Technology
Looking Ahead ­ A New POS Revolution

by James Stroud

   There is no mistaking it - ISO's, POS software and hardware vendors, processors and VARS are the Œmovers and shakers' in the transaction business. In fine dining, quick service large retail and convenience store - all are trying to bring new products and services to their customers, the small business merchants of America.
   More and more, it's about service - enabling fast electronic credit, debit and gift card transactions make the buying process easy for Œthe masses' and help the merchants service their customers better and faster. Those ubiquitous credit card machines, POS terminals, they are the engines that make our cashless economy hum.
   ISOs, processors and VARs will continue to drive innovation and bring new products and services into the retail markets of the future. Those brave POS technology and service companies, those innovators who brought revolution of electronic credit processing to Main Street USA, will continue to thrive as a whole new array of value-added products and services emerge in the near future.
   This year has brought a tremendous paradigm shift in the American people's thinking. Looking back at a year that saw biometrics and smart cards go from a pipe dream to an eventuality, one can only guess where things will go from here. September 11th threw all the assumptions previously held true up for grabs. But one can still ask, what kinds of services and products will ISOs be marketing to the businesses of the future? Where should one look for opportunities in the next several years?
   Let's face it; we are in a Brave New World not contemplated before September 11th. The demand for biometrics-enabled positive identification POS devices and associated retail site security services will surely grow. As these new services and products work their way into the US economy, ISOs might just find ample new business opportunities by reselling not only the products and services, but also the networks that will be needed to connect them in real-time.

  • Biometrics enabled POS terminals can provide new sales opportunities to current and prospective customers.
  • Real-time video surveillance and security alarm monitoring in retail and restaurant locations could see more investment. As the cost of these devices and software systems comes down, and as the perceived threat levels appear to increase, there should be a large deployments of such systems.
  • Security camera and monitoring system sales should increase and be a potential area of market growth.
  • Emerging identity verification systems like smart card readers, retina scanners and face recognition systems should hit the market in the next few years. Some should emerge as effective anti-fraud tools, so look toward which devices the new Œregs' are trending.
  • In-store wireless LAN sensors and receivers that track store inventory and pick up radio signals from portable POS and LAN enabled personal devices like Palms, or pocket PCs could appear.
  • Self-service kiosks and e-transaction booths, might grow wherever they can reduce labor costs, increase customer throughput or offer compelling demographically tuned serices. These kiosks may serve multiple functions like ordering in-store deli sandwiches, ATM cash dispensing, check cashing, money order issuance, or Web surfing.

   New value-added, network-enabled services could hit the market someday soon as well.

  • Smart Devices and Equipment ­ Look for new WAN enabled devices that monitor themselves and automatically dispatch a service tech for repair, or send out an alert to let the manager know when internal consumables, like paper, are running low.
  • Remote monitoring of all sorts of smart devices should pick up as Œalways-on' networks proliferate.
  • Software and ASP software business services should emerge that can automatically monitor, service and control all aspects of building utilities, security, lighting and electronics.
  • Remote equipment monitoring, for coolers, freezers and fuel storage tanks is already flourishing in the c-store market, as a way to keep supervisors informed and mitigate product losses automatically.
  • Alarm Notification - Network broadcasts, can alert a supervisor that the ice cream freezer is broken in store #37, or that the back door is open at store #52, or that the cola syrup is empty in the fountain soda machine at store #14.

   Not all networks are created equal. The Internet is one of the greatest things to happen to mankind. It has and will continue to change the world. It is not, however, the panacea solution for mission critical data communications that we all once thought it was. That thinking was shattered by a double whammy - The DOT-Bomb implosion and Sept 11th.
   There will surely be a trend toward more secure networks, separate from the Internet for business-critical and sensitive-strategic data communications.

  • The Internet is great for many things, like ASP based business accounting services. ISOs and VARS of today - and the future - can resell bundled Internet access like DSL, VSAT and Cable Internet to merchants who will need it more as the future unfolds.
  • Managed network services should emerge as a hot selling opportunity. Secure business networks and VPNs that are tuned for the specific applications and their criticality will add a layer of robustness and value to end user merchants. 'Turn Key" networks can offer merchants secure, high reliability, redundant networks for POS credit transactions, automated facilities management and enterprise applications that enable efficient B-to-B and e-commerce. These will fast become the essential services that ensure the retailer can remain competitive and conduct the most efficient and productive business possible. ISOs who get on the cutting edge with emerging value-added network and new transactional services, can revisit their current customer base with a whole new line of business services and innovations.
  • In the not so distant future, one thing is certain - there will be many more types of 'transactions' where ISOs can play a defining role. Like the selling of new POS devices that allow the insertion of a finger into a biometrics fingerprint reader, or the software package that provides remote viewing of a cashier workstation from corporate headquarters.

   Hang onto your hats people; the sky is the limit in the future world of transactions!

The Next Big Thing

   Tech Mart Revisited (portions adapted from C-Store News article published circa 1995)

   Let's imagine for a minute it is the year 2008. It's not that much of a stretch, it is just 6 short years away, and rapidly developing technologies and services will enable us to take a quantum leap from where we are now, and how we conduct POS and other transactions in the future.
   Are you the kind of new world American who insists on a great deal? Do you want to taste the brand new 'Future-Shock'* Soda Pop you see displayed on the Video Billboard you are driving past? Well, hang a left at the next light and stop at Tech Mart for a great deal. You've programmed your in-car WAN enabled PC to know you like Future Shock Soda, your in-car screen begins to blink and displays a 'Want Future Shock Now?' icon. You say 'yes please'Š After all, your '08 car PC system knows you, it has learned your habits and likes and dislikes via powerful AI (artificial intelligence) personalization systems embedded within the car electronics. Your car 'bets' you are thirsty, it automatically locates the nearest place for cheap soda, and then your car system speaks to you --- "Ahem, Mr. Centurion, in case you are thirsty, Future Shock Soda Pop is on sale at the Tech Mart, three blocks on the right hand side of the roadŠ Oh and you could use some propane too Sir, for me, your carŠ and, Sir, your fridge is reporting that you are out of milkŠ highly tuned, personalized advertisements that optionally follow you wherever you go, informing you of anything within a given proximity to your location, that may interest you or that you may needŠ of course you have full control of what ads you see and which to filter ­ the car, well it just does that nowadays.

   Now, picture yourself zipping up to the local Tech Mart, a futuristic marvel of retail convenience. You silently swoosh up to the fueling station in your shiny lightweight propane powered coupe. You stop next to orb-like fuel dispensers to get your car's propane tank filled. As you stop, your in-dash color flat panel PC screen springs to life again, echoing the screen you see in the pump beside you. A cyber-cashier appears in a window on your screen, smiles and welcomes you with a friendly "Hello Mr. Centurion, how are you today?" Various fueling options pop up on your in car display: Auto Fill, or Manual fill? Regular or Super Propane? You tell your car "Auto Fill with Super, please." The 'smart' fuel dispenser robotically couples with your standardized fueling port and begins to fill 'er up.
   All the while, your on board PC is communicating wirelessly with the store and with your fridge and pantry at home to make sure you do not forget to pick up anything you need. Your in-car PC methodically ticks through each of Tech Mart's current in-store specials with short, action packed video spotsŠ. Your car system reminds to buy the 'Future-Shock" soda that you stopped for in the first place, and tells you "don't forget, you need some milk!" as you step out of your car.
   As you walk in, the Tech Mart door opens for you and says "Future Shock soda is in cooler door #3 Sir, to your left at the rear of the storeŠ" As you glance down the futuristic aisle, you see modular gondolas, complete with mini 3D, talking color touch screen panels, embedded seamlessly in the shelves. You walk by sensors, and talking screens that extol the virtues of nearby products and create mini holograms of advertised products are suspended in mid-air before you. Other talking screens muse at you, taunting you to order roses online with free delivery as you walk past a virtual flower display device. You say "yes, give me a dozen roses for my mother in Colorado". The virtual florist knowingly says, "Yes Sir, Mr. Centurion, one dozen roses to Mom in Denver".

Not So Shocking

   The highly coordinated and integrated technology behind these glitzy feature-rich customer service systems will make it easier than ever for the customer to access a whole range of information and services from almost anywhere in the store or from your car for that matter. Inside the Tech Mart of the twenty first century, there is a whole new range of co-branding schemes, and self service ordering systems for buying products that are on site, and for services and products that are delivered elsewhere. In these little PC kiosk islands, a whole array of popular services and goods can be bought and sold. There are cooperative consortiums of service providers who can add their services in a modular fashion to the shared booths. These PC stations have super-fast, seamless ways for the customer to make payment including biometric finger print readers, retina scanners, or facial recognition systems.
   Everything is connected in the store of 2008: The POS systems, the service kiosks, the pumps, the ATM machines, the coolers and freezers, the traffic flow sensors, security systems and real-time inventory systems. As you carry your Future Shock soda pop and milk up to the counter at Tech Mart, the POS does an auto-tally, and adds your Super Propane, the roses and your milk all onto the ticket. The real cashier asks you, "Mr. Centurion, can you please touch the finger print reader?" When you touch the newfangled print reader, a customer display lists all your credit accounts that are on file. You touch one and instantly you are on your way, account billed without ever displaying an old plastic credit card. In fact, you don't even carry physical credit cards anymore; all your accounts are remotely accessible, through any number of biometric-reading devices. Out the door you go! As you grab the door handle, your car unlocks automatically, and off you go, heading for your high tech home - Future Shock soda and milk in hand, and roses en route to dear old Mom.

George Orwell Scenario

   In six years America's grocery stores, large retail marts, convenience stores and restaurants very likely will have numerous data gathering technologies in place. There may be countless hidden, miniaturized security and market research cameras, floor and door sensors, hidden microphones, and other monitoring devices - silent sentinels - etching out your every move with uncanny accuracy, deciphering purchase and movement patterns you've never even thought of yourself. Along the way in-store sensors and systems log your particular course through the store, and place that behavior pattern into the store's huge customer and marketing databases. So next time you come into that store, the system will be ready to tailor marketing messages just for you.
   Items you buy might contain microscopic radio frequency transmitters embedded in the UPC labels. Item level RF UPC 'tags' will be great for storeowners who will have real-time item level inventory control, with the wave of a UPC RF receiver. Micro transmitter technology someday will enable mundane items to become unique, with an unit level ID and a lifecycle record. Every step that your tube of Presto toothpaste makes, from the time it was assembled, shipped, stocked, rotated, sold, and then discarded. Every move can be tracked, logged, and compiled for a multitude of purposes. With enough transaction devices and sensors installed out there, who knows, someday, you may get a 'micro charge' on your designated debit account for the disposal fee from the local land fill where your old tube of toothpaste winds up!
   And we all thought George Orwell's concept of 'Big Brother' was just a scary novel of the 20th century. The future might be a world where there is a need for Anti Virus-like "Personal Market Agent" software systems that let the consumer take advantage of the 'legitimate and useful' array of services to be had in the marketplace of the future, while blocking and filtering out the intrusive and opportunistic misuses of privacy invading devices and personal data profiteering. People will want strong counter measures to such intrusions by technology. A user friendly mechanism to do so could be so compelling it could give birth to an entire new industry offering marketing message management and business-level privacy protection. Services like these, enabled by various levels of network connectivity, would sell like hot cakes. Those that stay on the cusp of retail transaction innovation in a new American security awareness, will likely find fertile pastures of new business opportunity.