Retail Hardware Evolution from a 30-Year Industry Veteran’s POV

By: Linda Sudderth, North America Sales Manager, Business Systems, EPSON America 

I’ve been in the retail industry for 30 years and I’ve been employed by a total of three manufacturers, all selling hardware solutions to end users, resellers, and/or OEMs. I came on the scene at the cusp of PC-POS.

Prior to the early 90s, the POS Terminal Solutions were closed-architecture solutions. If you were an end user looking for a POS Terminal Solution, your options were a complete solution from one of the select options from NCR, IBM, MICROS, Fujitsu, PAR, DTS, and others. You were locked into the full single-sourced solution; Hardware, POS Application Software, Proprietary Operating System, Service, Support, Maintenance, with no options for selecting alternate manufactures peripherals or services. That was just the way it was, everything from one vendor and one “throat to choke.”  

When working for a Direct-to-Market PC Manufacturer, we purpose-built a POS Terminal, best-of-breed solution incorporating Cherry Keyboards, APG Cash Drawers, and a CompuAdd PC for a Top 100 retailer. This was the first step to a more open architecture POS Terminal Solution offering end-users the ability to choose what components they deemed to be the best-of-breed for their specific store’s POS terminal solution.

I believe this groundbreaking move brought many opportunities for manufacturers, software developers, logistics companies, and consultants. The ability to aggregate a solution from best-of-breed options was the start of a new era. 

Along with an end-user’s opportunity to pick and choose from a variety of peripheral manufacturers, it also brought additional PC players to the retail market such as Dell, HP, and others. Some had staying power, and some came and went. What did remain was price competitiveness in the retail market.

As a result of the changing market, the Retail Industry relied heavily on the necessity of value-added-resellers and dealers to bring solutions to market and assist in local, regional, and national solution deployments. This created an ecosystem where value-add became more important to the reseller and was good for the merchant as well.

Vendors and manufacturers had to up their game in research and development to justify their value to the POS solution, and more importantly, to the merchant and to their customer walking through the door. The VAR/Dealer played an integral role and was embraced by both end-user customers and manufacturers who consistently developed and brought new technology to market. A win-win for all involved!

The last ten years has brought about three major milestones:

  • The emergence of Mobile POS (I define as at POS solution that runs on an iOS, Android or Windows tablet)
  • The convergence of mPOS, POS and the Payments industry
  • Many consolidations, all somewhat related.

Having been involved in the OEM industry for the past 30 years, it was interesting to see traditional OEMs and VARs respond to the emergence of mPOS in the retail industry. mPOS brought the terminal price to a reduced financial commitment, enabling thousands of small retailers and restaurants to invest in POS Terminal Solutions vs. electronic cash registers.

Upon success in Tier 3 and 4, it encouraged all retailers to evaluate their needs to determine if an mPOS solution would meet their requirements at POS or a subset of lanes at the store. Quickly, every major OEM had a tablet solution and every traditional VAR continued to sell their traditional solutions, but also qualified and onboarded an mPOS tablet solution to have a variety of options for their customers. 

Enter COVID-19. Immediately, everything went dark for a couple months. Then retailers and restaurateurs quickly sought solutions to remain open-for-business and relevant during the pandemic. Retailers and restaurateurs scrambled to find solutions for curbside delivery/pick-up, online ordering, electronic menus, true omni-channel experience, ghost kitchens, Plexiglas sneeze guards, floor signage for six-foot distance markers and more.

The need for technology was apparent, and the market and manufacturers responded. Retailers, VARs and manufacturers were hustling to develop, market and engage with retailers to share their latest technology innovations to keep America moving and to keep our industry afloat as COVID-19 rocked the world.

The unprecedented manufacturing closures, port delays, container shortages, railway delays, and sky-rocketing air freight fee increases brought about a supply-chain crisis like never before experienced, and continues to challenge the industry to this day, two-and-a-half years later.

We’ve experienced the ebb and flow of product availability over the last few years, as manufacturing has started/stopped with COVID variants popping up, but it appears the worst is behind us as we see improvements in supply chain every day. Let’s hope for health and prosperity and better years ahead for everyone individually and for our industry.

I’m excited to see the next wave of technology innovation beyond what was necessitated by the pandemic, but one thing I’m sure of: technology created in response to the pandemic is here to stay. The customer experience that curbside delivery and online ordering brought to market won’t be going away anytime soon – that is unless drone delivery can bring $200-$300 worth of groceries to my front door!