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Urban Outfitters CIO Says Its Checkouts are Going Fully Mobile

In a recent post, we discussed the impact mobile POS adoption is having on the broader POS market, particularly in the context of stationary POS heavyweights like NCR, IBM, Wincor-Nixdorf and the like. Long story short: m.POS has proven itself to be a valuable retail tool during the past 18-24 months, and has reshaped the POS competitive landscape as a result. An increasing number of merchants are investing in mobile POS, and in doing so, are disrupting some long-established conventions in retail automation technology. Urban Outfitters (UO) is among the latest examples of retailers that have committed to m.POS—and this particular apparel retailer has done so in a big way. The Company’s CIO announced last week that its stores will abandon stationary checkouts and go fully mobile in the near-term.

Urban Outfitters is no m.POS newcomer, having used mobile POS in its stores for approximately two years. However, its shift to a fully mobile checkout strategy marks an unprecedented level of commitment to the technology for the company. Until now, UO deployed mobile POS only as a complementary solution alongside its traditional, stationary terminals. As with its earlier deployments, UO’s chain-wide m.POS rollout will use iPad and iPod touch devices running an application that supports returns/exchanges, stocking, inventory inquiries and special orders—in addition to standard checkout and payment functions, of course.

As is typical with m.POS deployments, UO cited improving customer experience and empowering employees as key factors driving the transition to a 100% mobile POS solution. Interestingly, UO also acknowledged the cost advantage of mobile vs. stationary terminals—something most retailers do not mention when discussing their mobile investment. According to the Company, its iPad-based terminals are approximately 1/5th the cost of a standard stationary terminal, while iPod-touch based units are only 1/10th. Obviously, the lifecycle of consumer-grade devices will not match that of the more robust enterprise-grade POS terminals, but we wonder exactly how much more frequently the iPad/iPod touch will be need to be replaced.

While VDC believes in the value, utility and long-term viability of mobile POS in retail and other types of merchants (especially hospitality, including QSRs, fast casual and table service restaurants) we are not sold on the notion that mobile POS is a universal replacement for traditional, stationary checkout. Certainly, some brands and store formats (e.g., Apple Stores) are well-suited to going fully mobile. Conversely, such a move could be entirely disastrous in other merchants for a variety of reasons, including large average basket sizes, store size and layout, for example. That being said, we think Urban Outfitters’ store size, layout and brand image bode well for a successful transition to an all-mobile POS strategy. Mobile POS is one of the markets VDC will be tracking in our 2013 MCET research. 

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