Like so much of retail today, brick-and-mortar shopping is going through a reinvention, especially in one fundamental aspect: It’s become incredibly clear that the old checkout experience is heading for obsolescence.
On Monday, it may have taken another step.
French sportswear and athletic goods retailer Decathlon revealed a partnership with Boston-based NewStore to power the European company’s entry into the U.S. market, with the opening of a 47,000-square-foot experiential retail center in Emeryville, Calif., joining its previous San Francisco-based lab store.
One main feature of the store is better, faster checkout, without the lines. Thank RFID, or radio frequency identification, for that. In-store shoppers can approach a sensor-embedded rolling counter and place items on the surface, which can automatically read the RFID chips on the packaging or apparel tags.
The Emeryville location has been open over the past weekend to allow the public to experience the store and its features firsthand, including the RFID-assisted checkout. It has 40 store associates, all wielding iPhones, so they can conduct mobile checkouts, offer clienteling and support endless aisle, buy-online-pickup-in-store and buy-online-return-in-store features.
“We had to teach our consumers that we’re a cashless store and that we don’t use checkout stands,” explained Ashley Benson, Decathlon’s product manager. “There’s been a bit of a learning curve…we had to put more signage in the store.”
Decathlon is committed to completely nixing old-fashioned POS systems with a cashless premise. The scenario is becoming de rigueur, especially in the era of Amazon Go. At Decathlon, buying soccer balls or jerseys don’t even require a physical credit card, if the customer uses Apple Pay.
Alone, it could appeal to the Bay Area’s typical tech-savvy consumer. It’s less clear if others will embrace it as something more than a gimmick.
For NewStore, it’s anything but. Mobile checkout is just one part of a platform that the company bills as “omnichannel-as-a-service,” a system designed to let retailers run their stores on their iPhones. With things like order management, point-of-sale and other features handled via mobile app, the tech untethers employees so they can assist customers across the store.
And as they roam, the platform also supplies customer data to serve people better.
“We pull in data from all selling channels,” NewStore’s Dave Hartenstein, vice president of omnichannel, told WWD. “So if this customer is a web customer, we have all their information.” If the shopper has purchased with Decathlon before, the system can pull up e-mails, activity and both off-line and online purchase history. With that, the Omnichannel Platform aims to equip associates with the information they need at the right time — while they’re on the sales floor. Of course, if the shopper prefers, the system can also perform anonymous checkout, he added.
This breaking down of the walls between e-commerce and physical shopping has become a drumbeat, with numerous companies looking to help retailers — from Microsoft and Adobe to Salesforce, among others. For NewStore founder Stephan Schambach, it’s a core pursuit that began decades ago.
Responsible for the first standard online shopping software in the Nineties, Schambach is considered a pioneer of e-commerce. He also founded Demandware, which became Salesforce Commerce Cloud.
So it’s no surprise that today he steers NewStore, as a “platform [that] has online and off-line integrated,” as he described it. The company serves roughly a dozen partners to date, including apparel brand Untuckit and Decathlon, but Schambach says more will be announced in the second quarter. By the end of the year, the company expects to launch close to 200 NewStore-powered locations for its retail clients.
As for categories, the company’s focusing on a few key segments — primarily apparel, sporting goods and luxury.
That could be a hard sell for some premium brands, especially those that convey elegance and an old-world sensibility. But Schambach doesn’t see it that way.
“Think about the luxury boutique that has no cash registers,” he said. It can arrange to send any items directly to you, and “that’s a luxury experience, if you ask me. And there’s nothing more ‘luxury’ than to do this with simply an iPhone.”