May 20, 2012    /    by

Reinventing (or Removing) Cash Registers with new Shopping Security

Ever since I read Megatrends in 1988, Ive been fascinated by predictions about how technology will alter our daily lives in the near-future. One area that is evolving quickly is our shopping experiences both online and offline.

Ever since I read Megatrends in 1988, I’ve been fascinated by predictions about how technology will alter our daily lives in the near-future.  One area that is evolving quickly is our shopping experiences both online and offline.

 What’s next? Get ready for the reinvention of the cash register – with competing visions for how that will happen. What’s fairly certain is that our smartphones, iPads and/or other mobile devices will become an integral part of the new check-out process.

 Almost everyone knows about and online retailers offering free shipping of Christmas presents, but there is another transformation occurring at grocery stores and malls around the world.  As each innovation occurs, there are corresponding security challenges that must be addressed at the same time. For example, the self-serve check out process is reducing the need for staff, offering more customer convenience but creating new theft concerns.   

 How can these obstacles be overcome? It appears that the self-serve checkout process is only an intermediate step towards the real goal of no lines at all. If this seems impossible, read on.  

 There’s an excellent article by Mike Elgan over at Computerworld which offers a glimpse into our likely future (offline) shopping experiences. The article, Inside Apple’s secret plan to kill the cash register, raises some very intriguing points about the use of new technologies such digital wallets, near field communications (NFC) chips and more. Here’s an excerpt:

  When people talk about the future of digital wallets -- electronic smartphone-based replacements for credit cards, debit cards and cash -- you're likely to hear the initials NFC in the same breath. NFC, for "near-field communication," is a set of technologies that makes it possible to pay for purchases using smartphones, among other things.

The idea is that all smartphones will contain special NFC chips that enable you to use your phone as a credit card. To make a transaction, you pass your phone over or near a special gadget that's hooked up to a cash register as an equivalent to swiping a credit card…

Apple’s potential vision is described further by Research Farm’s Pablo Saez Gil in this article at

“Apple will eschew adopting NFC because it’s embraced Bluetooth 4.0 and it’s excellent Bluetooth Low-Energy capabilities. Apple has already sold millions of iPhone 4Ses that come with Bluetooth 4.0, and Gil argues that it’s a much better fit for mobile payments for Apple than NFC.

[Bluetooth Low Energy] allows low-consumption chips to act passively in the form of stickers in a similar fashion to NFC tags and devices can automatically and passively connect and transfer information seamlessly. The technology also enables long distance connections between devices of up to 50m. This feature will eventually enable payments on the go, without the need of fixed POS and traditional checkouts.

Why’s Bluetooth Low Energy a better fit for Apple than NFC? Look at how payment works at your local Apple Store. You walk in, flag down a Genius, you tell him what you want, he swipes your card on his iPhone and you walk right out the door. You don’t wait in line at a register. There’s no till. It’s all done wherever. That’s how Apple believes retail shopping should be done.”

 So those commercials that show people grabbing items off of grocery shelves and walking out of stores with the security guards helping them with their receipts may be accurate a few years from now. What’s clear is that we will have a new paradigm in mobile payments. This new world will also impact governments and small businesses which accept credit cards, debit cards and other forms of payment.

 Why should we take notice now? From current and future BYOD programs to redesigning how customers pay for campground reservations or driver’s licenses, the implications of these changes are enormous. True, governments tend to lag the private sector in retail innovation, and we can probably wait to see what standards emerge. Nevertheless, I urge security pros to read up on new payment approaches to age-old problems.

 “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.” As the song goes, “it will soon be here.”

Another thing is clear: security will need to be reinvented – again.