5 Ways POS Systems Are Changing (and Why It Matters)
POS systems are changing quickly. / Credit: Credit card image via Shutterstock

Traditional point-of-sale (POS) systems are becoming a thing of the past. Basic cash registers and stationary credit card readers still serve their purpose, but POS systems as a whole are shifting toward more-advanced capabilities that give merchants greater flexibility, control and business intelligence than ever before.

Daily deals company Groupon announced this week the launch of Gnome (pronounced "gee-nome"), an "all-in-one cash register" that does everything from handle cash and process credit card payments to accept Groupon vouchers and streamline POS transactions with business operations. Groupon hopes that this tool will "serve as an operating system" that enables businesses to bring more customers to their doors and keep them coming back. The system accomplishes all of this by integrating the Gnome POS system with backend processes, such as customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting software.

Gnome represents just one of the many ways POS systems have moved beyond simply processing sales, but are instead becoming an integrated part of the entire business operations ecosystem. To illustrate, here are five ways POS systems are changing and how your business can jump on the cutting edge of POS technologies. [Compare Quotes: Best POS Systems]

By taking its brick-and-mortar operations online, a business has the potential to grow exponentially. One of the disadvantages of doing this, however, is that merchants often struggle with the tedious and unnecessarily complicated task of consolidating data between online and offline sales. Previously, businesses would first have to run data from their e-commerce platforms, then that of their physical POS systems; for a comprehensive report, the business would then have to import both results into spreadsheet, accounting or other reporting software. But thanks to shared commerce POS systems, businesses can save plenty of time by automating the process.

One example is e-commerce solution Shopify's POS system, which aims to "bridge the gap" between online and offline transactions. Instead of managing two sets of inventories and payment systems, Shopify POS synchronizes and streamlines financial and product information in a centralized dashboard. This way, businesses have quick and easy access to real-time data and customer insights across two sales channels — without the hassle of running reports on multiple systems.

Mobile payments adoption may be sluggish, but merchants everywhere are making the leap while customers shift their payment habits. New research by IHL Group, a global retail research and advisory firm, revealed that mobile POS will grow 95 percent in 2014. Department, apparel and shoe stores will see particularly clear growth, with the number of mobile POS devices expected to nearly triple this year in those sectors, the research revealed.

Reasons for this growth include convenience and flexibility; retailers can accept credit card payments from anywhere with an Internet connection, while customers have more autonomy over how they want to pay. Another reason is ease of implementation; depending on the system, businesses don't need any heavy equipment overhauls or complicated staff training to start accepting mobile payments. Mobile credit card processing services (Square, PayPal Here, Flagship ROAMpay) simply require a credit card reader attached to a smartphone or tablet with the necessary mobile app, while mobile wallet providers (Google Wallet, Isis Wallet) and loyalty mobile apps (Starbucks, Yogurtland) allow customers to pay directly from their smartphones or by using a POS scanner to read barcodes or QR codes on their screens.

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New POS systems integrate real-time transactions with CRM solutions, to help businesses increase sales and boost revenue. Whereas previous POS systems could only provide basic data regarding customer behavior, if they provided anything, POS/CRM integration makes it possible to see how customers at the point of sale are making the biggest impact on sales and whose loyalty is worth pursuing.

Sellsy, an online CRM and invoicing software, is one such solution. For instance, its POS integration lets businesses create client records, CRM tasks and email marketing lists straight from their POS tills.

Another example is Revel Systems, an iPad POS solution with CRM-enabled capabilities. These features enable businesses to collect all types of customer data from POS transactions, such as names, billing and shipping addresses, emails, loyalty program membership details, order histories, and more. The software then helps businesses organize this information, and synchronize and distribute it to different departments — sales, marketing, customer service, and technical support — to improve customer experience and acquisition.

Big Data isn't just for big, fancy companies with extensive intelligence budgets. Small businesses now have affordable access to powerful data right at their fingertips — from their POS systems. One of the biggest trends to hit POS is the ability to extract valuable information from POS transactions to help business owners make smarter business decisions.

For instance, ShopKeep, a POS software tool for small businesses, offers robust data-gathering and -reporting features that give business owners at-a-glance and complete overviews of how their businesses are doing. Detailed reports include inventory and volume analysis, top-selling items, revenue and profit margin optimization, and staffing needs.

POS data intelligence technology now also goes beyond retailers. This year's National Restaurant Association (NRA) tradeshow revealed that restaurateurs everywhere are looking to improve their businesses using data-based POS systems. This can upgrade everything from back-office operations like inventory and sales management to front-office systems that handle reservations and waitlists. This shift is also evident in the new POS systems offered by vendors at the tradeshow, such as the MICROS mTablet, NEC Corp. Stanchion Solutions and Dinerware POS, all of which feature real-time capabilities that target data-driven decision-making for restaurant owners.

Much like any other type of Internet-connected device, POS systems increasingly need more security as the technology advances. The Internet of Things (IoT) — the interconnectivity and communication of devices, networks and physical objects over the Internet (think talking refrigerators and smarthomes) — makes it possible to connect POS systems to front- and backend processes like CRM, accounting and inventory management. As such, POS systems are more vulnerable than ever to hacks and data breaches. The infamous Target saga is the most notorious POS security breach to date. If hackers can infiltrate the POS system of one of the world's largest retailers, small businesses are doubtlessly even more vulnerable.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security's United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) released an alert stating that cybercriminals have been attacking POS systems to collect consumer and credit card data by distributing malware through Internet-connected devices. To combat these attacks, the US-CERT recommends protecting POS systems by using strong passwords, ensuring businesses have the latest POS software updates, installing a firewall, using antivirus programs, restricting unauthorized Internet access (for instance, for purposes other than POS transactions) and disabling remote access to POS systems. Furthermore, your POS system provider should also have the proper security and compliance in place as part of your service level agreement.

Originally published on Business News Daily.