Grocery Stores Have Been Waiting for a Revel-ation

By Nathaniel Mott , written on August 20, 2012

From The News Desk

Grocery stores aren’t particularly well known for their gear. The cashier’s job hasn’t changed much since the first cash registers were introduced. CLING CLANG, “Your total is $8.95” has been replaced with BEEP BOOP, “Your total comes to $37.50.” Sure, registers have touch screens and lasers scanners, but the basic premise has stayed the same.

Revel, which raised $3.75 million from DCM last May, isn’t going to revolutionize grocery shopping, and that’s okay. Hell, even Square, the payments platform that recently partnered with Starbucks, follows the same basic methodology as a traditional cash register. Someone gets something from you, they pay you, everyone’s happy. What Square does – and what Revel is hoping to do – is make that transaction just a little bit less painful.

But there’s no sense beating around the bush – Revel is an awful lot like Square. The apps look different from a design standpoint, but at its core, Revel is Square with a few adjustments. Both services turn the iPad into a cash register; both services provide back-end analytics for business owners; and both services work with a cash drawer and receipt printer.

Still, Revel is different because it adds a little bit to each category. Square works with the iPad, a cash drawer, and a receipt printer – Revel will sell you a stand, barcode scanner, receipt printer, and a couple of other goodies ,and have a GeekSquad member set everything up. Revel’s hardware package is a bit pricy compared to Square, with a $2,650 charge for the bundled items plus a $1,000 licensing fee, as well as a $100 per month hosting fee. But at least the company offers the option of adding some extra hardware at sign up.

Unfortunately the fees don’t stop there. Revel has partnered with Dwolla, another payments platform, to power financial transactions. Dwolla doesn’t charge anything for transactions under $10, but past that, the company will charge 25 cents per transaction. The math works out in Revel’s favor – 25 cents for a $100 sale is less than the $2.75 cut Square takes – but businesses will have to think about the up-front costs of starting with Revel and the $100 per month flat rate that the service charges. [An earlier version of this post mistakenly said that Square may end up being cheaper with its $275 per month option. This was due to a mathematical error on my part, and has been corrected.]

During my time behind the cash register, working a retail job, I noticed one thing about “modern” point of sale (POS) systems: They suck. Despite the fact that the store I was working at had purchased the “new” version of its, POS provider’s software, everything felt like it belonged in the 80s. I would have preferred that the store switch to Square instead of spending thousands of dollars on crappy software. Now, however, I may change the subject of my burning, cashier-ial desire from Square to Revel.

Revel has just enough of a hardware-based edge to make it a more attractive choice for a grocery store. The ability to work with a scale is crucial by itself, as many stores charge for produce based on the item’s weight. Perhaps more important is Revel’s ability to operate offline, for a time.

A dropped Internet connection doesn’t seem like a regularly occurring event for most of us in the developed world, but Upstate New York tells a different story. The store that I worked at would consistently lose access to the Web, and the registers would become all but useless. Square won’t operate without an Internet connection either, leaving just one contender: Revel.

It’s on that basis that I would say Revel is a more viable option for grocery stores than Square. If a dropped Internet connection happens fairly often, and if your store sells some form of produce or other weighed good, and if you want to purchase extra hardware, Revel fits the bill. Otherwise, though, Square might be your best bet.