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POS Hardware: Touch Screen Terminals

Point of Sale Systems Buyers' Guide

When you contact point of sale systems suppliers you'll have a variety of input devices to choose from. You should therefore decide in advance the features and benefits that are going to be of most imprtance to your business.

EPOS Touch Screens and Keyboards
The majority of retail and hopitality businesses opt for EPOS touch screen terminals. Nonetheless, you may feel that a programmable keyboard offers you greater flexibility to deal with a wide range of goods. Some businesses even choose both.

Staff react well to EPOS touch screens and can quickly adapt to using them without previous experience. The screens are no longer bulky CRT monitors but flat panel LCD models that are smart-looking, compact, cheaper to run and reliable. A word of warning, though - it's best not to use touch overlay screens that fit on ordinary monitors: this type of screen has a tendency to fail.

Many POS system keyboards look no different to those that accompany ordinary computers. Some outlets such as takeaways, however, have keyboards designed specifically for their needs.

A keyboard can have a built-in magnetic strip reader for credit and debit cards, although you're more likely to process such cards through a chip and PIN machine. But you may still want a magnetic strip reader for loyalty, bonus, discount and gift cards.

You may want to give your touch screen or keyboard a measure of protection from dirt and spills depending on its location. If so, ask your supplier for details of laminated covers.

Bar Code Scanners
Bar code scanners are now a fact of life in many shops. Manufacturers print bar codes and numbers on the packaging of their products. Alternatively, shop staff place an appropriate bar code sticker on each item.

The scanner reads the bar code and sends the details to the computer. The computer then gives the price and creates a list as the checkout operator scans each item for the customer. The result is a fast and precise checkout system.

Basic scanners are hand-held and known as charge coupled devices (CCD). Staff must hold the scanner close to the code on the product otherwise it will fail to read it. Most of these cheaper devices have a limited range. Others use laser technology to read a code from some distance away - those in DIY stores, for instance. The checkout operator doesn't necessarily have to press anything to activate the scanner: autosense models automatically switch on when held to an item.

If you deal with small products that the customer places on a checkout counter, the scanner to consider is an omnidirectional model sunk into the counter top. Most large supermarkets use these. The scanner sends out a series of lasers at the same time, making it easier to register the bar code on awkwardly shaped packaging and speeding up the checkout process.

The choice of bar code scanner is yours, but you may want to base your decision on customer volume. A low number of customers merits a basic model; a regular stream of people warrants an autosense scanner; and a high volume business may need an omnidirectional device.

Wireless Terminals or Mobile Point of Sale Systems
Hand-held wireless EPOS terminals, or mobile point of sale systems, are a development of personal digital assistant (PDA) computers. The user places an order on portable device and sends it immediately to a fixed base station behind a bar or in a restaurant kitchen - or both. This means that waiting staff in pubs and restaurants can serve their customers quicker and spend more time selling food and drink.

Hand-held moblie point of sale systems have touch screens operated by a finger or the tip of a blunt "pen". On other versions, staff write the order on the screen with the pen. The terminal then approves the order by checking it against the POS system's handwriting recognition software and passes it on.

Of course, hand-held devices get dropped. To avoid problems, ask your point of sale systems supplier how robust the EPOS terminals are. You may also want to have at least one spare mobile point of sale system in case of an accident.

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