J.C. Penney Line-Moving Experiment Proves Wirelessly Tricky

Written by Evan Schuman
September 20th, 2009

J.C. Penney is experimenting with some customer checkout herding technology in its Manhattan store. Although the retailer has succeeded in persuading customers that the lines are moving faster—whether or not they actually are moving faster is unclear—it has failed in its intended wireless launch of the system.

The difference between wireless in a test lab and wireless in the field has again reared its ugly 802.11 head.

The J.C. Penney trial began in December 2008 at the $18.5 billion 1,101-store chain’s 103,000-square foot Ft. Worth, Texas, store. The goal was to test the system for a deployment at the chain’s first Manhattan store (a much larger 153,000-square foot store), which opened this summer. (The chain already had New York City stores in Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island.)

According to John Wise, the chain’s director of store planning and design, the system is designed to be flexible and to change from store to store. The Ft. Worth package, for example, consists of one desktop unit underneath the checkout counter as well as both a 17-inch monitor and a half-dozen 6- to 7-inch monitors in the immediate area to guide customers to the next available POS terminal. It also included a series of small buttons—right at the POS stations—to signal that they are ready for the next customer.

Called the U.S. Lawrence Metal Electronic Call Forward queuing system, the initial Ft. Worth package cost the chain about $16,000. The larger setup for the Manhattan store “did not cost much more than that,” Wise said, but that store was always supposed to be deployed wirelessly. Unfortunately, that option didn’t work out: Wise said he didn’t like the poor quality of the video images sent to the monitors. The problem went away when J.C. Penney hauled out Cat5 cable and snaked it through the ceiling. “It had to be wired. Some of the pictures were not as clear as I wanted them to be,” Wise said.

It was never determined precisely why the wireless option had problems, he said, but the underground parts of the building and the comparatively low eight-foot ceilings (most J.C. Penney stores have 12-foot ceilings) might have played a role. Wise also said that he couldn’t get a good cell phone signal when at that location.

But the project’s core objective was to make customers less unhappy about having to wait in line and to reduce lost sales because of customers abandoning their physical shopping carts. And that part, Wise said, worked wonderfully.In customer surveys, the perception was that customers were waiting in line for less time and objected to that time less.

Beyond the efficiency of customers being moved forward the instant a POS station is open, the system broadcasts little videos—ads, really—to entertain customers and to perhaps plant an idea in their heads for a future shopping visit. The system also broadcasts an estimate of the remaining wait time, mostly based on an average of how long the prior 10 transactions took.

The system will never be rolled out to the entire chain, Wise said, adding that it would only be helpful in J.C. Penney’s higher density locations.


Comments are closed.


StorefrontBacktalk delivers the latest retail technology news & analysis. Join more than 60,000 retail IT leaders who subscribe to our free weekly email. Sign up today!

Most Recent Comments

Why Did Gonzales Hackers Like European Cards So Much Better?

I am still unclear about the core point here-- why higher value of European cards. Supply and demand, yes, makes sense. But the fact that the cards were chip and pin (EMV) should make them less valuable because that demonstrably reduces the ability to use them fraudulently. Did the author mean that the chip and pin cards could be used in a country where EMV is not implemented--the US--and this mis-match make it easier to us them since the issuing banks may not have as robust anti-fraud controls as non-EMV banks because they assumed EMV would do the fraud prevention for them Read more...
Two possible reasons that I can think of and have seen in the past - 1) Cards issued by European banks when used online cross border don't usually support AVS checks. So, when a European card is used with a billing address that's in the US, an ecom merchant wouldn't necessarily know that the shipping zip code doesn't match the billing code. 2) Also, in offline chip countries the card determines whether or not a transaction is approved, not the issuer. In my experience, European issuers haven't developed the same checks on authorization requests as US issuers. So, these cards might be more valuable because they are more likely to get approved. Read more...
A smart card slot in terminals doesn't mean there is a reader or that the reader is activated. Then, activated reader or not, the U.S. processors don't have apps certified or ready to load into those terminals to accept and process smart card transactions just yet. Don't get your card(t) before the terminal (horse). Read more...
The marketplace does speak. More fraud capacity translates to higher value for the stolen data. Because nearly 100% of all US transactions are authorized online in real time, we have less fraud regardless of whether the card is Magstripe only or chip and PIn. Hence, $10 prices for US cards vs $25 for the European counterparts. Read more...
@David True. The European cards have both an EMV chip AND a mag stripe. Europeans may generally use the chip for their transactions, but the insecure stripe remains vulnerable to skimming, whether it be from a false front on an ATM or a dishonest waiter with a handheld skimmer. If their stripe is skimmed, the track data can still be cloned and used fraudulently in the United States. If European banks only detect fraud from 9-5 GMT, that might explain why American criminals prefer them over American bank issued cards, who have fraud detection in place 24x7. Read more...

Our apologies. Due to legal and security copyright issues, we can't facilitate the printing of Premium Content. If you absolutely need a hard copy, please contact customer service.