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When you think about the number of small business customers that still rely on electronic cash registers, you can see the outstanding opportunity for the channel.

Of course, one of the reasons that there are so many companies still using electronic cash registers is the price of PC-based point-of-sale systems. Fully configured, the average PC-based point-of-sale system can cost between $2,500 and $3,000.

That’s what makes a new rp3000 point-of-sale system from Hewlett Packard interesting. HP this week rolled a new offering priced between $1,600 and $2,000, according to HP senior product manager Emily Dart. While that may not blow electronic cash registers out of the water, it does expand the point-of-sale market by lowering the entry level price point for point-of-sale systems.

One of the big reasons that HP can afford to do this is because it turned to a new generation of Atom processors from Intel to power the rp3000. The Atom processors are typically associated with handheld devices and a new generation of netbook PCs. But the Atom processor also has enough horsepower to drive a point-of-sale system that is not typically used to run other PC application software. The other nice thing about Atom processors is that they consume a lot less power than other Intel processors.

Of course, the opportunity for the channel is not really in reselling the hardware, even though HP says there is still plenty of profit margin in point-of-sale systems. The real opportunity comes from modernizing the back office operations of the small business by deploying CRM and general ledger applications that are tightly integrated with the point-of-sale systems.

Naturally, there are also a lot of existing point-of-sale customers that might be interested in upgrading their system to something that costs a lot less than their previous generation of systems. But as much as everybody likes to upgrade an existing customer, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as expanding your overall practice.

In a tight economy, customers are more sensitive than ever to acquisition costs. So showing up with a point-of-sale system priced under $2,000 is at the very least going to get a conversation started. The real conversation, however, is not going to be about the hardware. It’s going to be about how investing in the right level of technology for that business is going to allow them to run a more efficient operation that ultimately boosts the customer’s bottom line.

And when you get right down to it, the electronic cash register is probably costing the customer a lot more in terms of efficiency and visibility into the business than the few hundred dollars they actually paid for it.