Published on March 1st, 2010 | by Babar Bhatti2
Cellphones Let Shoppers Point, Click and Purchase
I came across an article in New York Times on advances in shopping technologies. The effort to turn people’s mobile phones into information displays and ordering devices is on. Here’s a quick list of the technologies you could see on a cell phone soon:
- Scan and shop (various apps)
- Presence (IBM)
- Mobile Concierge (Cisco)
- Mobile Loyalty Cards
Shoppers will soon be able to stand outside the designer Norma Kamali’s boutique in Manhattan, point a phone at merchandise in the window and buy it — even late at night when the store is closed. How? By using technologies such as ScanLife which allows customers to scan bar codes on merchandise. Other apps allow users to do perform product search and price comparison through barcodes.
Ms. Kamali is at the forefront of a technological transformation coming to many of the nation’s retailers. They are determined to strengthen the link between their physical stores and the Web, and to use technology to make shopping easier for consumers and more lucrative for themselves.
Some supermarkets intend to offer real-time coupons while people shop. For example, a promotion for milk may be sent to a shopper’s mobile phone the moment her cart rolls into the dairy aisle. Drugstores will offer loyalty programs on cellphones, not on plastic cards. And specialty chains will allow shoppers to breeze through the aisles compiling a wedding registry, just by pointing at merchandise.
Privacy concerns are of course a barrier to all this. Not everyone would trust these apps and download them. So it remains to be seen how many shoppers will embrace such aggressive merchandising, which will generally require them to consent to being tracked electronically while in a store.
But many stores are betting they will go along. After all, people already wander city streets guided by maps on their mobile phones. Why shouldn’t the same technology lead them to the toilet paper in Aisle 3?
Hoping to use the technology as a competitive advantage, some big chains are reluctant to discuss their plans. The Sam’s Club division of Wal-Mart, Crate & Barrel, Kerr Drug of North Carolina and Disney stores are among the retailers that confirmed they were testing various mobile technology or planned to do so soon.
Other retailers have begun testing a product from I.B.M. called Presence. Shoppers who sign up can be detected as soon as they set foot in a store. That enables Presence to offer real-time mobile coupons. And tracking shoppers’ spending habits and browsing time in various departments can help the system figure out who might be moved to suddenly buy a discounted item.
Presence can also make product recommendations. If a shopper was buying cake mix, Presence might suggest buying the store’s private-label frosting and sprinkles, too.
“We’re also able to do predictive analytics — predict what we think you might want based on what we already know about you,” said Craig W. Stevenson, an I.B.M. executive who oversees Presence.
Cisco Systems, the supplier of networking equipment and services for the Internet, is also a leader in the field. The company’s Mobile Concierge system is capable of connecting customers’ smartphones to retailers’ wireless networks — so a shopper could type “Cheez Whiz” into a cellphone, then pinpoint its location in the store.
“We see the smartphone being used more and more in the shopping experience,” said Dick Cantwell, Cisco’s vice president for retail at Cisco’s Internet business solutions group