Customers check out with touch of iPhone

Customers check out with touch of iPhone

At Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema, customers can sign off on their coffee purchase with the swipe of a finger across an iPad.

At Starbucks, they can purchase an espresso by holding a cell phone in front of a scanner.

And at JCPenney, they can buy an item with just a touch.

An iPod Touch, that is.

That’s one of the ways associates in those stores ring up purchases for customers.

“It’s like being at a register, except you’re able to move about the sales floor to service the customers,” said Kendra Ferguson, manager of the JCPenney store at Alamance Crossing shopping center in Burlington.

Businesses say using mobile technology provides consumers — many of whom now use smart devices in their daily activities — faster, more efficient service.

“If you can get it over your iPhone or over your iPad, and that’s the easier, most convenient way to get what you want, consumers will do it,” said Roger Beahm, executive director of the Center for Retail Innovation at Wake Forest University.

Smart devices have increasingly become valuable tools for their users. A study conducted last spring by Google and its Shopper Marketing Agency Council showed that 79 percent of smartphone owners are also smartphone shoppers. The study also revealed that 84 percent of smartphone shoppers use their phones in stores to help them shop for everything from appliances and electronics to groceries and clothing.

Retailers are responding to that cyberactivity in various ways. One very common example: many stores are now emailing coupons to their customers instead of mailing them paper coupons. Store employees simply scan the coupon code on the customer’s phone.

Apple has long used its devices in its stores to enhance customers’ shopping experiences. Ron Johnson, who was the JCPenney CEO when the company introduced iPods in its stores, is a former Apple executive.

Other retailers that have gone mobile include Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters. Urban Outfitters, which operates brands such as Anthropologie, announced in 2012 plans to replace all its cash registers with iPods and iPads.

Beahm said using mobile devices in such a way is not an entirely new concept but has been slow to catch on among some retailers.

It can be a risky venture. Consumers can be put off by changes in the way their transactions are handled, Beahm said. So retailers may not be quick to adapt to the technology if customers are slow to respond to it, and there is no immediate and obvious benefit, he said.

“Some retailers see advantages of being the first or early adopter of the technology and using it for marketing purposes to help differentiate themselves against other retailers, to give them the perception of being innovative,” Beahm said. “So there are some image enhancements that come with it.

“I think we’ll continue to see adoption of this over time,” he added. “Because there hasn’t been a true competitive advantage to offering it to consumers, there hasn’t been as much push by retailers to go into this technology.”

Kate Coultas, a spokeswoman for JCPenney, said the company rolled out iPods in late 2012, and all stores had them by early last year.

Associates can ring up any purchase using customers’ credit or debit cards and email the receipts to them. Information stored on the devices also helps associates perform in-store tasks such as setting up floor displays.

At Geeksboro, the use of iPads isn’t only more efficient. It’s also cheaper.

Owner Joe Scott said the costs associated with point-of-sale systems shocked him when he was preparing to open his coffee bar and cinema. Instead, he mounted iPads at terminals in his Lawndale Drive business with “buttons” for all the items he sells. The purchase is complete with the swipe of a credit card across the reader.

Scott said his customers are “blown away” over how they can sign their credit card receipts on screen with their fingers and have their receipts emailed to them, eliminating the need to carry around pieces of paper that include their personal information.

The terminals are hooked up to a cash drawer, so Scott can also take cash payments.

“It tracks all of our sales,” Scott said. “It helps us to decide what items are selling faster than others. It’s a top-of-the-line point-of-sale system without a top-of-the-line point-of-sale system price.”

Scott said the iPads also come in handy when his customers need an answer to a “nerd” trivia question.

“It’s helped us settle quite a few debates and arguments in our shop,” he said.

Scott believes his is the first business in Greensboro to use the iPad as a cash register.

“Several people have made the switch,” he said.

Contact Jonnelle Davis at (336) 373-7080.