Cell phones let shoppers point, click and purchase

Cell phones let shoppers point, click and purchase

On the move

Cell phones let shoppers point, click and purchase

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.

The main way they plan to do it is by turning people’s mobile phones into information displays and ordering devices. Can’t find the flour at the grocery store? Grocers will offer phone applications that tell shoppers exactly where to go. Is the department store out of size 8 jeans? Retailers want to make it simple to punch a couple of buttons and have the desired size shipped home.

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 programmes 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.

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. Technology companies behind the products say retailers are sniffing around, with some planning limited introductions this year and wider deployments in 2011 or 2012.

Appropriately enough for a revered designer, Kamali is in the vanguard. A technology called ScanLife was installed at her boutique in recent weeks, and it already 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.
“I’ve been in this business since the ’60s and I have to just tell you, nothing — nothing at all — has been as powerful a change in the psyche of the way we do everything as this technology,” Kamali said.

Other retailers have begun testing a product from IBM 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.

Cisco Systems is also a leader in the field. Its 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.

Beyond privacy worries, retailers recognise other potential pitfalls. If the phone applications freeze or give bad information, they will most likely frustrate consumers. So reliability will be a priority, a reason retailers are starting with limited tests. And as some executives said, many stores cannot yet afford such technology.

As the more daring retailers see it, the potential benefits outweigh the risks. More aggressive profiling of shoppers — along with a novel, entertaining shopping experience — could help increase sales. And the technology may help retailers save money by cutting workers, essentially substituting electronic guidance for store clerks. Motorola, for example, has stores testing kiosk systems that enable consumers to summon a clerk to a particular department or fitting room when needed.In the end, though, stores may not have much control over the way consumers use mobile technology.

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