The humble cash register, a device that seems sprung from the imagination of an accountant, has become the darling of designers, adding a dash of style to the most ordinary daily transactions.
With the advent of tablets, particularly the iPad, many stores have traded in their clunky cash registers for mobile devices. Now, though, they are dressing up those tablets with inventive accessories to make them both more pleasant to look at and more practical for cashiers.
Retailers from doughnut shops to department stores are putting in tablet-based cash registers that hang on the wall or can swivel around like desk lamps to face customers. At Coco Donuts in downtown Portland, iPad registers hang on a track on the wall, and employees slide them over to customers at the counters, who can sign for their bill, barely missing a bite.
Some designers are using eye-catching materials like bamboo to make iPad enclosures that scream for attention; others are using minimalist designs that make the register all but disappear. And sales associates are plucking the tablets off countertops so they can take orders from anywhere in a store using tiny credit-card readers attached to the devices.
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Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream is ditching the button-encrusted Casio monoliths at its Seattle stores, replacing them with six Apple iPads that sit on stylish, handcrafted plywood pedestals engraved with the store’s logo of a dog (a Boston terrier and French bulldog mix) licking an ice-cream cone.
“The new iPads are a huge aesthetic improvement over our old clunky plastic registers,” said Kristina McDonnell, Molly Moon’s director of operations, who ordered the stands from Tinkering Monkey, an Oakland, Calif., studio.
Cash registers have gone through many mutations since they were first introduced in the late 1800s by an Ohio merchant looking to combat employee theft. They were electrified in the early 20th century, and more recently, got touch-screen displays.
Less has changed about their looks, however. Cash registers have remained a hulking presence — “always industrial and ugly,” said Kirthi Kalyanam, a professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University.
In addition to being more attractive, the new registers are more flexible and user-friendly, like the ones at Coco Donuts. By putting the registers on the wall, the store’s owner, Ian Christopher, freed up counter space for coffee drinks and doughnuts.
And along with the new physical designs are new payment technologies that turn mobile devices into registers on the fly.
The most prominent of these — a card-reader, app and payment system from the San Francisco company Square — turns the earphone port of an Apple or Android tablet or smartphone into a credit-card reader. For a small merchant like Christopher, it’s not only convenient, but also saves him about 20 percent on credit-card-transaction fees compared with his old system.
Eventually, the need for receipt printers and cash drawers may vanish entirely as electronic payments through smartphones and other devices become commonplace. Wal-Mart recently expanded a program that lets customers scan the bar codes on merchandise using their iPhone cameras so they can skip conventional cash registers.
Sales associates in Apple’s own retail stores carry iPod Touches that are outfitted with credit-card readers. Apparel retailer Nordstrom, is also phasing out cash registers in all of its 240 stores and instead using iPod Touches to process payments from customers as they’re sitting in the shoe department or in a dressing room.
Merchants are also catching on that they can use iPads and other mobile devices untethered from counters for “line-busting,” in which cashiers approach people in a queue to take orders for food or merchandise. That improves service while making it less likely that those customers will leave since they have already paid.