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JCPenney’s Cautionary Mobile POS Tale

The Bloomberg report on JCPenney’s re-boot of its mobile point-of-sale initiative in the aftermath of Ron Johnson’s departure sheds some light on the real-world ramifications mobile POS implementations. The retailer discovered there are a few vastly underrated factors linked to the customer experience that retailers should seriously take into consideration in a mobile POS deployment.

JCPenney’s Cautionary Mobile POS Tale

June 17, 2013
By Bruce Herrier, SVP of Product & Strategy at Veras Retail

The Bloomberg report on JCPenney’s re-boot of its mobile point-of-sale initiative in the aftermath of Ron Johnson’s departure sheds some light on the real-world ramifications mobile POS implementations. The retailer discovered there are a few vastly underrated factors linked to the customer experience that retailers should seriously take into consideration in a mobile POS deployment.

1. Help Shoppers Identify the Mobile POS “Cashier”

Reading how JCPenney discovered that their customers couldn’t distinguish the store’s employees from other customers reminded me of my first retail experience at Barnes & Noble – we sneered at (and were secretly jealous of) the Teva-wearing sales associates at Borders. However, we often heard from customers that shopped both stores that the professionally dressed B&N associates were easier to identify and were more approachable. 

So, in the case of JCPenney, a red lanyard and a gray sash for the associates toting a mobile POS, just wasn’t enough. This is one area where Apple does it right – the bright blue t-shirts worn by Genii at the Apple Store make them hard to miss.

2. Designing a Full-Service Checkout Experience

Some retailers aren’t prepared to give up many of the tangible benefits of the cashwrap, including: 

  • Loss prevention for fixed point for CCTV surveillance or de-activation of anti-theft tags
  • Branding opportunities such as retail bags 
  • Customer interaction during bagging present an opportunity for conversation and upselling

JCPenney’s rolling cart approach will help mitigate some of these problems, but there still appears to be a gap between traditional, full-service cashwrap and the fluid Apple Store model.

3. Cultural-Norm Obstacles to Mobile Checkout
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While it’s true that Apple’s typical customer may be more tech-savvy than JCPenney’s, this trope ignores something more fundamental – regardless of our technical aptitude or affinity, we share cultural norms about shopping that are difficult to dislodge, and in some cases, exist for very practical reasons. There are cultural obstacles to mobile checkouts that have nothing to do with the type of merchandise or the customer’s comfort with technology.

I consider myself tech-savvy and shopped in the Apple Store for a new iPad cover a few months ago. This item was eligible for Apple’s EasyPay self-checkout program. So, as a dutiful geek, I made sure my Apple Store app was configured to allow EasyPay ahead of time. When I arrived at the store, I connected to the store’s Wi-Fi, pulled the item from the shelf, scanned it with the app on my phone, checked out, and the request timed out.

Not wanting to risk being accused of shoplifting, I went to find a Genius to check me out. The first associate I approached told me she couldn’t help me, as she didn’t have a device capable of checkout. She pointed to one of her colleagues in the middle of the sales floor, who was intently focused on a conversation with another customer. This put me in a bind. Do I barge into the conversation, demanding to be checked out? Or do I awkwardly hover nearby, waiting politely for the conversation to finish? I chose the awkward hover. 

In this case, I would have happily stood in a short line, rather than deal with the mobile POS “queue” where no societal norms have been established. When the Apple Store isn’t busy, the appeal of mobile POS to both Apple and the customer is clear. Increased conversions for the store, increased convenience for the customer. Although when things get backed up, the model starts to break down.

Through these real-world lessons, more retailers are thinking through the operational and cultural considerations of mobile POS, rather than learning that lesson the hard way like JCPenney. There are certainly huge potential benefits to mobile POS to be had, but only when every facet of the experience – like the physical space, device and peripherals, customer and associate training – is aligned toward a common goal.

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