Ka-ching! The cash register may be on its final sale.
Stores across the country are ditching the old-fashioned, clunky machines and having salespeople — and even shoppers themselves — ring up sales on smartphones and tablet computers.
Barneys New York, a luxury retailer, this year plans to use iPads or iPod Touch devices for credit and debit card purchases in seven of its nearly two dozen regular-price stores. Urban Outfitters, a teen clothing chain, ordered its last traditional register last fall and plans to go completely mobile one day. And Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, is testing a “Scan & Go” app that lets customers scan their items as they shop.
“The traditional cash register is heading toward obsolescence,” said Danielle Vitale, chief operating officer of Barneys New York.
The writing has been on the wall for a long time for the iconic machine, which was created in the late 1800s. The register was essential in nearly every retail location by 1915, but it now seems outdated in a world in which smartphones and tablets increasingly are replacing everything from books to ATMs to cameras.
Smartphones and tablets take up less floor space than registers and free up cashiers to help customers instead of being tethered to one spot. They also are cheaper: For instance, Apple iPads with accessories such as credit card readers can cost a store $1,500, compared with $4,000 for a register.
“Consumers want the retailer to bring the register to them,” said Lori Schafer, executive adviser at SAS Institute Inc., which creates software for major retailers.
Retailer J.C. Penney said the response by customers has been great since it started rolling out iPod Touch devices late last year in its 1,100 stores. The goal is to have one in the hands of every salesperson by May. The company said that about a quarter of purchases at its stores nationwide now come from an iPod Touch.
It’s been a long fall for the cash register, which innovated retail when introduced. The first register was invented after the Civil War by a little known saloon owner. Before then, most store owners were in the dark about whether or not they were making a profit, and many suffered since it was easy for sales clerks to steal from the cash drawer unnoticed. But by 1915, more than 1.5 million cash registers were sold.
Since 2003, self-checkout areas that enable customers to scan and bag their own merchandise have become commonplace at grocers and other stores. But there’s been a push to go further.
Companies that make traditional cash registers are racing to come up with new solutions. NCR Corp., formerly known as the National Cash Register Co., was the first to manufacture the cash register on a large scale. Last year, the company that also makes ATMs, self-service checkout machines and airport check-in kiosks, merged its software with the iPad.