Tablet checkout is more convenient, but could it lead to overspending?

A growing number of stores are moving away from cash registers to check out shoppers on tablets, often while roaming the store. It's more convenient, but could it pressure customers into making purchases when they aren't quite ready? 

By , Contributor

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    A sales staff member at Barney's New York uses an iPod Touch to help a customer make a purchase, in New York. Stores across the country are ditching cash registers and instead having salespeople _ and shoppers themselves _ checkout on smartphones and tablet computers. The process is faster and more convenient, but there are drawbacks.
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Stores across the country are getting a modern-day makeover. After decades of ringing up customers' purchases on cash registers, retailers are now turning to tablets to check out shoppers, often while roaming the store. The new technology, which benefits both retailers and consumers alike, can already be found in Apple Stores (which made the move to mobile checkout in 2007), select Urban Outfitters, and even in luxury stores like Barneys New York.

Retailers believe that by replacing their bulky cash registers with slim, portable tablets, sales associates will be free to offer customers one-on-one help with their shopping.

Studies have already proven customers are open to the change. In fact, a recent survey by AisleBuyer shows that 22% of shoppers have already been to a store where associates use mobile checkout to complete purchases. More importantly, 57% percent of customers think retailers who use mobile devices instead of cash registers are more innovative than their competitors. However, the most telling statistic indicates that 64% of consumers feel that store associates are more helpful when they're roaming the store floor, instead of standing behind a register.

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Tablet Checkout Could Have Negative Effects

While tablet-toting sales associates may be the wave of the future, there are some potential drawbacks. For instance, some customers may feel put on the spot and pressured to buy things that they're still unsure about when surrounded by on-the-move sales reps at the ready. Even shoppers who are seemingly certain about a purchase may lose out. It's fairly common for a customer waiting in line to re-think an expenditure in that time; but mobile checkout could remove this process entirely.

Similarly, shoppers may find fewer opportunities to compare prices on their smartphones, now that there's incentive for associates to encourage shoppers to pay for purchases on the spot. Additionally, if there's a diminished need for workers stationed behind the cash register, a greater number of overly-attentive sales associates may be watching customers' every move throughout the store. However, some retailers, like JCPenney, are planning to avoid such a scene by training their salespeople about when and how to approach shoppers.

Another potential drawback to portable point of sale (POS) systems is having to re-train sales reps on the ins and outs of their tablet and software. Without such knowledge, customers could wind up waiting in line after all, or worse — with mistaken transactions. And that's not counting the number of newsletters customers' inboxes will see, as the chances of being automatically registered for promotions is that much higher if receipts go electronic.

More Products, Better Service

But despite the potential complications, the benefits of tablet checkout seem endless for retailers and consumers. Aside from a quicker checkout process, removing most or all cash registers will allow retailers to reclaim space inside their stores. Whether they use the new space to display more products or give their store a roomier feel, this could mean a little less pushing and shoving, especially during the holidays when every store feels too small.

But the greatest benefit of all — from a consumer's point of view — may be that floating tablet POS systems will give shoppers the feeling of having their own personal shopper/assistant, answering their questions and helping them make the purchases they want. But even with a shopping aide at one's side, is mobile checkout enough of an incentive to lure shoppers back into retail stores and away from the better deals we see online? Let us know in the comments below.

Louis Ramirez is a contributor to Dealnews.com, where this post first appeared. 

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