Mobile payments may still be in the infant stage, but mobile devices — and especially Apple products — have become fairly mainstream at retail locations around the country.
And there are more significant deployments underway.
Lowe’s announced last week that it was rolling out 42,000 handheld devices in the U.S. and Canada. That closely follows announcements by Home Depot, Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters.
While some of the retailers are a little shy about saying which devices are being deployed, for the most part they are using Apple products — an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod touch. And while the devices may eventually be used to accept payments, many of them are starting off as tools for salespeople to look up answers or to check on product availability.
It’s not just large retailers, either — small stores are also jumping on the mobile bandwagon.
I happened to see an iPad being used in a small winery in eastern Washington state. The device, which was mounted on a mechanical arm, was still in the process of being set up, as evidenced by the nearby iPhone, calculator, traditional credit card point-of-sale machine and cash register at the nearby counter. But a complete changeover was in the works.
And the list keeps growing, according to South Plainfield, New Jersey-based Global Bay, a company that develops mobile software for the retail environment.
It is announcing today that it is helping Pacific Sunwear, a retailer known for surfer-style apparel, to roll out iPads in 300 stores, with plans for 500 to 600 more by next year.
Global Bay CEO Sandeep Bhanote said he’s been in the business of mobile retail solutions for a long time, but it is “the Apple line of products that has reinvigorated the market and is bringing it [mobile] to the mass market … Everyone is looking at the Apple technology line. No one is looking at Android, or at the older generation of devices … It’s an Apple world in retail, although that could change next year.”
A variety of companies, including Google, Square and Verifone, are also racing to get a piece of the action.
Bhanote said Global Bay did its first iPad deployment last year in November.
It was at a mall store called Things Remembered, and the iPad served as a self-service kiosk where customers could select the right engraving for a particular item, such as a jewelry box.
“Why not use the iPad to streamline the experience?” Bhanote asked.
Even in these early stages, there’s evidence that handheld devices may evolve, moving from tools that automate annoying or painful processes to becoming sales-generating machines.
“The next phase is introducing a commerce component,” he added.
Bhanote declined to say how many iPads it has helped to deploy in the past year, but said that retailers are already starting to see results. One retailer reported that it experienced a 12 percent increase in average order transaction when a customer was serviced with an Apple device in the store, he said.
PacSun associates will carry iPads in the store to help customers place online orders when products are out of stock. Using an application built by Global Bay, store associates will be able to find a shirt or pair of shorts and then order it from the iPad, accept the customer’s payment and ensure it is shipped to the customer’s home.
Bhanote said for an apparel chain of that size, being able to close five more transactions a day per store means a lot of money.
However, there are still some logistics to be worked out. If a mobile device replaces the register, where do you store the cash? What happens if a salesperson drops and breaks that $500 device? Worse yet — what if a customer drops it?
Bhanote said PacSun is putting security tags on its iPads, so if someone walks out of the store with one, an alarm will sound. He said other customers have used rubberized cases for protection; in the case of the winery, there was that mechanical arm.
But the winery’s second iPad wasn’t as lucky. The device was being used by associates, who walked around the store with it, and it was accidentally knocked off the table by a customer. It was a very expensive lesson for a small company — especially when the customer only bought one bottle of wine.