You know the feeling: After spending an hour squeezing in and out of dresses in the fitting room -- or tolerating a long-winded lecture about flat-screen TVs -- you finally make your way to the cash register, only to find a long line of people waiting ahead of you.
Shoppers dread long checkout lines -- and so do retailers, so they are increasingly turning to tricked-out, high-tech devices that bust lines and save time.
Apple led the way with its specialty credit card-reading iPod Touches that enable payment anywhere in a store, and retail experts say that's only the beginning. Apple might soon one-up itself with new "wave-to-pay" Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, and industry watchers say big box retailers are preparing to usher in a new era of shopping that puts mobile technology at the center of a shopper's experience.
"One of the biggest challenges that traditional retail has is the fact that very little has changed inside the store compared to the dramatic changes that retail has seen on an online experience," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group, a New York research firm. "The store has to change the experience."
While those changes may come in different forms -- from devices that enable mobile checkouts to programs that roll credit cards, loyalty points and coupons into your cellphone -- Cohen said they'll start to emerge as experimental, progressive initiatives in the next year and graduate to an everyday self-checkout-like alternative in the next year-and-a-half to two years.
NFC Coming to Apple Stores This Week?
In the buildup to the 10-year anniversary of Apple's first retail store today, tech blogs speculated that the company might unveil a new NFC payment system in its nationwide stores.
Citing "multiple Apple sources," the tech blog Boy Genius Report said that, ahead of its big anniversary, the company required store employees to spend "overnights" in its retail locations, making all kinds of secret preparations, including installing tables with different wiring.
The blog said one possibility is NFC-enabled devices that can beam and receive information within a distance of up to 4 inches. Instead of swiping plastic to pay, customers could just wave an NFC-equipped phone near a compatible reader and the purchase amount would be deducted instantaneously.
"I think from a high-level perspective, it's just the next evolution for Apple," Jonathan Geller, the editor-in-chief and "boy genius" behind the blog, told ABCNews.com. "There's an ease of use factor and Apple loves to simplify things. ...In the competitive landscape, it is the next step."
While NFC-enabled Apple tables would need NFC-enabled iPhones and other i-devices to work, rumors earlier this year suggested a next-generation iPhone would come equipped with the technology. At the time, Apple declined to comment on those rumors and the company did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
But Geller said, "If anyone's going to do something big in retail, it's Apple." He said the company is preparing to make big changes in how customers experience its retail stores.
Though Apple's retail efforts still lead the pack, other national chains are starting to embrace mobile technology too.