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Don’t Get Stuck with Outdated Point-of-Sale Designs

The retail world is changing fast, requiring flexible point-of-sale (POS) technologies that can quickly adapt to new requirements. But many existing POS solutions are based on retrofitted technology that may not be able to meet modern use cases. In addition, this hardware tends to be bulky, proprietary, and difficult to repair and service.

What OEMs and ODMs need is a flexible, scalable POS architecture that enables rapid innovation. Ideally, this architecture would be both powerful and compact, and would use standardized hardware to reduce development costs.

Omnichannel Takes e-Commerce Market Share

The need for flexibility and scalability at low cost is increasing as brick-and-mortar retailers continue to invest in omnichannel strategies that combine the best of e-commerce and physical retail. This approach is helping brick-and-mortar retailers stay competitive even as e-commerce continues to increase its share of the overall market.

A recent report by the CBRE showed that e-commerce retail sales increased by 16% to $453.5 billion in 2017 from $391.0 billion in 2016. For perspective, e-commerce accounted for $199.7 billion in retail sales in 2011 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Brick-and-mortar retailers are accelerating the growth of e-commerce by adopting new technologies to implement omnichannel strategies. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau)

These numbers include both pure-play “e-tailers” as well as the online sales of primarily brick-and-mortar brands. What’s particularly noteworthy is that, according to the CBRE, the year-over-year growth is due in large part to brick-and-mortar retailers’ active investment in omnichannel platforms.

“Providing omnichannel remains the key to success for all retail brands,” said the report. To achieve this success, retailers need to be able to adopt new technologies more quickly and cost-effectively. These technologies are key to new services that help retailers acquire and retain customers, particularly at the point of sale.

Flexible Architecture Unlocks e-Commerce

To meet these needs, retailers are looking to move away from proprietary hardware and software. Why? Because merchants find that these systems are suboptimal for omnichannel strategies, limit their ability to scale, add to maintenance and repair costs, and slow innovation.

To address these issues, Intel introduced the Intel® Smart POS Module (Intel® SPOSM). This reference design was created specifically for next-generation retail applications. It pairs a standardized compute module with a customizable peripheral interface board (PIB) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: The Intel® SPOSM reference design combines a standard compute module with a customizable I/O board. (Source: Intel® Corp.)

This modular approach enables the solution to be used for many applications without the need for different SKUs, while simplifying maintenance and service. For example, rather than trying to troubleshoot a problem on-site or remotely, a board or module can simply be swapped out and the retailer’s POS can be quickly up and running again.

The compute module is based on a low-power (15W max) SoC such as the 7th Gen Intel® Core processor KBL-U. It can support one or two channels of SODIMM memory along with one M.2 key E and one M.2 key M port.

The compute module attaches to the peripheral interface board over a 180-pin connector. The connector has 170 pins pre-assigned, with the remaining 10 available for customization. Sample specified pinouts include three for displays, USB 3.0, 6 USB 2.0, audio and LAN, PCIe, UART, I2C, GPIO, SATA, LPC/Espi, and MIPI-CSI. Which of these is used depends on end-user requirements.

This partitioning between the compute and I/O helps reduce costs by enabling a single compute module to be used across a variety of form factors and applications. Rather than creating an all-new design, OEMs and ODMs can simply pair the compute module with a different peripheral interface board.

The standardized design also lowers maintenance costs. If a module malfunctions, service personnel can simply replace the module in the field, rather than taking the entire POS system back to the shop for repairs. Similarly, the standardized design means a small stock of replacement modules can be used to service a wide variety of POS systems—something that is not possible with proprietary, specialized POS designs.

POS Systems Already on the Market

Systems based on the reference design are already on the market. For example, the AnyPOS 100 and AnyPOS 600 POS solutions from Qingdao Wintec System Co., Ltd. are based on Intel SPOSM (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Wintec based its AnyPOS 600 line of POS systems on Intel® SPOSM. (Source: Wintec)

Both the AnyPOS 100 and 600 support Windows and Linux and come in a variety of configurations. These include various combinations of features such as 15-inch capacitive LCD touch display, up to 4 GB of memory, 32 GB hard drive, built-in thermal printer, high-speed Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet, cash drawer, and fingerprint reader.

Readying POS Systems for Omnichannel

With the combination of low-power, high-performance, scalable computing in a standardized format with flexible I/O options, OEMs and ODMs can more quickly develop and iterate upon POS solutions. As a result, it is easier to deploy leading-edge services such as facial recognition, self-checkout, and advanced payment schemes. Such services and features will help complete the transition to a satisfying omnichannel experience for both retailers and customers alike.

About the Author

Patrick Mannion is a independent content developer and consultant who has been analyzing developments in technology for more than 25 years. Formerly Brand Director for EETimes, EDN, Embedded, Planet Analog, and, now part of AspenCore, he has also been developing and executing community-oriented online- and events-based engineer-to-engineer learning platforms. His focus is on connecting engineers to find novel design solutions and focused skills acquisition in the areas of Embedded, IoT, Test and Measurement, RF/Wireless, and Analog & Mixed-Signal Design.

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