It’s hard to identify trends as they’re picking up steam. I don’t mean topics that might be trending on Twitter. I mean more like cultural trends, the kind that sneak up on you and before you know it, you’re using “trend” as a verb. A thing only becomes a trend when it becomes apparent that it has begun an inevitable progression towards becoming a norm.
Technology trends are no different, but instead of calling them “norms” we call them “standards.” There was a point where MP3 and WMA (Windows Media audio) were equals in terms of how many people used them for audio compression, and it was anyone’s guess as to which one would dominate. But no one ever wrote about the WMA trend; eventually, MP3 grabbed the spotlight, was declared the trend, and today it’s a standard. (Aside: I just googled “windows media audio file trend” and the first few links that came back were for tools to convert WMA to MP3) Still, that exact moment when something can be pegged as a trend is elusive, and can sometimes lead people to jump the gun and point out the wrong Next Big Thing (owners of the Apple Watch can you what time it is on that front).
This is all I told myself as I researched this piece—reading what other people identified as POS trends, I felt they were playing it safe. As in, not wanting to look foolish later, people were just throwing out technologies that are clearly and obviously already trends—if not a standard—by now. More research confirms the prognosticators, though: they’ve cited trends that are still a long way off from being the norm, as far as adoption goes. But I’d assumed that what people are saying will happen POS-wise in 2016 was old news. And that’s when it hit me: the kind of technologies people are calling new trends are the same things I’ve been writing about for the last 18 months with Kounta. And if cloud-based POS is a trend for 2016, according to Optimus Information, that makes Kounta—doing exactly this since 2012—a trendsetter.
Here, then, is a list of the top trends for POS in 2016, according to people who know about such things, and whose names I could tell you but likely wouldn’t mean much to you. The trends here represent a consensus of opinion, meaning if you wanted to fact check me on this, you’ll find these particular ones all over the place (though not explained nearly as entertainingly as I’m about to).
- Tablet POS will become the standard in 2016. Business owners searching for a new POS, either to power a new store or to replace an existing one, are no longer hesitant to entrust their business operations to a tablet. This is partially because the question of cloud computing has largely been answered (note: the answer was “Yes”), and there’s no worry of losing everything should that clumsy guy who works the Thursday shift drop and break the thing. But this is also due to the fact that tablets are fast replacing desktops and laptops for nearly everything. For the bulk of users, technology is a tool for communications and information access, and the need for and expense of traditional computer models has become obsolete. At this point, tablets are far more natural for everyday use—if you’ve ever read a physical book and tried to zoom in on the text with two fingers, you know what I’m talking about—and owners want an operational environment that their employees are already familiar with. I’ve noticed some people, after writing about how ubiquitous tablets are, will tell you that customers are looking for the “cool factor” and the tablet gives a store just that. That’s ridiculous. Back in 2012, when Kounta first hit the streets, tablet-based POS was super cool, for sure. Tablets are either everyday devices that we’re all familiar with, or they’re “cool” (which in this context really means “novelty.”) Customers ultimate don’t care what you’re using, anyway, unless there’s something in it for them.
- Mobile POS goes mainstream. Going mobile doesn’t just mean that you can take your business anywhere. It also means that your business can stay exactly where it is, but can ring up sales for customers who are anywhere. This is the thing that makes customers care a little what you’re using to ring up sales. Because if you can make it easier for them to order—with an app, say—or easier for them to purchase with a credit card—at something like a food truck, say—then they will be very excited indeed that you’re using a tablet with a mobile POS. But, really, it’s the mobile POS part that has customers jazzed up. Order and pay for drinks at a bar without ever having to try and make awkward eye contact with the bartender, alerting her to your presence? Yes, please. Skip the line during the lunch rush and tap your very specific order into your iPhone? I think I will, thanks.
- EMV/Chip-pay terminals. This stuff is old hat in Europe in Australia, but EMV only became mandatory in the US a few short months ago. And though merchants had many years and ample warning to get this accomplished, it still somehow managed to sneak up on them. Since October, there have been scores of new card readers installed all over the US to handle the chip payment, and most of them that I’ve seen have little notes on them saying they don’t work yet, and please continue to swipe. In fact, the only place I’ve shopped at that was all set for EMV was a farmstand on a mountain running a tablet-based mobile POS. It’s worth noting that the US was not alone in the 2015 liability shift date, which means that it’s going to continue to be on a lot of business’s to-do list for 2016.
- Mobile Payments. Apple Pay is now accepted in over a million stores worldwide, which is a large number on its own, but really only the tip of the retail iceberg. There are literally a gazillion retail and hospitality shops in the world—according to the Wildly Exaggerated Institute—and of course, Apple Pay isn’t the only mobile payment game out there. From longtime online payment platforms like Paypal, to newcomers in the money-movement game like Dwolla or Venmo, mobile payments are starting to get really big. Some banks offer their own “Wallet” apps, while huge businesses like Starbucks frontend the mobile payment into their mobile ordering app. If you’ve ever been annoyed by the obnoxious guy who won’t stop texting while it’s his turn to pay at the supermarket, your days are soon over. That guy will soon be able to pay just about everywhere simply by hovering his phone over an NFC reader, and he can happily keep texting.
- Customer Personalisation: This Time it’s Personal. With CRM tools getting more sophisticated and more deeply entrenched in POS, stores of all types and sizes are getting access to data they never had before. And with point of sale systems able to integrate with third party loyalty platforms—platforms which are themselves integrated with social media—it’s getting very easy for businesses to create personalised offers for their loyal customers and their customers’ friends (by proxy). And with the level of detail you can get about people who shop or dine with you, you can really drill down into their preferences. Customer tends to buy orange t-shirts and seems to like shopping with you online? You can make an offer around that set of criteria. You have a diner who comes in every 3 months like clockwork and orders the same thing every time? Lure them in a month earlier and get them on an every-two-month schedule.
- Integrated solutions. More and more, people are wanting a system that does everything for them, but the one size fits all approach is something that backfires when it comes to technology. Good computing experiences tend to be the ones that were created to do one or two things really well. Also, merchants don’t want to be locked down to one company for a variety of services—they end up spending more because the software vendor has them by the, uh—you know. Besides, as mobile POS becomes standard, more merchants are understanding that there are some really great apps out there that do things better than their POS’s built-in bonus features. Merchants are looking for flexible, scalable systems—something that can be a solid foundation upon which they can build a complete eco-system that tends to their specific needs. Many POS developers are scrambling to get tech partners to work with their software. And some of them have been doing this since day one, making it really easy to add and subtract features as necessary.