The move has enabled Coach to start slimming down its registers to the size of small podiums, freeing up space on walls to build shelves to showcase more product, said Francine Della Badia, Coach's executive vice president of merchandising.
Della Badia, who says the additional space will be used for new shoe salons and other purposes, said most importantly, the mobile devices allow store staff to build "a more intimate connection with the customer."
Some retailers have decided to go completely mobile. Urban Outfitters, which operates more than 400 stores under its namesake brand, Anthropologie and Free People, announced in late September that all sales eventually will be rung up on iPods and iPads on swivels located at counters. The company didn't give a timeframe for when it would go completely mobile.
Urban Outfitters had given iPod Touch devices to its sales staff two years ago and the move has been very well received by shoppers, said Calvin Hollinger, the company's chief information officer in his address to investors.
Nordstrom, an upscale department-store chain that's considered within the retail industry to be the gold standard in customer service, also plans to get rid of registers altogether.
The company handed out iPod Touch devices to its staff at its 117 department stores nationwide in 2011. And by late last year, it did the same for its 110 Nordstrom Rack stores that sell lower-priced merchandise. Nordstrom, which already has removed some of the registers at its Rack stores, said it aims to phase out registers by next year.
Colin Johnson, a Nordstrom spokeswoman, said it's too early to draw any conclusions on how mobile checkout has influenced buying, but the company is learning about which technologies work best.
"We see the future as essentially mobile," Johnson said. "We don't see departments in our store as being defined by a big clunky cash register."
Not every retailer is quick to ditch registers, though. After all, there are still logistics to figure out. For instance, most retailers don't accept cash payments on mobile devices. But if they start to do so, where will they put the cash that would normally go into a register?
Additionally, sales staff walking around stores armed with mobile devices could turn off shoppers who would prefer to be left alone in aisles. Richard Robins, a 67-year-old semi-retired investment fund manager from Redonda Beach, Calif., says he would like the convenience of mobile checkout but wouldn't want to be pressured from a sales clerk while he's in the aisle.
"I don't want to be hustled," he said.
To guard against making customers uncomfortable, some retailers including Penney are training their salespeople on when to approach shoppers — and when not to.
For its part, Wal-Mart is putting checkout in the hands of the shoppers themselves.
The retailer is testing its "Scan & Go" app, which can be used on Apple devices such as iPads, in more than 200 of its more than 4,000 stores nationwide.
The app, which is aimed at reducing long checkout lines, requires that shoppers pay at self-checkout areas. So as it tests the app, Wal-Mart also is expanding the number of self-checkout areas in its stores.
"Our goal is to give choices to all of our customers however they want to shop," said Gibu Thomas, senior vice president of mobile and digital initiatives at Wal-Mart's global e-commerce division."
Anne D'Innocenzio can be reached at —http://twitter.com/ADInnocenzio