Mobile & the Transformation of the Role of the Cashier

by Net Future Institute on March 26, 2013

As more retailers arm their sales associates with mobile technology to assist with in-aisle shopping, I have to wonder about the future role of the cashier.

Although many retailers installed self-checkout systems long ago, the introduction of tablets and smartphones into the mix changes the equation.

With self-checkout, shoppers typically move through terminals at the traditional checkout locations, scanning and paying for their products.

The British supermarket giant Tesco took this to the extreme in its 200 Fresh & Easy stores based primarily in California, with only self-service checkout.

This was less than a hit with shoppers, many of whom wanted to deal with a real person on the way out. Tesco is reportedly deciding whether to abandon the California chain altogether, after losing more than $1 billion on the effort.

Enter mobile.

Several major retailers, such as Urban Outfitters, Barneys New York and J.C. Penney have reported plans or are implementing mobile devices into the shopping process, typically placed into the hands of sales associates to in-aisle help.

The key for consumers is the shopping experience provided rather than the paying experience at the end of the shopping process, as in the case of self-checkout terminals.

The question seems to be how retailers will approach the obvious reduction in the number of cashiers needed.

“It comes down to the retailer’s goals,” said John Caron, vice president, marketing at Catalina, which has been dealing with in-shopper scanning and shopping behavior at Stop & Shop for several years.

“If the goal is to create a higher-touch, more shopper-centric shopping experience, then the redeployment will drive top-line growth based on a loyalty and satisfaction boost,” said Caron. “If the retailer’s focus is everyday low prices, then the reduction in labor costs could go directly into the pockets of their shoppers. Either way, mobile is a win for the retailer and the shopper. And, it’s an inevitable path.”

If it comes down to higher touch vs. lower prices, where do you see cashier redeployment going?

 Chuck Martin is editor of mCommerce Daily at MediaPost and writes the daily MobileShopTalk. He is author of “The Third Screen,” “The Smartphone Handbook,” and the soon-to-be-published “Mobile Influence.” He is CEO of Mobile Future Institute and a frequent mobile keynote speaker around the globe.

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