NEW YORK (AP) — Ka-ching! The cash register may be on its final sale.
Stores across the country are ditching the old-fashioned, clunky machines and having salespeople — and even shoppers themselves — ring up sales on smartphones and tablet computers.
Barneys New York, a luxury retailer, this year plans to use iPads or iPod Touch devices for credit and debit card purchases in seven of its nearly two dozen regular-price stores. Urban Outfitters, a teen clothing chain, ordered its last traditional register last fall and plans to go completely mobile one day. And Walmart, the world's largest retailer, is testing a “Scan & Go” app that lets customers scan their items as they shop.
“The traditional cash register is heading toward obsolescence,” said Danielle Vitale, chief operating officer of Barneys New York.
That the cash register is getting the boot is no surprise. The iconic machine was created in the late 1800s and was essential in nearly every store by 1915, but it now seems outdated. Today, smartphones and tablets increasingly are replacing everything from books to ATMs to cameras.
Stores like smartphones and tablets because they take up less floor space than registers and free up cashiers to help customers instead of being tethered to one spot.
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They also are cheaper: For instance, Apple Inc.'s iPads with accessories like credit card readers can cost a store $1,500, compared with $4,000 for a register. And Americans increasingly want the same speedy service in physical stores that they get from shopping online.
“Consumers want the retailer to bring the register to them,” said Lori Schafer, executive adviser at SAS Institute Inc., which creates software for major retailers.
J.C. Penney, a midprice department-store chain, said the response by customers has been great since it started rolling out iPod Touch devices late last year in its 1,100 stores. The goal is to have one in the hands of every salesperson by May. The company said that about a quarter of purchases at its stores nationwide now come from an iPod Touch.
On a recent day at a Penney's store in the Manhattan borough of New York City, Debbie Guastella, 55, marveled after a saleswoman rang up three shirts she was buying on an iPod Touch.
“I think it's great,” said Guastella. “The faster the better.”
It's been a long fall for the cash register, which innovated storekeeping. The first register was invented after the Civil War by a saloon owner. Before then, most store owners were in the dark about whether or not they were making a profit, and many suffered since it was easy for sales clerks to steal from the cash drawer unnoticed.
But by 1915, cash registers were ubiquitous in stores nationwide.
More recently, stores have been looking for ways to modernize checkout. Since 2003, self-checkout areas that enable customers to scan and bag their own merchandise have become commonplace in grocery stores.
Now there's been a push to go further, so companies that make traditional cash registers are racing to come up with new solutions.
NCR Corp., formerly known as the National Cash Register Co., was the first to manufacturer the cash register on a large scale. Last year, the company launched a program that merges its software with the iPad. This allows store clerks to detach the iPad from the keyboard at the counter and use it as a mobile checkout device
“Retailers have more flexibility and more opportunities to change the shopping experience,” said Mark Self, an NCR vice president.
Stores themselves also are taking their cues from the success of Apple. The nation's most profitable retailer moved to mobile checkout in all of its stores in 2007. In 2011, Apple began allowing shoppers to check out their purchases using their iPhones.
Take upscale handbag maker Coach, which is using iPod Touch devices at half of its 189 factory outlet stores. The company also is testing them in a handful of its 350 regular stores.
The move has enabled Coach to start slimming down its registers to the size of small podiums, freeing up space, said Francine Della Badia, Coach's executive vice president of merchandising.
Della Badia said more important than the extra space is that the mobile devices allow store staff to build “a more intimate connection with the customer.”
Some retailers have decided to go completely mobile. Urban Outfitters, which operates more than 400 stores under its namesake brand, Anthropologie and Free People, announced last fall that all sales eventually will be rung up on iPods and iPads on swivels at counters.
Urban Outfitters had given iPod Touch devices to its sales staff two years ago and shoppers are happy, said Calvin Hollinger, the company's chief information officer.
Nordstrom, an upscale department-store chain that's considered within the retail industry to be the gold standard in customer service, also plans to get rid of registers.
The company handed out iPod Touch devices to its staff at its 117 department stores nationwide in 2011. And by late last year, it did the same for its 110 Nordstrom Rack stores that sell lower-priced merchandise. Nordstrom aims to phase out registers by next year.
Colin Johnson, a Nordstrom spokeswoman, said the company is learning about which technologies work best. “We see the future as essentially mobile,” Johnson said.
Not every retailer is quick to ditch registers, partly because there are still logistics to figure out. For instance, most retailers don't accept cash payments on mobile devices. But if they start to do so, where will they put the cash that would normally go into a register?
Additionally, sales staff walking around stores armed with mobile devices turns off some shoppers who would prefer to be left alone in aisles. Richard Robins, a 67-year-old semi-retired investment fund manager from Redonda Beach, Calif., says he would like the convenience of mobile checkout but wouldn't want to be pressured by a sales clerk.
“I don't want to be hustled,” he said.
To guard against making customers uncomfortable, some retailers including Penney's are training their salespeople on when to approach shoppers — and when not to.
Walmart is putting checkout in the hands of the shoppers themselves. The retailer is testing its “Scan & Go” app, which can be used on Apple devices such as iPads, in more than 200 of its more than 4,000 stores nationwide. The app requires that shoppers pay at self-checkout areas, so Walmart also is expanding the number of self-checkout stations.