Reports last week indicate that following in the shoes of the Apple Store, The Gap is piloting the use of Apple iPod Touch units for mobile checkout within the store.
This concept has fascinated me for some time. It takes away the counter between store associate and customer. It also allows customers to buy where they are shopping, and can allow for more flexibility in a store, allowing potentially every associate to be a cashier, and provide at least the potential for improved service.
I’ve always thought it worked well in the Apple store, and I hope it does well here, but some hurdles will need to be cleared in order for this to work in a traditional apparel retailer environment like Gap.
Security – One of the biggest logistical hurdles in an apparel store like the Gap is EAS. How will they deactivate the security tags? All clothing at Gap has tags that will set off the gate at the front of the store. Deactivation could still work. The main concern would be that many of the deactivators now are either behind a counter where only store staff can access them, or they only deactivate on a valid barcode scan. Both of these are tricky to manage without losing the benefit of having the mobile POS in the first place. I expect that associates will need to have kiosks around the store with deactivators and tag removal systems unless they wear one of these on their belt too, but this gets a bit awkward, and what if someone steals it? They don’t have EAS at the Apple Store, so it isn’t an issue there.
Operationalization – Let’s assume the application itself is quite simple. Apple apps are made for the masses, and your average cashier is a step above that. The issue that may arise is how do you accept a customer’s purchase, give it back to them in a presentable format and accept payment. Consider the following: You go to the apple store, you pick up an iPhone case, you hand it to your nearest Genius, they scan it and give it back to you. You give them your credit card, the scan it and give back to you and you are effectively finished. That’s in an Apple Store. Go to the Gap. You already have 2 bags from other stores. You pick up 1 pair of jeans and find a Gap associate on the floor. You had them the jeans, they scan them, and then hand them back to you, but you have 2 bags. This is workable, but a bit more awkward depending on the situation. Can they fold them first? They do that at the counter, but what do we do standing in the middle of the store? This will definitely only work for small basket sizes. What about bags? I don’t need it for an iPhone case, but generally only a small portion of the population will have their own bag, and if they do, what else were they putting in that bag? This can work, but it will require changes to the processes in stores. I expect mini kiosks will have to be placed in the store to accommodate the EAS situation, and may provide a small station to quickly fold an item and present it to the customer.
EMV – While swiping a card will work in the US, there is a sizable portion of the Western world that requires EMV verification on a purchase, which means a pinpad is required. Looks like Canada and the UK would be on the outs for this without a hardware upgrade. I’m sure there is one out there or in the works, but I’ve not seen it yet.
Receipts – While I fully believe paper receipts should be on the way out, the situation needs to be dealt with. The Apple Store will email you a receipt based on your email address and if you use the same credit card, will know you based on iTunes. The issue I see here is that the Apple Store attracts a certain demographic that is fully comfortable with this. There will be a demographic at the Gap (decreasing, of course) that will either want a paper receipt, will balk at an email address, or will be spooked by the fact that the Gap has your credit card number in a database with your e-mail attached to it. The Gap will also need to look at returns for this system as well. A transaction number can probably be used from an emailed receipt, but this will be a change from the Gap’s usual mode of operation. Once again, the Gap is very different from an Apple Store. I expect returns are far more common at the Gap, due to sizes or changes of mind.
I fully expect mobile POS to become more common, and it’s encouraging to see Gap getting behind it. That said, I expect that like any other paradigm shift for processing transactions in a store (self-checkout, kiosks, point of sale layout) mobile POS will requires some serious thought and changes to operations to integrate it correctly into the processes of a reatailer as well as the store experience. At present, it appears to suit a small basket transaction without EAS and an email based receipt. There are definitely ways of working around the challenges, and they are likely to be as varied as the retailers that attempt them.