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Tablets, smartphones usher in new era for retailers

Holiday shoppers may have noticed two new trends happening in stores this year.

More retailers are using tablets to cash out customers rather than using traditional cashier lines and even more have started accepting payments through smartphones, according to Robert Amster, co-founder and principal of Retail Technology Group (RTG).

“It changes the customer experience in a number of ways,” Amster said. “The queue at the register will become a thing of the past. I will get out of the store faster as a customer. And with the use of tablets, I will be able to understand better what is available and what items match the item I just picked.”

Based in Stamford, RTG is a technology consulting firm that primarily serves retailers, retail software developers and private equity investors.

Tablets help stores with internal administrative tasks, manage customer relationships, locate items and facilitate up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, Amster said. For instance, if a customer picked out a shirt, a sales associate could easily show that customer matching pants, handbag and shoes for a complete look.

“That’s good for the merchant and that’s good for me because I can see what goes with what item I just picked out,” said Amster, who recently helped clothing retailer Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. implement its tablet system.

Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., a leading interior design company and retailer based in Danbury, started piloting tablets in March and has since found the tablets significantly save time during the design process for both its designers and clients. The application allows users to access space-planning and fabric-to-frame tools to help visualize options better.

“We find that our customers are very savvy when it comes to technology and we need to be able to keep up with their expectations,” Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen, said in an email. “More than ever before, people are going to our website, ethanallen.com, and pre-shopping before coming into our design centers.”

To complement the tablets, the retailer’s design centers have interactive touch- screen monitors that allow customers to take a style preference quiz and print out custom designs.

“Our business is all about the marriage of personal service and technology,” Kathwari said. “So technology plays a very important role in everything we do, especially the client experience.”

In addition to tablets, stores are also becoming more equipped with mobile payment methods such as electronic wallets and near field communication (NFC). An electronic wallet allows a smartphone user to send a payment through the Internet using an account with PayPal or possibly a bank, while NFC uses a radio signal to transmit a payment between two devices in close proximity.

Over 60 percent of Americans believe smartphone payments will eventually replace both bank cards and cash, but only 8 percent are very interested in doing it themselves, according to a recent survey of roughly 2,400 adults by Harris Interactive, a technology market research firm headquartered in New York City.

Among those not interested in using their phones as a payment method, 51 percent said they don’t want to store sensitive information in their phones and 41 percent said they didn’t want to transmit sensitive information to a merchant’s device.

Amster said there’s a general concern for privacy, but that the actual risk is the same as losing a wallet. Passwords can be set on a phone and the payment system encrypts all transactional data. Additionally, there is the added security of never having to hand over an actual card that could be copied, he said.

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About The Author

Jennifer Bissell
Reporter

Jennifer Bissell is a reporter for both the Fairfield and Westchester business journals. Previously she attended the University of Minnesota and contributed to several regional publications including the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Cloud Times and Twin Cities Business magazine.

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