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Mobile POS still fails to deliver on line-busting promise

For the last few years, consumers shopping in-store may have been met with checkout procedures that replace a register with a smartphone, aiming to speed up their transaction and utilize a source of modern technology. Some of these efforts are falling short due to a break in execution, perhaps involving an incomplete platform system in place or lack of associate experience.

“The question is actually, ‘Have they made the infrastructure investments that would make mobile work well?’” said Paula Rosenblaum, managing partner at Retail Systems Research, Miami. “Technology is a tool.

“There’s no purpose in a tool that doesn’t work well or doesn’t work as well as the tool it is replacing. Mobile can be great, especially for small retailers, such as Square, or retailers with a really large store footprint like department stores.

“No retailer should use a tool that makes life less convenient for customers and store associates. It’s just old fashioned bad business.”

Dissatisfied customers
While brands’ and retailers’ bricks-and-mortar locations have been spending recent years integrating mobile in different ways, a common use of the technology has been used to complete the checkout process for in-store transactions.

Sources of hardware and numerous applications can be combined to give smartphones transaction capabilities and when used can give the appeal of a tech-savvy establishment. However, if these implementations are not helping the customer, they are also unlikely to be helping business.

A recent visit to an Urban Outfitters retail location in New Jersey by a Mobile Commerce Daily reporter highlighted this challenge.

During this visit, an Urban Outfitters associate asked customers paying with a card to form an separate line at the checkout station. Once the associate was approached, she seemed unsure of the mobile checkout device and claimed that it “sometimes does not work.”

The associate faced struggles of scanning the clothing items and using the credit card scanner. There were additional procedures of the associate entering a required identification number that seemed to take longer than usual given the small screen limitations.

While this in-store usage of mobile may have been eye-catching to consumers when it was first implemented, the cool factor has died down, and customers now care more about efficiency.

“Equipping store employees with smart phones so they can scan each item seems like it would take longer then using a traditional barcode scanner,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston. “Also, I imagine, consumers would be very hesitant to put their credit card or payment information into a handheld device, being used by an individual.

“Many small restaurants and businesses are moving their cash register systems over to a tablet-based check out, tied in to a physical cash register. PayPal’s Here iPad app others offer this option.

“Since the tablet is bolted down, this seems to be a much better iteration of mobile checkout. Early companies in the space like Aisle Buyer may have exited well, but it is still extremely uncommon to see a store employee actually intercepting those in line and checking them out by hand using a smartphone.”

All about execution
Mobile can serve the purpose of driving more revenue for brands and retailers, but if customers are met with inconvenient experiences, they are likely to be discouraged to do further business.

“MPOS is a really powerful tool when used in the right place for the right reason,” said Thad Peterson, analyst at the Aite Group, Boston. “As with any retail process, it’s only valuable to the merchant if it either increases sales, return visits or it lowers cost.

“MPOS can increase sales by speeding the transaction process and/or eliminating long waits in a checkout line.  It can increase return visits by lessening the amount of time it takes for a consumer to make a purchase or by eliminating the need to visit a cash register.

“It can lower costs if it can increase the volume of transactions delivered in the same amount of time for the same transaction cost. In order for MPOS to help, it has to be as or more fast and convenient than traditional POS.”

Speed is key. Consumers want to pay for their items quickly and continue on with their day, but handicapped mobile implementations are only causing more problems rather than solving ones.

“If it’s slower, then the customer isn’t pleased, and if it doesn’t work well, not only will the customer not be happy, but the associate will be put in an embarrassing position in front of a customer, and that could lessen their interest in offering or using MPOS with future customers,” Mr. Peterson said. “As with all new technologies, the application needs to match the use case, and in MPOS, that means fast, reliable and mobile transaction capture.”

Final Take
Caitlyn Bohannon is an editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York