cash register

The evolution of the cash register is quite remarkable. Originally invented as a way to guard revenue under lock and key, it’s now a way to grow revenue.

Like any bar owner, James Ritty wanted to find a way to stop employee theft in his Dayton, Ohio saloon. So, in 1879, he and a man named John Birch filed a patent for Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashier, the first cash register. It helped to curb theft because every time the drawer opened, a bell dinged, alerting the manager or owner to a sale. Interestingly, this also began the time off odd pricing – $1.99 or $1.79, for example. The odd pricing encouraged more change to be given, forcing the cashier to open the register to make change instead of pocketing $1 or $2 and not recording the sale.

The patent passed through several hands and ended up with John H. Patterson, who acquired it with a business he renamed the National Cash Register company.  Patterson made this purchase for $6,500 in 1884, just 5 years after its patent. That’s the equivalent today of roughly $160,000. We wouldn’t be remiss in saying that he got the steal of the century, but he also had the vision and business acumen to build it into an empire. At the time of his purchase, fewer than 20 Ritty’s Incorruptible Cashiers were in use, owing to the big price tag ($1,200 in today’s dollars) and lack of marketing.

Patterson and his brother added a receipt function, to further help protect business owners against fraud. They also created a commission-based sales force and began positioning this heavy piece of technology as a business aid, focusing on the large return on investment. By 1888, the National Cash Register company was a multinational corporation. By 1911, they had 6,000 employees, had sold 1,000,000 cash registers and owned 95% of the U.S. market share. While it’s true that the brothers and other employees were found guilty of violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and sentenced to a year in prison in 1912, the conviction was later overturned and they served no time.

Today, the National Cash Register company goes by NCR Corporation, a public company handling 550 million financial transactions daily. They have more than 30,000 employees and are headquartered in Metro Atlanta.

Like Oracle Micros and MobileBytes, NCR now makes point of sale software, among other products. While point of sale software & hardware is still a business aid, it’s role has expanded over the last 138+ years. Instead of having to be nearby to hear a bell ding, a business owner can open up an app to see what sales are – and be anywhere in the world. And instead of the check out being the sole customer touch point, point of sale (POS) systems now connect to the customer through multiple channels, multiple touch points. They can aid marketing efforts, texting or emailing customers based on previous purchases and helping with customer purchase research or the creation of a Loyalty program and enabling online ordering and delivery.

Interestingly, while cash register or point of sale technology’s original use was to help the business owner with existing business, the product today has analytics tools that can be used to grow the business. Just as importantly, they enhance the customer’s experience by customized marketing and selling. In a restaurant environment, a POS can enable faster order times and faster check delivery.

What does the future of point of sale (POS) look like? It’s clear that it’s cloud based and more mobile, with deeper customer-centric customizations. Some companies believe that the automation of the checkout process is what’s next. Kiosks have proven to be successful in high volume fast casual restaurants. Robots are even re-emerging as possible ways to humanize the automation. Pepper, the ordering robot at Pizza Hut in Singapore is straight out of the Jetsons, although it took more than 50 years for that to come to fruition!


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