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What is the new instantaneous payment system being used at Target?

Answer by Brian Roemmele:

This is a great question! I have some direct and indirect knowledge of this program. The way Target has crafted the retail transaction experience I think portends to the direction I believe a vast majority of retail experiences will migrate to.  I will digress with a bit of background.

Target And Technology

Target has always been on the leading edge of technology on front end systems and back end systems.  Most of the technology is not seen and operating in the background. For example, the POS and Inventory management software is so well tuned, that it does an incredible job in predicting demand for a particular item up to the not only the day, hour or minute, but to the second.

They also have a great deal of foresight in branding most customer facing technology in the store's iconic color of Red.  And look to the finest detail on how to improve the entire check out experience.  Not just optimized for speed (see Walmart) but optimized for the best possible experience.  This is one of the largest forces driving the company's adoption of technology and perhaps the high wisdom that is seen in the way they deploy this technology.

There is a great deal of study in retail psychology that most of us are not aware of that plays out when you are completing a purchase.   You and I want to get through the checkout line in a very efficient manner.  We want the experience to be fast, but perhaps not too fast.  The 10 feet that surrounds a checkout line has some of the highest profitability for most retailers and we as consumers love this little area.  So Target thought very long and hard about the entire process and reached out to a number of industry experts over the last 15 years to help craft the best possible experience we see today.

Electronic Signatures. Swipe And Sign Before The Final Barcode Scan

Target was one of the first national retailers to embrace electronic signature pads instead of signing a paper receipt.   They did this not so much for how it allowed the company to not need to manage and store the customer's signed receipts, that was important, but more so on how much faster the check out process was conducted.  The new technology allowed for a new concept in retail, the early presentation and authorization of the transaction, prior to the final barcode scan. It allows the customer to swipe their Payment Card and sign the receipt all before the last product was bagged.   Target was one of the first retailers to implement this very new experience. It sure seems simple and logical today, but it was anything but that when the ideas were being hashed out.

Over the years. Target has experimented with a number of customer facing systems from IBM, Verifone and Hypercom.  The most recent standardization is with a customized version of the Hypercom Optimum L4150 High-Performance Multi-Lane Payment and Advertising Terminal.

Hypercom L4150

How Does Target Speed Up Payment Card Acceptance?

There are many parts that go into creating the very speedy Payment Card experience at most Target stores.  As mentioned above the customized L4150 is the point of interaction and allowed for much of the changes we see in the checkout experience.  But there is a lot going on in the background. The L4150 is connected to the POS system usually and IBM SurePOS 500 or 700 and routed through custom software that is connected to the Payment Card Authorization systems.  All of this tech has been optimized by and for Target.

The process starts when the customer swipes the Payment card and this can be the moment the first item is scanned by the cashier.  Once the card is swiped there is an immediate request for a signature.  When the last item is scanned the system completes the transaction and prints the last lines of the receipt and this can be as fast as 2 seconds.  If one waits to the end of the last scan to swipe the credit card and the transaction is below $50 there will be no prompt for a signature and this is equally as fast. 

A Pleasant Surprise

The entire process is designed to be highly efficient and very simple for the consumer to translate.  It comes as a pleasant surprise to just about all of us, even when when have experienced the process before.  It is in stark contrast to most Payment Card transaction experiences. 

This well thought out process is combined with one of the fastest Payment Card Authorization network connections, at a major retailer, using M-Dex ((Merchant Direct Exchange) established by Visa  to process at 1mb+ speeds for very large retailers (500,000+ transaction/month). The entire backend is driven by a 5mb-25mb connection to the Target's VPN (Virtual Private Network) using Microsoft's Virtualization solution— Hyper-V. The system is run on Dell R710 servers for the hosts running Hyper-V and Dell MD1000 storage units. There are 15,000 virtual guests running on more than 3,600 Hyper-V hosts across the entire store network.  This supports updates to more than 300,000 endpoints across the network, including servers, virtual machines, mobile devices, PCs, and POS registers.

Target, with about 1,768 stores, usually has no IT personnel on-site and has found the Hyper-V virtualization allows a vast majority of issues to be solved at the data center and not locally. Microsoft has a great case study of some aspects of Target’s backend technology with the use of the Hyper-V product here: Microsoft Case Study: Microsoft Services – Target Corporation.

This system shows a rather huge commitment to technology and a desire to create the most optimal consumer experience.  To see how the same set of circumstances is translated with other national retailers, visit Walmart or Kmart and judge the experience.  In Walmart's case, they have a profound, "If it was not invented here, it is not relevant" attitude with its study of the retail experience, and one can surmise if this translates to a richer experience for its customers.  By contrast, Target is more than willing to continue to test and experiment and to reach outside of the company for experts that have studied these processes. 

I personally think Target is the best example one can find in balancing all important aspects and crafts into one of the top 5 best retail experiences and I feel strongly that wise retailers can gain great insights by studying Target and the way they see its customers.

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