Urban Outfitters is going ‘all Apple,’ replacing cash registers with iPads (UPDATED)

Philadelphia-based fashion retailer Urban Outfitters has announced that their stores will be going “all Apple,” eschewing clunky cash registers, price guns and computer screens for sleek iPads and iTouches.

“Two or three weeks ago, we placed our very last register order,” Chief Information Officer Calvin Hollinger said during a presentation at the company’s first analyst day on Thursday. “We are out of the register business.”

The mobile devices that currently equip sales associates in some of the retailer’s locations and accept credit card-only payments will be replaced by iPod touches with messaging capabilities, as well as apps to assist returns, restocking and ordering out-of-stock merchandise. The registers will be surmounted by swivel-mounted tablets that will accept cash and debit cards, in addition to credit. “It’s very clean,” Hollinger said of the iPad, praising its large screen and intuitive operating system. “If it’s not in use, you can take the swivel arm, turn it away and you can use this as a packing space or maybe to display more items to sell.”

Hollinger said the iPad will prove to be a more versatile and interactive tool that makes information sharing and storage a two-way street. “In addition to being a register, we can download a lot of content to the stores,” he said, giving the examples of training videos, market tips and sales reports. “And then from a customer’s point of view, we turn the iPad to a customer, she’s entering in her shipping address, this can also be used, for example, as a gift registry,” he said.

The stores – more than 400 of them in the U.S. and Canada – hope to make the switch soon. “Once we successfully make sure this iPad works in all the stores, all stores will be designed and equipped with iPod touches and iPads,” Hollinger said. “And, frankly, I’m happy because the iPad is $1,000 fully-configured, fully-installed, versus $5,000 [for a cash register].”

Mobile management

Some of the company’s stores, which include subsidiary brands Anthropologie, Free People, Terrain and BHLDN, two years ago began accepting credit card-only payments through specially-equipped iPhones. “At the end of the day, we just replaced one technology – the fixed register – with another technology – the mobile register,” Hollinger said. “And these devices can do so, so much more, so we began to look at other capabilities that we can deploy.” Those include:

– A returns application that instantly refunds the customer and enters the merchandise back into the company inventory.

– An automatic price tag-printing application.

– An application that notifies sales associates when the sales floor needs to be restocked, complete with a photograph of items that require replenishing.

– An out-of-stock application allowing the customer to pay for an out-of-stock item with the rest of their order as the app scours the company’s centralized inventory, finds the closest location of the desired merchandise and ships it directly to the customer’s home.

– In the future, Hollinger said, the company also plans to build messaging and texting capabilities into the mobile devices so associates can communicate with one another and with the corporate headquarters. “Those kids text,” he said. “They don’t want to have the walkie-talkies.”

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