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Considering mobile POS? How URBN leverages apps for a streamlined in-store checkout

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For URBN, cool is king. The retailer operates five brands, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and BHLDN - all of them stylish, current and on-point with the latest trends. Being suave and being first is an essential part of the brand experience, so it made sense for the company to go as their customers go - mobile. As Calvin Hollinger, Chief Information and Logistics Officer at URBN explained at NRFtech '12 today, as an early adopter of using mobile technology, URBN has deployed a range of mobile technology and applications both for store-associates and customers. But the investment strategy in mobile is more than just for the cool factor; it's a win-win both operationally and financially.

Calvin Hollinger, Chief Information and Logistics Officer, URBN

For example, Urban Outfitters can get five iPod Touches with mobile POS capabilities for the cost of one register, but these mobile POS devices don't address all the needs of store associates. As e-commerce generates 25% of revenues for the company, with 20% of merchandise being returned (most of it to the stores), some operational challenges arise. To combat this, URBN created additional mobile apps to meet specific needs like returns, printing new tickets for merchandise, restocking, and finding out-of-stock merchandise. In all, the retailer has developed about a dozen mobile apps to streamline all sorts of transactions and processes.

Hollinger said that it's his goal to have a mobile device in the hands of every store associate within a year or two. They'll text instead of using walkie-talkies, and they'll remove all registers and replace them with iPads mounted to Bluetooth-enabled cash drawers.

Key to the company's mobile strategy, the customers get an app, too. But Hollinger said that the company has struggled with how to offer real value to customers through mobile. Since music is important to Urban Outfitters customers, and customers love the music played in the store, the company made music the go-to feature of a new app. The mobile app tells customers what song is playing in their local store right now and what was recently played, providing unique content through app engagement rather than just optimizing the Urban Outfitters web offerings in app form.

As Hollinger finished his presentation, hands in the audience went up immediately with a dozen questions about the hows and whys of URBN's mobile projects. From the customer experience to the business of retail, it's clear from the engagement in this subject at NRFtech '12 that mobile is truly changing the game for retailers across the board.