High-Tech Shopping: Skip the Line, Check Out From the Dressing Room

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Mobile Tech Means Serving Customers on Their Terms, Company Says

By July, Nordstrom will have rolled out 5,000 to 6,000 mobile checkout devices to its 116 full-line stores across the country. Home Depot completed a similar $64 million initiative last fall, putting about 34,000 "First Phones" in its nearly 2,000 stores nationwide. The devices can help customers check out without ever going to the register, and they streamline in-store tasks to give sales associates more time to spend helping shoppers, the company said.

"For us it was a customer service play," said Michael Guhl, Home Depot's vice president of store and credit systems. "We believe our differentiator is customer service. We're trying to give our associates the tools they need to provide the best customer service to our customers."

Nordstrom spokesman Colin Johnson said his company's mobile efforts were launched to serve customers on their own terms.

"Customers have a broader definition of service. They have better tools, more info," said Johnson. "We're working hard to try to be more responsive to the customers who increasingly want to shop with their mobile device."

That may literally mean ringing up a sale while a customer is still wearing the suit. Johnson told of one woman who stopped by the store on the way to an interview. An associate used a mobile device to complete the sale while the in-store tailor marked up the suit -- all while it was still on the shopper.

Some Stop & Shop and Giant supermarkets in the Northeast are using a system called Scan It, which lets shoppers scan and bag their selections as they walk through the aisles, the Wall Street Journal reported this week. The device tracks and totals the shoppers' purchases and generates electronic coupons as they shop.

Dave Tallach, vice president of global product marketing for VeriFone, a company that provides mobile payment technology, said that in the next few months, even more retailers plan to bust long lines in their stores.

"It's definitely a trend that Apple created in trying to dissolve that old checkout experience where you queue up," he said. "The notion of turning the checkout into a one-on-one experience.... A lot of retailers want to pursue that use-case scenario."

That doesn't mean checkout lines will disappear entirely. In grocery stores, drug stores and other places where shoppers accumulate a deep basket of goods, he said, it makes sense to have a stationary cash register ring up the sales.

Still, Tallach said, for retailers focused on design or brand experiences, such as fashion or electronics stores, mobile checkout options mean that sales associates can sell shoppers a high-ticket item on the spot -- before they have a chance to change their minds.

But other analysts point out that, for customers, the benefits of new retail technology -- in particular NFC technology -- are not limited to the point of sale and payment.

New Retail Technology Isn't Just About Payment

Charles Golvin, an analyst for Forrester Research, said that in the past 50 years, there have been only three major payment innovations -- credit cards, debit cards and PayPal. To motivate consumers to change their payment habits, retailers need to deliver more value than just a new payment process itself.

But new developments in retail technology are poised to do just that, he said.

If you walk into a supermarket today, Golvin said, it takes multiple actions to verify your identity, pay for purchases, redeem coupons and loyalty points and receive a receipt.

New services, however, bundle all of those steps into your cellphone.

"Imagine that you walk up to the terminal and you wave your phone over the point-of-sale device, and all of that stuff happens in one transaction," he said. "Now you're talking about delivering."

Another potential scenario could be walking into a shopping center and, with a wave of your phone, alerting the stores to your presence to receive custom promotions based on your online and purchase history.

The industry will certainly have to address people's concerns about security, but NFC technology is said to be even more secure than the magnetic stripe on credit cards, he said.

"Clearly we're not going to leapfrog from today to that vision," Golvin said. "But that's kind of a snapshot of what NFC is going to enable."

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