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How Does a Cash Register Work?

A cash register is a device that enables a salesperson to accept cash, calculate change and print receipts for customers wishing to make a purchase. Modern day cash registers contain a computer with software specific to their function.

Cash Register

Cash registers come with a drawer in which the money is kept and from which the operator can provide change to customers during transactions.

This drawer often only opens at the close of a transaction or by using a special key usually reserved for management. This, of course, helps guard against instances of theft, be it at the hands of staff or other opportunists.

What Happens During a Transaction?

Electronic cash registers require the operator to scan the barcode of the item(s) the customer wishes to purchase with a barcode scanner.

The register then displays the current prices of these items, all of which are are stored on a database linked to the register. If needed, prices can also be keyed in manually.

The cash register displays the total amount payable and the operator then types in the customer's preferred method of payment, for example cash or card.

If the customer wishes to pay by card, the card is then swiped in a separate terminal and the transaction is processed electronically.

If the customer pays by cash, the operator types in the amount they have received and the register calculates how much change is required, automatically opening the cash drawer to allow the operator access.

A receipt is then printed and given to the customer which includes details of the items bought, along with quantity and price, and store specific information such as the name of the company and the person and who served them.

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Receipt Printers

There are three different types of receipt printer: the old drum style printer, the dot matrix printer and the thermal printer:

Old Drum

The old drum style printer works by using raised numbers and symbols on a roll which spin to the required character. The paper is then pressed against the inked drum.

Dot Matrix

The dot matrix printer uses 6 to 12 little wires which are pressed against an ink ribbon in different combinations to create characters using dots. This type of printer requires a ribbon cartridge.

Thermal Printers

Thermal printers use heat to apply ink to paper. An electric heat source in the printer head heats up the desired characters which then heat the ink ribbon.

The paper is then rolled against the ribbon and the ink is transferred to the paper. The ink dries very quickly making this a very fast way of printing receipts.

Thermal printers also eliminate the need for ink cartridges, and so lower the running costs of a cash register.

Carbonless Paper

Carbonless paper is commonly used for invoices and receipts where duplication and high speed accurate printing is required.

Registers that use this paper include the Casio PCR-T470, TE-2400 and PCR-T48S models, and Sharp's XEA-207, XE- A23S and ER-A347. All thermal printers use carbonless paper.

Electronic vs Mechanical Cash Registers

Electronic cash registers automatically adjust stock inventories so managers can easily check how many particular items in a range have been sold and when they must buy more in.

They also keep track of all transactions made over a particular period of time. This list of transactions is generally printed out at the close of business each day and the total amount of cash in the drawer is checked to ensure the figures tally.

As mechanical cash registers do not possess these capabilities, requiring prices to be typed in manually and stock inventories adjusted by hand, in many ways they are far less efficient.

Indeed, without modern day cash registers, superstores would not be able to function in the way that they do. Transactions would take longer, customer service would be slower and keeping track of a store's vast quantities of stock would be extremely hard indeed.

All in all, the modern cash register enables a business to function smoothly and effortlessly, which in turn allows us all to have a pleasant and efficient shopping experience.