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Virtual Cash Meets the Virtual Cash Register
By Brad Frischkorn

Now that bitcoin and other forms of virtual cash are here, it may be time for the virtual cash register to make a splash.

Engineers at NEC certainly seem to think so. In a crowded corner of the busy Retail Tech Japan expo held March 8-11, 2016 in Odaiba, the IT solutions provider showed off its latest gizmos.

A semicircle of interested onlookers surrounded an NEC employee methodically manipulating the overhead projection of an image of a digital cash machine on a blank countertop. The device simulated a supermarket grocery list, including individual pictures, descriptions and prices, as well as a final total. The touch-sensitive image smoothly and silently reacted to each of the 'buttons' she pushed like a mechanical machine, wowing guests.

Is this how supermarkets and convenience stores are going to look in the future?

"Most of the technology--from the overhead projector to the touch-sensitive panel display-- is already 'on the shelf', so to speak, and just needs a little more tweaking before it's ready to roll out on a commercial scale," says Akira Kurabashi, a device researcher at the company. "As you can see, it will mean the end of the cash register as we know it."

Manpower-short Japan is already experiencing a proliferation of 'self checking' cash registers at many large chain retailers, where customers have the option of ringing up their own groceries using sophisticated scanning technology. Such devices are nothing new at some overseas forward-thinking companies, which have been employing them from the late 20th century.?

As such, cash registers have from long ago ceased to be mere "points of sale," but hubs that control ordering, inventory, cash flow, and customer information.

Mr. Kurabashi then performs another demonstration, manipulating a smartphone to photograph soft drink can. The image and the price of the item are automatically added to the shopping list projected on the counter. Just as easily, he is able to remove the soda from the list. It's all accomplished by use of an app tied to the store's inventory list.

"These technologies will allow for further reduction in necessary staff at traditional stores, and make the whole retail shopping experience much easier for everybody involved," he says. "The next step will be to tie customer accounts directly to the purchasing action, so that physical money is not even handled."

But that too, is well on its way; folks are already shopping online from home, and directly from their handheld devices, he notes.

"With virtual money already coming into more widespread use, the only thing customers will need to do is wait for their groceries to be delivered."

Virtual cash machine

"The overhead projector and touch-sensitive panel display...will mean the end of the cash register as we know it.” -- Akira Kurabashi

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