The Retail Touch

By Drew Robb | Posted February 03, 2005

Remember how expensive flat monitors were two or three years back? Today you can pick up a decent one for not much more than a regular monitor. The same thing has happened with touch screen monitors. Touch screens used to be expensive — affordable for large chains, but certainly out of reach for small businesses.

Not anymore. Touch screen prices have plummeted to the point of affordability. It is now fiscally possible for small businesses to deploy this technology in locations such as gift registries, checkout lanes, factory floors and loading docks. According to analyst firm Frost and Sullivan, the growth of touch screen technology in the retail industry alone will reach $2.4 billion within the next three years. And many of these retail outlets will be small businesses.

"Touch screen hardware pricing has dropped dramatically over the last five years to the point where a touch screen can cost only a few hundred dollars more than a non-touch system," said Todd Renner, vice president of InfoTouch Corporation, an Atlanta, Georgia-based touch screen and point of sale (POS) vendor.

Just how much are we talking about? Renner quotes a ballpark amount of $5000 or so per workstation. That includes the hardware, software, training and installation. At that price, the technology might prove viable at small retail outlets with reasonable revenue. That might include liquor stores, clothing outlets, shoes stores, gift shops, copy centers, candy stores, health food stores, garden centers and many others. By speeding up the checkout process, such systems could provide a rapid return on investment (ROI).

"Over the life of the system, the total cost of ownership is better with a touch system due to reduced training time and cost," said Renner.

In addition, touch devices are more durable. In environments where wear and tear wreaks havoc with keyboards and computer terminals, a touch screen may be the answer. Small businesses that do a lot of shipping, for example, may benefit from a touch screen. Alternative usages might be factory floors or other industrial environments where technicians must enter data while working with machinery.

Retail King


Point of Sale Touch Screen
Model of Efficiency — A touch screen system combined with credit card swipe capability can give retailers a faster, more efficient way to serve customers.
But it's in retail where touch screen technology really shines. InfoTouch has developed a complete POS package that could prove attractive for small business. The components include:

InfoTouch's Store Manager Touch Screen POS Software
This software helps cashiers ring up items quickly and accurately, as well as offering inventory management, purchase order aggregation and reporting. According to Renner, the company installs most of its product in single store retailers with one-to-four terminals.

Moneris Solutions' Merchant Account
Chicago, Illinois-based Moneris provides retailers with the merchant services account necessary to accept credit and debit cards. Its transaction-processing services operate nationwide. According to Sorin Ladan, director of business development at Moneris, the company processes over two billion credit and debit card transactions a year.

Merchant Partner's Virtual Point of Sale (VPOS)
Virtual POS lets retailers process real-time credit card transactions using an existing computer with an Internet connection. An inexpensive credit card swipe reader attaches to the computer, eliminating the need for installing any software or a dedicated credit card terminal. Essentially, Merchant Partners provides the gateway between the small business POS system and Moneris.

"VPOS uses a Web-enabled application to simulate a standard card swipe terminal," said Doug Merryman, president of Merchant Partners. "Small businesses can run VPOS from any personal computer and process credit cards, online checks and set up recurring billing. By purchasing a credit card wedge swipe and attaching it to a computer port, they can process credit cards."

According to Ladan, there's a three-part charge for the Moneris component: a $99 one-time fee, a monthly fee of $19.95 that includes reporting, and then a set rate per-transaction based on transaction size, annual volume etc. He notes that the typical adopter has annual sales of $500,000 or more. But many clients have much less revenue.

"We have a client doing $80,000 a year using the InfoTouch solution," said Ladan.

Reach Out and Touch
Obviously, this technology is not for everyone. If you have fewer sales, or if your system's working fine as is, it may not be worth the investment. But if your company's data entry tends to backlog, you get a lot of errors, or customer lines are longer than they should be, a touch screen system could improve your efficiency.

You can recover the added cost of the hardware/software package in several ways. Reduced training costs, for example, can shave several hundred dollars off the bill. Fewer errors can save dollars and improve customer satisfaction. Faster lines, similarly, can heighten goodwill while adding to the bottom line.

"Touch screen technology at the POS is readily accepted by specialty retailers because it saves 40-to-60 percent in time and training costs, and its unique architecture reduces errors," said Keith Neerman, CEO of InfoTouch.

You'll find more information about this integrated payment processing solution here.

Drew Robb is a Los Angeles-based freelancer specializing in technology and engineering. Originally from Scotland, he graduated with a degree in geology from Glasgow's Strathclyde University. In recent years he has authored hundreds of articles as well as the book, Server Disk Management by CRC Press.

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