Technologizer

Apple Store Self-Check Out: Shopping, Perfected

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There are many things I like about the Apple Store’s unorthodox approach to retailing. One I don’t: The fact that most of its locations have done away with the traditional check-out with a queue of customers and a cashier ringing up purchases. I don’t like tracking down a staffer on the floor to help me. I almost never need any advice or other service that requires human intervention. And oftentimes I feel like every employee in the store is patiently answering the complicated questions of clueless newbies and won’t be available to ring up my purchase anytime soon.

So I practically got giddy when a rumor emerged earlier this month that Apple was going to let people with iPhones running a new version of its Apple Store app do their own check outs, charging items to the credit card associated with their iTunes accounts. The rumor turned out to be true, and when I happened to visit a local mall with an Apple Store on Thursday night, I tried out the service, which is called EasyPay. Having experienced it for myself, I’m still seriously tickled about the whole thing. It’s the most meaningful advance in hassle-free shopping since Amazon.com invented 1-Click all those years ago.

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The only items you can ring up yourself are the ones that are out on store shelves. That doesn’t include big-ticket items like Macs, iPhones and iPads, but it does cover a lot of ground, including accessories and peripherals from Apple and other manufacturers, plus software. Paying couldn’t be much simpler: You launch the app, scan a product’s bar code with the iPhone’s camera and enter your iTunes password. (I also had to enter the security code from my credit card.) The app uses iOS’s location features to figure out where you are, so it knows which store you’re in and can apply the proper amount of sales tax.

Boom. You’re done. You can simply take off with the product(s) you just bought.

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Everybody who learns about this breakthrough has the same question: What’s to stop people from merely pretending to use EasyPay, then sauntering out of the store’s front door without actually having paid? I don’t know what Apple is or isn’t doing to foil shoplifters. For all I know, there’s some complicated monitoring system keeping tabs on who’s bought what with EasyPay. But I wouldn’t be stunned if there wasn’t.

Apple Stores aren’t security-free zones; for one thing, they’ve got cameras in their ceilings. But already, Apple clearly errs on the side of an ingratiating shopping experience over hardcore anti-shoplifting tactics. It leaves products on shelves that other stores lock up in cases, and the demonstration Macs and other products are lightly tethered to the tables rather than being practically welded in place.

Apple Stores don’t appear to use security tags that set off alarms at the door. They don’t check your receipt. And the only local Apple Store I’ve visited that has a burly guy in a uniform up front is the one in San Francisco’s Union Square. (I’ve never seen him interfere with shoppers as they leave the place.)

If EasyPay is a hit, it’ll let every Apple Store sell more small items without hiring more expensive human employees. The staffers who aren’t ringing up USB cables will be able to devote more time to assisting people who are there to make big, profitable purchases. Maybe Apple is simply betting that any increase in shoplifting will be so far outweighed by an increase in buying that it’s not worth stressing over.

I’m pretty sure that Apple will be getting more dough out of me, at least. Knowing I can be in and out of the store in three minutes flat, purchase in hand, is a major incentive to buy more stuff. And it’s going to be awhile before I stop taking a perverse pleasure in being able to stroll out of the store without stopping to prove to anybody that I’ve paid up. What a contrast to stores such as Costco, which station receipt-checkers at the exit and treat every product that leaves the building as possibly stolen until proven otherwise.

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