Mobile apps and services are coming along to disrupt the traditional cash register. The path for moving away from the register was paved in part by the near abandonment of cash as our primary payment method. Per a Nielsen survey released in January 2014, 54 percent of people around the world and 71 percent in North America prefer plastic to cash for their daily spending [source: Nielsen]. We are also increasingly willing to make online purchases with credit and debit cards, including shopping on smartphones and tablets. These developments, along with the advent of touchscreen mobile devices and relatively easy access to the reliable broadband Internet connectivity, have made in-store smartphone and mobile-based payment systems a reality.
Major contenders in the mobile payment arena are Square, Intuit GoPayment, Pay AnyWhere, ShopKeep and even PayPal with PayPal Here (which lets you take credit cards and scan checks for deposit into your PayPal account). Some simply consist of an app on your device and a tiny card reader plugged into its audio jack. This gives even the smallest independent store or street vendor the ability to take credit cards. Retailers are charged a percentage per transaction, a monthly fee or both, along with the cost of the hardware, which is much cheaper than traditional registers and card readers. Square also offers a stand that connects to an iPad, bar-code scanner, receipt printer and related devices for a more robust cash register replacement. Mobile devices themselves have cameras that allow them to scan barcodes.
Some major retailers have been experimenting with payment and product lookup via dedicated mobile devices, too, including Barneys New York, Urban Outfitters, Gucci, Saks Fifth Avenue and Gaylord Hotels. Employees might be wandering the store with mobile devices, able to help customers anywhere. Tablets are even appearing at tables in restaurants to allow you to order items and pay with a swipe. Some companies, including Wal-Mart, have experimented with letting people check out entirely on their own mobile devices using apps that let them ring up merchandise. Such innovations could potentially be the death of waiting in line, although it could also reduce jobs.
Phones that incorporate Near Field Communications (NFC) allow you to pay for things without your physical credit or debit cards at NFC-enabled payment stations using apps such as Google Wallet. Online payment methods like PayPal are even being accepted at some stores, and for places that can't process PayPal payments, the service can issue users a debit card.
NCR and other cash register manufacturers may not have to worry about extinction, however, due to the rising popularity of the next item.