Cloud for Point-of-Sale

If cloud software is really going to provide the revolution that many of us predict, we need to see tools adopted by mainstream users. While we’ve seen some exciting tools at the infrastructure level that bring efficiencies for IT, and some application level tools that make sharing and collaboration easier for knowledge workers, we’ve yet to see much in the way of the cloud delivering benefits for mass-market businesses. A new startup from New Zealand aims to help with that by providing a retail point-of-sale (POS) solution that brings cloud benefits in an application designed for retailers.

Retail POS is a complex area ripe for disintermediation; traditional POS systems require retail stores, who aren’t generally comfortable or up-to-date with infrastructure and software maintenance, to have their own on-premise servers and maintain software. Using the cloud computing theme of abstracting IT management away from the end user, Vend is a new approach to POS systems. It’s one of the first examples of a persistent cloud app that runs directly on the front lines of business with hardware that’s little more than a standard PC with keyboard and mouse. As we wrote at the end of last year after the launch of Jack Dorsey’s Square product:

The marriage of computing and connectivity without the shackles of being tethered to a location is one of the biggest disruptive forces of modern times. It is (and will continue) to redefine business models, for decades.

Vend has interesting timing: The launch of more accessible mobile devices such as the iPad (s aapl) has provided a glimpse of what a medium-format mobile device can do for a work situation. Vend is a nice example of an application that provides a simple front end retail workers can use and hides the complexities in the cloud. From a technology perspective, Vend takes advantage of HTML5 to cache locally, so brief connectivity issues don’t affect the use of the system, and the application is hosted at Rackspace (s rax) on their cloud service.  From a scaling perspective, this gives Vend the ability to roll out multiple servers to scale quite easily.

Fashion retailer Gregory/Ricochet is using Vend in 12 stores nationwide, opting to use it on iPads instead of traditional point-of-sale hardware. For a multi-outlet store like this, having inventory automatically coordinated across all branches — along with inventory data being updated in real-time — provides a benefit that traditional on-premise software can’t match. Not to mention the significant cost savings moving away from having their own infrastructure brings:

With Vend, we can retire a mountain of old equipment that was costing us thousands of dollars to maintain.

Continuing the “don’t make end users think” theme — Vend is integrated with third-party software and hardware — from accounting applications to barcode scanners and cash drawers, and is built in such a way that end users can mix and match software and hardware to meet their particular needs.

Vend is just one example of cloud smarts coming to retail, but as an emerging trend, it is an example of the disruption the cloud can bring.

Related GigaOM Pro Research (subscription required): NFC + Retail = Fail

Ben Kepes is an independent consultant and contributing writer for GigaOM. Please see his disclosure statement in his bio.