In a Growing Number of City Stores, iPads Are Replacing Cash Registers

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The iPad cash register at Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn The iPad cash register at Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

At Ample Hills Creamery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, everything is made the old fashioned way. As a certified dairy, they even pasteurize their own milk. So patrons of the shop — where milk shake mixers, wall posters and table mats pre-date most of its clientele — may be surprised to find an iPad on the counter where a vintage brass cash register might sit.

“I was looking for something that was more elegant, less clunky than a cash register,” said Brian Smith, 41, the owner of the ice cream shop. We have limited counter space here so I wanted something that just had a cool factor, a wow factor.”

Like dozens of newly opened businesses in the city, Smith opted for the iPad cash register, rather than the traditional Point of Sale (POS) system. Though the POS uses digital technology, it also requires purchasing a bulky terminal, servers and costly monthly subscription fees.

Making the switch

When Smith prepared to open his shop, he found POS terminals would cost as much as $3,000, as opposed to about $500 to $600 for an iPad. And once he tested the app ShopKeep, a program designed to replace traditional cash registers, he was hooked.

“And there’s the elegance of how it works," Smith said. "My 19 and 20-year old employees could train me on it after 15 minutes. They intuitively understand how it functions."

The cash register has seen remarkably few changes since it’s creation in the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1970s that cash registers made any evolution from the old model, the mechanical register, according to Joe Finizio, president and CEO of Retailers Solutions Providers Association.

Finizio estimates POS systems, which first came on the market in the 1980s, are about a $60 billion industry, but none of the traditional players have developed one “killer app” that can run on tablet computers or smart phones.

“In essence what you’re carrying in your hand today, whether it’s a tablet or a smart phone, probably has more processing power than the Apollo capsule that went to the moon,” he said.

There's an app for that

Jason Richelson, 37, is the founder of ShopKeep, the app used at Ample Hills and dozens of other city shops.

The app officially launched at the beginning of August, and Richelson said they have about 50-100 downloads a day of the trial version. And it’s far cheaper than a POS system. For $1,000, retailers can get a cash drawer, credit card reader and wireless printer. The ShopKeep subscription is about $49 a month.

But there are limitations. Right now, ShopKeep can keep track of 270 items on the iPad and an unlimited number on a Mac and PC version, but a small inventory is where it works best. It can show 30 items on one page.

At Ample Hills Creamery, Eric Wu, a former employee of Yahoo, loves the fact that ShopKeep makes it easy to analyze their data. He can do things like figure out how many scoops they’ve sold since the store opened and whether a promotion is successful.  

“We’ve also been able to change up our scheduling of employees,” Wu said, “because we know it’s slow from 12-3 and picks up around 3 when school gets out. It slows down 4-6 and picks up again after 8. That thing we’ve been able to graph, since there’s a time stamp on every transaction.”

“Super simple, really, a cave man could do it sort of thing,” Wu said of the ease of use.

(Photo left: Jason Richelson, founder of ShopKeep and co-owner of The Greene Grape, The Annex and Provisions.)

The hold outs

But not everyone is ready to make the leap. Many retailers are comfortable with familiar technology and still might not trust cloud computing to keep track of their data.

At Penny House Café, a small coffee shop and deli in Prospect Heights, manager Jackson Franklin, 29, stands by his sturdy Samsung cash register.

“The screen doesn’t freeze, I don’t need to call a tech to fix it,” he said. The most maintenance he has to do is change the paper once a month. “Old fashioned is better.”

Glenn Hudson, 34, is planning to open a pizza shop in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that relies on locally sourced ingredients, and is just beginning the arduous task of choosing a POS system.

He’s had demos of various products that would start at $1,500- $2,500, not including a monthly bill, and he’s still not confident about any of them.

“You’re stuck in a situation where you don’t know what happens if it goes down,” he said, “or how to get a new one and usually on the cheaper system the rates are much higher on the expense over time.”

That’s why the iPad appeals to him, but he has yet to see anything that would work well in a restaurant. His partner Peter Enter, 25, likes the idea of having an iPad in their shop though. “We want the new and hip, and everyone is using it now. And plus they’re small and tiny; they're chic right now, they look good,” he said.

This story has been updated from its original version.

(An Android Tablet running ShopKeep at The Annex, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn.)


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Comments [13]

Ipad Cash register from SA, CA.

Their is a start-up in US that is launching a cash register app that runs on Ipads, Androids and PC's. It;s called Tillify it works like Sqaureup and Shopkeep. It will be available in the UK around May 2012.
If anyone is interested in the amazing technology take a look at

Apr. 17 2012 04:44 PM
Barry from Burlington ontario

So what's really new here? Mathew asks. Yes, there have been systems for years that could do similar tasks and reports, however, not at similar costs or flexibility. If anyone has purchased a POS system they know about the typical garden path of costs which for any functionality can add up to tens of thousands for software alone. In the end, one still doesn't control their own data and is tied to proprietary relationships. These new systems are a fraction of the costs and give flexibility and speed to the store.

Nov. 01 2011 07:32 AM
James Fabin from Seattle, WA

I've been using the ShopKeep iPad app since it came out in pilot at my restaurant in Seattle ( Picnics Hot Dogs - We've been thrilled with it - the iPad is rock solid, it takes up very little counter space, it's extremely affordable, and the ShopKeep app works amazingly well. I can get a new employee trained on it very quickly. I love that I can easily update the buttons from the web. I encourage any small business to consider the ShopKeep App - and for those in Seattle stop by my shop and I'll be more then happy to demo it for you.

Sep. 28 2011 12:48 AM
Paul Middlehurst from Toronto

TouchBistro is another great option for an iPad restaurant management application.

Sep. 26 2011 04:21 PM
Patrick Synmoie

Please fix "their chic right now." You must mean "they're."

Sep. 26 2011 09:44 AM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan Upper West Side

Eric at Ample Hills: thank you for respecting your employees lives. I hope other merchants segmenting their work days follow your example.

Sep. 26 2011 06:11 AM
Bart Shore from Chicago,IL

I see this in Chicago too..(where I live) Good report!

Sep. 25 2011 09:21 PM

@richard we don't do split schedules at ample hills (employees dont work an hour or two, go home and come back for another few hours). we have regular half day block shifts or staggered shorter shifts to overlap heavy times. lots of flexibility for the employees.

@liz shopkeep can print receipts on demand. actually emailing a receipt from the ipad is not possible with shopkeep right now (we would like the option occasionally)

Sep. 25 2011 05:44 AM
Matthew from East Side

So what is really new here? A new hardware platform? Inventory management, detailed reports, labor scheduling, have been available in restaurant and retail point of sale software for 25 years. Also, the Ipad is a consumer product, is not manufactured to be tough enough for commercial applications. The businesses using Ipads will likely be re-buying them many times.

Sep. 24 2011 03:47 PM
peter from nyc

I've seen these all over city now. Joe art of coffee in Columbia's new building . Pretty cool looking and that place does crazy fast volume.

Sep. 24 2011 11:23 AM

ShopKeep works with a cash drawer and receipt printer so merchants have the option of providing immediate paper receipts. Popping the cash drawer upon ringing a sale and allowing for receipts also provide a merchant with important cash controls.

Sep. 24 2011 10:49 AM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan Upper West Side

“We’ve also been able to change up our scheduling of employees,” Wu said, “because we know it’s slow from 12-3 and picks up around 3 when school gets out. It slows down 4-6 and picks up again after 8."

The unfortunate consequence is that employees are forced into "split schedules" and lose their life because they don't have consecutive hours. They need to belong to a union that would protect them against this abuse.

Sep. 24 2011 09:41 AM
Liz from Georgia

Will these always provide printed receipts? We recently went to a restaurant using an iPad instead of a traditional cash register, and they would not give us a paper receipt. They insisted on sending it to an email address. We were quite uncomfortable with that lack of on-site proof of payment amount.

Sep. 24 2011 07:40 AM

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