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Mobile registers, body scanners, digital wallets on retail horizon for 2013

A few times this holiday season, I did the unspeakable at a store, and I know I'm not alone. I went to buy something but changed my mind because the line was too long.

At Sears, I aborted purchasing a sweater because the 10 people ahead of me had enough stuff for shopping carts. At Build-A-Bear Workshop, a stuffed snowman, upon closer review, wasn't worth the wait.

It would have happened again at Bath & Body Works had I not heard a voice from the back asking if anyone was paying with a debit or credit card. "Me! Me!" I screamed, waving my Pink Sugarplum sanitizing hand gel.

When it comes to cashing out, more retailers are going mobile. We've seen it at Apple stores, where sales associates use handheld devices to ring up transactions and traditional registers don't exist.

Get ready to see even more of it in 2013.

Retailers are shifting toward mobile points of sale for a variety of reasons, said Gary Lombardo, head of marketing at Demandware, a company that provides e-commerce solutions for retailers. Mobile registers free floor space for more merchandise and let stores add checkout staff when they start hearing heavy sighs from the line. They also get salespeople out on the floor to interact with customers and personalize the shopping experience from start to finish.

Urban Outfitters made a big splash this fall when it announced it had ordered its last new cash register and was going to Apple devices in its stores. Nordstrom and JCPenney have also embraced mobile technology to eliminate lines.

Of course, stores will always need some type of register for accepting cash. (Apple has money drawers tucked under display tables.) And some customers might not want their receipts emailed. But it sure streamlines the process when the clerk who helped you on the floor also transacts the sale.

Other retail trends for the upcoming year?

Smaller, more digitally oriented stores: To reduce inventory and square-footage costs, many stores are creating "concept" stores that offer the same merchandise, but in a smaller footprint.

"You'll walk into a store and instead of seeing racks and racks of dresses, you'll see one, perhaps two, and next to it will be the ability to access the rest of the inventory online," Lombardo said.

Store associates will carry iPads to help customers select the size and color and place their orders.

Even more extreme will be body scanners to take measurements for accurate sizing. Instead of dressing rooms, customers will use a scanner to determine if a pair of pants will fit, and the store will save the information for future online orders.

I'm not sure I want Wet Seal knowing my measurements, but I like the idea of ordering clothing online without the fear of it not fitting — and having to return it on my own dime.

Digital wallets: This has been talked about for a while, but got a boost with Apple's recent launch of the Passbook, a mobile application that allows users to stockpile loyalty cards, gift cards, coupons and airline tickets.

Starbucks, Walgreens and other retailers have had good success with it, making cashless wallets the natural next step, Lombardo said. Rather than carry around a wad of cash and credit cards, shoppers will be able to enter the information into their "e-wallets" and pay with "e-cash."

Smarter mobile shopping: Retailers who improved their mobile websites for smartphone users will start taking it a step further. This year we'll see more "in-store mode" for mobile sites that detect when a shopper enters a store. The sites will have specific information about the store, including searches for particular products or sales.

Want the hamper on special for $9.99? Head to aisle five. Leave the store, and it switches back to regular street mode.

Mobile registers, body scanners, digital wallets on retail horizon for 2013 12/31/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 31, 2012 9:37pm]
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