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Retailers move to mobile as Amazon Go looms

Retailers and consumer brands are doubling down on mobile technology in 2018, with companies from Nike Inc. to Seven & i Holdings Co. Ltd.-owned 7-Eleven Inc. developing new ways for customers to use smartphones as they shop.

The plans, which were detailed in March 19 presentations at the Shoptalk 2018 conference in Las Vegas, come from an array of otherwise disparate companies and aim to tackle an equally wide range of challenges. In some cases, companies hope to streamline the checkout process, allowing customers to scan and pay for items on their phone or arrange pickup at a store. Others are focused on providing customers with more personalized product recommendations by connecting customers with experts on what they sell.

The companies are disclosing their mobile ambitions as Amazon.com Inc. finds its footing with its Amazon Go store in Seattle, a concept that uses a mobile app to admit customers, track what they pull from the shelves and then charge their accounts.

Amazon has indicated that it is still refining Amazon Go and has no immediate plans to deploy it on a large scale, including at its roughly 470 Whole Foods Market Inc. stores. Still, some companies indicated that they were moving quickly to roll out the technology, retrofitting their existing stores before Amazon can act.

Convenience chain 7-Eleven, for instance, will pilot an app that allows patrons to ring up and pay for purchases at some stores in and around Dallas in mid-2018, Senior Director of Customer Relationship Management and Loyalty Tarang Sethia told S&P Global Market Intelligence after a Shoptalk presentation.

The revised app will be aimed at customers who make daily purchases at the chain's stores, such as an early morning cup of coffee, as well as those who are members of 7-Eleven's loyalty program, Sethia told the audience during the presentation.

Ultimately, 7-Eleven plans to expand the technology within a year to all of its approximately 10,000 stores in the U.S. and Canada, Sethia confirmed to S&P Global.

"Your phone is your checkout," he said during his presentation, adding that he has a message for Amazon: "Bring it on."

Macy's Inc., which operates about 700 department stores across the U.S., has already tested an app that allows customers to check out using their phones. The technology will be available at all of the retailer's stores by year-end, CEO and Chairman Jeffrey Gennette told an audience at Shoptalk on March 18.

Privately held BJ's Wholesale Club Inc., which runs 215 wholesale clubs in the eastern U.S., debuted a mobile app at the end of 2017, Chief Digital Officer and Senior Vice President Rafeh Masood said during a March 19 presentation. He noted that the app allows customers to retrieve coupons and order special items, including deli meats cut to a custom thickness.

Other retailers are getting more involved in the mobile focus on specialty products. Nike, which sells athletic apparel at third-party retailers as well as its own branded storefronts, offers different apps for various types of products.

One of them, which the company calls the SNKRS App, pushes offers for Nike's limited-edition sneakers to users. Chief Digital Officer Adam Sussman told an audience at Shoptalk that the app also contains an interactive component. It allows users in New York City to purchase some of the special styles by visiting certain locations in the city through a scavenger hunt resembling the popular mobile game "Pokemon Go."

Another app allows runners and other recreational athletes to consult Nike "experts" before making a purchase. Customers can chat with the experts, who provide advice on choosing the correct size for a shoe, and place an order, charging a credit card provided during user setup for the app.