Retail POS system adapted for simple iPod Touch

July 1, 2010 by Dave Haynes

Starmount Systems came out with an announcement last week about a deal to use the Apple iPod Touch as a mobile POS unit in Urban Outfitters stores. I didn’t write anything on it at the time because the release was a little light on detail. However, a little email back and forth with some folks I know there did the trick, and now I have enough to work with.

Austin, TX-based Starmount is a longtime Oracle database shop, and in the past 18 months or so has been building up capabilities in digital signage and mobile.

The June 22nd release said:

The mobile POS solution will provide store associates a tool to complete transactions where the point-of-decision is occurring. It will include full functionality of a fixed-base POS system as well as integration with in-store databases. The mobile application will be developed on the Starmount Application Framework, which is platform and operating system independent and easily integrates applications from point-of-service systems to inventory management tools.  The framework can be extended to new mediums such as interactive kiosks and digital signage, enabling customers to focus on their changing business needs instead of the underlying technology.

The release also stressed the deal they have is to develop this solution, meaning it is by no means done and rolling out just yet. The app is still in the prototyping phase, with the requirements all scoped out but development and testing still needed. The announcement was timed to coincide with some demos done last week at a big Oracle vendor/customer event.

The iPod is equipped with an add-on magnetic stripe and barcode reader that gives the same functionality as a fixed POS unit at the cash counter. the gadget talks to the retail POS system via built-in WiFi.

The scenario is pretty simple and slick. When a consumer is poking around a store, a sales associate can not only demo products and field questions, but also do inventory and price look-ups, and close the sale on the spot using the readers with credit or gift cards. The idea is to juice up the customer shopping experience by making it easier and keeping them from having to get in line to pay for goods.

You could imagine how this could be extended to larger screens to show options not available on the floor, as well as upcoming goods to drive return shopping visits. The POS integration also means screens can map to inventories and do all the stop play or increase frequency stuff people talk about for intelligent, dynamic playlists. Right now, though, it is just the little handheld iPod screens. If there are big screens or kiosks, that’s down the road.

Urban Outfitters – which sells clothing for men and women as well as cosmetics and housewares (never been in one) – has been a retail services customer for a bunch of years and the client uses an Oracle-based POS system, so there was a nice, easy fit.

Anyone who sells software in this space will tell you how hard it is to crack the code and get retail moving on projects, so this is a nice win. It’s also instructive that companies who understand store operations and retail systems have a better shot at winning work than companies that expertly put stuff on screens, on schedule, but not a lot else.

This is also pretty slick from the point of view of both cost and cool factor. We’ve seen people walking around places like car rental return lines with mobile POS systems the size and weight of bricks. The iPod touch in single quantities is a $199 item, so putting a bunch in a store is no real biggie.

This BEGS for a demo video, Starmount guys. Hint. Hint.

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