A recent study conducted by PriceWaterhouseCooper reiterates the importance of the retail sector to the economic health of the United States (U.S.). One of the world’s largest groups of purchasers of consumer goods for both domestic and imported products are Americans. Therefore, it is understandable that many information technology (IT) products and services are designed to improve the retail shopping experience. Here is a glance at how common retail activities have changed over the last 50 years through advancements in IT.


Point of Sale Tools

Almost no technology product has improved retail trade more than point of sale (POS) tools. Electronic cash registers were just gaining popularity 50 years ago, and improvements since that time have been steady. Today’s point of sale tools do a lot more than just track sales and help hold store cashiers accountable for thefts or inadvertent shortfalls. Modern point of sale tools are linked to databases that help to track store inventory, popular items and discounted products. These tools are often integrated with customer relationship management systems to help track customer loyalty points and perks, and some specialty stores like those selling personal care items have POS tools that store lists of “favorites” for customers so that sales staff can do intelligent suggestive selling. Another prominent feature of modern POS tools is the ability to process sales transactions anywhere on mobile devices. Young customers who represent a large portion of retail sales tend to use smartphones and mobile applications to enhance their shopping experiences, and smart retailers update their POS tools to integrate with popular mobile devices and software.


Brand Recognition

Social media platforms have become one of the most popular avenues for retailers to promote the brand of their businesses, products and services. The closest thing to social media outlets that retailers could count on fifty years ago to spread the word about their brands were the barber shops and beauty parlors of influential men and women who would either rave or complain about the products, services or experiences that they received at various stores. While these social outlets were infamous for spreading news good or bad across town at surprising speed, they do not quite compare with the reach that a company and its customers can achieve through social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. So many consumers use some form of social media tools nearly every day that it is considered almost untenable for retailers not to have social media presences. The latest use of social media by retailers allows them to move beyond relationship building with customers and actually sell items on social media platforms like Twitter with just the click of the “buy” button through an integrated e-commerce system.


Customer Loyalty and Rewards Programs

The idea of building loyalty through rewards programs has been around for a long time. Many still remember the Sperry and Hutchinson (S&H) Green Stamps program that allowed retailers to purchase stamps and reward their customers with the stamps based on the types and amounts of retail transactions. Customers could then redeem the stamps for housewares and other goods advertised in the S&H catalogs. The program that had roots dating back to the 1930s is in the process of being revamped to capture the hearts of the next generation of shoppers. However, the current green stamp program promoters have a tough road ahead of them as they compete with modern retailers who have their own loyalty programs that are ever changing to respond to trends in customer preferences. For example, some stores have decided to implement no purchase necessary loyalty programs that reward customers for participating in activities that fit its goals, vision and service values.