bookmark_borderThe NCR Rattle.

YouTube contributor Vampire Robot has posted quite a few B-roll videos from retail establishments back in the day to their channel. Here’s a bunch of footage from a Sears store in 1991, complete with mostly NCR 2152 registers and their rattling printers. I’ve always known Sears to go from the Singer-Friden system to NCR 2152s to the CompuAdd registers to the current IBM SurePOS system in use today in their remain stores. Apparently some Sears stores had NCR 7052 registers as well and I’ve had folks tell me of some Sears running with IBM 4683s. I need to do more research of their practices during the 80s and beyond, but at least for now we can enjoy the NCR key beeps and rattling printers.

bookmark_borderKmart Canada.

In 1965, the Singer Sewing Machine Company moved into the world of computers by purchasing the Friden Calculating Machine Company, manufacturers of calculators and other computing equipment. With the purchase of Friden, Inc., Singer Business Machines was born. The Singer System Ten, with its focus on point of sale computing equipment, was released in 1970s.

Kmart Canada took a different path than its U.S. counterpart when it came to equipment used at the checkouts. While Kmart U.S. was generally using NCR Class 5 mechanical cash registers or early electronic cash registers from NCR or Data Terminal Systems, some locations in Canada began using the Singer System Ten and Singer-Friden 908 point of sale terminals. Singer left the computing industry in 1976, selling the SBM division to International Computers Limited. ICL continue developing the Singer line, evolving the System Ten to the System 25. However, along the way, Kmart Canada moved their back-end controllers to microprocessors called the System CD 100, supplied by CyberData of Monterey, California.1

In the early to mid 1980s (still determining the date), the Singer terminals at Kmart Canada stores were undoubtedly coming to their end of useful life. While the machines could be adapted to work with just about any backend system, as these machines were designed to perform mathematical computations at the register, relying on back-end processing for inventory and account lookup information, with SBM equipment being integrated into ICL’s existing systems before the merger, Kmart Canada began looking for new registers.

It appears that Kmart Canada decided to go with the ICL 9500 series of registers.

The ICL 9500 series of registers were somewhat modular in design. Field observations indicate customer pole displays were added to the registers well after the initial installation in the mid 1980s. The keyboard arrangement is also interesting to me, in that the Enter key isn’t a double height or double wide key, but rather just a raised key to the right of the bottom row of the number pad. The printers appear to be Epson printers using 44mm receipt tape.

Like the Singer predecessors, the ICL 9500s could be adapted to work with a variety of back-end systems. Back in this era, point of sale systems tended to store and forward data to other mainframe systems; there are plenty of examples where NCR cash registers in the early 1980s were supported by IBM Series/1 installations. While manufacturers preferred they used their “complete package”, there were other options.

In the latter half of the 1980s, the CIO of Kmart in the United States was focused on solving point of sale issues in the American stores. After a couple of failed attempts through Kmart U.S.’s work with IBM and NCR, the CIO and team worked with a variety of vendors for a cohesive solution. Kmart in the states moved to point of sale and inventory software by Post Services International, or PSI, of North Carolina. While Kmart stores in states could have NCR, IBM, or Fujitsu registers at the checkouts, they all ran on the same software. It appears Kmart Canada was a little ahead of their American counterparts in the front end technology department, and worked with PSI to get the same software running on their ICL 9500 series cash registers.

There are a couple of clues on the receipt pictured above that it’s a variant of the software running on the registers in the American Kmart stores of the time, primarily the “158 158” in the receipt data footer.

Like Kmart in the states, Kmart Canada was using satellite communications to connect their stores, warehouses, and offices together. The picture at the top of this entry is grabbed from a video of a CBC News Report about the satellite outage that caused computer outages throughout the chain. Unfortunately that video is no longer available.

Kmart Canada ran with the ICL 9500 series cash registers until the sale of the chain to Zellers in 1998. It was around that same time Kmart and other chains started planning for Y2K. Kmart would eventually move away from PSI to a modified version of IBM’s Supermarket Application (which was used at their Super Kmart stores). Zellers would introduce their mix of NCR and IBM systems to the stores purchased from Kmart Canada.

  • 1 Computerworld, March 1978

bookmark_borderSweda 800.

In the late 1950s through the mid 1980s, many store chains used the Sweda Model 46 Dataregister at the checkout. These registers were the usual mechanical cash registers of the time with an additional mechanism on the left hand side. This extra mechanism punched a ribbon tape that would later be fed into a mainframe off site; the ribbon tape typically contained inventory information.

In the early and mid 1970s electronic systems began replacing these mechanical counterparts. Companies such as Data Terminal Systems, IBM, Singer-Friden, TRW, and Pitney-Bowes introduced new electronic point of sale systems into the market. Mechanical cash register manufacturers such as NCR and Sweda also began introducing electronic systems to the space.

I mentioned in a previous entry that the local Two Guys store at Northern Lights Plaza north of Syracuse, New York had electronic cash registers of some sort and I was pretty sure they were made by Sweda. A photo of a standard Two Guys checkout gives us a small glimpse at these registers.

I can’t find a Two Guys receipt from this era, but I previously featured a Bradlees receipt from that time frame that had the same distinct font I remember from the Two Guys receipt.

After some digging around on the Internet, I finally found an up close photo of one of these registers. The cash register is part of the “Sweda 800/80 system”. WT Grants apparently used this system before closing up shop in 1975. This is interesting to me, because the Two Guys at Northern Lights moved into a closed up WT Grants store at the same location.

From a Facebook search from a user in Mexico.
Back office computer

I’m still on the hunt for scans of old Two Guys receipts to confirm my research, as well as any other photos from the chain. I don’t know if Two Guys use of Sweda 800/80 registers was common to the chain, to the region, or to a particular store. At the time, many of the department store chains had varying register systems depending on region or location.

bookmark_borderSweda 76.

I found a listing for this Sweda 76 on Craigslist. It’s currently for sale in the Denver area. It’s never been used and was pulled for its original box for these photos.

I know this model and features from identical registers at Ames Department Stores’ service desks before the chain converted to the IBM 3680 Programmable Store System in the early 1980s. I can’t make out all the buttons in the left hand column, but the top two refer to layaways, and the bottom two (in the “4” and “3” row) are for inventory purposes. The features on this Sweda 76, and similar features on the Sweda 46, were used for inventory tracking purposes. The mechanism on the very left is for a punch tape that was removed and sent to a main office for routine scanning into a mainframe. The two inventory buttons are for “double pass” items. The cashier would enter two sets of numbers when ringing up these “double pass” items, usually in softlines. First pass would be an inventory number and the second pass would be the department or class along with the price. At least that’s the way Ames did it.

I suspect the other two buttons are related to refunds and other service desk functions. At the time, Ames handled layaways at the service desk. It would be later in the chain’s history that it would be moved to the back of the store with its own counter.

bookmark_borderKmart Canada.

So, a fellow Vintage Point of Sale aficionado and I are trying to figure out what Kmart Canada used for their point of sale system in the mid 1980s until Kmart left Canada in 1997. We suspect they were made by NEC.

Take a look in this newspaper photo, the register is spotted from the side in the Computer department.

Things we know:

  • The cash registers started out with the old Kmart inventory “keys”
  • The cash registers were upgraded to scanning, however, before the actual scanners were installed, they cashiers entered UPC codes into the registers
  • There was a two line alphanumeric 13-segment LED display
  • The registers may have been connected with a 10 Base T BNC cable

If you have any information, please reply to this entry.

bookmark_borderON SALE @

I stumbled across this receipt from Ames. it’s dated Valentine’s Day 1987. Click here to see the ebay Auction.

This receipt was generated by an IBM 3683 or 3684 register, running a later version of the Programmable Store Solution software Ames started out with in the early 1980s. The cashier entered the SKU and price and the register had the ability to know the sale price of that particular item (but not the selling price of all items).

The purchase was made at store #23 on register one. The lone “1” in the top row indicates this was a CASH-1 sale. Looking at the DOC #, I have never figured out with the “702” represents; the “6” at the end is a checksum digit.

For some reason I remember the tax line being right justified with “SUBTOTAL” and “TOTAL; I wonder if that changed with the later version of software.

I’d be curious to know where store #23 was.

bookmark_borderTake Another Look at Zayre!

From the Zayre Store Appreciation Group on Facebook.

In the beginning days of this site I wrote a fairly brief history about Zayre’s first inventory point of sale control system when we were taking a look at Ames and the purchase and integration efforts of the chain. When Ames purchased Zayre, the company was running NCR 2552 cash registers across the chain, presumably with NCR 726 Minicomputers supporting the efforts on the backend and handling the communications duties with mainframes and the like. Like Hills and Jamesway (among others), Zayre used two-digit department numbers, and added a four digit “style” number for their SKU. Because of the proprietary nature of the NCR solution, a receipt from Hills or Bradlees running the NCR system would have pretty much the same format as a receipt from Zayre. I have found no evidence of Zayre running older NCR 255s or another solution from another manufacturer in any of their stores. All signs point to NCR 2552s. If anyone knows to the contrary, please feel free to comment so I can research further.

Prior to the move to the NCR electronic/computerized system, Zayre was using Sweda Model 46 registers at the checkouts and Model 76 at the service desk. Other chains did the same thing during this era. The Sweda registers provided inventory information by punching an optical tape that would be unloaded and sent to a central office for processing by a mainframe. Zayre used two-digit department numbers and some of their items used a “double-pass” system, where a further inventory control number would be punched into the Sweda register before the department and price were rung up. I don’t know if Zayre used all the keys on the keyboard or just two digit first-pass/style numbers for items, still doing research in the area.

Typical Zayre receipt from a Sweda 46. From the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

Zayre used department 90 for sales tax. I wonder if this was because it was the upper left-hand key on the keyboard, as Ames did the same thing with their classification three digit class numbers, using 900 as the class for sales tax. After the move to the NCR 2552 registers, when a cashier entered the amount tendered, the register would briefly show the tax amount, for example “90 0.42”, on the display before showing the change or balance due.

Unfortunately, the receipt above doesn’t show any evidence of a “double-pass” item, normally there’d be a notation of CM or something similar in the very left-hand column.

Sweda Model 46 cash registers at a Zayre store. Interesting angle of the register on lane 2, I’ve never run across a Sweda register that looked like that. Courtesy of Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

The Sweda 76 Cash Registers provided more functionality than the Sweda Model 46 registers typically found at the checkouts. At the time, department stores tended to process layaways up front at the service desk, and the Sweda 76 registers were configured to handle layaways and returns. The Sweda 76 also used a double wide receipt tape.

From the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

On the receipt above you’ll see “CC” on the left hand column of the receipt. I’m not sure if this refers to a double pass item or something else.

From the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook.

Here’s a photo of a service desk at Zayre after the conversion to the NCR 2552. The NCR 2552 was a modular cash register. At the checkouts, Zayre typically put the cash drawer under the counter facing the customer, the register on a stand at a 45º angle to the counter and the printers where a full cash register would normally be situated. The checkout counters had little cubby holes for documentation (rain checks, charge slips, etc) placed above the printers for the NCR 2552. When Ames bought the chain and converted the infrastructure to IBM 4680 OS and IBM 4683 registers, the cubby holes were partially blocked by the height of the IBM registers.

Curiously, Zayre did not use NCR as their vendor of choice for their front-end systems for their other chains TJ Maxx or BJ’s Wholesale Club. Embracing EDI or Electronic Data Interchange in the mid 1980s, the front-end systems were just part of an orchestrated, distributed networking system for the chain. The backend was supported by several different vendors including IBM 308x mainframes, NCR systems, and Digital VAX/VMS systems. Zayre began introducing scanning in 1988, shortly before their acquisition by Ames.

I am happy to have found the Zayre Stores Appreciation Group on Facebook, affording me the opportunity to fill in some gaps after browsing through photos and memories from former employees.

bookmark_borderTarget: No More Keyboards.

Yesterday I noticed in the Waukegan, Illinois Target store the chain has removed the physical keyboards from the NCR point of sale terminals. Watching the cashier work through our transaction, Target has significantly modified the interface of their in-house point of sale software.

I’m just a guy that’s been around technology for a very long time, but forcing keyboard-type input through a touchscreen is not as efficient as actually using a physical keyboard. But alas, I do not make these decisions for Target or any other store chain, for that matter.

The northeastern supermarket chain Hannaford did this years ago with their Wincor-Nixdorf systems. As a software developer focused on efficiency and reducing friction in the user experience, watching a cashier plunk in produce PLUs on a touchscreen always made my skin crawl, as it’s much faster to type 4096 [ENTER] or whatever on a keyboard than stabbing at a 14-inch touch screen.

As I’ve been to several Target stores in the area, it’s interesting to see the chain’s hardware implementation has not been entirely consistent. Some stores have small, Elo touchscreens, while others have larger screens, and others have NCR touchscreens. When you’re writing and maintaining your own software, it’s easy to adjust to differing hardware configurations. This is a good thing, as it’s better to not be locked down to one specific, proprietary configuration.

I’ll be writing more about the history of Target’s point of sale implementations over the next few months. The photos of vintage cash registers and point of sale systems will all have keyboards.

Because keyboards are more efficient.

bookmark_borderKmart, Part 2.

In the early 1980s Kmart came to the realization they needed to upgrade the cash register technology in the stores across the chain. A good majority of the stores in the Kmart chain were still running with NCR Model 5 mechanical cash registers into the 1980s and they were already at their end of life. At the time, Kmart had two separate initiatives in place to develop scanning technology for its stores. One group was working with NCR on their scanning system technology (presumably NCR 255/NCR 2552), another group was developing a system using IBM Series/1 Technology.

IBM Series/1 from the IBM archives sie.

Neither group was having much success and in 1985, Kmart hired David Carlson as the new Vice President of Merchandising Systems. David Carlson had previously worked for Data Terminal Systems.

While neither the NCR nor IBM systems were meeting the Kmart’s expectations, the IBM Series/1 solution was quickly abandoned. The IBM approach had been designed using a new proprietary system called “KIN”, or Kmart Information Network, and placed the vast majority of the transactional processing on the solo Series/1 system, which was overseeing the activities of 25 IBM point of sale terminals. The terminal of choice was the IBM 3683 (originally released in the very late 1970s), and while the 3683 was a very capable point of sale terminal for the time, it’s local processing power was substantially disabled in the KIN environment and the processing was left to the lone Series/1 system at the store. If the IBM Series/1 went down, the point of sale system for the entire store went down. Mr. Carlson deemed this approach unacceptable.

IBM 3683 point of sale terminals at a Kmart in 1985.

Work continued with NCR on the other project, but eventually it was determined that it would take far too much development time (measured in “development years”) to bring a viable solution to fruition. Around this time, it was in the mid 1980s, IBM had released the affordable PC-AT computer platform. The IBM PC-AT solution was based on the new IBM PC platform with additional hardware to support point of sale terminals. It was determined that two IBM AT-based store controllers could provide a redundant solution for a Kmart location. A third party software company in North Carolina, Post Software International or PSI, developed scanning software that would work with the IBM PC AT-based store controllers and run on several different types of point of sale terminals. Kmart wanted to implement their software on IBM 4683s connected to the new PC AT-based store controllers, however, IBM would only sell Kmart 4683s if they ran with IBM’s own software solution (General Sales Application) on the controllers. David Carlson bargained with IBM and was able to get 25 IBM 4683s as a test platform to develop the PSI solution. Working with a third party systems integrator, the PSI system was successfully built, tested, and implemented. It was called PRISM, or Point of sale Retail Information Systems Management. Several types of hardware from different manufacturers could be used at the checkouts. Each hardware type of system had a unique identifier, for example a PRISM system running with IBM 3683s was called PRISM-3, IBM 4683, PRISM-4, etc.

Eventually the Kmart PRISM-x system would make it across the chain of stores. The majority of the PRISM code base worked across all the hardware variations employed by Kmart. It wouldn’t be unheard of to see one Kmart store running IBM 4683s at the checkouts, another running NCR registers, and a third running Fujitsu equipment. While I never saw a mix of point of sale terminals at the same Kmart location, there could be two Kmarts in the same city or town each running their own brand of checkout terminals. (Canadian store chain Zellers would occasionally have a mix on the same network, for example, IBM 4683 on register one, NCR on register two, all running the same software).

Though this photo was not taken at a Kmart, this is one version of NCR POS terminal Kmart used for PRISM. Photo from AP.

Here’s three receipts from different Kmarts in the 1990s all running the PSI software. Because I’m a dork, I can tell you, simply by the print on the receipts, that the first receipt came from an IBM 4683, the second came from an NCR cash register, and the third from a Fujitsu cash register. 

All three variations of these registers featured a 2×20 alphanumeric display and relatively the same keyboard layout (some function keys local to the functionality of the terminal were specific to the manufacturer). Fujitsu registers had indicator arrow lights in the margin of the display, IBM 4683s did not. I was in only one store that ran the IBM 3683 registers during this time and I only remember that it was apparent the registers behaved quite differently from any other IBM 3683s I had ever encountered. I was always fascinated with the fact that it was very apparent the same software was running across these differing platforms, as before the standardization of the IBM PC (and clones) platform and their use as store controllers in the back office, each point of sale solution would run proprietary software that had absolutely nothing in common across manufacturer’s platforms.

Fujitsu registers, mid 1990s, unknown Kmart location. Found on Flickr.

When Kmart added the “Super Kmart” format, with groceries and typical Kmart merchandise all in one very large location, the company decided to go with a different IBM-based solution. It looked to be a variation of IBM’s Supermarket Application, but before I speak more to that I need to do further research.

The IBM PC-AT with PSI software, or PRISM system, was used by Kmart well into the early 2000s.  A very solid solution, I have used David Carlson’s philosophy in my approaches to software development over the years: “don’t buy products, invest in architecture”.

Kmart 9038 in Monticello, Indiana in 2003. Fujitsu point of sale terminal. Courtesy of Flickr.