There was a quick minute back in the early part of this decade when people—newly enamored with iPads and tablets in general—questioned whether the devices could replace the PCs and laptops traditionally used in business settings. In retrospect, it was a silly question. Tablets arrived when they did because the environment was ripe for low power, low storage, portable devices. With high speed data connections, whether by cellular or wi-fi, available just about everywhere, offloading the processing and storage requirements of software to cloud-based servers was already a reality.
The smartphone and tablet revolution wasn’t a reaction to free-flowing bandwidth, but a natural step in the evolution of the way computing is done. It no longer made sense for businesses to invest in the hardware required for a fully functioning IT environment. For most employees, the desktop is overpowered for the tasks its users required of it: email, web access, and office productivity apps.
In retail and hospitality settings, owners found themselves investing in hardware—servers, routers, backup, cabling, installation, and training—just to get at a software-based Point of Sale. Sure, it improved efficiency and added reporting and customer outreach capabilities, but at what cost? Usually, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20k to $30k. Imagine buying a Porsche to drive around side streets on your way to the grocery store, you get the idea.
With tablets and the cloud, mobile POS began to slowly entrench itself into retail outlets worldwide, and store owners—from small boutiques to retail giants—found new levels of freedom in the way they could ring up, and then maintain relationships with their customers. New implementations dramatically lowered hardware costs for the system’s backbone (no servers, backup, or wired networks required), and the ability to repurpose existing hardware or buy low cost tablets for the POS terminals made a further dent in setup costs. Replacing a multi thousand dollar software license with a subscription-based service at a fraction of the cost didn’t hurt either.
With tablets and smartphones handling sales in a store, or on the street, or somewhere else entirely, retail and hospitality operations were freed up from all sorts of limitations. But there was still one thing holding this scenario back from being fully mobile: the receipt printer. Traditionally wired directly to the point of sale, the receipt printer became a kind of ball and chain to the rest of the POS environment. Wireless printers helped in this regard; the printer’s location became more flexible, but it still needed to be tied somehow (through drivers or network connections) to a single device at worst, or to a closed environment within a business’s local area network. In both these cases, store owners weren’t able to take full advantage of the freedom promised by mobile computing. An unexpected rush of customers meant that a mobile POS could be deployed on just about any device as an emergency backup register, but not just any device would be able to provide a hardcopy receipt. Similarly, customers might be able to order online through a mobile app or website, but they’d still need to check in with an employee and have their order located before anything could proceed. The receipt printer, then, became the ugly stepchild in the equation.
By 2012, Epson had spent only the previous 45 years transferring letters and images from screens to paper, which is a long time to be staying ahead of the technology curve that changed printing methods time and time again. Recognizing where things were headed, they created the TM-Intelligent line of receipt printers; cloud connected with built-in processors and storage, the TM-T88v-i and TM-T70-i printers were more like appliances than computer peripherals. They needed only to be turned on and connected to the web to function—and the right POS to fully exploit the its advanced capabilities.
It was with the “right POS” criterion in mind that Epson partnered with Kounta, which at that point was just an upstart start-up based out of Sydney. At the time, Kounta CEO Nick Cloete was saying things like, “From our perspective, the best possible printer is one that has the in-built intelligence to receive data directly from the web or a web-enabled device running our software.” Statements like these have a way of catching the attention of Epson, since they’d been developing precisely that technology. In the three years since teaming up, Epson has continued developing for the cloud, and tightening its integration not only with Kounta but with its own, non-cloud connected receipt printers, with the TM-i printer’s ability to handle all common ESC/POS functions serving as the foundation of a flexible printing environment.
The ability to take orders and sell items is no longer hamstrung by the limitations of old printer technology. And even in a lightweight, tablet based environment, any employee can jump in with their own web-enabled smartphone to prevent long lines and slow downs—no configuration required. Anyone can print their own receipts, no matter the device or network or even the user—customers can order and print receipts without ever gaining access to the private network the devices reside on, and the printer’s local storage mean shop owners won’t miss out on printing their own copy of a receipt.
Starting with those first two printers in the TM-intelligent line, the Epson-Kounta partnership demonstrated the power of having a web connected receipt printer receiving its marching orders directly from a web connected POS. The combination was battle tested at one of Sydney’s fastest growing cafes, Sonoma Artisan Bakers. The benefits were seen almost immediately after the decision was made by Sonoma to go with Kounta and Epson. As Craig Donovan, Sonoma’s retail manager, explains, “We don’t have a hard-wired network that requires installation and support. Nor do our cafés require dedicated servers to run POS software. All we need are the iPad and Epson printers, both of which connect to the Internet and our POS software, and that’s it.”
With virtually no setup or configuration required to get going, Sonoma was ready to go from the moment they plugged in the first printer. They’ve got six stores and a separate baking facility all tied into a single ecosystem of iPads, printers, cloud-based software. “The entire solution is, from our perspective, ground-breaking,” Craig says. “We have the low overheads of a cloud-based system, the functionality and data reporting capabilities of leading POS software, and, with the Epson receipt printers, the supporting means of being able to maintain an entirely server- and cable-free POS environment. For our business, it’s a major step forward in having the freedom to grow without the IT overheads.”