The retail industry and the customer check-out process has evolved a lot since the birth of the industry. For a very long time “retail” was mostly confined to bartering and then market stalls, before evolving into fixed location shops and over-the-counter check-out processes. If we fast forward to the late twentieth century the industrial revolution changed everything and supermarkets disrupted the retail industry.
This is of course over-simplifying the evolution of trade and anthropologists would go crazy by my interpretation, but I often think of the evolution of retail and check-outs from stone-age to today simply as:
In hunter-gatherer era, everyone is a merchant and everyone is a customer and goods are exchanged wherever suitable. Book keeping was probably sloppy.
– You give me 3 rotten fish in exchange for that worn-out fur I’m wearing (ridden with lice) and we’re both happy…sort of
2. Market Stalls
Producers (farmers, fishermen, weavers…) walk their carts into the market square to sell their goods (location becomes essential in retail!). Ledgers and abacuses guided the check-out process.
– You come to buy 2 loafs of moulded bread for one copper coin (plus you may steal an apple)
Retail becomes an industry with professional merchants that grew tired of walking the cart to the market. And as thieving became a nuisance the tent around the stall was exchanged with wooden walls and the retail shop is born! That environment and associated over-the-counter check-out process lasted relatively unchanged for centuries (sort of).
– You stand at the counter and tell me what you need and I run around to get the stuff for you. You pay with coins, notes or IOUs (or you run away and don’t pay anything!)
4. Main Street
Location is everything in retail and shops grow bigger with more employees (cashiers). The cash register was invented around the mid 19th century and become ubiquitous at the beginning of the 20th (starting with low tech cogs-and-wheels cash registers to low tech “digital calculators”)
– The cashiers have a harder time stealing from me now, I keep my money locked in a metal container which even makes a loud noise for me to look over every time it is opened 😉
Retail gets big and decentralised with mega stores selling everything at a lower price disrupting the industry. Location is no longer the key to success and retailers become big, with multiple stores and purchasing power that allows them to reduce their cost price. Many of the little guys go under and the survivors focus on personalised customer service.
– You run around the store and get things, whilst I stand still at the counter and wait for you (saving me time and money)
6. Next Generation Retail
Supermarkets become threatened after the 2008 crash as consumers start becoming smart shoppers, selecting “nearby” convenience and discount stores over mega stores. The SMBs become empowered by Next Generation POS, allowing them the get all the functionality and data like the big guys have but at a fraction of the cost. The cash register is exchanged with a tablet or a smartphone on the floor. The cash register is designed to be both mobile and fixed at the same time and the shopping experience becomes social again.
Enterprise merchants step up by enhancing customer experience and Apple decides to disrupt the retail industry (just as a habit of disrupting things) and eliminates fixed check-outs with mobile POS scattered around the store — because why would you want to put a barrier, i.e. a counter between you and the customer after he’s made a decision to buy something?
– We both run around the store in a “consultative dialog”. We pretend to be friends whilst I educate you and sell you the latest and greatest (fleece me)
The retail industry and associated check-out processes evolved slowly for thousands of years, then suddenly in the 20th century it was revamped and then almost re-invented in the span of the last decade. There has never been a more exciting time in retail and we are seeing some glimpses of Next Generation Retail with #NextGenPOS and the omni-channel store changing everything. Technology advances have undoubtedly surpassed the retail industry and the building blocks are being assembled and tested in different ways — with much more excitement yet to come.