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Taste, Luxury and Technology

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F or 90 years, Barneys New York has been a “mecca for discerning fashionistas and clothing connoisseurs,” according to its website. A large part of the retailer’s reputation is, of course, due to its offerings of apparel and other goods from many of the world’s top designers, including Prada, Miu Miu and Norma Kamali.

Also key to Barneys’ popularity and longevity is its impeccable customer service. One way the retailer continually enhances its ability to work with customers is by taking advantage of new electronic tools, says Artie Byrne, director of financial and store systems with the retailer. “We’re trying to be forward-leaning with digital tools,” he says.

With that goal in mind, in late 2011 Barneys began equipping sales associates with iPod touch devices outfitted so that they became mobile POS stations. But even as the retailer took this step, management was already eyeing the iPad, Byrne says. “It has a bigger screen, more real estate. You can present more images, more information on the screen,” he says. “Plus, the associate has more information at his or her fingertips anywhere on the floor.”

Boosting customer retention
Retailers that arm their sales associates with mobile POS iPads reap several benefits, says Andy Graham, president of Infinite Peripherals, a provider of mobile tools for retailers. Infinite Peripherals’ Infinea Tab, now in use at Barneys New York, adds a one- or two-dimensional barcode scanner and magnetic strip reader to an iPad, converting it into a mobile checkout device. When combined with POS software, the Infinea Tab can accept signatures and wirelessly print or generate e-mail receipts, as well as perform a number of other functions like tallying inventory levels. The company also provides accessories like charging stations and stands that increase the utility of the iPads.

By deploying iPads to their sales staffs, retailers can limit the allure of showrooming. Sales associates using iPads can instantly see what other retailers are charging for an item, and (policy permitting) match the price and capture the sale.

Associates also can use tablets to quickly check whether an item is in stock without having to leave the customer’s side. If it turns out that the product is not available, associates can suggest reasonable alternatives, boosting the likelihood that they retain the customer, says Richard Keever, vice president of enterprise sales with Infinite Peripherals.

In addition, corporate merchandising departments can transmit data — photos showing how a wall of merchandise should be arranged, for instance — to sales staff in the field. The iPads also can be used to download training videos or other information, and can scan displays, checking the number of items that were sold and need to be re-stocked. “It’s everything you can do on a phone, plus take credit cards and scan barcodes,” Graham says.

Another potential benefit: Because iPad-equipped associates can do their jobs while moving throughout the store, they may be better able to deter would-be shoplifters than if they were anchored to stationary registers.

Maintaining the sales process
Barneys began outfitting its sales associates with iPads in July 2012. Training on the devices was minimal, and consisted largely of showing employees how to sign on to them. After all, most associates already are familiar with smartphones or tablets.

“The sales process is like it is at any other register. It’s indistinguishable,” Byrne says. Once associates ring up sales on their iPads, the transactions also appear on Barneys’ other registers, and vice versa. The POS data continues to reside within the store system, and the cash register communicates with the system as merchandise is sold.

Of course, security is a concern whenever a device can be used to transmit credit card information. In order to keep customers’ data safe, none of it is stored on the iPad; it’s all transferred to the store’s server, which is locked down and compliant with PCI requirements, Byrne says. To safeguard the devices themselves, each iPod is equipped with security software. Should a device be taken outside the range of the corporate network, the software will lock it down, rendering it useless.

Many retailers also deploy mobile device management software, Graham says, allowing retailers to track each device and ensure that software remains up-to-date. Retailers can build these tools themselves or hire developers that specialize in middleware and application development. “We’ve seen success all ways,” Graham says. Retailers that build the software internally can create customized applications, while those that bring in outside consultants can tap into their range of knowledge and expertise.

Freeing floor space
Of course, associates still need to complete the non-electronic activities that are an important part of each sales transaction. To enable associates to handle these activities without returning to a stationary register, Barneys is looking to place mobile wrapping stations and printers throughout the sales floor.

The mobile stations will require less space than traditional cash registers, freeing up room that can be used to display merchandise. “Our store design department loves the devices,” Byrne says. “They can design differently knowing that the mobile devices don’t need the floor real estate.”

Now that many sales people are outfitted with iPads, it’s not uncommon to find an associate and customer reviewing the screen together, obtaining information on different items. “It breaks down the wall” between the two, Byrne says. In fact, some customers have begun requesting that their transactions take place on an iPad.

Graham says some of Infinite Peripherals’ customers have seen increases in browser-to-buyer rates of 15 percent when their sales people use mobile POS devices. “It’s really been a positive experience,” Byrne says. “We’ve received great responses from customers and associates.”