Finish Line’s Mobile Checkout: Practical Vs. Potential

Written by Evan Schuman
September 26th, 2012

By November, the 654-store Finish Line sportswear chain will become the first major retailer to have mobile checkout in every one of its stores, just in time for the holidays. But while piloting the system in almost 50 stores, the $1.4 billion Indianapolis chain has had to wrestle with the practical versus the potential.

For example, the associate-issued mobile units have full CRM access, so associates are able to review a customer’s full purchase history to deliver the best experience. To avoid awkwardness, though, most associates don’t access such history until after a sale is completed, when asking for a loyalty card seems natural.

“It undermines the strategy,” said Finish Line CIO Terry Ledbetter. “But quite frankly, it was hard to imagine how resistant customers would be to telling you who they are. ‘You don’t need to know who I am,'” he said, adding that the chain is exploring using an opt-in feature on its mobile app that would broadcast to all associates when a customer walks in the store.

Finish Line’s mobile IT effort goes far beyond the 1,600 countertop—and 3,200 iPod Touch card-acceptance—devices from VeriFone, plus the large number of tablets for customers to use to check inventory and compare products. It needed upgraded Micros POS systems, increased network throughput for associates (no customer Wi-Fi yet) and upgrades for Oracle databases and Manhattan Associates supply chain systems. “It’s a full mobility play,” Ledbetter said, pointing to his chain’s new ability to handle EMV/Chip-and-PIN, contactless, NFC and Bluetooth 4.0 payments.

As another example of the practical, Ledbetter has been watching the many mobile wallet trials but not participating yet. The system in place for November is simply swiping magstripe cards through a sled on one of the mobile units—not dissimilar to how Apple Stores do it. (Though, hopefully, skipping the part where Apple arrests customers who forget to click a button in its payment app.)

“Our reality right now is that mobile wallets and mobile payments are fledgling,” Ledbetter said. “Obviously, you know something is coming, but there are so many different groups trying to figure out how to get this thing to a critical mass. My opinion is that some form of mobile settlement is going to come to the United States. There’s a lot of money on the table, but the biggest thing getting in the way is ourselves,” meaning the retailers and all the payment players. But until one or two of the efforts achieves substantial marketshare, Finish Line is going to watch and not jump in.

One key difference with Finish Line’s approach to mobile checkout is its focus on associate training, something that other chain’s trials have minimized. “The buck starts and stops with the associates. We’re training associates on how to use the technology in a meaningful way” using “role-based training,” Ledbetter said.

For example, when does the associate offer to check out a customer using the mobile device as opposed to having them use the traditional cashwrap? It’s simply a matter of looking at the length of the line and determining which would be better for the customer. “We have to look at these as a retailer in a very different way. It’s a lot more than a small POS. How do you use the technology to benefit the customer?”

To make it work, the chain has placed remote printers throughout the store (for hard-copy receipts) and filled various drawers with bags. As is typical, receipts will be offered as electronic copies sent through E-mail or as paper handed to the customer after checkout is complete. Ledbetter said he had initially expected almost all customers to opt for the E-mailed receipts, but that didn’t happen. “You would think that getting a receipt E-mailed would be the best thing since sliced bread,” he said, adding that fears of this new system are making customers comfortable with the older approach, at least in the beginning. But he’s already seeing a shift since the trials began some 60 days ago. “The amount of printed receipts is already dropping sharply,” he said.


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