JCPenney Kiosk Toys With Payment

At 500 pounds with a 42-inch touchscreen and towering taller than most customers at an impressive 7-feet, the new kiosks JCPenney unveiled Monday (Feb. 7) are nothing if not eye-catching. But the units are designed to provide visually intriguing access to inventory at other stores and the chain's Web site, while identifying merchandise with a barcode scan and accepting payment with a plastic swipe.

The units, which JCPenney is calling Findmore, are also integrated with CRM databases, identifying customers' loyalty accounts by matching their payment cards. The chain was careful to avoid PCI issues by not directly storing the card numbers.

"Once the customer gives the credit card information to JCPenney, it is immediately translated to a JCPenney internal ID and stored on database in the translated format. The credit card number is not stored in the rewards system," said Kate Coultas, a JCPenney corporate communications manager.

"The sales transaction is saved to a transaction log for later processing by the Rewards system. There is a rewards process that runs each day that looks at the transaction log and pulls purchases made by rewards customers to assign the appropriate number of rewards points to the rewards customer account," Coultas said. "The points assignment process matches the credit card used in the purchase against all credit cards in the rewards system to determine the rewards account that is assigned the points."

Customers are allowed to associate three payment cards with their CRM profile. If the customer chooses to use any other card for payment, the system won't make the connection.

The chain also stressed PCI compliance for other parts of the kiosk system. "The kiosk uses industry-standard credit card readers, which are tied to the same payments systems used for orders. The kiosk is PCI compliant, going through the same rigorous audits as our other IT systems," Coultas said. "In addition, credit card numbers are not stored on the kiosk and transferred securely to payment systems in compliance with PCI."

The Findmore launch is at 127 stores, and the chain has posted the list online. The kiosks were tested at an unspecified smaller number of stores as early as April 2009, mostly in the Home departments.The kiosks are now in Home, Women's, Men's and Footwear departments, JCPenney said, with "a few locations" placing them in Children's departments "as a trial," but Coultas added that "we have not yet determined if we plan to make this a permanent location for future deployments."

Interestingly, the chain said it has no current plans to expand the number of stores using Findmore beyond the current 127 to its more than 1,100 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. "We may add more fixtures to stores but at this time, we do not have plans to expand fixtures to additional stores outside of the 127," Coultas said.

The kiosks are primarily designed to help find other sizes, colors, style and inventory of selected items. When a customer opts for such a purchase from JCPenney's Web site, the home delivery is actually not free. This contrasts with the policies of other chains, including Macy's, which just updated its free shipping policies a couple of weeks ago. If the shipment is to another store, then that actually is free.

One rather bizarre feature is an online dressing room. Why bizarre? According to the news release, its purpose is for customers to find items so that they "can then print out a page listing the items, locate the items in the store and try them on."

Yes, that's the ultimate in technology-fueled efficiency: Give customers a dead-tree list of items and send them on a scavenger hunt through the store trying to find them so they can carry the bundles into a very non-virtual dressing room. The idea of listing related products is a good one. But unless there's more to this "online dressing room" concept than was announced, we think we'll stick with bizarre.

Although not intended to be a line-buster, the kiosk will face similar issues to other machines intended to move payment processing away from the traditional POS station. Customers will be asked to type in their personal information (such as address) into the machine, where the display will be obscured by asterisks.

But if thieves positioned themselves—or tiny cameras—precisely enough to focus on the keyboard of the not easily moved kiosk, data theft—especially identity-theft type of data—could still happen. One response? Fight fire with fire or, in this case, cameras with cameras. Security cameras focusing, in an obvious way, on the area surrounding the kiosk could discourage such thefts.