Written by Dave Howell
PoS technology that has been evolving over the last decade has often ignored the fundamental need to print essential items such as receipts, price labels and other paper-based materials, as the focus has all too often been on developing closer PoS integration with e-commerce-enabled websites.
What’s more it is now clearly understood that those retailers who can enhance the customer experience in their stores will reap the commercial benefits. Research conducted by myvouchercodes.co.uk revealed that the average Brit now spends over a month of their lives standing in queues of various kinds. The research focused on supermarket shopping, but it’s clear that any reduction in these periods of time would be welcome.
More insightful and ultimately a driver for all retailers is the conclusions from research carried out by Barclays, concluding that nearly three quarters of shoppers have abandoned a queue because it was taking too long to get served. Impatient shoppers are hungry for change, with food or drink outlets found to have the most frustrating queues. In contrast, supermarkets are seen to be the best at managing queues. Half of shoppers refuse to even enter a store if they spy one and the research shows that some retailers are taking extreme measures to cope with our impatience with a third of shops shifting till positions to hide long lines of disgruntled shoppers.
Stuart Neal, head of UK payment acceptance at Barclaycard, comments: “While retailers appear to be aware that even their most loyal customers are not prepared to wait in line anymore, hiding the evidence of queues is not the way to fix the problem. Consumers have increasingly busy lives and retailers must be prepared to fit in with them by offering innovative solutions to speed up transactions. By embracing technology and installing new payments systems, such as contactless, retailers will stay ahead of the curve and limit the amount of time that people are waiting in shop queues.”
The study shows that the lower the value of the item the more likely a shopper is to abandon a purchase if a queue is perceived to be too long. The number of people willing to wait no more than a minute triples for lesser amounts, while the number willing to wait around 10 minutes falls dramatically for lower value purchases.
The arrival of the smartphone and now the tablet computer is revolutionising how retailers can support their staff with the printing they need to carry out; but also how this is having a direct knock on effect with turnover. It has been possible for sometime for anyone to create his or her own bespoke smartphone apps using the readily available SDKs (Software Development Kits), but the learning curve involved can be steep.
A good example is the ZebraLink Multiplatform Software Development Kit, the first toolkit allowing developers to easily create iPhone, iPad and iPod touch apps that can print labels and receipts as well as encode radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags directly to a Zebra Technologies mobile, desktop, tabletop or kiosk printer.
The market for mobile printing technology in the retail sector has rapidly moved away from simple receipt printing to more sophisticated platforms that can be customised to a retailer’s precise needs. On the back of the phenomenal success of the iPhone and iPod touch, LightSpeed Mobile has developed a complete suite of applications that enables retailers to get out from behind their PoS and interact with customers to close more sales.
The LightSpeed Mobile system is completely Mac-based and not only allows personalised retailing to take place. The system encourages up and cross selling, as stock can be easily checked by a member of staff from their iPhone for instance that runs the LightSpeed Mobile App. Now that the application has matured, Xsilva Systems (developers of the LightSpeed toolset) have added printing to their platform. “Any Star printer available to the LightSpeed Server can now print receipts wirelessly from LightSpeed Mobile devices. It’s just that easy,” says Xsilva CEO, Dax Dasilva.
A retail business needs to implement its printing services as seamlessly as possible. Investing in the right printing equipment can alleviate pricing markdown time or special offer set up that can place a heavy drain on the efficiency of staff members. A good example is the SATO TH2 printer that allows a wide variety of print jobs to be accomplished.
SATO International Europe’s managing director, Brian Lang, says: “For those working in the ultra-competitive retail sector the TH2 represents a real problem solving solution and can save retailers time and money with its pre-programmed functionality. Not only is the price very attractive but the ease of use and ability to begin creating label formats straight away can give retailers a real flexibility of response while maintaining total control of their pricing.”
In addition, Rowan Fuller, UK business development manager, Zebra Technologies Europe, comments: “Retailers will be investing heavily in kiosk-based “points of interaction” including printers to enable them to take a much more effective multi-channel approach and improve customer experience levels. There have been many advances here and Zebra’s Kiosk Print Station - a simple wall mounted unit - enables retailers to add interaction points without taking up valuable floor space.”
Retailers are also demanding that the printing technology they use in their stores supports their green credentials. Says Ray Cranston, sales manager, business systems at Epson UK: “At Epson we have seen a huge increase in the number of retail customers who are asking us for environmentally friendly printing technology. Until relatively recently, many companies saw green technology as an added expense; however retailers now recognise that going green can reduce operational costs and as such are increasingly adopting greener printer platforms in-store which can help reduce environmental impact.”
So what does the future look like for mobile printing? “Smaller, faster, lighter and smarter,” says Zebra Technology’s Fuller. “Like all technology, mobile printers will develop as new materials and components become available. A smarter mobile printer is one that can be remotely managed using the wireless network, checked for problems and updated with the latest firmware. This provides much higher levels of management control for the retailer and will enable them to take a proactive approach to managing all of their mobile devices. Even the batteries are becoming smarter, allowing the retailer to see how many times a battery has been charged to ensure that they maximise the life of the mobile device and don’t have low battery issues during working shifts.”
Mobile printing technology is also allowing more integration across the entire store when print collateral is needed.
Expect to see tablet-based computers to increasingly be used to further enhance the services that retailers can offer across their stores. Order and receipt printing is now commonplace, but even these components of the purchasing journey will become digital as consumers use their smartphones to wirelessly capture receipt information that will most likely be in the form of a QR code - this can be used to instantly make payment that itself is likely to be also handled via consumers’ smartphones with NFC arriving soon.
The technology is now available for any retailer to enhance their PoS services with more advanced printing. Members of staff are now unteathered and able to roam freely, as they have the ability to take orders on the fly and print specialised barcodes to pre-process customers who can then quickly checkout at the till.