The humble cash register, a device that seems sprung from the imagination of an accountant, has become the darling of designers, albeit with a dash of style.
With the advent of tablets, particularly the iPad, many stores have traded in their clunky cash registers for mobile devices. Now, though, they are dressing up those tablets with inventive accessories to make them both more pleasant to look at and more practical for cashiers.
Retailers from doughnut shops to department stores are putting in tablet-based cash registers that hang on the wall or can swivel around like desk lamps to face customers. At Coco Donuts in downtown Portland, Ore., iPad registers hang on a track on the wall, and employees slide them over to customers at the counters, who can sign for their bill, barely missing a bite.
Some designers are using eye-catching materials like bamboo to make iPad enclosures that scream for attention; others are using minimalist designs that make the register all but disappear. And sales associates are plucking the tablets off countertops so they can take orders from anywhere in a store using tiny credit card readers attached to devices.
Molly Moon's Homemade Ice Cream is ditching the button-encrusted Casio monoliths at its Seattle stores, replacing them with six Apple iPads that sit on stylish, handcrafted plywood pedestals.
In addition to being more attractive, the new registers are more flexible and user-friendly. Along with the new physical designs are new payment technologies that turn mobile devices into registers on the fly. The most prominent of these - a card reader, app and payment system from the San Francisco company Square - turns the earphone port of certain tablets or smartphones into a credit card reader.
For a small merchant, it's not only convenient, but also saves him about 20% on credit card transaction fees compared with his old system.
On Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods, Rob Redick sells iPad cash register stands made out of pieces of transparent acrylic, between which he can sandwich customized designs featuring merchant logos.
So far, the iPad has a big lead on other tablets that are being repurposed as cash registers.