Point of sale or POS is the term used to describe the devices used to record transactions in a store – generally sales. It is the modern day ‘cash register’ and is based on a computer system, ‘though the actual styles are many and varied. The point of sale might be at a checkout – as in a supermarket – or situated on a counter, as most retail stores tend to do. There might be just one point of sale in a store, or several, as in a department store.
All POS systems look different. Although the basic composition is the same, systems will vary greatly, depending on the environment it is being used in; the type of information that is required to be gathered or recorded; the type of look the store is after and, of course, the amount of money a store wants to spend on the set up. Systems will range from a very basic cash register-looking type, through to more complex, high-end systems with touch screen facilities instead of keyboards.
The function of the point of sale in a retail store, is to process transactions and collect and record raw data about that transaction. A transaction can be a sale, a refund, to generate or redeem a credit note or a gift voucher, to process a lay-by, or simply to record a customer’s details in the store’s data base. The data that is collected at the point of sale is usually about the item or items being sold/returned. Often, most of this data will be automatically generated by the computer after scanning the barcode, (we will look at this in more detail a little later), or it may be keyed in or entered in manually by the person operating the POS.
Often confused with the screen, the computer is actually the ‘box’ part of the system, containing all the memory and the processing components. It has a power button to turn the entire system on or off and has cables leading from it to link up with the other components in the system. It is usually kept under the counter and should have good ventilation at all times as it can get quite hot after hours of use. Sometimes the computer is actually built into the screen if the system is a “touch-screen” system. The computer should never be opened by anyone other than qualified IT personnel who are usually specially employed by the store to maintain and service the POS systems.
This displays the information that is being generated by the computer, so the operator can see what function to perform next. It interacts with the keyboard and/or mouse to display what is typed in or entered. Screens can also be a “touch screen” variety which is operated by touching “hot spots” or special sensitive areas on the screen with your finger, indicated by a picture or “icon” to activate a particular function. Keyboards are usually not required in a touch screen system. All screens should be kept clean, free of dust and grease. This is particularly important for touch screens.
Keyboard & mouse
Used to input information to the system. The traditional keyboard is known as a “qwerty” keyboard, referring to the first six letters on the top row. Some specialist keyboards can be programmed so that hitting certain keys immediately performs a specific function. A mouse is a hand operated device that is used to move the “cursor” to a specific point on the screen. It is often quicker and easier to navigate around a screen using a mouse, however, in most point of sale systems, the software is designed so that the operator can also quickly and easily make selections on the screen using the keyboard.
This is the program or set of instructions that the computer system uses to carry out particular functions. Software for point of sale systems can range from fairly basic varieties to carry out sales, refunds, lay-bys, redeem gift vouches or credit notes and generate very simple reports on sales figures, to complex versions that can cater for stocktakes and multiple store operations and are capable of generating very detailed reports to outline top and bottom sellers, stock movement, profit and loss, cash flow etc
These come in many different sizes or styles depending on the environment you are in. The one you use might be under the counter and pops out/open at the completion of a sale, or your store might have one with a flip-top lid like in some supermarkets. Some are fitted with a timer for added security. At the start or end of a shift, you may be required to carry a cash drawer from the office to your till or visa versa. Your cash drawer should be regularly cleared to minimise the amount of cash kept on the shop floor in case of theft.
Used to “read” barcode labels, barcode scanners can be either mounted onto the counter, hand-held, or set below the counter so that items are passed across it to be read – like in many supermarkets now. The scanner has a red laser or diode that scans a barcode for information. The scanner is simply waved over the barcode so that the laser light lines up with the barcode label on the product. Some scanners have cables attached and some are wireless. Some have buttons to press or a trigger to activate the laser. The information contained in the barcode is linked to a database in the software and once read by the laser, this information is displayed on the screen.
These too, can be many and varied in style and mode of operation, but all perform the same function – to provide a printed record of the transaction performed. Different styles of docket printers will use different consumables. Some use ribbons and some don’t. Some use specially treated thermal paper and some use plain. Docket printers must be kept clean of dust and lint and it is vital to install replacement consumables correctly so as not to cause damage to the machine.
Similarly to a docket printer, EFTPOS units vary in design and operation and consequently use different types of consumables. The function of the EFTPOS unit is to directly connect the system to the customer’s bank through the phone line, so a credit card or EFTPOS card can be debited. Cards are generally swiped through the reader section or inserted into the machine so that the customer’s account details can be read. Some newer styles – like the IP EFTPOS unit – are connected to the banks via the internet instead of the phone line. If the internet goes down, these new units have a 3G connection to allow them to keep processing.
Not seen so much now, older styles of POS often had customer display poles attached to the computers with green LED light to display some of the information that the operator sees on their screen to the customer. This allowed the customer to see things like the price and quantity of the items that they were being charged for, as well as the total cost and method of payment. Now it is more common to see full size screens complete with a full list of all products being purchased, along with prices AND pictures. Sometimes this display will also feature advertising. As these displays face the customer, they should be kept clean and operating correctly at all times.
Virus protection software
Along with the operating and point of sale software, a system must have virus protection software to ensure valuable data is not corrupted or lost. This is also of vital importance if data is being transferred to a head office, so that their system is not infected or corrupted. There are many different types of virus protection software packages that are commonly used. They usually have an expiry date and must be regularly renewed in order for them to remain effective. A warning is normally displayed as an expiry date is approaching or if the software has already expired.
Is an uninterrupted power supply. This is a device that the computer plugs into as well as the normal power outlet, to protect the computer in times of disruption to the power supply or when there are spikes or power surges, which can damage electrical equipment like computers. Having the UPS take over from the power supply if it is cut, also allows the computer to shut down correctly before it crashes, when it is vulnerable to losing data.
Bigger stores and department stores will have many point of sale areas, each with their own POS system and cash drawer etc, but are all linked by the POS software so that they all access and record to the same database. Each station needs to be cashed up and reconciled independently and is usually identified by a number or letter. If you are working in a multi-station environment, it is important to make sure that you are logging on correctly so that all the data from any transactions conducted is collected and recorded in the correct way.