers in retail chains can even use iButtons to log on to the kiosks – and then roam freely about the store, scanning items, paying with the swipe card feature, and collecting a receipt from the device's internal printer. All through these scenarios, advertisements scroll across the kiosks' monitors, marketing to consumers.

The new products will be, without doubt, important new retail tools.

Rectifying Trade Show Malapropisms
Returning to Kuhn, consider a classic example of a paradigm shift. The ancient Greeks believed all matter was composed of four basic elements: earth, wind, fire, and water. Two millennia later, Dmitri Mendeleev refuted the Greek model, replacing it with the Periodic Table. With Mendeleev's discovery, the framework of knowledge for chemistry, the original Greek paradigm, shifted.

Mendeleev's paradigm, however, had holes in it – and Mendeleev accordingly left holes in the earliest version of his Periodic Table. Specifically, he left blank spaces marked with lines to represent elements that he deduced existed, but were yet unknown. We have since discovered many of those unknowns. Mendeleev's Periodic Table, however, did not undergo a paradigm shift; it was only expanded.

Comparatively, two business principles have traditionally supported POS stations: accounting and service. Since the days of manual registers with an audible "cha-ching," POS stations have been designed to take money from customers and keep them happy in the process.

Similarly, the paradigm behind marketing has remained constant: It's still the same five Ps you learned in college – positioning, packaging, promotion, persuasion, and performance. Using POS devices for marketing is just like filling in the unknowns of Mendeleev's Periodic Table: a freshly filled slot in an established paradigm.

So, in the future, let's embrace new technology for what it is: a new way to make money, an expansion of current knowledge, even a brilliant innovation – but not a paradigm shift. Judging from my trade show experience, those paradigm shifts are tricky things. I think we should leave them to scientists.

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