Technically Speaking: Roving and Mobile Point-of-Sale Systems

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As part of a new regular column on technology in the bookselling world, here Director of ABA Technology Greg Galloway offers a look at how booksellers use mobile point-of-sale systems in their stores and offsite and talks with the various POS vendors who offer such systems.


Mobile point-of-sale (POS) systems and the ability to access inventory and stock location information without a desktop computer create opportunities to serve customers anytime and anywhere. For off-site events or peak-hour line-busting during the holidays, untethered options make both functions increasingly easy for booksellers.

Several of the popular bookstore point-of-sale systems offer features related to liberating a checkout or inventory system from a fixed spot. Dave Walton, president of IRT, makers of bookstore point-of-sale system IBIDie, detailed the mobile capability of that system. 

“IBIDie is browser-based and can run on a Windows tablet that supports the full Windows 7 or Windows 10 operating system, but not the reduced CE versions,” Walton said. “You can do any function of IBIDie on the tablet. You can run the entire application.”

Walton also noted that, practically speaking, toting a scanner, a credit-card swipe, and a printer can make true mobility a challenge.

Jocelyn Shratter, webmaster and social media marketer for Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, California said, “Our POS, IBIDie, can be run on laptops remotely from the store, so we have done remote or satellite cashiers for large off-site events outside of the store, and use laptops in-store to add additional, temporary registers.”

Shratter added that when display space is tight, having a laptop-based cashier has additional value. “Instead of having standard cashiers, you can put more products [where a desktop computer and monitor otherwise would have been],” she noted.

Employing a temporary mobile sales or inventory system with no connection to your regular point-of-sale system, as some stores do using highly mobile services like Square, requires its own investment in time. Stores pursuing this option must decide which products to include, export the details from the store’s POS system and import them to the temporary system, and then reconcile the details afterward. 

Booklog’s point-of-sale and inventory management system runs on any device that has a Windows Professional operating system, including such tablets as the Surface Pro, according to Booklog Sales and Technical Support Specialist Arnie Cuarenta.

“Provided the tablet is wirelessly connected to the Booklog server, the Surface Pro can do all of the functions that a desktop version of the program can do while walking around in the store,” said Cuarenta.

Combined with a wireless scanner, a setup like this can be used for many common store functions, including line busting, stock checking, counting physical inventory, and receiving.

Cuarenta added, “Booklog also provides both a Square and Clover interface that allows booksellers to check out a portion of their Booklog inventory to upload onto their Square account.” This data can then be used separately from the store’s network, and Square sales data can be uploaded to Booklog to update the inventory upon return to the store.

Kirsten Hess of Let’s Play Books in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, uses similar functions of her POS system, Anthology, to create a mobile register for off-site events, exporting a snapshot of her inventory to a laptop. “[The two systems don’t] talk to each other in real time, but you download [the inventory] at the end of the day and it matches up,” she said.

The same mobile system can also be used in the store. “We use it in the back for phone orders, receiving, etc., but can pull it out to use on busy days,” said Hess.

Hess also shared a word of caution about investing in optional POS expansions before discovering how much can be done with the core system. “We purchased a book fair module — we do not use it, even for straight school book fairs,” said Hess.

Anthology Director of Sales Jim Bean said, “Anthology offers several configurations that can support a variety of devices, including standard 10-inch tablets, with minor differences in available functionality from device to device. This can include access to inventory, editing inventory, receiving, and sales.” 

And while Anthology can be used with Android and iOS devices, “because Anthology is Windows-based software, Windows-based devices will afford the highest level of functionality,” Bean said. 

Peter Makin, owner of Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Michigan, has used a roving cashier during particularly busy days. “The inventory-equipped bookseller is an awkward creature when armed with an iPad and only the standard number of hands,” Makin said. “We found that while ‘cool and new,’ it wasn’t really practical on the floor. Looking up books is less smooth than at a keyboard and monitor; the ability to check out more than one book at a time is hampered by the question of where you put your book pile. It only seems to work if the roving bookseller didn’t rove.”

Makin, who uses a proprietary point-of-sale system, added, “We tend to use the setup for outside events, where the audience comes to us, rather than us venturing headlong into the crowd.”

Basil Bookseller Software is a cloud-based, bookstore-focused POS system. Mike McKnight, VP of operations at Basil Software, described Basil as “an internet-based system, so our customers can access Basil anywhere they have internet access. You can access the full version of Basil on a variety of platforms — Windows, Android, IOS, and even Chromebooks (using Android app). The interface is not optimized for phones, but anything tablet or bigger would work.”

Michael Neill, founder of Bookmanager, shared some of that system’s options for remote operation. “We have a module that duplicates the in-store experience to allow stores to have staff work from laptops and conduct sales remotely for offsite events,” said Neill. Similar to other systems, those remote devices are loaded with just the data required to operate offsite. “There is then a process that uploads the day’s activity via the internet to the main system.”

Privately, some booksellers expressed concern that a roving cashier, by giving customers the option to complete their visit whenever and wherever they are, might discourage the serendipitous finds — and purchases — that accompany browsing. Additionally, if a customer never visits the store’s main check-out, they might miss the opportunity to pick up a few impulse items along the way. Booksellers also expressed concern that a totally dispersed cashier system would eliminate the crow’s-nest-like security function of a traditional cash wrap, thereby increasing the opportunity for shoplifting.

This October, ABA will hold a Technology Meetup focusing on roving cashier and inventory solutions. Visit BookWeb.org to sign up for ABA’s video-based meetup discussions. ABA bookseller members are also encouraged to take advantage of BookWeb.org’s Bookseller-to-Bookseller forum to learn more about and share experiences with mobile and roving options.

Postscript: This summer saw the release of Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, the new augmented reality (AR) game from Niantic, the makers of hit 2016 AR game Pokémon Go. This fall will see the debut of Minecraft Earth, potentially sending even more people onto the streets to join a phone-based, interactive adventure. Did your store try to capitalize on Pokémon Go? Did it work? Do you have any plans for Wizards Unite or Minecraft Earth? Please share your experiences and plans with me at greg@bookweb.org.

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