Traditional stores making high-tech changes this season

This is the scene at the Apple store located in the Fashion Show Mall Friday, Nov. 25, 2011.

Hand-held devices in the palms of Apple Store employees throughout the country are at the forefront of the digitization of retailing. At Apple’s retail outlets, gone are the lengthy checkout lines that formed at registers during holiday seasons in the not-so-distant past.

Instead, shoppers dropping big bucks on the latest laptops or iPhone 4s hand over their bank cards to Apple clerks, and with a top-to-bottom swipe through one of the rectangular devices a purchase is completed. The rapid transaction is facilitated by technology that allows iPhones to read bar codes and the magnetic stripes on credit and debit cards — essentially turning them into hand-held cash registers.

The rapid transaction is one of the freshest examples of a transformation of retailing, driven by store shoppers who crave the convenience of speed that comes with online sales.

“I expect a computer store to use and not only sell the latest technology,” said Black Friday shopper Lorena Whitson, as she eyed a sleek iPad 2 at the Apple Store in Town Square. “Their products are cutting edge. The operational side of Apple’s stores should be, too.”

Retailers this holiday season are further meshing the speed and ease of online sales with traditional brick-and-mortar settings. Coupons from web favorites Groupon, Living Social and Facebook aggressively target stores throughout the country,notes columnist Teresa Novellino, who adds that consumers are increasingly making online purchases from their mobile phones and tablet devices. The high-speed convenience also permits shoppers to make wiser purchases as they compare prices for single products by checking retailers’ websites or through the use of such mobile apps as RedLaser, Barcode Scanner, ShopSavvy and Amazon — all while standing in front of a competitor’s store shelf.

Major online retailers have also embraced, at least temporarily, the traditional brick-and-mortar setting, a model many thought had passed with the shuttering of Gateway Computers’ once ubiquitous mall outlets. Ebay and Amazon have opened holiday-season kiosks in New York, San Francisco and London, allowing consumers to use their mobile phones to scan bar codes and purchase items at the satellite locations. also has entered the niche by opening similar locations.

“Web retailers are better-positioned than store retailers. They in many cases can have better offers because their economics are more favorable,” Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., told Bloomberg News.

More deals can be found in less than 72 hours with Cyber Monday, the annual online version of Black Friday’s retail orgy. Amazon, Walmart, Toys-R-Us, Target, Sears, Home Depot and Kmart are among companies that will offer web exclusive deals, all of which leaves Whitson, the Apple Store shopper, marveling at the transformation of holiday-season shopping over the past 15 years and the options it’s created.

“It’s like the difference between going to a concert and watching it on TV,” she said. “I enjoy them both, but price, convenience and my mood determine whether I watch or go.”