Nordstrom’s Mobile Checkout Difference

Written by Frank Hayes
May 18th, 2011

In what is likely the most complex mobile POS rollout yet in retail, Nordstrom by mid-July will deploy thousands of iPod Touches and other mobile mechanisms. The IT twist, though, is that the rollout is not tied to a single type of device. That means the chain’s software developers have already nailed down an architecture where the heavy POS lifting is done on the back end, not on the mobile device itself. With an architecture like that, what’s on the devices has to be relatively simple.

As a result, it should be easier for Nordstrom to quickly add new devices and new functions to the mobile POS system. Features that the iPod doesn’t support, such as contactless payment, might be available on other devices. In theory, with a well-structured architecture, new devices could be swapped in on an as-needed basis. Unlike mobile POS pioneers Home Depot (which uses a highly customized handheld for its mobile POS) and Apple (which can only use Apple, naturally), Nordstrom can exercise its option to do small-scale experiments with devices from multiple vendors in the midst of its big rollout. That will also discourage developers from tying code too tightly to one device—giving Nordstrom the chance to do even more quick-hit experiments in the future.

The devices will go only into Nordstrom’s main-line stores. However, the chain is also experimenting with tablets at its Rack stores and plans to expand its mobile POS based on what it learns from the initial rollout.

“We should have roughly 5,000 to 6,000 handhelds in our full line stores by the Anniversary Sale in July,” Nordstrom President Blake Nordstrom said during an earnings call on May 12. “We will learn from these efforts and quickly add to this functionality with plans to have significantly more of these devices in our stores by year-end.”

Nordstrom Spokesman Colin Johnson on Wednesday (May 18) added that the devices will mostly be the iPod Touches that the chain began testing in April at some stores in the Seattle area, which are outfitted with a “sled” to read mag-stripe payment cards. But the devices “may not all be iPod Touch,” he said. Along with mobile checkout, the devices will also give associates full merchandise search capabilities using Nordstrom’s recently integrated inventory system. The retailer also expects to roll out additional customer-facing functions at a fairly quick pace.

Nordstrom’s might even be able to start dabbling in in-store mobile self-checkout for customers.


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