March 22, 2013

Cash registers: Going out of business?

Increasingly, stores are turning to smartphones and tablets as a more convenient checkout tool.

By ANNE D'INNOCENZIO The Associated Press

NEW YORK - Ka-ching! The cash register may be on its final sale. Stores across the country are ditching the old-fashioned, clunky machines and having salespeople -- and even shoppers themselves -- ring up sales on smartphones and tablet computers.

click image to enlarge

A salesperson at Barneys New York uses an iPod Touch to record a customer’s purchase. Led by the Apple example at all of its stores, more retailers are ditching clunky registers while freeing up space and salespeople.

The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

A sales staff member at Barneys New York uses an iPod Touch to help a customer make a purchase. Stores across the country are ditching cash registers and instead having salespeople – and shoppers themselves – check out on smartphones and tablet computers.

The Associated Press

HERE'S A LOOK at how some major chains are responding to the changing shopping landscape:

Barneys New York, luxury retailer, plans to use iPads or iPod Touch devices for credit and debit card purchases in seven of its nearly two dozen stores this year.

Coach Inc., the upscale handbag maker, is using mobile checkout at half of its 189 factory outlet stores. The company is also testing them in a handful of its 350 regular stores.

David's Bridal, which operates 300 stores across the country, says that starting with 2015 all new stores it will build will not have any cash registers. It's in the midst of figuring out which mobile checkout technology to use and plans to start rolling out a mobile plan later this year.

J.C. Penney Co., a mid-priced department store chain, started rolling out iPod Touch devices late last year in its 1,100 stores. The goal is to have one in the hands of every salesperson by May. Penney says a quarter of purchases at its stores nationwide now come from an iPod Touch.

Nordstrom Inc., an upscale department store chain considered the gold standard within the retail industry, plans to phase out cash registers in favor of mobile checkout by next year. The company has handed out iPod Touch devices at all of its full-service department stores and Nordstrom Rack stores.

Sears Holdings Corp.'s Sears stores are using mobile checkout devices like iPads and iPod Touches in 360 of its 800 stores. It has no current plans to phase out cash registers as the retailer says it wants to fine-tune its strategy.

Urban Outfitters, a teen clothing company, ordered its last traditional register last fall and aims to go completely mobile one day.

Walmart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, is testing a "Scan & Go" app on an Apple device that lets customers scan their items as they shop, and then go to a self-service check terminal to pay. The pilot program started in 70 stores and is now in more than 200 stores in such markets as Denver and Houston.

Barneys New York, a luxury retailer, this year plans to use iPads or iPod Touch devices for credit and debit card purchases in seven of its nearly two dozen regular-price stores. Urban Outfitters, a teen clothing chain, ordered its last traditional register last fall and plans to go completely mobile one day. And Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is testing a "Scan & Go" app that lets customers scan their items as they shop.

"The traditional cash register is heading toward obsolescence," said Danielle Vitale, chief operating officer of Barneys New York.

That the cash register is getting the boot is no surprise. The writing has been on the wall for a long time for the iconic machine, which was created in the late 1800s. The register was essential in nearly every retail location by the early 1900s, but it now seems outdated in a world in which smartphones and tablets increasingly are replacing everything from books to ATMs to cameras.

Stores like smartphones and tablets because they take up less floor space than registers and free up cashiers to help customers instead of being tethered to one spot. They also are cheaper: For instance, Apple Inc.'s iPads with accessories like credit card readers can cost a store $1,500, compared with $4,000 for a register. And Americans increasingly want the same speedy service in physical stores that they get from shopping online.

"Consumers want the retailer to bring the register to them," said Lori Schafer, executive adviser at SAS Institute Inc., which creates software for major retailers.

J.C. Penney, a mid-price department-store chain, said the response by customers has been great since it started rolling out iPod Touch devices late last year in its 1,100 stores. The goal is to have one in the hands of every salesperson by May. The company said that about a quarter of the purchases at its stores nationwide now come from an iPod Touch.

On a recent Thursday afternoon at a Penney store in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Debbie Guastella, 55, marveled after a saleswoman rang up three shirts she was buying on an iPod Touch.

"I think it's great," said Guastella, who lives in Huntington, N.Y. "The faster the better."

It's been a long fall for the cash register, which innovated retail as we know it. The first register was invented following the Civil War by a little known saloon owner. Before then, most store owners were in the dark about whether or not they were making a profit, and many suffered since it was easy for sales clerks to steal from the cash drawer unnoticed. But by 1915, cash registers were ubiquitous in stores across the country, with more than 1.5 million sold by then.

More recently, stores have been looking for ways to modernize checkout. Since 2003, self-checkout areas that enable customers to scan and bag their own merchandise have become commonplace in grocery and other stores. But recently, there's been a push to go further.

Even though sales of traditional cash registers have continued to grow in recent years, companies that make them are racing to come up with new inventions and technologies to meet growing demand.

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