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Nordstrom’s Mobile Checkout Difference

May 18th, 2011

Nordstrom’s might even be able to start dabbling in in-store mobile self-checkout for customers. That sounds about as far from the retailer’s classic high-touch, handwritten-thank-you-note culture as anyone could get. But Nordstrom is already tentatively heading in that direction, though certainly without abandoning its usual upscale human-touch approach. In recent months, the company has talked about how thank-yous might be delivered electronically to smartphones as a customer is leaving the store.

The chain is also still experimenting with all the other elements required to make mobile POS work. That includes department layouts, which Nordstrom’s Johnson says are being reconfigured to make them more conducive to mobile POS. Nordstrom’s already has electronic receipts, but no final decisions have been made about how to issue receipts to mobile POS customers who aren’t carrying smartphones (or don’t want to hand over their phone numbers).

Then there are even more basic logistical issues that we’ve talked about before: Where does an associate get shopping bags or stash hangers during the sales process? Will there be spots in each department dedicated to supporting mobile POS with those things? What happens to lost devices, and how secure are they in case of loss or theft?

The expectation has been that in-store mobile POS was daunting, because of the devices themselves—whether phones, PDAs or tablets, these are consumer devices that weren’t designed for commercial use. But Nordstrom’s big-bang rollout suggests that the devices aren’t the big challenge. It took years for the chain to complete its unified inventory system that offered in-store, online and mobile customers all the same products. It took months to get Wi-Fi in all its main-line stores, so mobile devices would have a way of talking to the inventory and POS systems.

And it will take months or years before all the experiments with floor plans and other customer-experience elements are finished—which has to happen in tandem with Nordstrom keeping happy those customers who don’t like having all that technology in their faces. Those who want instant thank-yous will have to coexist with those who still prefer a handwritten note.

Interestingly, Nordstrom is also putting iPads in its off-price Rack stores at the checkout—but not as a POS device. For now, the iPads are strictly for letting customers sign up for the Rack Insider loyalty program. Whether these devices will become transaction enabled will probably depend on how things go in the main-line stores.


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