Monday, March 1, 2010

Cellular Phones to Let Shoppers Point, Click and Purchase

Shoppers will soon be able to stand outside the designer boutique called Norma Kamali's, which is located in Manhattan, and they will be able to point a phone at merchandise in the window and buy it. They can even do this late at night when the store is closed. Ms. Kamali, the owner, is one of the leaders in the industry with the technological transformations which will be coming to many of the nation's retailers in no time at all. The retailers want to strengthen the link between their physical stores and the Web. They want to take an advantage of how tech savvy this nation is and make shopping easier to consumers and more profitable for themselves.

They plan on turning people's mobile phones into information displays and ordering devices. Even grocery stores are considering this form of technology. They think that if you can use a GPS on your phone to find your destination, then you should be able to find the flour in the store if you are having a hard time locating it. Supermarkets are also going to offer real-time coupons while people shop. They may have a promotion on milk and the moment you're in the dairy aisle; a coupon could be sent to your phone. If the department store is out of your size jeans, then the retailers are trying to make it simple by having you press a couple buttons on your phone and the correct size jeans you wanted will be shipped to your house.

The question is how will consumers react to this? They will have to download applications onto their phones and consent to being tracked electronically while in a store. Many stores are hoping consumers will go along with it. They are backing it up by the fact that people wander city streets guided by maps on their mobile phones, so why shouldn't technology lead them to the flour or jeans they're looking for. Some chains are reluctant to discuss their plans because they want to use it as a competitive advantage. Some retailers that are in the process of testing out mobile technology are Wal-Mart and Disney. Technology companies behind the products are telling consumers to expect introductions to this new world this year and wider deployments in 2011 or even 2012.

Ms. Kamali is using technology called ScanLife and it was installed in her boutique a few weeks ago. It allows people to scan bar codes on merchandise and obtain details about the clothes through videos. The part about buying items day or night will come in another week or two when they get used to the new system. Other retailers have started testing a product called Presence. The shoppers that sign up for it can be detected as soon as they set foot in a store, which enables Presence to offer real-time mobile coupons. Presence can also track the shoppers spending habits and browsing time in various department, and it will help the system figure out what customer 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 frosting and sprinkles to go along with that.

The retailers have some privacy worries and other potential pitfalls. If the phone applications freeze or give bad information it will most likely frustrate the consumers, so reliability is a big priority among retailers, which is why retailers have already started testing the system. Another reason why the Presence won't be released in a lot of stores until 2011 or 2012 is the fact that most stores cannot afford that kind of technology right now. The daring retailers are viewing it by the potential benefits outweighing the risks. More aggressive profiling of shoppers could help increase sales in stores that are in drastic need of some help. The technology could also save stores money by cutting workers, by substituting electronic guidance for store clerks.

If you had the chance to download one of these applications would you and why?

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