Accepted paper:

The cash register as a mundane market device


Athena Piterou (University of Greenwich)

Paper short abstract:

The cash register is discussed as a market device which configures retail transactions. The paper examines the changing functions of the cash register within the sociotechnical system of retail as it has evolved from early mechanical models to contemporary point-of-sales (POS) terminals.

Paper long abstract:

The paper examines the evolution of the cash register since the introduction of mechanical cash registers in late 19th century. Cash registers are defined as mechanical or electronic devices that calculate and register transactions between consumers and retailers at the point of sale: hence, they shape the practices of consumers and shop workers. Evidence from the sociology of markets suggests that market exchanges, including retail transactions, are not abstract economic concepts but are materially shaped. The concept of market devices refers to the technical instruments that intervene in the shaping of markets and render economic calculations possible (Muniesa et al., 2007). Any exchange requires complex attachment and entanglements between buyers and sellers (in this case consumers and retailers) which are mediated by market professionals and devices (Callon and Muniesa, 2003). Hence, the cash register is viewed as a market device or market-thing which informs consumer cognition (Cochoy, 2007). The abacus was arguably the first instrument used to record commercial transactions. Since the mid-19th century increases in transactions volume and concerns about shop workers' honesty acted as drivers for the development of the first mechanical cash register in 1879.The National Cash Register Company dominated the early market because of aggressive marketing and litigation strategies (Friedman, 1998). In the 1970s early electronic cash registers (point of sales terminals) were developed with additional functions and the ability to integrate with inventory management and customer relationship management software. Technologies such as card readers and barcode scanners also interlock with electronic cash registers.

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Markets, innovation dynamics and system building