So much is changing in retail and payments these days — the seemingly unstoppable rise of mobile, for instance, or the transformation of cars and trucks into traveling commerce enablers, among many other developments — that it can be easy to overlook what’s going on with that old merchant homestead: the countertop.
It’s where merchant and customer once interacted the most — and still do, depending on the store — and where money changed hands in the presence of a cash register. But as PYMNTS readers know, new technologies and ideals from the point-of-sale world are transforming the function and idea of the retail countertop. That subject served as the foundation of a recent PYMNTS interview with Bill Nichols, general manager Americas for AEVI, a FinTech player that says it brings acquirers closer to their merchants.
AEVI worked with PYMNTS on its recently released Retail Innovation Readiness Index, a deep dive into what drives retailers to invest in or forgo certain innovations, whose findings are based on more than 400 retailers across nine different sectors in order to gauge innovation readiness.
Sweet Spots for POS
Among the main findings, one that speaks to the changes going on with point-of-sale technology? According to the Index, most businesses — specifically, 56.4 percent — are willing to switch payments service providers if offered a better deal. As well, the Index — which goes into detail about how merchants are moving past the traditional concept of POS, toward value-added services and other cutting-edge features — found that 55.6 percent of businesses innovate to meet demand to use new payment methods, with 43.6 percent innovating to improve business analytics.
Those are two of the sweet spots in the emerging point-of-sale ecosystem, one that puts more focus on integration, seamless deployments and certifications, loyalty programs and other features that are important to modern, increasingly sophisticated consumers who have the choice to shop online or offline — or to combine those two activities before arriving at the final transaction.
“What’s important in this day and age is that the technology is changing extremely rapidly,” Nichols told PYMNTS.
For payments and POS, that means more choices for merchants to deploy systems untethered to countertops or checkout lanes — tablets, for instance, or other devices that can complete transactions, set up delivery and perform other tasks wherever the consumer is in the store. And that also means better odds of lucrative integration via the POS and related tech — the collection and analysis of business data that can paint more detailed pictures of consumer behavior and preferences, and in a way that does not require merchants to move, inefficiently, from one platform to another.
The development of the technology — the POS and the associated apps and platforms — also offers a new sense of freedom for merchants, according to Nichols. The opportunity for a company such as AEVI is to free the merchant from being locked into a single relationship with one POS hardware and software provider, a relationship that boils down to the merchant having to work within that single infrastructure for any change, revision or upgrade.
The new ideal?
“You don’t have to go through recertification to (for example) bolt loyalty onto a major provider’s existing application,” Nichols said. “You can just bolt it on through a seamless back-end platform that does it for you. It becomes a lot easier to certify, and to bring new functionalities to the countertop.”
Seamless transactions, and the associated services that go along with them, stand as a major way to gain sales and increase customer loyalty. And they can be especially important for smaller businesses, which the Retail Innovation Readiness Index defines as having less than $250,000 in annual sales. When it comes to those firms, 80 percent of them said innovation was key to generating sales.
“That said, companies earning less in revenue per year reported having fewer resources to facilitate innovation,” the Index noted. “Forty-eight percent of those generating between $500,000 and $1 million per year cited managerial support and financial resources, and just over 15 percent cited their flexible technological structure — that is, a technological infrastructure that makes it easy to adopt new technologies or innovative features.”
Even so, innovation in the larger POS space promises to gain even more steam with the new year. Nichols said 2019 will bring or deepen trends like integrated POS systems, as more merchants come to the realization that they want to get more from their retail technology. “They are realizing they have sales transactions for payments in a different place than where they have their actual sales information,” he said. “The integration of data is really important,” and can lead to better performance for merchant loyalty and gift card programs, deeper ties with payroll and accounting platforms, and other benefits, he said.
That’s where the retail world is headed, Nichols believes — integration, and a new view of the merchant countertop. Some of these trends are on display in the ongoing 2018 holiday shopping season, with the coming months sure to bring new developments about this important area of retail innovation.