What Happens to POS in a World Without Checkouts?

25 July 2022

According to some analysts, the next big trend in POS is the end of POS. Or at least POS in the sense that we know it.

As we increasingly move towards digitised, cashless transactions even for in-person purchases (i.e. in a store, in a bar, in a restaurant), the need to have a physical ‘point of sale’ is slowly but surely disappearing into the digital ether.

The concept of cashierless, checkout-less stores is already being put to the test in the real world. Amazon is leading the way, with its ‘just walk out’ tech now deployed in 25 Amazon Go stores across the US, plus another 17 Fresh stores in the UK.

Amazon Go in effect moves the point of sale to an app on the shopper’s phone. When they enter the store, they present their cell to a scanner to ‘tap in’ and activate what is effectively a purchase ledger. When they pick up an item from the shelves, scanners identify what has gone into the basket and alert their app. The app totals up the items as the user shops and takes payment from their account when finished.

The customer, meanwhile, gets to just walk out of the store. No checkout, no payment or purchase process, no queues.

From sales to service

At present, this cashier-free vision of retail is mainly being trialled in grocery. It’s difficult to imagine how it could be applied to the hospitality industry, given the need to have human beings present to actually serve up meals, drinks etc (although don’t discount the possibility of robot technology changing that at some point in the future).

But checkout-less retail doesn’t just remove the need for people at point of sale. It does away with all the technological trappings we associate with POS, like touchscreen terminals and card readers and cash drawers. Ok, so a just-walk-out store needs a bunch of other technology, like on-shelf scanners and somewhere for customers to tap in and out with their apps.

But can we really still call this POS? Are we heading down a road to a place where, sometime in the future, even recent innovations in POS like mobile tablets and kiosks are obsolete?

Don’t be counting on seeing any of that disappear just yet. One of the reasons the just-walk-out concept has been focused on grocery so far is that it’s a pretty ‘low maintenance’ retail sector. Shoppers don’t often need to ask staff for assistance, apart from maybe to check where they can find something. And that’s pretty easy to automate with digital signage.

But in other retail sectors – apparel and footwear, tech, home furnishings, health and beauty – consumers are much more likely to look for assistance as they shop. The people we once labelled ‘sales clerks’ have always done a lot more than simply ring through sales in these sectors. But now the need for personnel to manually process purchases is weakening, retailers can focus much more clearly on the value their people bring providing service to customers. We’re finally seeing their role evolve from sales clerks to service clerks.

We can say the same about POS – that much of the technology is evolving to be about delivering a point of service, rather than a point of sale. Whether it’s clerks using mobile POS tablets to look up product information for a customer, or shoppers doing it themselves at information kiosks, as long as demand for service survives, these technologies will continue to have a purpose.