Retailers will once again offer great deals and early hours to attract buyers to their stores to start the holiday season. But they will also try to get buyers from their stores faster than before by minimizing the things they hate most: long lines.
Walmart, Target, and other large retailers send workers throughout their stores to check customers with mobile devices. And at Macy's, buyers can scan and pay for items on their own smartphones.
Retailers hope this change will make shopping at the store not a problem. Long lines can bother buyers, who may leave the store empty-handed and spend their money elsewhere, or online.
"I'm all about fast and convenient," said Carolyn Sarpy, who pays for toy basketball hoops on mobile devices issued to a worker at a Walmart store in Houston. Sarpy said he would "turn around and walk out" from a shop if he saw a long line.
Walmart said workers would stand in the busiest part of the store, ready to swipe the customer's credit card when they were ready to pay. To be easier to find, workers wear yellow belts that say, "Look at me."
The world's largest retailer first tested service in the spring at more than 350 stores on its lawns and gardens. It fared well, said Walmart, and expanded the program for the holiday season.
Retailers try to pursue giant technology. Apple, for example, has let them buy iPhones, laptops, and other gadgets in their stores to pay for mobile devices provided to workers. And Amazon has launched self-service convenience stores in San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle.
Barbara Kahn, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said buyers knew the technology out there to shop faster. "It makes them more impatient," he said.
The real test of their success is whether retailers can handle large crowds that are expected to come out for the Black Friday weekend. The day after Thanksgiving is expected to be the busiest shopping day of the year, according to retail analysis company ShopperTrak. Saturday after Thanksgiving is also included in the top 10.
"The biggest pain points on Black Friday are standing in line," said Jason Goldberg, senior vice president of trade and content practice at the SapientRazorfish consulting group.
J.C. Penney, which has been offering cellphone checkout for years, said that it sent an additional 6,000 mobile devices to stores this year so workers could check buyers faster, such as when long lines on Black Friday. Other shops were testing it for the first time: Kohl said workers holding the iPad would explore 160 of more than 1,100 stores.
Macy's, which announced its program in May, said customers must use their mobile app to scan price tags and pay. After that, they have to go to the cellular cashier's checkpoint and show the application to a worker, who then removes the security tag from the clothes.
The Target mobile checkout program, which is being launched to all 1,800 stores, is similar to Walmart's. Target said that in its electronic area, where there are usually two cash registers, four workers will be sent with handheld devices to help call customers who buy TV, video games and other devices.
"This is about serving guests as they please and as fast as they want," said John Mulligan, Target's chief operating officer.