A History of POS Systems and How They Became Mobile

The sale and purchase of goods has been happening between individuals and businesses for centuries, starting originally with a trade of goods, to trading these for physical money and cash, and now through the use of debit and credit cards. One thing has remained the same, however, throughout time, and that is that all of these instances count as a point of sale.

A point of sale (POS) is defined as the time and place in which a retail transaction is completed, whereby the merchant calculates how much is owed by the customer, indicates this (with or without an invoice) and provides the payment method options the customer has, then the customer will pay in whichever way is relevant.

Of course, nowadays most retail stores use digital POS systems that calculate all this and more, however originally this process occurred manually. We’ve put together this history of POS systems, describing how they evolved to where they are today, including the recent emergence of mobile POS systems. Read ahead to learn more.

Manual Trade

As we’ve already mentioned, the trade of goods for money has been occurring all across the world for years and years. In times before tills were a thing, point of sales were all done by hand, memory and paper.

A merchant would memorise the price of the products they sold, or perhaps on occasion made these up on the spot, with customers even haggling said prices sometimes, then would keep the money they received from their customers in a money pouch on their person, or maybe in a moneybox.

Some regular customers may have even held credit accounts with specific merchants, which would be recorded on paper so that the merchant could see how much they were in credit or debt by and charge them accordingly.

They would then count their overall inventory and revenue by hand outside of trading hours, working out if and how much profit was earned as well as what products in their inventory would need to be restocked.

Cash Registers

If you’ve ever visited a small village shop or farm shop, then you may have noticed that many of these still use till systems like this.

Rather than having to write everything down and calculate prices mentally or with the use of a calculator, cash registers do all of the mathematical work for you. At the time that these first came into use (and continuing on till now), products would also have their individual prices attached to them, meaning a merchant not only wouldn’t have to remember these prices, but could hire employees to work for them and easily use the till.

All that needs to be done is for the prices to be typed into the cash register, which will add these together to give the final price that the customer is required to pay. If the customer then pays more than this and requires change, then a feature on the cash register also allows for the amount the customer pays to be put in, allowing it to then work out how much change needs to be given.

Another feature of cash registers that made them so innovative and useful was the inclusion of an inbuilt cash drawer. On a cash register, there is a specific button you can press when the total amount has been calculated and the customer is ready to pay, which will open a drawer on the register that contains a float for cash to be stored.

This means the merchant or employee would no longer need to keep cash on their person or in a place that is vulnerable to being stolen. Furthermore, till drawers often come with a lock, so they are even more protected and inaccessible to unwarranted personnel. The float in which the cash is stored is also split into sections, which makes it much easier for cash to be sorted, change to be given and the money to be counted at the end of the day.

Most shops today still use cash registers (unless they only accept card payments), however these are often used in conjunction with a modern POS system, rather than this manual till system.

Barcodes & POS Systems

As retail has expanded and businesses have become chains, so too has the way in which money and inventory is managed within shops, which has especially been helped throughout the growth of the digital era.

Barcodes are arguably one of the most significant inventions that have impacted the world of retail. As you will know, a barcode consists of a series of black lines of differing thickness with a unique number underneath, used to identify a specific product. These are either printed onto a product itself (e.g. on a box of teabags), onto a product’s packaging (e.g. on a packet of pens) or onto the price tag of a product (e.g. on the price tag affixed to a clothing item).

These barcodes can then be entered into a digital system known as a POS system, which will identify it with the specific product upon which it has been printed. From here, a shop is able to allocate a certain price to these barcodes, depending on how much they wish to sell the product for, and can input this price into the system.

During a sale, a scanner is used to scan the barcode of a product, which will then be recognised in the system so that it can find the associated product and its allocated price, noting this on the register for the merchant/employee before moving on to scan the next product. Each time a product is scanned, its price is automatically added on to the existing total, similar to how a cash register works, making it an extremely quick, easy and accurate process.

The great thing about these POS systems is that once a barcode has been scanned once and a price has been inputted, this will then be recognised across all registers using the system. Furthermore, by having this information stored online, it allows for merchants to keep track of their inventory much more easily, since they are also able to input the level of stock of each product that they have, with this automatically being reduced each time an item is sold.

Mobile POS Systems

With the evolution of the internet and mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, POS systems have now reached a whole new level yet again.

Thanks to the internet, information can all be stored online and accessed from numerous devices all around the world, if required. This includes information regarding inventory, sales receipts, customer loyalty and employee timestamps.

With this development, POS systems can now also be made to be used portably. Using a mobile device that is connected to the internet and the POS system online, businesses are now able to make sales anywhere on the shop floor in their storefront, meaning an employee can close a sale with a customer on the spot rather than them having to wait in a queue to be served at a register.

This also offers a great opportunity for businesses to reach a larger audience by taking their product further afield. For example, small businesses could set up a stall at a local market, at a small business fayre, or businesses that sell food and drink products could set up a mobile truck at events, offering them the opportunity to advertise their products to new people and attract prospective customers, all while being able to make sales and keep track of these at the same time thanks to mobile POS.

For more established businesses, mobile POS also allows them to keep track of how well their stores are doing across multiple locations. This means they are able to identify which products are particularly popular in certain areas, so they can know to increase the inventory of said products in those stores when restocking, or can see which stores are perhaps doing less well so they can focus targeted advertisement campaigns and strategies in these areas.


As you can see, retail tracking and management has come a long way throughout history, with mobile POS systems helping businesses in a plethora of innovative ways. From keeping track of sales, inventory, customer loyalty and store performances, to making sales on the go from anywhere with an internet connection, a portable POS system is undoubtedly beneficial to any business.

Here at IOResource, we stock a great selection of mobile POS systems from a range of quality and reliable manufacturers. With the option to filter your search by memory, storage, interface and operating system, you can be sure that you’ll find a mobile POS system ideally suited to your needs when shopping with us.

Get in touch with us today with any queries and to learn more about the products we sell.

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