Mobile is the Future of In-Store Marketing

Future_Mobile Imagine a shopper walking into a retail store, and holding their phone in front of the aisle.  The phone’s camera instantly photographs all the products on the shelf, performs image recognition on the boxes, looks up competitive prices online, and color codes the image with the products that are a good deal.

Do you think that sounds like science fiction?  It’s not.

All the technology needed to deliver that experience can already be found in the Apple AppStore.

redlaserRedLaser, owned by eBay, is a barcode-scanning application for comparison shopping and finding product information using a mobile device.  It uses the iPhone’s built in camera to take pictures of barcodes and return competitive pricing from hundreds of thousands of stores.  It’s been downloaded over 2 million times.
amazonAmazon Mobile includes the “Amazon Remembers” feature, which allows you to take a picture of any product, and (using the Mechanical Turk service) identify the product and put it in your wish list.  This isn’t real-time yet, but several product categories (movies and books) are already automated.
layarLayar is one of many popular augmented-reality apps on the AppStore which allow you to see the iPhone’s camera output in real-time, with supplemental data overlaid on it.  For example, it can show you the nearest cafe or subway station.

The capabilities of these three apps haven’t been combined yet, and handheld phones don’t yet have the power to do this all in real-time for an entire shelf-full of product, but at the current pace of handheld hardware evolution, it will happen in the very near future.

The mobile era has already arrived.  59% of American adults already go online wirelessly.  By 2014 there will be more mobile internet users than desktop users.   Shoppers are using mobile technology at a rapidly growing rate and teenagers are the heaviest users of mobile technology.  It is clear that using your mobile device when you shop will soon be the norm rather than the exception.

What will traditional retailers do when the likes of Amazon and eBay turn physical stores into nothing more than convenient showrooms for their on-line services?  With Amazon’s Local Express Delivery, they can even neutralize the immediate gratification advantage of a physical store.

Smart retailers are going to need to find competitive advantages to build into their own mobile apps to make sure shoppers are using their apps in the store rather than those provided by their online competition.

Luckily, there are many things a savvy physical retailer can build into their apps to give them a competitive advantage.  For starters, a physical retailers app can know what is in-stock at a given time, so that it can make recommendations for immediate purchase.  A physical retailer’s app can be tied into the store’s affinity program recommending new purchases that are relevant to the shopper based on their prior purchases history.

Most importantly, a physical retailer is now able to know where you are in the store and what you are doing.  Physical retailers need to consider building near-field transmitters into their shelves, telling your mobile app about the products in front of you, products you’re currently holding, or add-on purchases to a product you have already put in your cart.

Are you making your regular family grocery trip and want to see your typical purchase list with current shelf locations and prices?  No problem, fire-up your Safeway shopping app.  Making a special trip for an embarrassing personal product, and want to opt-out of having your shopping behavior tracked?  You can do that too.

Got the sniffles?  Enter your symptoms into your handheld shopping app (instead of a not-very-private public terminal) and the app can communicate with the store, get the current inventory of cold medicines, and turn on indicator lights attached to the cold remedies that best match your symptoms.

indicator lights Retail stores are definitely going to want to consider digital fact tags and/or indicator lights to provide customized assistance to each shopper.

Shoppers could use their mobile devices to get in the queue for services (deli counter, Geek Squad, Genius Bar, sales assistance, returns line, etc…), letting the shopper keep roaming the store waiting for notification that it’s their turn.

Is the screen on a mobile device too small for the rich experience you want to provide?  No problem… let the shoppers use their handheld to put products in their shopping queue,  They can then visit a terminal at a central location in the store that is able to read their queue and give them a large screen experience for the products they’re interested in.  That’s a lot more cost effective and practical than providing large format digital screens for every product in your store.

Other interesting potential features include using the mobile device to manage wish lists, shopping lists, affinity memberships, and even allowing shoppers to pay.  The mobile device could save checkout time by allowing a shopper to store their preferences (payment method, extended warranty, etc…) and in a single barcode scan transfer payment info, affinity info, and answers to all the annoying questions that clerks are often obligated to ask.

Physical retailers are already building some innovative features into their shopping apps.

bestbuyBest Buy’s iPhone app lets you see weekly specials, check your reward zone points, and make suggestions on their IdeaX exchange.  The app allows you to scan QR barcodes and get product info and reviews.  Look for Best Buy to start putting QR barcodes on every fact tag in the store, very soon.
walmartWalmart’s app will let you get product recommendations from your peers on your social networks, and even help you figure out the ideal size TV for your living room.
starbucksStarbuck’s has two apps which allow you to see the balance on your Starbucks card and even re-fill it.  You can find the nearest Starbuck’s that is open right now (handy at 11pm), store your (and your friends) favorite beverages, and at some Starbucks you can even pay using your iPhone!

The future of mobile-assisted shopping is very bright.  If you’re in the retail business you need to have significant resources invested in developing your mobile strategy.

What cool mobile shopping experiences have you had, or do you wish you could have?


  1. The Brands who will really “win” in this space are those who:

    * Provide intuitive and personalized connections with mobile Users

    * Remember that the mobile content consumption experience is DIFFERENT than online. Therefore, content MUST BE shaped for mobile consumption (complex mobile web sites and even video may be more “noise” than “signal”)

    * Mobile phones are considered “personal space” — and, they are also part of fun and lifestyle choices — therefore, if you are delivering raw data, you are going to bore people to death. Make it quick, but make it FUN.

    What do I want?

    I want to have short contextual and personalized “conversations” with virtual guides and agents that I trust and rely on. I want the equivalent of an intelligent self-check out that also tells me a joke sometimes.

    I want to be surprised sometimes.

    That’s really important. Otherwise, all of the access to data and marketing materials in the “real world” will be no different than a web page that is cluttered with banners and ad elements. Does anyone remember BLADE RUNNER? It looks very cool, but, it’s a future where “advertising everywhere” means it’s all invisible.

  2. Marcus is spot on.

    Use sms to commuicate(no apps to download..apps will go the way of loyalty cards).. Allow easy redemption and authentication at point of sale… There is a company
    doing this in the UK Eagle Eye Solutions…

  3. Interesting article, I agree with most of the points you’ve raised but of course the challenge here is the comparison shopping element – if someone’s in your store you want to enhance their experience and drive on the spot and repeat purchases, not give them the opportunity to browse your store for cool stuff, play with demo units, scan the barcodes or take pictures, check prices online and bookmark the stuff for later purchase from a competitor (if they buy it now or later it better be from you!).

    There is an app (iOS & Android) that’s recently popped up that does combine all of the above elements while offering retailers the ability to close the loop AND let customers tap into their social graph for recommendations: Sticky Bits – / (iTunes store link).

    It opens up some very interesting opportunities for merchants and we’re going to be incorporating it into some upcoming store concepts.

  4. Although this post was written 7 years ago,it is astonishing to find out how accurate you were able to predict accurately the future.Thanks


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