Retail TouchPoints: What’s Causing Slow Mobile POS Rollout?

Jun 18, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail TouchPoints website.

According to a new report conducted by IHL Group, while 28 percent of retailers plan to adopt mobile POS in some form by the end of 2013, a third have no plans at all to implement handheld mobile POS devices within the next three years.

Though mobile POS continues to receive "a lot of hype," said Greg Buzek, founder and president of IHL Group, "the vast majority of retailers are taking a slow and methodical approach to the use of mobile for POS. There are key operational issues in device and merchandise security, cash handling, payments, bags, customer service levels and traffic flow that must be worked through, or the use of the devices will be disruptive."

The report, Mobile POS: Hype To Reality, showcases the current state of mobile POS; the adoption rates of various retail verticals; and the shipment and installed base details by type of device — rugged handheld, non-rugged handheld, and consumer-level tablets.

"Overall, the data we see in this study leads us to believe that retailers have slowed their aggressive deployments planned a year ago," said Mr. Buzek, in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. "For the most part, this slow-down is caused by retailers that have deployed the technology and now are focusing on the problem-solving phase of getting the devices integrated into their operational plans."

Though retailers continue to invest in mobile technology for brick-and-mortar stores, the use cases are moving beyond mobile POS: IHL Group estimates that approximately 45 percent of retailers are adopting mobile devices in stores, according to Buzek, but only half of those deployments will be leveraged for mobile POS purposes.

Mr. Buzek also shared these study conclusions:

  • Mobile is part of an overall shift in software strategy aimed at establishing a single cross-channel transaction logic and platform;
  • Mobile POS devices will cannibalize 12.4 percent of traditional POS shipments by 2016 across North American retail. Traditional POS shipments will not decline, but will grow less quickly; and
  • Retailers spend millions of dollars annually on security systems and cameras — as well as on printers, cash drawers and security tags — that are tied to POS, but much of this investment goes out the window with mobile.


What’s causing the slow adoption of mobile POS? What are the merits of a slow versus a fast approach to the development of mobile POS?

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23 Comments on "Retail TouchPoints: What’s Causing Slow Mobile POS Rollout?"

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Rick Moss

I just had an experience with mobile processing that put the situation into perspective. An appliance service technician attempted to process my credit card payment using a nifty swipe attachment on his iPhone. He said the mobile processing vendor they use had just upgraded the software and it was causing problems company-wide. He had to resort to phoning in my card numbers.

Between the hardware, apps, processors, banks and credit card companies, there are a lot of moving parts in this machine. It makes sense that, as suggested by Mr. Buzek, the slow-down is due to problem-solving.

Mark Heckman

POS systems are typically the largest single technical investment a retailer makes and radically changing that platform will naturally be deliberate. Among the barriers of transition cited in the article, the most ominous is that current POS systems are the central collection point for customer and sales data that drive CRM programs, logistical processes, and operational efficiencies.

Like most technical transitions, I see it being iterative and slower than most would see optimal. Smaller, more nimble retailers will likely be the leaders, while the larger retailers will struggle with the aforementioned issues as well as ROI models…at least for the next few years.

David Dorf

As Greg states in the article, there are many operational concerns that need to be addressed. The traditional cash-wrap does much more than just scanning items. All the other steps in the checkout process, such as bagging, removing security tags, accepting coupons, etc., must be managed, even when using mobile.

Retailers also need to decide the right form-factor—iTouch, iPad, iPad Mini? How will those devices be tracked, managed, and secured from theft? Is the in-store network coverage complete and secure?

Mobile POS can’t replace traditional checkout lanes in all circumstances, so it’s crucial to find where mobile devices can enhance the customer experience and operational efficiencies of staff. This takes time to test so that rework is minimized.

Ken Lonyai

I agree with the conclusions of the study especially given the fact that retail is notoriously slow to adopt new technology, even in the mobile era.

The early mobile POS adopters have gained press and in some cases may have distinguished their offering from that of competitors, but yes there have been some functional issues that may have caused some trepidation among retail overall.

One point not mentioned is bringing employees up to speed on mobile POS including issues around it and security. It’s definitely coming, but just as retailers have had to learn how to leverage the web, they will have to learn how to integrate this technology as well.

Debbie Hauss

I think that most retailers know they need to add mobile POS, but there is so much disturbance in the industry that many retailers are not sure where to start. Some of the questions on their minds include: Which system will integrate easily into our current POS system? Do we need to be prepared for EMV with this implementation? Will shoppers be using Google Wallet or a different wallet app? Do we want to completely eliminate traditional POS?

Solution partners who can help educate retailers will help smooth the transition.

Kenneth Leung

Mobile POS is more than just a technology decision. My experiences in shopping at Nordstrom Rack and Apple and being checked out by mobile employees have been positive. However, wholesale replacement to mobile POS would require re-design in terms of how to manage lines, loss prevention, bagging and customer service, etc. The hype is there, the reality of store personnel and customer interaction dictates otherwise.

Frank Riso

I believe there are a number of factors that limit the growth of MPOS. A great number of retailers jumped too quickly into using consumer grade devices and ran into any number of issues with payment, durability and wireless coverage.

Supermarkets, Hypermarkets, and Clubs cannot use MPOS since the number of items per transaction is high and they need scales at times for produce. MPOS is right for department stores and specialty stores, but needs to be able to handle not just credit cards, but full debit with pin and now EMV, NFC, and mobile wallet formats. It is going to happen since many fashion retailers want to use the cash wrap for merchandising and operations want higher levels of customer service. Time will tell!

Adrian Weidmann

POS is the heartbeat of any retailer and given its importance to ALL of the stakeholders along with the security, privacy and potential abuse, its secure and robust integration into a core process is paramount. With all of the different technologies competing for this potential, a large retailer is correct to be overly cautious and protective before committing to mobile POS. One false step could lead to a massive PR nightmare.

Entrepreneurs and small businesses should grasp this technology as it will impact your business immediately and the technology ‘glitches’ are manageable.

Todd Sherman
Todd Sherman
4 years 4 months ago

An important part of this is the increasingly high level of customer expectations. Many shoppers have experienced the benefits of mobile POS at either an Apple or Nordstrom store—and know it can be done well. That puts significant consumer-side pressure on other retailers to deliver on that same promise.

From the retailer side, the challenges will differ depending on the category. For example, apparel is (generally) easier to bag than groceries, which also require the ability to handle bulk items. The greater the retailer-dependent challenges, the longer it will take to adopt and perfect.

The test and learn approach has become a way of life. Apps are often delivered in “beta” form where QA is passed onto the user and has (again, generally) been broadly accepted. It’s a bit of a paradox in the world of such high customer expectations, but somehow these same customers are willing to be part of the testing process, as long as they are made aware of that testing.

We’ll get to the broader implementation of mobile POS because customers will demand it. But, as with many [all] things in retail, the companies with organizations designed to move quickly and incorporate disruptive changes will gain competitive advantage.

Ryan Mathews

Um … let’s see … if, ” … 28 percent of retailers plan to adopt mobile POS in some form by the end of 2013,” and, “… a third have no plans at all to implement handheld mobile POS devices within the next three years,” then what are the remaining 39 percent doing?

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
4 years 4 months ago

There are still a many retailers using legacy POS solutions that are going to be very hard to migrate. I can assume part of the slowdown is that this group is going to wait on the sidelines until they know they can easily migrate. You are also dealing with competing technologies like NFC and mobile wallet solutions that use devises at POS to checkout and pay.

Until there is a clear winner from a security, ease of migration, and overall cost perspective, adoption will be slow.

For new and small retailers, moving to mobile checkout is much easier and that is where we will see the surge of adoption that will then move to larger, more traditional retailers.

Lee Kent

Retailers, as we know, have always been slow adopters of new technology and for good reason. It’s expensive to make a mistake!

With that said and knowing how much retailers typically have spent on implementing and supporting their current POS systems, I am not a bit surprised that they will stick with the status quo for a bit longer.

There are kinks to work out and why change what isn’t broken? Now, I would also add that since mobile POS is well within a reasonable price point to add in for line busting etc, I will also not be surprised to see some interesting uses deployed while testing the waters.

Larry Negrich

I see the mobile POS adoption rate going forward being in line with the POS replacement rate. Security, rollout challenges, and cost are all still barriers that slow down mobile POS initiatives.

There are some great hybrid devices that let a retailer use a pad device at a stationary cash-wrap and then to be able to go into the aisles. These hybrid devices have great promise in retail as they can be multi-purpose, and still be configured in ways that let a retailer have a stationary checkout.

Doug Fleener

All of our clients who have switched over are seeing a substantial bump in the average sale of the mobile POS customer compared to the traditional register. It does take a lot of work to integrate into the store and the current processes, but so far we’re seeing the results are well worth the effort.

Herb Sorensen
This mobile POS comes back to the “service in a SELF-service” retail world. For high-margin retailers, movement to mobile POS as in the Apple model can make a lot of sense. Move down into the self-service world and it makes no sense at all. Trying to discuss this issue without making this distinction makes no sense at all. I think I have noticed this here over the years, that everyone treats “retail” as the share of retail that THEY have most experience with. I do it too, but I’m always thinking about high-margin retail, even though most of my work has been in the FMCG/CPG world of low margins. Of course that’s relative. The discussion here today about Nordstrom and Nordstrom Rack seriously needs this distinction. Operationally, it is for sure a service vs. non-service paradigm, and non-service has massively benefited society over the past 100 years, and will continue to do so into the future. The movement of mobile POS to the shoppers own mobile POS device, aka smart phone, will essentially allow certain high-margin practices to be deployed in low margin stores. I’m sorry that the self-service world has been very slow to catch on to the concept… Read more »
Carol Spieckerman

Great points have been made regarding inherent challenges. Looking at the big picture, mobile POS is competing with a number of emerging technologies, social platforms, strategic partnerships, etc. “Mobile” is such a hot button in retail, but quick adoption isn’t a mandate for every retailer. Some retailers have only recently transitioned from Band-Aid upgrades to tearing down and rebuilding baseline POS systems.

Ralph Jacobson

This is a product category issue, among others. Some products, like consumer electronics, lend themselves to mobile POS, while supermarket shopping is more complex. Logistics of finishing the customer’s order, bagging, packaging, etc., make mobile POS more cumbersome.

For those retailers that have appropriate products for a significant portion of their shoppers (e.g., not every transaction has to be able to go through mobile POS in order to have mobile rolled out), adoption is also constrained by security issues. However, all of those issues can currently be properly addressed with tools available today.

I think merchants need to look at mobile POS for as many transactions as possible.

Lee Peterson

Here’s ‘No Mobile’ point #1: if done right, a good retailer will sell a LOT of accessories at the cash wrap and accessories can be up to 20% of the business—especially with specialty apparel.

‘No Mobile’ point #2 is: if you’re a big box or grocery retailer, how are you going to do mobile checkout? At the check out? Right. So, what’s the point?

Now, if you’re Best Buy, it makes sense, but since the preponderance of retailers fall under points 1 and 2 above, I’m surprised that the number of ‘no mobile’ retailers is only a third. There’s a lot of work to be done to even get to a 50% number, IMO.

Craig Sundstrom

I have to go with Herb and Lee on this: maybe mobile POS is slow to be adopted because it doesn’t really matter to anyone. And people who really COULD make use of it—field workers, tradespeople, etc.—will be increasingly challenged by security concerns (even without the NSA being a third party processor).

Shanmuga Sundara Raman M
Shanmuga Sundara Raman M
4 years 3 months ago

Mobile POS has grown way beyond a queue busting solution and its adoption would have been faster if the value addition is clear to the retailers and the security fears of the customers are addressed properly.

It’s just not for the small retailers, or pop-up stores (a classical example for adoption) even big retailers and hypermalls have POS Deserts. Mobile POS comes handy in these areas.

Mobile POS comes as a boon to someone who has a disintegrated POS system, it’s time to upgrade to a new system integrated with Mobile POS.

Mobile POS checkouts at point of service should help in cross-selling and upselling. The store associates double up as customer engagement representatives.

Bob Phibbs

I believe Ron Johnson showed the merits of a fast approach.

Alexander Rink
4 years 3 months ago

Retailers have been slow to adopt mobile POS for a variety of reasons, but most likely related to having a number of competing technology priorities, some or many of which may have potentially uncertain ROIs. Furthermore, the current versions of mobile POS make more sense for some kinds of retailers (e.g. Apple, Best Buy) than others (grocery). Finally, it is critical that retailers maintain a positive experience for their shoppers, and it is worth taking a bit more time to ensure they get their rollouts just right rather than rush into them and potentially cause negative experiences.

Stephen Gannon
Stephen Gannon
4 years 3 months ago
There are some good observations in the blog such as making sure the check wrap is modified for mobile and the focus should be on improving the selling experience for the consumer to ensure successful adoption. Successful mobile implementations require changes to the store processes as well for maximizing adoption and ROI. When it comes to training, if done properly, mobile should be easier for an associate to learn but a common mistake is taking legacy POS flow and screens and force fitting them onto a smaller device and not leverage the native mobile controls. This usually ends up confusing the associate due to the reduced display space and excessive steps required to complete a simple process. The study said many retailers would prefer to buy mPOS from their current POS provider. The problem with this approach is most, if not all, legacy POS providers treat mobile as an afterthought so it is not very well done. Another problem with using the current POS vendor is they require the retailer to upgrade their installed POS so this is a huge undertaking rather than allowing a retailer to mobile enable the current version they have installed. This in itself can slow… Read more »

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