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Mobile POS Beta Site Fear Keeps Checkout Right By Exit

Written by Evan Schuman
September 28th, 2011

When the manager of a Florida hobby store was about to begin testing in-store mobile checkout as part of an NCR beta test in June, she envisioned using the devices throughout the store, to both free up POS space and give shoppers a faster experience. But like so many mobile-payment issues, those plans yielded to the reality of hosts of unanswered loss-prevention questions about the mobile payments.

When NCR on Monday (Sept. 26) introduced its Apple-based mobile in-store checkout module called CPMobile (it was actually from Radiant Systems, which NCR officially acquired on August 24), it went so far as to quote Hobby Superstore Manager Emily Mitchell discussing “eliminating lines and congestion at point-of-sale stations” and saying that she saw “a huge benefit in being able to have these mobile units and employees set up in different areas of the store to make the checkout process quicker and easier for those who want to purchase just one or two items. This technology also will allow us to better utilize space that once was used as a point-of-sale counter so that we can display additional inventory to generate more sales.”


(Related Story: Traditional POS Sales To Plunge Because Of Mobile Devices, IHL Reports)

Although Mitchell still agrees with those goals and dreams—and indeed is still hoping to achieve them for the holiday season of late 2012—she ended up instructing employees to not use the two NCR Apple checkout units anywhere other than at an existing POS area right by the exit.

As mobile payments inch along with advancing efforts from Google, ISIS and Paypal, and with Apple debating its plans, retailers are trying to balance two concepts: the ideals of mobile-payment strategies with the mundane, practical logistics issues. And nowhere did those two concepts collide more clearly than in the one-location $3.5 million specialty store in Plantation, FL.

Some of Mitchell’s questions: Does she now have to spend more money—or divert precious personnel during busy hours—to have someone stationed at the door checking receipts? Doesn’t that send the wrong customer-friendly message? She now offers mobile customers a choice of a paper receipt or a printed one. Will they need a paper receipt, too, even if they want a digital copy?

More questions: How could someone at the door verify that the receipt is legitimate? For that matter, if the associate at the door is shown a digital receipt, how is he/she to know if it’s a valid receipt—as opposed to a doctored image—unless the associate scans the receipt’s barcode and runs a check to see if that item was indeed purchased in the prior 10 minutes?

The NCR devices use “any standard fourth-generation iPod Touch or iPhone 4 using a 3G or Wi-Fi connection,” according to the NCR statement, and Mitchell said her store is using an iPod Touch running on the store’s Wi-Fi network.

Using the popular Apple hardware for in-store mobile checkout is common; Lowe’s, PacSun, Ann Taylor and Urban Outfitters are among the many already using Apple for in-store checkout. But, as Mitchell discovered, using the easily recognized hardware is not without its drawbacks.

She said some customers saw the associate using the iPod Touch to try and scan the customer’s credit card and became worried that someone (hopefully, a store employee, but a nervous customer might not be certain) was using his/her personal device to scan their payment cards. “Some were very concerned. ‘Is that someone’s personal phone? I’m not letting my card be scanned by that thing.'” Customers are used to the appearance of a traditional POS and were freaked out by the more contemporary appearance.

To minimize that fear, Mitchell is having official store logos created that will adhere to the phones, to make them look more like official store devices.


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4 Comments | Read Mobile POS Beta Site Fear Keeps Checkout Right By Exit

  1. ed Says:

    The Mobile POS goal should be to capture transactions and not turn a product over to the customer.

    Retailers who engage in employing mobile POS will also need to create a fulfillment or pickup station similiar to Best Buy or Fry’s or Toys R Us and Costco/Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart Site-to-Store workflow where the fulfillment station validate the receipt generated by the mobile POS.

  2. Clay Says:

    While there are many challenges for Mobile POS systems to transform the traditional sales model, please give them credit where deserved. They do provide instant additional capacity to check out customers during busy times. They provide a very natural way to engage with the customer and by sending an emailed receipt and collect contact info from your customers. The can be used anywhere in the store to access product information such as warranty, related products, care and feeding in addition to on-hand and back ordered quantities for all you locations and the warehouse. With this new generation of multi-purpose devices, the same device can be used for counting, ordering , receiving and viewing customer purchase history and loyalty status. The device can be taken outside the store for various remote events and sidewalk sales.

  3. Dan Says:

    What’s to stop a thief from posing as a salesperson with a mobile checkout device?

  4. Evan Schuman Says:

    It’s an interesting idea, but there are a few obstacles.
    1) Clearly, the thief would need to steal an uniform to look like one of the employees, assuming the store has a uniform. (This would be pretty much not doable in a small store and many larger chains do have some kind of uniform.) That’s not a huge hurdle, but it’s a little one.
    2) If the thief is caught, it’s much harder to talk your way out if you’re wearing a stolen store uniform.
    3) Even in a very busy Walmart, Target, Costco or Home Depot, the chance of some employee challenging the thief (“Hey, you don’t work here!”) is quite high.
    Then again, if it’s a smart and not-particularly-greedy thief, this gambit might work for 5 or 10 minutes. The thief goes in, quickly throws on the uniform over street clothes, “checks out or two shoppers and quickly exits, with a few captured bits of card data. It might work, but it’s a high-risk proposition to gather just a few names. There are far safer criminal ways to gather a lot more names.

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