With the explosion of portable information devices and the increasing use of wireless technology, more companies are connecting their frontline workers to complete transactions at the point-of-sale or point-of-service. As an example, retail store clerks can scan bar codes and check pricing or reduce check-out lines at peak times. Credit card payment helps close the total transaction much closer to the customers’ point-of-decision. This brings a new meaning to printing at point-of-service, requiring the retailer or food service provider to recognize that the server not the customer needs to be mobile. The transaction, including payment, can be completed anywhere in a store for example or right at the seat in a sports stadium.
The applications for the use of portable receipt printers in mobile computing however go beyond retail and food service as this article will demonstrate. The following are some ‘hot applications’ where use is literally exploding.
A rapidly growing sector for mobile printers is the parking industry for local government. Mobile printers are currently used in the Municipality of Cefalu in Sicily, where there is a huge influx of traffic, especially in the holiday season when parking becomes hugely problematic. To tackle this, traffic wardens have been issued with portable belt-carried Extech printers to issue parking fines on the spot. The wardens now issue in excess of five hundred fine tickets per day in the summer season, contributing a substantial credit to the Municipality budget. Similar installations can be found in Bilbao, Spain and Lisbon in Portugal.
Transportation – People
The Swedish National Rail system carries more than nineteen million people annually. They recently implemented what Christer Kohler describes as, ‘the first computerized conductors in the world,’ equipped with hand held computers and portable receipt printers with integrated magnetic card reader. IrDA wireless communication between the two devices means that there are no cables to break. Passengers now pay on the train rather than at rail stations. Similar systems are at work on buses in Germany and on Cross Channel Ferries, as well as on Finnair for duty free receipts.
In particular with Beverage companies – both beer and soft drink bottlers take advantage of the benefits of route accounting to reduce the time needed to complete a sale, to improve sales force productivity and create more satisfied customers. Examples are Fresh Samantha, the producer and distributor of premium juices and Grupo Modelo, the eighth largest beer maker in the world -and owner of the prestigious Corona Extra brand. Relevant statistical and historic data for each customer is stored on hand-held computers; data is read and updated with each visit and delivery notes or receipts issued. Each route is kept constantly up-to-date with inventory and sales data.
The use of portable receipt printers in mobile computing is often used in the field. Companies such as Sears, Roebuck are putting computers in the hands of field service technicians to make them more efficient, to streamline and speed basic functions, such as billing, and to save millions of dollars. The retailer’s HomeCentral operation is the largest appliance repair firm in the United States, with over thirteen thousand technicians who make eleven million in-home repairs a year. The hardware used by the field service technicians includes sturdy laptops and portable printers; and Sears’ service vans have been converted into wireless network base stations.
Another good example is Calor Service, one of Italy’s most important companies working in the servicing of heating and air conditioning systems, adopted mobile computing including portable receipt printers to obtain better day to day performance by their service technicians. Calor Services is the Official Service Centre for Caldaie Beretta: one of the most famous Italian manufacturers of heating and air conditioning devices.
Meter reading is a portable printing application that is currently experiencing growth. Benguet Electric Co-operative (Beneco) supplies electricity to an area six hours north of Manila, Philippines. The mountainous terrain, lack of a modern road network, and long distances between customers made billing and meter reading difficult and accurate record keeping impossible. Beneco equipped each of its Meter Readers with a hand-held computer, an Extech thermal printer, and a custom written software package. After keying the monthly reading into the computer, meter readers now print-out and instantly deliver electricity bills in the same visit. With the instant billing, the payment collection cycle was shortened and also, speeding up the billing process identified a 20% discrepancy between what Beneco was drawing down and what it was selling. As a result, the 20% discrepancy has been reduced to 15%, allowing Beneco to recoup in excess of US$780,000 annually.
Mobile pos terminals for “line busting” reduce the wait at cash terminals or eliminate the need to leave a seat at crucial moments while watching a ball game. Visit the Fleet Center (home of the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics) and enjoy the rapid food ordering system in the club seats – ordering and payment is done seat side and all communication to the kitchen and for credit card approval is done over a wireless network. Retailers know that reducing queue times at checkouts is a key factor in achieving customer satisfaction. Reducing waiting enables retailers to offer their customers a superior service, especially during peak trading periods. Proven benefits include customer retention and increased turnover. Woolworth PLC rolled out such a system to 200 stores in time to cope with the Christmas and January sales queues. The clever “queue busting” concept enables the store to set up mobile checkouts, allowing queues to be dealt with ‘on the spot’ and customer waiting times to be dramatically reduced.
Microsoft, discussing the use of Mobile Devices in the Enterprise, notes that, ‘millions of people work in untraditional office environments such as traveling sales representatives. Or it may be that the nature of the job requires the worker to move from place to place, as in factory work, package delivery, and field service or health-care professions. Portable information devices provide a tool for replacing paper-based business processes with forms-based applications. The increased efficiency and accuracy of capturing data quickly into a computing device can result in higher employee productivity, faster business reporting and reduced operational costs.’