As innovative consumer mobile apps continue to redefine the retail industry, will iPad-wielding associates be the next wave?

I asked myself this question at Nordstrom at Stanford Shopping Center a couple of weeks ago JCPenney-iPod-StoreAssociateduring their anniversary sale event. Unlike many other stores that seem to advertise a sale almost every weekend, Nordstrom has only one or two annual sale events with real discounts even on high-end brands. Consumers have noticed and the place was buzzing with activity.

We did manage to find a helpful associate, who was patient enough to hunt down a couple of right sized shirts. Customer service continues to be a differentiator in retail and Nordstrom clearly gets that!

Once I was ready to buy, the associate just pulled out an iPod Touch. He scanned the item and used the card swiping device to accept payment. It was not the ubiquitous Square dongle that every cab driver seems to have these days, but did the job. He also offered to email me the receipt – just like an Apple store.

I appreciated the quick check-out process, but felt the store probably could have gone one step further. For instance, the associate could have recognized me and greeted me based on the Nordstrom debit card I had used. He could have even suggested other items based on the insights from my profile & purchase history – taking the digitization to the next level – from ‘Appleization to Amazonization’!

Of course, retailers have to navigate the privacy challenges of trying to track every shopper. However, mobile Point of Sale – mPOS – extended by ‘clienteling’ apps can help provide a personalized shopping experience for every shopper. Today, it’s reserved for the heavy spender ‘whales’ at high-end luxury stores, where associates still use their secret ‘Black Book’ to strengthen customer relationships.

If used correctly, associate mobile apps could add a layer of personal touch to in-store customer service. And we all know retailers need every help they can get to fight Amazon!