NEW YORK -- To PC or not to PC -- that is the question among retailers looking to replace their front-end point-of-sale systems.
Many retailers are sold on the flexibility of open-architecture PC-based registers, and are enthusiastically trading in their traditional registers for them.
Perhaps the biggest driving force behind retailers going with PC-based POS systems is the popularity of frequent-shopper programs. Some retailers have gone so far as to completely revamp their front-end systems with PCs in order to have the capacity to run more targeted frequent-shopper programs.
Retailers are also impressed with PC registers' ability to run various types of software and interface easily with their stores' other computer operations, opening the door to possibilities that didn't exist with traditional POS systems.
Gary Kroupa, director of management information systems for Southwest Supermarkets, Phoenix, explained that the 37-store chain is presently looking to replace its traditional POS system, because its current system does not allow the retailer to perform the functions that a PC-based register would allow.
Southwest is looking at PC-based registers from four different vendors. Kroupa said the PC-based systems can run software that would allow Southwest to keep track of cashier accountability and performance, and offer automatic, end-of-day and end-of-week closing reports, as well as other options. Also, Southwest hopes to install cashier security options that can evaluate the number of no sales and misrings.
He said Southwest is hoping to gradually roll out the new PC-based POS systems by the second half of 1997.
Plans for a frequent-shopper program drove Randalls Food Markets, Houston, to recently implement the same POS system in all 122 stores. Lonnie Varner, Randalls' director of store systems, said that in order to roll out its frequent-shopper program uniformly, 83 stores needed new POS systems -- 39 of the stores already had the PC-based POS system the retailer decided to put in all its stores.
Doug Baumgartner, director of operation services for Martin's Super Markets, South Bend, Ind., said that the traditional registers now used at the 16-store chain are holding the retailer back from making complete use of its current frequent-shopper program.
For example, the current system is capable of giving a 50-cent discount on a particular item to all frequent-shopper card holders. But with the PC-based system, Martin's could run different discount levels based on the customer's overall value to the chain. Martin's frequent-shopper software already has this capability, but the current POS system inhibits the retailer from accessing it, Baumgartner explained. By early 1998, Martin's hopes to have rolled out a new PC-based POS system at a test site.
Robbie Jester, information systems manager for Southeast Foods, Monroe, La., said the 21-store chain is looking to update POS systems at 18 of its larger stores in the near future. Though Southeast doesn't currently have a frequent-shopper program, if the retailer does invest in a new POS system, it would be frequent-shopper capable, meaning it would track data at the customer level, said Jester.
"I believe the open-architecture, PC systems are here to stay and are the way to go. I believe that if you don't go now, you're going to go soon," Jester added.
Paul Cardinalli, point-of-sale supervisor for Nob Hill Foods, Gilroy, Calif., doesn't believe that Windows-based PC registers are ready for supermarkets, and vice versa. He feels the hardware is not robust enough for the constant exposure to front-end elements, such as spills and jolts from passers-by, and that the software is too slow.
"I think the front end moves too fast," he added. "If you have to do lookups, and you have graphics, it has to build those screens, and that takes time."