Contactless POS The industry has already made major advances in minimizing paper money (greenbacks out, magstripes in). The ability to move to the next step and do away with the card swipe entirely is one of several factors pushing retailers to replace their aging POS systems.Expect to see a lot of trials and early implementation of everything from fobs (think Mobil SpeedPass), limited RFID (think EZPass) and even cell phones/PDAs (think George Orwell). "In 2005, large retailers are going to be shifting away from just looking at cash, credit cards and prepaid cards as the only way to pay," said Erik Michielsen, an RFID research director at ABI Research. "They are going to look at contactless payment technologiesparticularly those based on handsetsas opportunities. That represents a dramatic shift in the industry. Retailers are going to be paying much more attention to contactless than they have in the past" and will try to use contactless tender efforts at the POS to complement wireless and RFID efforts in the supply chain. Tools to turn PDAs and cell phones into POS devices are already surfacing. To read more, click here. Authentication This goes hand in hand with the new POS approaches. Biometrics, which has been used very sparingly in retail, is likely going to have to be taken much more seriously. Some retailers have been experimenting with checkout fingerprint scans, and other biometric efforts (retina, voice, facial recognition) might make an appearance if government/law enforcement starts buying those devices (thereby funding the research and coaxing prices down.) Digital Signage This is one technology that has resided almost exclusively in marketing environments, but some retailers are considering pushing the envelope and bringing in IT. Envision a digital sign with revolving advertisements. Small screens at checkout see a customers loyalty card and show them specially selected ads, while they stand there hostage. Thats mini-CRM. What if the system integrates with an inventory database and knows to halt certain commercials when inventory drops below a set threshold? Lets take it even further. What if, while a customer is pushing a smart cart, an infrared chip tells the display the history of the approaching customer and allows for an instant, customized ad display, based not only on that customers shopping but also on what the self-checkout systems knows is already in their cart? Whats the latest on smart carts? To find out, click here. Its not likely that well see those applications deployed in a widespread way in 2005, but a couple of major retailers are already testing such efforts. Yes, 2005 is looking to be a very interesting year for retail technology. We could reveal the rest of what will happen in 2005, but then youd have no reason to read this column throughout the year. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman has tracked high-tech issues since 1987, has been opinionated long before that and doesnt plan to stop any time soon. He can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. To read earlier retail technology opinion columns from Evan Schuman, click here. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.