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Now that customers are beginning to visit Apple Stores more regularly, Apple is starting to make practical use of the App Clips feature that it unveiled in iOS 14 last year to improve the in-store shopping experience.
App Clips operate as micro-apps that you can quickly open and interact with, without the need to visit the App Store and download a full standalone app. While there are many ways that these can be useful, it’s the ability to open them from a QR code or NFC tag that seemed like the most promising aspect.
For example, you could tap an NFC tag in a store to get additional information about a product, or scan a QR code at a scooter or bike rental kiosk to quickly arrange for your day’s transportation.
Unfortunately, it was a feature that debuted in the middle of a global pandemic lockdown, which ruled out many of the best use cases that Apple had envisioned for places like coffee shops and retail stores.
So, it’s not all that surprising that we haven’t heard much about it. In a different universe, Apple would have likely had some really cool things ready to go as soon as iOS 14 landed last year. Instead, all we originally got was an App Clip for checking your AppleCare+ coverage — an interesting proof of concept that fell far short of what the feature promised.
Apple expanded this a bit further, with a scannable code on the packaging for the new Pride Edition and International Apple Watch Bands that allowed quick access to the matching Apple Watch faces for each band. However, this wasn’t really an App Clip in the truest sense, since it didn’t run much of a micro-app — all it really did was direct users to the appropriate download page and automatically install the face in question.
App Clips Come of Age
The good news, however, is that Apple is now taking this to the next level, preparing to deploy App Clips throughout its retail stores that will allow customers to pick up a product and self-checkout simply by scanning a code.
Apple actually pioneered the idea of self-checkout in its stores years ago, introducing a system that was originally known as “EasyPay” back in 2011. While the name has been dropped — “EasyPay” now refers to the point-of-sale system used by Apple’s retail employees — the self-checkout feature remains, allowing users to scan the barcode of lower-cost items like accessories with the Apple Store app and complete the purchase directly on their iPhone.
While Apple’s self-checkout is a really handy feature, it’s not the most discoverable by casual customers, since it requires that users have the Apple Store app already installed on their iPhone, and they have to actually open the app while in the store to even get a hint that the service exists. Apple doesn’t really promote the feature with in-store signage, either.
According to 9to5Mac, however, it looks like this self-checkout process is about to become a lot simpler and more accessible, thanks to App Clips.
App Clips have begun appearing in a few Apple retail locations in the US, located alongside most commonly purchased accessories such as cases, and branded as “Scan. Pay. Go.”
Customers with any model of iPhone running iOS 14.3 or later can simply point their camera at the App Clip to scan the circular QR-like code and initiate their purchase directly in the app.
To be clear, it’s not entirely seamless just yet, as there’s one more step involved. The App Clip code simply opens the micro-app to start the buying process; you’ll still have to scan a barcode off the actual product you want to buy, and then complete the self-checkout process from there.
This makes sense, since the App Clip codes are not on the individual products — at least not yet, although it’s something we could see Apple eventually doing sometime down the road. For now, however, the App Clip simply opens a micro-app that more or less mirrors the same experience you’d get in the full Apple Store app, but in a much faster and more accessible way.
More significantly, the new Scan-Pay-Go indicators are making it obvious to anybody who walks into an Apple Store that they’ll be able to take advantage of the self-checkout process, at least for certain items — and they won’t even need to have the Apple Store app installed to do so.
You still won’t be able to buy an iPhone or a Mac with an App Clip code, since these are higher-cost items that aren’t stocked on the shelves anyway. As before, you’ll need to approach a staff member if you want to buy bigger ticket items.
This likely also applies even to items that are on the shelves, such as expensive speakers and headphones. Since Apple’s self-checkout is largely done on the honour system — Apple wants to avoid putting Costco-style receipt checkers at its store exits — it’s always had a cap on purchase amounts. The new App Clips version likely follows similar rules.
At this point, the Scan-Pay-Go App Clips can only be found in a few select stores, although that’s presumably just the first wave of a larger rollout, so if they’re not in your local Apple Store yet, they should be showing up soon.