POS (point of sale) systems make it possible for businesses to complete and track store transactions. Yet the POS systems of today are much different from those of years ago. In fact, they continue to evolve, incorporating new technologies and features, and simplifying the checkout process for cashiers and consumers, while simultaneously making businesses more efficient.
The history of POS systems begins in the late 19th century.
James Ritty, an Ohio native and saloon owner, invented the first cash register in 1879 with his brother, calling it "Ritty's Incorruptible Cashier." As explained by Ohio History Central, an online encyclopedia that discusses Ohio-specific history, Ritty was inspired to create such a device a year earlier:
“In 1878, while on a ship bound for Europe, Ritty saw a machine that counted the number of times that the ship's propeller completed a revolution,” the article states. "Using the same sort of technology, Ritty became convinced that he could invent a machine that could keep track of his sales.”
Ritty, as the story goes, was especially motivated to do this, as he had discovered several years earlier that an employee was stealing money from him, and thought this would be a way to stop such occurrences from happening again.
Ritty’s register was a simplified version of the cash register that we know today. In fact, his didn’t even have a cash drawer!
“Instead,” Ohio History Central states, “it simply recorded the number of sales and also the amount of each one. This machine allowed Ritty to keep accurate track of the number of sales and the amount of each sale that was made.”
Ritty didn’t see much of a financial benefit to his invention, so he eventually sold his patent to John H. Patterson, who would establish the National Cash Register (NRC) Company in 1884. This is still in business, now known as the NRC Corporation, and is responsible for making the initial mechanical cash register a necessity for every business.
By the early 1900s, many businesses were utilizing the cash register.
Improvements to the cash register were made following Ritty's invention. This included adding a cash drawer and paper roll for receipts. As a result, an increasing number of businesses started to utilize the machine, making it easier to record transactions and manage capital.
As the 20th century continued, even more changes were made to further refine the cash register, partly in response to other new inventions.
According to the NCR Corporation, technological advancements, such as liquid crystal display (LCD) screens, credit card magnetic stripes, and thermal printing, occurred during the mid-1900s, resulting in additional changes to the cash register. Ultimately, these helped transform it into a digital machine that would be widely used, for decades.
Computer software changed the game for the POS system in the 1980s and 1990s.
Online resource The Green Sheet discusses some of the changes that took place in the 1980s and 1990s. One 2016 article specifically explains that between Gene Mosher’s touchscreen interface invention in the late 1980s and Martin Goodwin and Bob Henry's Microsoft platform POS system, the original cash register got a whole new makeover. However, it’s important to note that POS systems differed—and still do—depending on the industry. For example, Mosher’s touchscreen was initially for restaurants.
Additionally, the NCR Corporation highlights other new features introduced during this time, including store automation and signature capture.
POS systems that emerged during this time look a lot like those we use today. There, of course, have been other technological advancements throughout the 21st century, specifically when it comes to connecting the physical and digital worlds.
Omni-channel POS systems are making waves, as more and more people utilize mobile technology.
Today, everything is in the “cloud.” This has pushed manufacturers to further revamp the POS system. Due to so many consumers reaching for their phones to pay for items and utilize store membership discounts and coupons, it's no longer enough for POS systems to simply facilitate cash, credit, debit, or gift card purchases anymore.
POS systems nowadays are expected to do much more than simply complete transactions. This is the reason why companies, such as Clover, designed highly efficient and technically savvy POS systems capable of tracking employee activity and inventory, delivering invoices, providing real-time information, even operating when the internet is down, and offering applications merchants can easily download for additional features that make running an organization easier.
However, while POS systems have indeed come a long way, these advancements will surely continue alongside the ever-evolving realm of technology.