Standing in checkout lines at JCPenney stores in the Tri-Cities and across the nation could soon be outdated thanks to something many of us already have in a pocket or purse, an iPod Touch.
Nearly everyone on the sales floor of the JCPenney store at Columbia Center mall is now carrying one of the devices capable of ringing up sales from anywhere in the store.
"We call them Libbys, short for liberator, because they liberate our team members from the cash register," said Danielle Hinton, manager of the Tri-City JCPenney store.
The devices can process any credit or debit card, but if customers are paying with cash, they'll still need to go to one of a few traditional cash registers left in the store.
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Once a customer swipes a debit or credit card, they can input their PIN or use their finger to sign their name on an electronic screen.
"Signing their name on the device brings a smile to everyone's face 'cause it's fun. It's like drawing," said Audra Thurman, fashion adviser at JCPenney.
The receipt for the sale can be printed out at one of the registers or emailed. "Which is handy because you don't have to worry about losing it," Hinton said.
For returns, simply print out the emailed receipt and take it to the store with the item.
"Customers are enjoying the fact they can be rung up anywhere. It can happen as you leave the store, exit the fitting room, anywhere in the store that it's convenient," Hinton said.
You don't even have to visit a checkout register to bag your purchase. The sales staff carry an assortment with them.
"We can use any flat surface for checkout, a cabinet, a table, a display case. When it comes to folding clothes you just have to be creative," Thurman said.
Shopper Bruce Timms of Richland said he likes the mobile checkout option.
"I've used it several times. I really like it because I hate lines. It's nice when shopping with kids; they never want to wait," he said.
JCPenney spokesperson Kate Coultas in Plano, Texas, said the company began using the new system in some stores in August when they launched their in-store Levi's shops.
JCPenney has designed 10 in-store shops and plans over the next three years to add as many as 80 to 100 different shops to their stores, depending on the size of the building. Each specialty area will have different flooring and different fixtures.
"We're inventing a whole new category, the specialty department store. Having these in-store shops will make the whole store look like you've walked into a mini mall," Coultas said.
By eventually doing away with checkout registers, the company is freeing up floor space to make more room for the in-store shops. The company will have a few service centers scattered throughout stores where customers can return items, pick up merchandise bought online, sign up for the gift registry and pay with cash.
"We're using the technology all of us use everyday to move forward into the future, to give our customers great service and a more seamless shopping experience," Coultas said.