Merchants demand more disruption at the point of sale

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For the most part, the technology team at Revel Systems has learned that merchants don't want to buy a point-of-sale system.

It's an outdated term for technology that has evolved well past traditional cash registers. San Francisco-based Revel's iPad-based POS system never looked the part, but still ran the risk of getting grouped in with less advanced products.

"There is no traditional point of sale any longer, and that is where things are trending," said Erick Kobres, the new chief technology officer at Revel. "It's an attractive thought to believe that the new technology is done and now in place, but fortunately — or unfortunately depending on where you are seated — there is a ton of new stuff coming."

For some, the fast pace of change in payments technology needs to slow down for consumers and merchants to catch up. For others, the technology must evolve because it is the consumer and merchant seeking change — all in the name of an easier, mobile experience.

"I like all of the different payment technologies out there," said Jack Zhang, a user of Revel's omnichannel system and owner of Japanese fast-food restaurant Chirashi near Los Angeles. When Chirashi opened more than a year ago, Zhang said it was a goal of the business to test the various payment technologies available right from the start. It led to acceptance of mobile payments as well as mobile order-and-pay ahead.

"Many people come to us and ask if we accept Apple Pay because they forgot their wallet or don't have cash with them," Zhang said. "It's sort of a reason they would have to come to us to eat in that situation, because we are the only restaurant in the plaza where we are located accepting Apple Pay through Revel right now."

Less than a year ago, Revel launched its integrated payments software through Revel Advantage, giving merchants the capability to accept various payment methods at the POS. As much as anything, it put Revel in a position to concentrate even more on providing service for the restaurant industry and other small businesses.

It was a move Revel made not longer after surveying consumers in 2016 about their shopping habits and preferences and alerting smaller retailers that they had to respond with omnichannel capabilities to the finding that 93% of consumers research an item online before buying it in a store.

"Maybe merchants and organizations that deal with consumers just need to … get good at seeing what consumers are going to require of them," Kobres said.

In that regard, the business model for payments innovation has flipped, Kobres added.

"It used to be that consumers would wait to see what merchants would provide and they would find out through one-way advertising channels," he said. "Now, consumers have a set of expectations and they are voting with their wallets in terms of only dealing with merchants who match their expectations."

Even though she relies on Revel to keep her abreast of new payments technology, Cary Kelly, owner of The Cookery in Washington, D.C., has seen how the ability to accept all payment types affects customer service.

"The biggest competitor to brick-and-mortar is the internet, so being able to stay on top of the applications that improve a customer's experience is critical," Kelly said. "I think our competitive advantage will come from our ability to utilize technology for customer engagement and convenience."

Kelly started her career in retail in her grandparents' store, saying she used a manual-button cash register in those days.

"Some days I think that would be a dream because it would eliminate the hours I spend training staff to use technology and troubleshooting problems," Kelly said. "But it is actually exciting to experience the efficiency and access to data that new POS technologies bring."

In making sure the company continues to foster merchant and consumer interaction, Revel this week announced its partnership with consumer-engagement software provider Como to deliver data-driven tools that will help Revel POS clients interact with customers in the same manner online companies might.

It was another signal that technology tends to grow on itself, using the basics of a payment transaction as a foundation and spreading into all other facets of a retail shopping experience.

"There isn't going to be any slowdown in technology for payments," said Tim Sloane, director of emerging technologies advisory services for Boston-based Mercator Advisory Group. "It's going to be a case of offering multiple solutions in specific situations for a consumer or merchant."

Rather than fearing new technology or feeling overwhelmed by all of the new choices available, younger merchants and consumers are more likely to be curious about what the new tech can do for them.

"When the technology can be much more specific to how a merchant and consumer interact, it leaves you with a wide range of payment options," Sloane said. "It also will make merchants look at the way they operate and wonder if they should be doing something differently."

Some payments technology can be introduced as easily as updating a smartphone. But more importantly, the approach in a data-driven, digital payments world takes out a lot of guesswork.

"Our approach is outside-in," Revel's Kobres said. "We go into the market and listen to customers and find the problems that need to be solved."

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Point-of-sale Mobile point-of-sale Payment processing Retailers Revel Systems