By  on January 19, 2007

"Stylish point-of-sale" doesn't have to be an oxymoron, say retailers using an unorthodox technology platform. But the question remains: Will this cult following grow?

A small but vocal group of image-conscious shop owners are putting Apple Macintosh computers where they're rarely seen: at the checkout. These mostly mom-and-pop operations use Macs not only to process sales, but for accounting, marketing, inventory management, analytics and reporting, teleconferencing, in-store music, movies, graphics and podcasting. Stability is unmatched and viruses generally don't target Macs as often they do PCs.

And, merchants say, the sleek signature design resonates with consumers.

"It's an elegant piece of machinery that adds to the cool cachet of your retail environment. It makes your place look sweet, not like a hospital or airport," said Albert DiPadova, vice president and chief technology officer at five-store Due Maternity.

"The aesthetics of the Mac do help enhance the consumer and retail experience," said Ryan Heuser, president of Paul Frank Industries, whose eight U.S. apparel stores run on a Mac POS.

"For me, the Mac is a fashion accessory as well. If I am walking around with a laptop under my arm, it should look good," said Maria Leonhardt, owner and creative director of ParisTexas, a Copenhagen boutique that favors Japanese labels like Tsumori Chisato and Junya Watanabe.

Though ParisTexas is high end, with price points averaging $450 for shoes and dresses up to $1,600, its POS is not. The shop uses Checkout software introduced last month by Madebysofa of Amsterdam.

Retailers with Mac POS say prices have fallen to $2,500 to $3,000 per station, bringing its cost in line with PC-based systems. Still, fewer than 0.5 percent of today's POS systems run on a Mac computer, estimates Greg Buzek, president of IHL Consulting of Franklin, Tenn. "It's not even a blip on the radar," he said.

That Macs are prohibitively expensive is among the outdated but lingering myths. Other one-time issues — such as incompatibility with receipt printers and cash drawers and limited software choices — are not the barriers they once were, retailers say. There is a growing amount of Mac POS software on the market today, and the latest Intel chip Macs can run PC-based software."Most fashion people love Macs already and when they learn Mac can run POS, people will start switching over," said Jay Potter, information technology director for Paul Frank, whose stores run on POSIM software from Ensign Systems of Kaysville, Utah. Other POSIM users include Due Maternity, Weston Wear and Wendy's Closet, a two-store upscale apparel retailer.

Ensign, which sells Mac- and PC-based software, said 75 percent of its POS systems sold today are deployed on Macs, a major shift from two years ago when only 25 percent of systems sold were Mac-based.

"People are switching because of viruses on the PC. The Mac doesn't have viruses. If you use a PC, you must have an IT department or geek [on call] because you will get a virus. It will take you out, and it will affect your productivity," said Terri Zeh Jacobson, president of Resources for Small Business, a Long Lake, Minn., consultancy.

Adds Jacobson, "The Mac is a viable solution for small business. Big chains are still going to be using PC-based systems by full force of inertia. I don't see a lot of switching in large corporations."

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