What to Look For: Grocery POS Systems

Walk into a grocery store or your neighborhood specialty market today and you’ll see the basics of a high level point of sale system:  bar code scanners, thermal receipt printers, cash drawers, pole displays, and cashier work stations. But what sets this high-traffic, speed-oriented industry apart from other point of sale users is the need for fast and accurate scanning combined with precise weighing of products. That means you’ll also want the best scanner and scale combination, capable of maintaining a high level of check-out speed without sacrificing accuracy.

When putting together a grocery store point of sale system, the choice of hardware and software is based on whether the store will include just one lane or multiple lanes for customer checkout. When building a single-lane system, you’ll need just a stand-alone POS, while multiple lanes will require a networked system with each lane tied into the system. During the hardware selection process, each part must be configured to communicate with every other piece in the system.

Here’s a short primer on the different components generally included when assembling a grocery POS system.

Grocery POS system components

Scanner/Scale:  The scanner and scale, or platter, as it’s often called, sets grocery store POS systems apart from those used in other industries. The scanner/scale combines a highly sensitive scale used for produce, bulk foods, and other items sold by the pound, with a laser bar code scanner.

When considering this hardware combination, supermarket owners have two choices, adaptive scanner/scales and integrated scanner/scales. The difference?

Adaptive scanner/scales mean that both the scanner and scale are stand alone units, designed separately and often by different manufacturers. Choosing an integrated scanner/scale for a grocery POS application means that both products are incorporated together at the factory, and there’s no duplication of power supplies and cables.

Cashier work station:  In many cases the work station incorporates several other pieces of hardware such as receipt printers and cash drawers. The centerpiece is a touchscreen display, showing the checker all relevant data on one screen.

Thermal receipt printer:  Supermarket POS systems often print thousands of receipts each day, many of which include 50 to 100 items each. When identifying a POS receipt printer, most experts point to printer speed as the highest priority. And since the sound of a printer chattering away every few seconds can disturb both customers and cashiers, look for receipt printers that fall on the silent end of the spectrum. The auto-cut feature means there’s minimal pulling or tearing to get the receipt off the roll.

Grocery POS Software:  A point of sale software package combines tracking of customer transactions and credit/debit card readers with management of peripheral devices such as cash drawers and pole displays. You’ll gain a wealth of targeted data about your customers, products, and inventory, and get a handle on individual cashier effectiveness.

Pole display:  Used to display the total amount due, pole displays provide an easy visual for the customer and speeding up the transaction. In many cases, the display also scrolls the individual items as they scan, preventing price disputes which can also cause long delays.

Specialty Grocery POS system pieces

While the basic configuration of supermarket POS systems hasn’t changed a whole lot over time, here are a few recent additions implemented for the benefit of both grocers and customers.

Self-checkout stations:  While the larger chain supermarkets started the self-checkout trend, a combination of customer demand and cost saving measures drives these additions. Just like lanes manned by checkers, both hardware and software for self service stations connects to the point of sale system.

These all-in-one stations offer a variety of bagging configurations, based on store volume, and include high-quality scanner/scales, touch screen displays, cash dispensers, card processing terminals, and integrated receipt printers.

Bottom-of-the-basket loss prevention: As in many industries, loss prevention is a big factor in today’s supermarkets. Experts estimate that the grocery industry as a whole faces bottom-of-the-basket losses of $70 to $80 million every year. And these losses can slice five to ten percent of net profit from an already lean bottom line.
Grocery POS
That’s why scanners with image recognition software are emerging for use in grocery POS systems. For example, LaneHawk, by Evolution Robotics, incorporates a camera embedded in the check stand, designed to watch the bottom of the grocery cart. While the cashier is busy scanning the rest of the order, the camera pans the cart, looking for forgotten items. As the item packaging is recognized, the integrated software creates pop-ups on the checker’s display screen, prompting her to add the extra items to the order. And item descriptions and UPC information goes directly to the grocery POS.

Putting together a grocery POS system doesn’t have to be complicated. But you’ll want to do some research and talk to your POS reseller first to ensure the components you select meet the volume requirements of your supermarket or grocery store.

Best Practices For Mobile Point of Sale

MasterCard recently introduced their global Mobile Point of Sale (MPOS) Program which outlines the best practices for mobile point of sale transactions. The guidelines should be of particular interest to small businesses that have traditionally been slow to enter the mobile POS arena, and to larger companies that felt there were security issues and other barriers to entry for mobile technology.

Mobile payment processing is not restricted to brick-and-mortar businesses, but is also compatible with sales transactions conducted door-to-door and by street vendors, allowing them to easily accept MasterCard payments via their mobile devices. In fact, MasterCard WorldWide selected the El Ñaqui gourmet food truck in Puerto Rico as the Caribbean region’s sole participant in its “Cashless Pioneers” international series. It was chosen because of its owner’s willingness to challenge the perception that street food is a cash-only business, company officials said.

Simply stated, with MPOS, the mobile device is used as a merchant point of sale terminal when consumers use their debit, credit and prepaid cards to pay for goods and services.

The company developed the best practices guidelines based on the rapid proliferation of mobile commerce. James Anderson, Group Head, Mobile, MasterCard Worldwide, noted, “With nearly 6 billion mobile subscriptions around the world, there is tremendous potential to grow merchant acceptance – it’s imperative that manufacturers, vendors and merchants maintain the highest standards to enable a seamless and secure purchasing experience.”

MasterCard estimates that of the 1.2 million mobile POS solutions shipped in 2011, approximately 75 percent went to merchants who had no previous experience accepting credit or debit cards.

As noted on the company’s website, the MasterCard MPOS Best Practices document outlines best practices regarding:

1. Securing MPOS Payment Applications

2. Securing Transaction Data Captured by an MPOS Card Reader Accessory

3. Securing Personal Account Numbers (PAN)

4. EMV Chip Transactions

5. Display of the MasterCard Acceptance Mark

6. Merchant Confirmation

7. Cardholder Verification Methods (CVM)

8. Receipts

To illustrate the rapid growth of mobile POS technology acceptance, MasterCard estimates that at the end 2011 approximately 1.2 million MPOS solutions were shipped to MasterCard merchants globally, and approximately 75 percent of those merchants had previously not accepted payment card transactions.

Providers of mobile POS solutions will be able to assess their products against the MasterCard MPOS best practices and apply to be listed on MasterCard’s website. Registration for the program is expected to open in summer 2012.

New In-Flight Handheld POS

No, your flight attendant is not texting… she is carrying the new AVATA-m, a new handheld POS from GuestLogix. The new little powerhouse measures a mere 2x5x1in while maintaining the multi-functional capabilities of GuestLogix previous generation of POS devices. The interface has a graphical touchscreen like that of most popular smartphones, make it more intuitive and hopefully more productive. Like all GuestLogix handheld POS devices the AVATA-m scans barcodes and credit cards and has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and RFID connectivity.

Unlike your iPhone, however, the AVATA-m will withstand some serious abuse. It is a rugged tool built to withstand the rigors of air travel. It is drop-tested from a height of 1.5 meters (onto concrete), and is safety and usage certified by the FCC, as well as other regulatory agencies in Europe and China. The basic device design has been extensively field tested by users in China.

“We believe this new POS device will enable our customers to further maximize the sales in their onboard stores as well as at other travel touch points such as the airline lounge and the departure gate,” says Mr. Tom Douramakos, President and CEO of GuestLogix. “It delivers smartphone-like simplicity without sacrificing industrial-strength security, functionality, or durability.”

At a time when mobile payment ability is evolving quickly in both the passenger aviation and general consumer marketplaces, GuestLogix has consistently been at the forefront in this area. GuestLogix was the first onboard retail solutions provider to obtain end-to-end payment card industry certification (PCI) for its wireless credit card transactions. The Company also pioneered the use of real-time and batch credit card processing, to lower operating costs and reduce the propensity for fraud.

The mainstream consumer market has seen the retrofitting of existing smartphones to support credit card readers, the same ad-hoc solution would be inherently inefficient for airlines. GuestLogix has filled the gap and developed a tailored, innovative alternative, which the Company believes will enjoy significant adoption across the passenger aviation market.

In-flight retail sales, enabled by handheld POS devices, are fast becoming ancillary revenue growth engines for airlines. The AVATA-m represents a new step forward in onboard retail technology, and serves to further cement GuestLogix position as an industry leader in powering onboard retailing and ancillary revenues.

Choosing a Bar Code Label Printer

When choosing a bar code label printer for your business, it’s important to remember that not all types of printers are created equal. While dot matrix, ink jet, and laser printers may be capable, at least in theory, of creating scannable bar code labels, in most cases questions about lifetime ownership costs, ease of use, and bar code quality arise. When bar code labels are printed, the tolerances are quite tight, with the width of bars, spaces, and quiet zones measured in thousands of an inch or mils. If bar widths are inconsistent or the contrast between light and dark elements is lacking, the bar code label won’t be read.

That’s why most companies use thermal printers for their bar code labeling needs. These printers are capable of printing one or a thousand bar code labels at a time, with the highest print sharpness and quality. And since bar code labels are needed wherever products are kept, printers must be able to stand up to harsher conditions than the normal office environment.

What to ask when shopping for a bar code label printer

Finding the right bar code label printer requires an individualized approach. These questions will help you look at your own processes and needs a little more closely.

-What’s the expected bar code label print volume?
-Will labels be printed in batches or on-demand?
-What size label will be used?
-How important is print quality? What will happen if bar code label can’t be read?
-If label requirements change, can modifications be made internally or will outside support be required?
-How often will bar code label printers need to be replaced or repaired?
-Can the suggested printer stand up to the environment where labels are needed?
-How much ongoing IT support and operator time is needed to run and maintain the system?

Now that you have a better idea what you’re looking for in a bar code label printer, consider the two industry standards.

Types of thermal bar code label printers

Depending on the application, a thermal bar code label printer will use either direct thermal or thermal transfer technology to imprint the bar code symbology on the label. Here’s a little more information about each type of thermal printer.

Direct thermal bar code label printers

If you’ve ever left a receipt from a grocery store or a gas station out in the sun and watched the paper turn completely black, then you’ve observed the results of direct thermal printing. Originally employed with copy and fax machines, direct thermal printing uses chemically coated paper, and is considered very effective for printing bar code labels. The print head consists of a long, linear array of tiny resistive heating elements (100 to 300 per inch), arranged perpendicularly to the direction the Bar code label printingpaper moves. Each print head element heats the section of the chemically coated paper directly below it. The heat produces a chemical reaction, causing a black dot to form. More and more dots form the complete bar code image.

Thermal transfer bar code label printers

Similar technology is used in thermal transfer printing as direct thermal, but replace the chemically coated paper with non-sensitized label stock and a special, inked ribbon. Coated with dry thermal transfer ink, the polyester ribbon sits between the print head and the label. The heated print head transfers ink to the label surface, where the ink dries and adheres to the label. Once the ribbon is peeled away, the bar code image remains.

Direct thermal v. thermal transfer

Both types of thermal bar code label printers offer advantages and disadvantages during the printing process. In contrast to most laser printers, both direct thermal and thermal transfer printers easily switch between batch and single-label printing without much waste.

Direct thermal printers provide the following benefits:

✓    Easy to use and require no additional supplies like ink, toner, or ribbon.
✓    Sharp bar code print quality that’s easily read,
✓    Low long-term maintenance costs and total cost of ownership (TCO).
✓    More durable than dot-matrix or laser printers, meaning that they operate reliably in both industrial and office environments.

The chief drawback of direct thermal bar code label printers is sensitivity to environmental conditions, especially heat and light. The paper also remains chemically active after the printing process is finished, often requiring a top coat that resists UV light exposure, chemicals, and surface abrasions.

Thermal transfer printers offer many of the same benefits as direct thermal technology, including these:

✓    Produces long life image stability
✓    Thermal transfer technology prints on a wide range of media stock.
✓    Very durable, allowing reliable operation in industrial AND office applications.

Supply costs are higher for thermal transfer printers, as they require replacement ribbons. In many cases the ribbons are not recyclable like those of other printer types. And the printer media and the ribbon must be compatible to ensure optimal print quality, otherwise heat from the print head could possible melt the ribbon onto the label, ruining the bar code labels and causing potential internal problems with the printer.

Bar code label printers to consider

Now that you know a little more about what to look for in a thermal bar code label printer, here are some places to start your research.

(1) Zebra Technologies. Zebra offers the widest selection of bar code printers in the industry and supports them extensively with software, connectivity assistance, and supplies. Greater than 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Zebra-brand printers. Visit http://www.zebra.com/

(2) Datamax-O’Neil. Headquartered in Orlando, Florida, this global company offers a broad range of industrial bar code printers, and provides stationary and portable label printing solutions, with over 1 million printers manufactured. Visit http://www.datamax-oneil.com/do/com/EN-US/index.cfm

(3) Intermec.
Intermec offers industrial label printers for a range of applications, from commercial light volume to rugged, round-the-clock performance. Visit http://www.intermec.com/