JCPenney: Customers Are Confused By Mobile POS, So Let's Try Lanyards And Carts

JCPenney (NYSE:JCP) is scrambling to make sure customers will be able to recognize associates by the time the back-to-school shopping season starts in July, with tactics that include the return of some of the chain's cashwraps—but this time on wheels, according to Bloomberg.

CEO Mike Ullman told the news service that customers had trouble identifying store associates after former CEO Ron Johnson encouraged employees to dress in graphic T-shirts and designer jeans. Johnson also removed many cashwraps from stores, replacing them with handheld POS devices. Because customers couldn't find anyone who was clearly a cashier, they thought there was no place to check out.

"We actually had a lot more places to check out than the customer gave us credit for because they didn't know where they were," Ullman said. His solution: red lanyards to identify all associates, with a special gray sash for employees armed with mobile POS. That's intended to allay concerns some customers expressed about handing over their credit and debit cards to someone who wasn't explicitly identified as an employee.

The retailer is also rolling out 2,800 wheeled carts for 700 of the retailer's biggest stores. The carts, which can be moved from one department to another as demand requires, will give associates a place to fold clothes, store bags and print receipts. Some of the carts will also carry a traditional POS system. In addition, the chain is adding signage to explain to customers how to check out.

It's hard to say how much of JCPenney's 25 percent sales drop in the past year was due to customers' inability to figure out how to check out—the chain also eliminated sales and coupons and got rid of several popular store brands.

But the chain's mobile POS problems? Those were all predictable, and in fact have been have been discussed by retail executives since at least 2011. They're not JCPenney problems—they're mobile POS problems, an area where all the bugs and gotchas haven't yet been worked out. Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) may not have had any obvious issues, but Home Depot (NYSE:HD) and other chains have struggled very visibly to work their way through practical in-store issues.

Rolling carts substituting for cashwraps may not be an elegant solution, and red employee lanyards may not be fashionable. But if those really do remove a barrier to customers making purchases at JCPenney, no one's likely to really mind. In retail, closing the sale is always in fashion.

For more:

- See this Bloomberg story

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Going Mobile In-Store: First Pile Up The Complexities, Then Simplify