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Urban Outfitters ditches registers, converts to iPad only

Most retailers using iPads to check out their consumers are mobile, be they food trucks or conference vendors, but Urban Outfitter’s choice to change their point-of-sale system could indicate a broader shift in retail technology.

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A shift in retailer mentality

The rise of the iPad is upon us and it’s been that way for quite some time. They’re everywhere –from people use them to take pictures of PowerPoint slides at conferences to processing my debit card purchase when I stop at a food truck for lunch. Small business owners who have a mobile business location often use iPads for this very reason – to process payments on the go. But now Urban Outfitters, an established brick-and-mortar store, is working to replace all cash registers with iPads. Could this be the new evolution of retail point-of-sale systems?

Checking out the Apple Way

All Urban Outfitters check-out counters will be equipped with iPads on a swivel stand, giving cashiers a free range of motion to allow customers to input email addresses or registry items during a transaction. And when staff doesn’t feel like being confined behind a counter, they can pop the tablet off and walk the floor, allowing customers to check out in any part of the store.

Urban Outfitters wants to move to this new model because it will cost significantly less than maintaining and installing new cash registers. CIO Calvin Hollinger says an iPad costs about a fifth as much as a cash register and it not only has greater functionality, but also a higher level of interactivity with the customer.

May Need Some more Development Before Becoming Widespread

I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. I do see the value in being able to go where the customer goes and allow for a more interactive check out experience, but what about the times when you’re in a rush? Is the person who checks out the fastest the one who can run to the nearest staff member first? With people checking out in all areas of the store, who’s to say someone won’t just walk out with items claiming they’ve already paid? How will cash be stored after doing away with the registers? And do I really want to type in my own email address while I’m checking out?

These are all questions that need to be considered in order for me to see a clear benefit of doing away with all cash registers. It makes sense from a cost standpoint and it could be helpful if while searching for a pair of shoes, I see the store is out of my size and a nearby staff member is able to whip out a tablet and tell me when the next shipment is coming in or what other stores have them in stock. But as far as using iPads to engage with customers at the register, I’m not sold on the fact that I can type in my own information while I’m checking out. I’m content with whatever process is fastest to get my purchase in the bag so that I can be on my merry way.

Destiny Bennett is a journalist who has earned double communications' degrees in Journalism and Public Relations, as well as a certification in Business from The University of Texas at Austin. She has written stories for AustinWoman Magazine as well as various University of Texas publications and enjoys the art of telling a story. Her interests include finance, technology, social media...and watching HGTV religiously.

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You can now make Amazon returns at Kohl’s

(BUSINESS NEWS) Amazon is teaming up with Kohl’s to give shoppers a few of the brick and mortar conveniences with online shopping.

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With online retailers giving brick-and-mortar stores a run for their money, some brands are choosing to collaborate, rather than compete. Kohl’s has announced that it will team with Amazon to create “Amazon Experience” mini-stores within Kohl’s locations.

The companies are testing the concept with 10 stores in the Los Angeles and Chicago areas. If it goes well, they’ll expand that number to 82.

The Amazon Experience stores will be staffed with Amazon salespeople, but Kohl’s employees will run the Amazon returns counter. Customers can even bring unpackaged items from Amazon, and Kohl’s employees will help them pack and ship it back to Amazon, free of charge.

It seems that Amazon is looking to have more physical presence with customers and to make returns easier, while Kohl’s hopes to downsize their store space and generate revenue by renting to other brands.

Just this month, Kohl’s opened four smaller stores that have 60 percent less footage and 25 percent less inventory than their typical stores. Customers can still access the entire Kohl’s inventory at kiosks that also offer in-store pickup.

It’s clear that Kohl’s isn’t afraid to combine the brick-and-mortar and online experiences, and their collaboration with Amazon is further evidence that the brand is adapting to the digital marketplace.

“This is a great example of how Kohl’s and Amazon are leveraging each other’s strengths — ” said Richard Schepp, Chief Administrative Officer of Kohl’s, “ the power of Kohl’s store portfolio and omnichannel capabilities combined with the power of Amazon’s reach and loyal customer base.”

Industry experts predict that Amazon may find other ways to utilize their physical presence in Kohl’s to better serve customers.

Amazon has been dabbling in the world of fashion, and having mini-stores in Kohl’s could present an opportunity for Amazon customers to try on apparel before they buy, bolstering Amazon’s in-house apparel brands.

Apparel analyst Tiffany Hogan told CNBC “We could potentially see new Amazon lines popping up at Kohl’s.”

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IBM is putting blockchains to work for banks

(BUSINESS NEWS) IBM is putting blockchain tech to work so that they can launch a banking system for international transactions.

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Earlier this year, IBM unveiled its “Blockchain as a Service” based on Hyperledger Fabric, creating a public cloud service for customers to build secure blockchain networks.

Now the tech company announced they’re teaming up with payment company KlickEx Group and blockchain startup Stellar to change up the cross-border payment game.

The team is launching a blockchain-based system for banks, aimed to lower the cost and reduce settlement time for global payments for both businesses and consumers. International transactions typically take days, or even weeks, to complete.

Blockchains could speed things up, minimize errors, and provide more flexibility and transparency to banks. According to IBM, the collaboration “is intended to improve the speed in which banks both clear and settle payment transactions on a single network in near real time.”

In case you forgot what blockchains are, here’s a refresher course. Blockchains are a secure digital ledger of transactions with bits of information stored across multiple nodes in a network.

Since there’s no centralized hub, it’s less vulnerable to hacking.

Any time an action is taken, the ledger updates and that data is available to anyone with access to the blockchain. Additionally, each transaction is secured with digital signatures and encryption, providing transparency and security.

Blockchains can be used to trace and track transactions along every step of the way, providing a handy place to combine all product information besides just financial dealings.

For example, IBM suggested a hypothetical in which their system connects a Samoan farmer with an Indonesian buyer.

In this transaction, they stated, “the blockchain would be used to record the terms of the contract, manage trade documentation, allow the farmer to put up collateral, obtain letters of credit, and finalize transaction terms with immediate payment, conducting global trade with transparency and relative ease.”

Instead of scattered information, blockchains collect all relevant steps in a transaction. Currently, they system is used in twelve currency corridors, including New Zealand and the UK, as well as Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Within the next year, the system is expected to handle 60 percent of the South Pacific’s retail industry’s cross-border payments.

Bridget van Kralingen, Senior VP of IBM Industry Platforms, said in statement, “with the guidance of some of the world’s leading financial institutions, IBM is working to explore new ways to make payment networks more efficient and transparent so that banking can happen in real-time, even in the most remote parts of the world.”

Over a dozen banks are part of the initial pilot program, and plan to expand to Southeast Asia, South America, and other areas by early next year.

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Business News

A real life robot battle: America vs Japan

(BUSINESS NEWS) Robots are real and America is fresh out of a battle with Japan in a real life robot battle royale.

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What’s the future of sports look like?

Giant. Fighting. Robots.

That’s right, your childhood dreams have arrived, at least I know mine have.

Two years ago, American robotics firm, MegaBots Inc., challenged Japanese rival, Suidobashi Heavy Industries, to a showdown of the battle of the mechs. The challenge was accepted, but with one simple caveat: the inclusion of melee combat.

And so the Super Heavyweight Title Fight two-years in the making premiered on leading social video platform, Twitch, yesterday evening to tech and sci-fi fans alike who waited with baited breath for such an event.

In order to prepare for the match, the American team needed to build a new bot capable of fulfilling the duel requirement, as well as one that would be a force to be reckoned with against the Japanese fighting machine.

MegaBots, or “Team America,” was able to crowdfund the robot battle through a Kickstarter campaign earning over $500,000 by just under 8,000 backers. With this campaign, they were also able to upgrade their Mk.II behemoth that would be entering the rumble.

Meet Eagle Prime.

More metal. More power. More American.

According to MegaBots, Eagle Prime “weighs in at 12 tons, stands 16 feet tall, seats two, is powered by a 430 horsepower V8 LS3 engine, and costs a cool $2.5M.” This robot is massive; a good foot higher than its predecessor.

Founders Matt Oehrlein and Gui Cavalcanti commented on the design of Eagle Prime, quipping, “We made it huge and strapped guns to it;” as American as apple pie.

Suidobashi’s robot, KURATAS, stands a few feet shorter (about 13 feet tall), but carries a more sleek and elegant design to it. With a tripod-wheeled base and twin Gatling BB canons with the ability to fire 6,000 bullets per second, it seemed a toss-up as to who would reign supreme in the first mech battle.

While this sounds like an epic episode of awesomeness, don’t expect Pacific Rim level combat just yet. Rather than give a play-by-play of the event, I’ll just tell you straight away that Eagle Prime came out on top in the brawl. To be fair though, it really wasn’t much of a brawl.

Eagle Prime had two years of extra time to be built in preparation for such a match against Kuratas. It was made bigger (and for “funzies”, added patriotic colors to the bot as well as a head of a bald eagle for a “head” as well as a chainsaw-sword-type of device that likely, and ultimately, ended up costing Kuratas a pretty penny in damages.

Really, Kuratas had no chance: there was a bit of overkill on the part of Eagle Prime.

The chain-sword alone raises some safety concerns, especially when we’re talking the future of sports. That said, the pilots of both mechs, Eagle Prime piloted by both Oehrlein and Cavalcanti and Kuratas by Kogoro Kurata, could use a bit more protective gear than helmets, even if the robots in action look like a couple of toddlers fighting.

But hey, it’s a start. And that’s the point.

Maybe one day we will be in giant stadium arenas watching huge robots piloted by humans hashing it out, but we’ve got a long ways to go. And maybe, just maybe, these things could be of use in natural disaster efforts.

Who wouldn’t want to be saved by an Optimus Prime-like, human-piloted “robot” that could withstand whatever was thrown its way?

It’s going to be an expensive endeavor that will require a nice chunk of change in investments and endorsements, though I will say, what a time to be alive.

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