The mPOS Fallacy
Written on 13 Jul 2016
Retail is an old concept; provide goods or services in exchange for other goods or services. In modern times the exchange is typically for money - items are for sale.
As customer expectations have accelerated - perhaps skyrocketed - in the last few years, it’s become clear that retail innovation and theatre in physical (e.g. brick(s) and mortar) shops has lagged. Sympathetically so, though. For any sizeable business (or even a small one), keeping up with the retail experiences that mobile + technology COULD enable is an impossible feat; a line has to be drawn somewhere, but conversely retailers should be making some efforts to move the retail needle forward.
Yes there have been improvements in the way we pay (contactless, Apploid Pay), and the design and functionality of the technology we find in shops, but ultimately the concept of “Point of Sale” is a blocker to any future innovation in the world of retail, especially so in the world of quick service + food and drink.
As cash registers have evolved to POS and POS evolved to EPOS, so we see a lot of buzz around mPOS - mobile point of sale.
Frequently preached (by vendors) as the next big thing in physical retail spaces, they allow freedom-of-movement to serve tables, queue bust and potentially play with the retail space and introduce new concepts.
Unfortunately this concept seems to be, at the core, just a more accessible EPOS with - potentially - an integrated card reader.
I have no doubt that we’ll see a good adoption of these concepts, but even the somewhat-disruptive iPad/tablet based POS startups (ShopKeep, Revel) will frequently be found on a docking arm where it can reliably (a) control the cash drawer, (b) print receipts and (c) not run out of power. It’s hard to see how the retail-tech incumbents will avoid this same fate with their mPOS solutions.
mPOS + Coffee Shops
Arguably the world of quick service restaurants (and by extension coffee shops, for which I can write with experience) are one of the best formats to see mPOS succeed.
Unfortunately there are still some hard realities that prevent this happening. Cash still accounts for a major chunk of sales (in the UK) - people don’t want to walk around with cash belts, nor return to a cash-drawer every second transaction. Retailers are concerned with loss prevention. Retailers will also struggle to allocate labour to a roaming mPOS function; when do you serve tables, is there a backup POS somewhere?
Customers still expect to queue; or at least coagulate at a point of sale then drift to a service point.
If mPOS is only going to ENABLE the option of a flexible point of sale, and still require a physical queue point for busy times, they will likely sit in the office collecting dust.
The dawn of noPOS
We are now in a world where you can order and pay for coffee through a consumer App, as well as paying at a restaurant table without needing someone to come over and split your bill 5 ways.
In the high volume, high frequency and relatively low spend world of coffee shops, the next revolution is going to be noPOS where you walk in having ordered already, sit down at a table and order - or at the very least not have to stand in a queue to get your drink.
It will still require big commitments from retailers to drop cash as a payment method, but the idea of removing a normal quick service transaction flow has huge potential:
Centralisation of technology monitoring/support/assurance, team members spending their time engaging customers in meaningful ways to drive better experiences, reduction in cash and card fraud, labour efficiencies as cash handling becomes redundant and ultimately a faster, smoother, more predictable and above all BETTER experience for customers.
N.B. This is obviously a highly opinionated write up and lacks significant references. Opinion is driven through retail technology experience!