Urban Outfitters Fully Loaded for Mobile POS

Fully loaded in-store mobile POS technology might be the wave of the future, but for Urban Outfitters, the future is now. The traditional cash register is a thing of the past.

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Multichannel Merchant
Multichannel Merchant
Multichannel Merchant
O+F Operations and Fulfillment

Urban Outfitters chief information officer Calvin Hollinger told analysts last week that the company is using a combination of iPod Touch and iPad devices equipped to handle not only point-of-sale transactions, but also returns and restocking. Urban Outfitters began deploying handheld devices running on a mobile POS solution two years ago.

“Two or three weeks ago, we placed our very last register order,” Hollinger said during the analysts’ presentation. “Once we successfully make sure this iPad [POS] works in all the stores, all stores will be designed and equipped with iPod Touches and iPads.”

Besides freeing up space in retail stores, mobile POS also provides a financial break: The iPod Touch device — “fully loaded, fully installed” — is about $500 and a register is about $5,000, Hollinger said. The iPad tablet device, which can be mounted on a swivel arm at a cash wrap station, is $1,000 fully installed.

Hollinger is excited about the mobile devices’ out-of-stock application, which takes advantage of the company’s ability to access inventory from anywhere in its system.

“If you come into a store and we don’t have your color or your size, the sales associates can find a color or the size somewhere in the enterprise,” Hollinger told analysts. “The application displays the closest three stores that have the particular item the customer is seeking. We have real-time visibility at any given time and we can take orders from anywhere and fulfill orders at any point where we have inventory.”

Gary Lombardo, multichannel and mobile product marketing lead for ecommerce platform provider Demandware, said Urban Outfitters made a bold statement by getting out of the cash register business “because we haven’t heard many retailers saying that. What’s really driving the mobile POS is simplification of operations and how we manage consumer experiences.”

Managing everything off one platform is the ultimate vision, Lombardo said, and it’s the direction Urban Outfitters is headed. Mobile POS is very important, Lombardo said, because it demonstrates innovation, because consumers are expecting that across all channels, and for practical reasons for high volume stores to move people through checkout faster and at the same time free up additional merchandising space.

The fully loaded mobile POS greatly differentiates Urban Outfitters, Lombardo said, and streamlines the consumer experience in the store, making shopping fully interactive. “It leverages online and streamlines their operations and brings cost savings by additional floor space for merchandise.”

A fully integrated shopping cart across all channels, streamlining your accounting and systems is the long-term vision that Urban Outfitters has along with other merchants, Lombardo said. “They don’t have a fully integrated shopping cart, but that is the visionary place to be. We can get there. It’s a function of vendors like us making it a reality coupled with an organizational willingness. It should happen within a few years.”

Ernie Schell, director of consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis, said most retailers will be deploying fully mobile POS in-store within five years, but Urban Outfitters is “jumping out ahead of the curve, and good for them for taking the leap.”

Schell is impressed with the inventory access from all points in the Urban Outfitters network.

“So Urban Outfitters doesn’t lose a sale because a size/color combo is unavailable when the customer is shopping, and may even be able to do more effective cross-sells and upsells, either with text prompts, or automatic displays of other suggested items,” Schell said.

J.C. Penney introduced mobile POS devices in its stores in August and intends to replace all cash registers with mobile POS devices by 2014. J.C. Penney CEO Ron Johnson wants to end traditional checkout by 2014.

J.C. Penney spokesperson Joey Thomas said in an email that company stores began deploying mobile checkout capabilities in August with the introduction of its Levi’s shops in nearly 700 stores. Thomas said the company will roll out additional mobile checkout options to all stores in November, just in time for the holiday season, using iPod touches.

“Our plan is to have every team member on the sales floor equipped with a mobile POS device by spring 2013,” Thomas said. “By leveraging mobile technology, we’re allowing team members to break away from traditional cash wraps and deliver personalized customer service with a convenient mobile checkout option.”

Jim Tierney (jim.tierney@penton.com) is a senior writer for Multichannel Merchant. You can connect with him on Twitter (TierneyMCM) and LinkedIn, or call him at 203-358-4265.

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