What is the Point of Sale?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Also known as the point of service or POS, the point of sale is the exact point in a transaction when goods or services are provided to the customer and payment is rendered for those products. While the specifics of a POS system will vary somewhat from one situation to another, the final outcome is always the same. Today, there are professionals who analyze and develop tools that help to create an environment for the exchange to take place, many of them related to specific retail situations.

The point of sale often includes a cash register.
The point of sale often includes a cash register.

One of the most basic point of sale systems is found in the supermarket. This system consists of the check out counter, a scanner, and the cash register. As each item is scanned, the system notes the cost. Once all the items selected by the customer are scanned, the system calculates the taxes applicable to the purchases and provides the customer with the total amount due. The customer renders payment, which the hardware logs, generating a receipt of the transaction for the customer.

The POS system used in a bookstore helps the staff with inventory and sales reports.
The POS system used in a bookstore helps the staff with inventory and sales reports.

Today, there is a new twist to this type of point of sale strategy. Self-serve kiosks are increasingly used in supermarkets and other retail outlets. The POS terminal allows the customer to scan each item before placing it into a bag, automatically applying discounts or sale prices to each scanned item. Once the customer has scanned and bagged the purchases, the system calculates the taxes and offers the customer several choices in payment method. When cash is used, the software logs the amount of cash deposited and issues any change due the customer. As with the more traditional POS systems, this self-service model also provides the customer with an itemized receipt of the transaction.

Modern POS systems are usually linked to software which can be used to track, analyze and report on sales.
Modern POS systems are usually linked to software which can be used to track, analyze and report on sales.

Point of sale hardware and software are found in other retail situations. There are retail systems designed for use in bookstores, flea markets, and airports. Restaurant sale equipment includes automated ordering kiosks that the customer can use to place an order and submit payment. The restaurant POS is very popular in many drive-up style fast food restaurants, but can also be used to place orders in a few family style restaurants as well. As with the retail POS, the restaurant model is capable of accepting credit and debit cards for payment. However, it is unusual for such a device to accept cash.

Point of sale retail systems may be used at flea markets.
Point of sale retail systems may be used at flea markets.

Over time, automated point of sale devices have become increasingly popular, showing up at hotels, casinos, sports stadiums, and similar venues. Technology has also made them an option for online purchasing, making it possible to purchase goods at online stores and pay for them immediately.

Modern point of sale systems often use barcode scanners to automate pricing and track inventory.
Modern point of sale systems often use barcode scanners to automate pricing and track inventory.
Automated point-of-sale systems are more popular, appearing even at more informal places such as flea markets.
Automated point-of-sale systems are more popular, appearing even at more informal places such as flea markets.
Many large and small retailers use point of sale terminals to process their daily sales transactions.
Many large and small retailers use point of sale terminals to process their daily sales transactions.
Cashiers may use point of sale (POS) software.
Cashiers may use point of sale (POS) software.
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Discussion Comments

irontoenail

@Iluviaporos - It could be devastating to the economy though when machines take over these kinds of jobs. Imagine if every fast food store and supermarket cut their employees by half. There would be so many people out of work with nowhere to go.

And, ironically, they are often the people who end up spending the most in that kind of store, so in some ways the fast food industry would be hurting itself to let its own workers go.

lluviaporos

@browncoat - I'm sure it's also cheaper for the store to use a machine rather than a person, but I hope they will mostly maintain the option of going to a person.

I can see arguments on either side from the point of view of the store. When I worked in retail, the point of sale was considered to be fairly crucial for getting customers to add things onto their purchase, which is why almost every store, no matter what they sell, will have things like gum and candy bars there.

Someone might have just come in for a single item but you could get them to buy more with little persuasion, especially if there was a special offer. And you need skilled people for that, rather than machines.

On the other hand, there is also a well known phenomenon where people will refuse to stay in line if it's too long and will abandon the purchase altogether. Having multiple automated tellers can help prevent this.

browncoat

I will actually go out of my way to shop at a store that has automated point of sale counters so I can buy my groceries on my own time. I have a few anxiety issues, so I much prefer being able to finish my shopping without having to interact with a clerk.

But even more than that, it's always so much faster and easier. I can bag the groceries the way I want to bag them and I can double check that nothing has been scanned twice.

I really think it's the way of the future and that in a decade or so most stores will have more automated tellers than people working in that capacity.

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