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Stores have been under siege in recent years, not just from the rise of online shopping but also from the way mobile phones empower people to compare their store’s prices, item by item, with a rival store nearby. Now, stores are fighting back with their own mobile technology.
Nordstrom is issuing mobile devices that workers on the sales floor can use to scour the company’s inventory for a garment in a size a customer is requesting. The shopper pays on the spot, with no need to locate and wait at a cash register.
Home Depot, encouraged by strong customer and worker feedback during a trial in the fall, outfitted each of its approximately 2,000 U.S. stores with contraptions called First Phones. The tricked-out, Wi-Fi-enabled phones work as inventory trackers, walkie-talkies and cash registers.
Last year on Black Friday, the discount-fueled shopping derby that starts before dawn on the day after Thanksgiving, Target Corp. tested rapid check-out services at stores near its Minneapolis headquarters. In its Bloomington store, where every front register had at least 12 shoppers waiting, Target moved a mobile checkout station to the busy electronics department, with a clerk waving a scanning gun at product bar codes and ringing up sales on a tablet-like computer with an attachment to read credit cards.
Retail experts predict that before long most of these mobile shopping gadgets will be supplanted by customers’ own smartphones. Ahold is testing a way for customers to download Scan It software directly into their own iPhones and is exploring ways for customers to use smartphones to pay. Starbucks is already taking steps toward a digital-wallet model. Sam Stovall, a Dallas computer software consultant, bought a Starbucks gift card and entered its number into the Starbucks app on his iPhone. Each morning, after placing his order, he calls up the bar code on his phone and flashes it in front of a scanner. A second later his phone tells him how much is left on his card. “If it was up to me, I would pay for everything with my phone,” Mr. Stovall says.