When car phones first debuted, they were giant and expensive and required four wheels and a combustion engine to be mobile. The original electronic cash registers weren’t much different, other than being even heavier. As our phones have evolved, so too has point-of-sale (POS) acceptance technology, which can now take advantage of the same mobile and cloud-based paradigms we rely on for consumer phones and tablets. That familiarity and flexibility is why so many merchants are turning to cloud-based point-of-sale solutions.

Cloud-based POS systems move all of the previously device-based security and intelligence found in traditional POS terminals into the cloud. They are software solutions that can be downloaded to almost any smart device. Knowing how to use an app is the only tech skill required to operate them. Plus, they’re as mobile as the smartphone or tablet they’re loaded on, setting retailers free from behind the counter.

The appeal of cloud POS is easy to explain, says Eric Thielen, district manager with Clearent, a credit card processing service: “It’s fast, convenient, inexpensive and simple to operate.” Earlier this year, a client installed an entire new system while sitting in his food truck one morning before opening. The client was impressed that changing menu items and prices or uploading photos of dishes to the cash register required just a few taps. “It’s an app on your phone or tablet,” Thielen says. “Who doesn’t know how apps work?”

In addition to portability, which leads to more convenience all around, the fact that the intelligence behind these solutions lives in the cloud means cloud-based POS can do much more than simply accept payments. Through open APIs, proprietary interfaces and industry standards, providers of cloud-based POS solutions can offer value-added services — both in-house and from third parties — that can help streamline operations and increase productivity.

Another advantage of these solutions is scalability. Again, by locating the brains in the cloud, information can flow across platforms that might normally sit outside the POS terminal in a small business — syncing daily sales with inventory management tools or helping to deliver omnichannel retail solutions. Other services might create customizable invoices, manage payments and monitor overdue accounts, or facilitate international sales by automatically calculating tax and shipping across borders and currencies.

Embedding multiple services means merchants can manage products across all sales channels and easily add, edit or delete items, be it a food truck menu or thousands of retail items. Customer profiles can be created automatically, then tracked, updated and linked to their preferences and entire purchase history, so merchants can provide a customized experience, including unique discounts or tailored ads. Cloud-based POS add-ons also can integrate marketing, allowing merchants to set up and execute targeted newsletters and sales or loyalty campaigns with automatically updated mailing lists.

And all of it can be accessed anywhere there’s an internet connection.

With the global cloud POS market expected to reach $4.2 billion by 2023, big and small companies are entering the market, racing to develop increasingly sophisticated applications to meet changing merchant needs. Growth is being driven by factors such as increasing consumer demand for cashless transactions, demand from small retailers, e-commerce sites and restaurants around the world, and even a rise in food delivery services in China and India.

And right now, as new consumer behaviors and operating requirements emerge following the global pandemic, cloud-based POS solutions are delivering unanticipated value to small business owners. “COVID has created a real urgency to improve efficiencies and profitability,” Thielen said. “It’s the No. 1 question I get: How can we not spend a lot of money but still get something that makes it safer for my customers and for my staff?”

In addition to contactless payments, these solutions also allow small businesses to quickly and easily accommodate new consumer demands by launching new services, such as integrated online or kiosk ordering and curbside pickup.

Cloud-based POS moves payment acceptance from a hardware-dependent solution to a software-based service layer. This evolution improves efficiencies for small businesses by integrating payments, accounting, marketing, inventory management and a host of other business tools. It opens the door to a seamless, omnichannel experience for customers, all while generating insights to help business owners make smarter decisions.

As the world starts to reopen, merchants will no doubt find — and demand — new services, paving the way for continued innovation in POS acceptance. The possibilities are limitless.

Maggie Sieger
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