If you haven't already heard of Square (http://www.squareup.com) then you probably will soon. Created by Jack Dorsey, the same mind behind Twitter, the service has put small, free credit card readers into the hands of hundreds of thousands of people and made the ability to accept credit cards a reality for small business owners and infrequent Craigslist-sellers alike.
But now Dorsey and his innovative gang have something even more expensive and archaic than credit card processing in their sights: the traditional point-of-sale cash register may be the next to fall.
If Square has their way, small businesses will be ditching the cash register in favor of an iPad and a Square card reader. What Dorsey described at during today's press conference as an expensive and difficult-to-configure piece of business-class hardware shouldn't be standing between buyers and sellers in the modern retail space, the founder says.
Better yet, Dorsey wants to do away with credit cards, customer loyalty cards, and paper receipts, too. Rather than try to make the iPad talk to a printer to spit out a dead-tree receipt, the Square Register will store your credit card data during your first transaction with a Square merchant, create a virtual customer loyalty card inside the Square Card Case (a new feature of the Square app for your smartphone), and send you an email receipt of your first payment.
On return trips to that (or any other Square Register retailer) you'll be able to simply tap the "Use Tab" button within the app. The barista, cashier, bartender, etc. behind the counter will be able to select your name (and photo) from a brief list, and you'll have paid for your coffee, shirt, booze, etc. Your receipt will arrive shortly, and a complete history of your purchases (not just the bill's total) will be retrievable from within the app.
Quite the process, but Dorsey's video demonstration from a San Francisco-area coffee shop made the whole process look easy. Best of all, no wallet and no extra receipts to sign or throw away later.
I'd long-hoped that more retailers would take the Apple Store approach and offer to have your receipt emailed to you. Once you've given them your email once, it automatically pops up the next time you swipe that same credit card.
But so far the biggest retail innovation I've seen in recent years is Walmart's decision to print double-sided receipts to cut down on paper costs. Why not ditch the tangible receipt all together?
Maybe it won't be the retail behemoths, but the small shops that will usher in this eco-friendly revolution.
If you haven't already downloaded the Square app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, you can get it here.