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    Has Your Cash Register Joined the 21st Century Yet?

    By Adrienne Burke | Yahoo Small Business

    image: NCR

    Remember the mechanical cash register? In the machine’s heyday NCR, the National Cash Register Company, controlled more than 90 percent of the market. In its 130-year history, NCR has seen the birth of the electric-motor-powered cash register, perfected the liquid crystal display, and commercialized the first bar-code scanners. As retailers moved from registers to PCs to “point of sale”—or POS—systems, NCR evolved and grew to provide ever bigger customers—grocery chains and big-box stores—with data-warehousing databases and store-automation and management software.

    Today, the Atlanta company is valued at nearly $5.4 billion and it reported revenues of more than $6 billion in 2013. But it wants to get back to its roots serving small merchants and retailers. And it finds itself competing with relative newcomers like ShopKeep, Square, and Groupon’s Gnome to enable small retailers and service providers to ring up sales with iPads, iPhones, or other mobile devices.

    Justin Hotard, VP and general manager of NCR’s small business division, which offers the NCR Silver cloud-based mobile-POS platform, says the demand has grown as mobile technology has become more ubiquitous. “We are at a point now where customers have more computing power in their pockets than the merchant does on the counter,” Hotard says. “Customers want the option of an e-mail receipt and they expect merchants to know what they have in their inventory."

    For merchants, however, the transition to taking payments with a mobile-POS system involves a learning curve. “You might know how to cut hair, but the cloud, iPads, and POS systems are scary,” Hotard says. In addition, small merchants often get stuck playing IT guy, managing their Facebook and Twitter accounts, and creating loyalty programs. A mobile-POS system like NCR Silver, he says, “can be the engine that runs those tools to lets business owners focus on the things they’re most passionate about, like making sure they’ve got great products in stock.”

    To be sure, the systems enable merchants to do far more than process a credit card at an iPad. They’re set up to help attract business, change prices across stores, connect with customers, run promotions, host loyalty programs, analyze sales, track employees’ time, and keep it all organized on the cloud. “It’s about the business owner having all their data in one place that they can access from anywhere,” Hotard says.

    NCR Silver is designed for what Hotard calls the “cigar box, cash register, and PC merchants.” Millions of businesses are still using those methods to take payments, he says, but predicts: “You’ll see a tremendous shift over the next 5 years. We are definitely at the beginning of a mass adoption.”

    While there’s overlap among the various mobile-POS providers, Hotard argues that NCR Silver differentiates itself with a multi-store feature that allows merchants with several storefronts to manage them all from one place, including setting pricing and authorizing who can process a return, void a register, or close a shift.

    Another benefit is that customer data across stores is available in one place. “For instance,” Hotard says, “if you own three coffee shops, customers in your loyalty program can get credit for stopping at any one of them, and you can see customer spending habits. You can see that this guy buys coffee in the morning at one store, and a sandwich at your other store at lunchtime, but never comes in for dinner. You might email him a dinner coupon to change his behavior.”

    A merchant can also rely on the system to see how many customers have redeemed an email coupon and how it impacted sales. Beyond that, NCR Silver has partnered with other software-as-a-service providers to give customers access to Quickbooks integration, advanced reporting and analytics, and loyalty programs that can be integrated into Apple’s Passbook app.

    Another obvious benefit of using a mobile-POS system is that you’re not limited to selling from behind a counter. “Where is it most convenient to have your register? Is it in your hand?” Hotard asks. He says a farmer using mobile-POS can take her device to a farmer’s market and walk out front to sell to folks who are buying at peak times. A retailer running a sidewalk sale can have a sales person out front processing transactions while keeping track of inventory in the store and on the sidewalk. Or a food truck operator can have a view of all his sales across a couple of trucks around town.

    Hotard’s advice to any small business that hasn’t moved to mobile POS is this:

    • Start learning now. Sign up for a free trial and get started to see how easy it is.
    • When various mobile-POS vendors come knocking, focus on the services they offer that can manage and grow your business.
    • Ask about support. Make sure you will get the help you need and have someone to call.
    • Make sure the data collected through the system about your business and your customers belongs to you, not the POS provider.

    “Our customers who have done that have seen immediate benefits from moving over to mobile POS,” Hotard says. The cash register has come a long way.

    Yahoo Small Business Services