I.T. people love “new” for the sake of “new”. They also love catchphrases and acronyms. Often, their obsessions distract them from practical life.

Take the obsession with the Internet of Things for instance, or IoT as some call it. The IoT is a description of devices connected to the net where the devices do more than usual as a result of the connection. Wearable devices like step counters fall into the realm of the IoT.

In small business retail it is easy to feel disconnected from the early adopters of technology because of price and because of practical function in our businesses. However, recent technology advances are presenting us with opportunities to benefit our customers and our businesses.

In the past, retail transactions were anchored to the counter, now they can be conducted anywhere and on a broad variety of devices. At Christmas, for example, I sold products from outside the front of my shop without needing to be anywhere near the counter. I scanned items using anything from a phone to a slim tablet computer, took payment on the device by card and emailed customers their receipts. I also had the option for the receipt to be printed in-store for them.

Transacting sales away from the counter places you closer to the shopper. This can provide you with up-sell opportunities. It can also free congestion.

The same technology can be used for annual stock takes as well as spot stock counts to check on shopper theft. It can also be used when you are with a supplier at their showroom or trade show, enabling you to purchase based on accurate data rather than gut feel.

The first time you do work on the shop floor that you would usually only be able to do at the counter is liberating. It can change your perspective and show you things about your business you may have missed.

You can use off the shelf devices for this type of work. The Microsoft Surface is one such device. I have two I use in my shops now. At a trade show last week I saw several newsagents with Surface tablets wirelessly connected to their shops hundreds of kilometres away for real time data. It was exciting to see technology being used by newsagents in this way.

The Surface is good as it runs Windows, the operating system most retail management software packages run on.

While the counter will always play a role in retail businesses like the local newsagent, technology is presenting opportunities for stepping out from what could be a barrier and interacting in a more personal and appreciated way with shoppers. Tablet computers are one technology retailers can benefit from today.