J.C. Penney's Latest Leap: Retailer to Ditch Cash Registers, Cashiers

JCPenney cash registers
JCPenney cash registers

Cash registers could join the ranks of pay phones and typewriters sooner than you think.

J.C. Penney (JCP) will say farewell to cash registers, checkout counters and cashiers by 2014, said Ron Johnson, the chain's CEO, during the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference, reports Time.

Penney's plan evokes Apple's (AAPL) mostly cash-register free stores -- and that comes as little surprise: Johnson was the head of Apple Retail and is considered the mastermind behind its success. He left Apple in November to take the top spot at J.C. Penney.

Johnson, who has been in the headlines lately for Penney's radical, controversial -- and so far, unsuccessful -- strategy to eliminate most of its sales and coupons, is now looking to shake up the checkout experience in the chain's stores.

His plan is to eliminate cashiers, cash registers and checkout counters, replacing them with a patchwork of technology solutions, such as WiFi networks, mobile checkout, RFID (radio frequency identification) technology tracking systems for merchandise, as well as self-checkout options.

"Think of a physical store without a cash wrap," Johnson told the audience, according to Time. "About 10% of all the money we spend, half a billion dollars a year, goes to [checkout] transactions." The money saved by replacing checkout stations with new technology could be invested in improving customer service, he said.

Ryan Taft, managing partner with OnSpot Social, an iPad app for retailers that collects Facebook "likes," Twitter followers and email addresses in-store, believes the retail industry is at the early stages of the end of the widespread use of cash registers.

"In-store marketing through technologies like iPad, RIFD, WiFi, etc, is the future of retail," he tells DailyFinance. "Some retailers may do away with cash registers altogether, while others may simply cut down on the number of cash registers, and only use them for larger purchases."

Taking a Cue From Apple

Apple, for one, let's customers of its Apple Stores pay in any of three ways, he notes.

Each Apple Store typically has one or two cash registers at the back of their stores, mostly reserved for large purchases.

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"The second is actually through an Apple store employee who will take your credit card and run it through their credit card scanner attached to an iPod Touch. The third, and in my opinion the most innovative, is you can actually check yourself out by pulling out your iPhone, opening the Apple Store Application, scanning the barcode of your product, and then paying through your iTunes account," he says. "This is the future of retail checkout."

And while some predict the demise of store associates along with cash registers, not necessarily, Taft says. "Sales associates won't go away in the new retail paradigm, their roles will simply evolve for more customer service focused responsibilities."

%Gallery-129403%But there's a rub when it comes to the wholesale elimination of cash registers in stores, says Natt Fry, senior executive of Accenture's Retail Practice.

"Retailers still need cash tills because a large percentage of their customers use cash, especially the unbanked consumers," he tells DailyFinance.

Still, in the future, "All other transactions can, and will be, conducted using either the retailer's mobile device or the customer's," Fry predicts.

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