selfcheckoutJCPenney (JCP) CEO Ron Johnson promised to build on his successes as a retailer at Target and Apple to re-fashion the long-faltering department chain. Whether he's eventually judged successful or not, credit Johnson for a serious effort.

Executives are obliged, of course, to present a public image of leadership and influence, even when nothing more than inertia is happening. In JCP's case, though, there can be no doubt of objective change. The company is in the middle of a complex bundle of technical, procedural, and logistical innovations. As with any fundamental change, it'll be years before enough evidence is available to evaluate Johnson's radical initiatives. What's clear already is that JCP won't lack for aggressiveness in deploying supply-chain technology.

M-POS everywhere

Part of its re-branding is mobile checkout or point-of-sale (M-POS). M-POS, piloted in July 2012, will be "rolled out to all Penney stores by the end of the year", as a recent DailyFinance article quoted JCP executive vice president Ben Fay. Whatever the operational performance of M-POS for the company, its most immediate impact is the signal that JCP stores are a break from apparel competitors where shoppers ready to buy too often have to go on a hunt for manned cash registers. Nordstrom is ahead of JCP, with 6,000 front-line employees already equipped to execute sales, while member warehouses Sam's Club and Costco are experimenting with "line-busting" variants of M-POS.

Johnson even plans to eliminate traditional cash registers and checkout counters the following year. Several changes behind the scenes will complement the change in layout consumers see: most dramatically, "We are going 100 percent RFID with ticketing this fall" [2012], in Johnson's words during an interview with Jennifer Reingold of Fortune. Johnson explicitly aims to "make the physical store indispensable in a digital world", and that's certainly a mission to which RFID brings striking advantages.

Comments from JCP execs, along with job and RFP listings, suggest that the company is also actively considering projects in self check-out, procure-to-pay (P2P), merged channels, geolocation, and other technology-mediated areas. The real point for readers of "The Payoff", however, is not to imitate (or avoid!) what JCP does; it's to recognize the specific opportunities available technologies present, and fit them to your own organization's goals. RFID, M-POS, P2P and others are improving efficiencies and helping companies get closer to their customers today; which ones are right for you?

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