As Black Friday and the winter holidays approach, retailers are prepping for the impending flood of customers. Managing crowds means helping customers check out as quickly as possible and reining in long lines at the register.
Holiday shoppers’ trips carry higher stakes and tighter deadlines than the average customers’ — just ask gift recipients. Retailers may earn even more brownie points by going the extra mile and ensuring that, even as in-store inventory sells out, customers can still get their hands on items in the exact colors or styles they have in mind.
Line busting and getting customers hard-to-find gifts are tall orders. Luckily, tools like mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) devices enable inventory ordering and other features that help retailers improve services, strengthening the relationship and loyalty between brands and customers.
In a recent interview with PYMNTS, James Thordsen, head of product management at Gap Inc., explained how developing and implementing an mPOS system across all of its brands — including Athleta, Banana Republic and Old Navy — changed the relationship between customers and sales associates.
“We wanted to push information and technology into the pocket of the sales associates to better serve the customer,” he said.
Retail staff uses mPOS devices to help customers check out faster, but they can also place online orders on behalf of customers for out-of-stock items, as well as view and share product details, and even help customers sign up for loyalty and rewards programs. These capabilities allow sales associates to better connect with and support customers, Thordsen said, and different features matter more to different brands.
For instance, Gap Inc.’s Old Navy brand often caters to customers who simply want to get in and out quickly. Staff dealing with a large number of shoppers primarily need mPOS to avoid long checkout lines on busy days and place delivery orders for out-of-stock items.
However, at the company’s Athleta brand, customers frequently ask questions about the technical specifications and performance details of products. A staff member with an mPOS device can help customers check out at the end of this interaction, rather than direct them to the register.
“Mobile enables a more delightful experience,” he said, “because you can transact in a way that doesn’t interrupt the relationship that the associate is building with the customer.”
Similarly, at Banana Republic, customers often turn to staff to find the right items in the right sizes. In these cases, mPOS devices allow fitting-room staff to quickly take payments. Thanks to these advantages, Thordsen explained, some Banana Republic stores have switched over to using only mPOS.
“In some cases, we’ve gone so far — in particular at Banana — to remove our fixed points of sale entirely and direct 100 percent of transactions through mobile point of sale because we think, in those stores, in those situations, it’s a good experience,” he said. “[When] exiting the fitting room, that person who’s been helping you for maybe 20, 30 or 40 minutes, and done a great job serving you, can just check you out right there.”
Building A ‘Swiss Army’ mPOS
To accommodate the needs of its different brands, Gap Inc. required a robust solution to support many different capabilities and uses — something of a “Swiss Army knife,” Thordsen said.
To handle its needs, the company sought a single device that could integrate into its various back-end systems. That approach would have required heavily customizing an mPOS solution or building a new one. So, the company went with the latter choice. Not only did Gap Inc. deploy an mPOS solution to supplement its traditional systems, but it replaced those with fixed, tablet-based solutions running the same mPOS software to provide a consistent experience.
These capabilities will be on full display this holiday season, with staff ready to take on the rush, mPOS in hand. However, Gap Inc.'s brands won’t be alone. Many retailers have the opportunity to show off advanced store technologies, as well as solutions to payment friction. If the experience is impressive enough, retailers could earn more repeat customers during the rest of the year.
For companies with the right technology, it could prove to be a holiday season that keeps on giving.