Machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies enable device-to-device communications without the need for a PC to be in the middle. The retail industry is reaping the potential in M2M and tablets by replacing traditional cash registers with more economical (and mobile) tablets. Such moves are helping customer service by getting staff out from behind a stationary cash register and back on the sales floor. In the back office, M2M and tablets are changing the way that the retail industry conducts inventory and other back office activities to ensure retailers are keeping a competitive edge.
Tablets and M2M at the Point of Sale
If you've ever worked in retail, you most likely have plenty of memories of the cash register. Even with the advent of mainframes and PCs, cash registers -- or Point of Sale (POS) terminals -- remain largely unchanged. M2M and tablets are becoming a more economical and feature-rich substitute for legacy POS terminals.
However, using the Revel Systems Point of Sale (POS) system as an example, it's easy to see how an M2M and tablet-based POS solution outclasses a traditional cash register POS setup. Here's a break down of its features:
- Intuitive user interface with a short learning curve because of the iPad, and with the high churn in retail cashiers, shortening training time is a big cost savings to retailers
- Customer-facing kiosk mode for self-checkout lanes
- Integration with Dwolla payment platform that has lower transaction charges than some of the other credit card transaction processors, including no services or cancellation fees for the retailer (Dwolla charges no fees for transactions under $10.00 and $0.25 for transactions over $10.00)
- Support for the LevelUp payment platform is through a supported plug-in, and it's very small business friendly because it bypasses larger credit card processors
- Wireless connection through the Revel Systems Revel Router that connects to retail industry hardware standards, such as cash drawers, PIN debit transaction attachments, and back office peripherals (like printers and scanners)
- Coupon support to scan manufacturer coupons or printable online coupons
- Back-end management tools, such as real-time reporting for inventory control and employee scheduling
This is a feature set that, at one time, required much more expensive hardware and connectivity than what M2M and tablets now bring to the retail floor.
- Free Secure Card Reader that plugs into your device's audio jack with a PCI-DSS Level 1 compliancy and full encryption from the moment you swipe the card
- Free Square Register apps (for both Android and iOS) that link with your bank account
Verizon Enterprise Solutions is also becoming a player in retail with a POS and inventory management solution that relies on enterprise-class Android tablets with no preloaded applications. Verizon is aiming their tablet solution at store operations, inventory monitoring, and product demonstrations on the floor to customers.
These three examples are representative of how tablets and M2M are coming together as a retail solution. They show similar but divergent paths to tablets and M2M in the retail industry. The Revel Solution should hold more appeal to its niche market, Square Register with smaller operations (even side businesses), and the Verizon approach is more geared to larger retail operations.
Outside of POS, in the future, you might see M2M and tablets providing these services on the retail floor:
- Interactive assistance to customers, such as product spec sheets and other collateral
- Full interactive product demonstrations that take advantage of the tablet's touch screen and online content
- Customer access to larger product selections by showing what's available in other stores and through special order
Tablets and M2M in retail inventory management
Retail is an inventory intensive industry because of business and economic reasons. In fact, there are retail workers that spend their entire career just focused on inventory. M2M and tablets as a POS terminal play a growing role in inventory control. When I worked in retail during high school and college, conducting inventory meant a lot of paper, clipboards, and data entry, which made the process rife with human error.
As previously noted, the Revel Systems and Verizon's POS solutions have an inventory management component as part of their features. Such features can tie into cloud-based and lower-cost PC servers. However, the Square Up Register has no link to inventory management at the time of this writing.
Some benefits of M2M and tablets in retail include:
- Being able to check inventory from the sales floor when a customer wants an item that's out of stock
- Improved productivity at inventory time due to reduced training and eliminating the necessity to enter data twice
- Access to real-time data from back-end inventory databases
- Online ordering from corporate warehouses or even the store's suppliers themselves
Why M2M and tablets are closing the deal
M2M and tablet technologies bring a more economical platform to retailers and improve customer service with back-end options that can save on credit card processing fees. Just as important, these technologies are lowering the barrier of entry for smaller and even side businesses, which helps to make some businesses a reality that may have been strung up on infrastructure costs in the past.
Does your organization use tablets for POS? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.
For a comprehensive look at the issues and technologies surrounding the Internet of Things and the emerging M2M ecosystem, check out ZDNet's latest feature page, Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things.
Will Kelly is a freelance technical writer and analyst currently focusing on enterprise mobility, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), and the consumerization of IT. He has also written about cloud computing, Big Data, virtualization, project management applications, Google Apps, Microsoft technologies, and online collaboration for TechRepublic and other sites. Will also works as a contract technical writer for clients in the Washington, DC area and nationwide. Follow Will on Twitter: @willkelly.