Mobility Retailing Hits NRF Show Floor

Discussion
Jan 22, 2008

By Ronald Margulis, Managing Director, RAM Communications

One of the highlights of the National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention & EXPO is always the technological innovation introduced on the show floor and this year’s event, held last week in New York, was no exception. I saw some interesting new solutions on partner collaboration, demand business intelligence, customer experience enhancement and supply chain visibility, but the most compelling technologies focused on mobility retailing or more precisely, using cell phones to market to existing and potential customers.

Using cell phones to engage the customer is something of a holy grail in retail at the moment. With about 2 billion mobile subscribers in the world, nearly one-third of the planet’s population, it’s easy to see why. Technology vendors even remotely related to the mobile issue were talking up how cell phone marketing is changing the retail landscape.

Two companies in particular caught my eye – Motorola and Cellfire. Cellfire, which offers valuable coupons from a list of local and national retailers within the cell phone user’s geographic region and allows the user to access those coupons on their cell phone, is an interesting content play. It’s totally opt-in — when people are interested in checking out their offers, they click on their phone’s Cellfire icon, scroll through to the coupon of their choice, press “use” and then show the coupon to the cashier for redemption. There is also a “call-in” feature that allows a person to click on a local offer, such as “$3 off large pizza” and the phone will automatically dial the closest participating pizza location at which time the redemption will be given. The service is up and running in pockets around the country and is actively recruiting retailers to partner with.

Motorola’s booth was jamming every time I walked by, indicating I wasn’t alone in my interest in their solutions. The company featured several advances on the technology that was formerly Symbol, as well as the traditional cell phone business. One new product even combined the two technologies, featuring a voice over internet protocol (VoIP)-enabled wireless scanner that is designed to improve customer service and increase worker productivity. Called the CA50, the device enables retailers to fill the communications gap found on store floors by providing more employees with real-time access to people and information. It can conduct price and inventory checks, among other business critical activities, and allows employees to place or receive calls anywhere in the building.

Discussion Question: What impact will mobile retailing have on retail in 2008? Do you expect more advancements in consumer applications or for store employees?

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7 Comments on "Mobility Retailing Hits NRF Show Floor"


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Evan Schuman
Guest
Evan Schuman
14 years 4 months ago

Mobile is interesting in that it truly bridges the gap betweeen online and instore. But we’re not talking about simply using a smartphone to look at a Web site while in-store (although that is certainly happening).

No, we’re talking about ways that in-store managers use the various cellphone capabilities to advance in-store efforts. 2-D barcodes are certainly a good example as would be the text messaging efforts. The next level will be mobile payment (something that the carriers are effectively blocking today) and two-way communication.

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 4 months ago
I was also impressed with the amount of mobile technology at the NRF show, but this all led me down an interesting thought path. The whole effort for mobile technology is based on the assumption that it is necessary to bring information to the consumer. But what if instead, the consumer goes to the information? This led me to thinking about broadband access and the ability for shoppers to bring their shopping experience into the home. What if instead of going to the mall, everyone went over to Sally’s house where she has a large screen TV connected to the Internet and all her friends can sit back an browse the available products while they sip cocktails and discuss their husbands? Meanwhile the guys are all over at Joe’s, sipping beer and discussing their wives. Instead of going to a store, dialing your friends to show what you’re buying, or checking prices on a cell phone and having to go somewhere else, why not just stay at home with your friends and do your shopping?… Read more »
Billy May
Guest
14 years 4 months ago
I think mobility from a customer perspective is a red herring and believe this is a classic case of companies pushing technology without a defined customer need. “Would you want a coupon delivered to your phone?” Sure. But that’s a poorly worded, self-fulfilling customer research question. A better question is, “what problem can mobility and wireless solutions help you solve?” and I would venture a guess the answer lies in time management–customers are starved for time; mobility can help them be more efficient. There’s certainly an enterprise need to better use mobility for cost avoidance and customer satisfaction improvement. For instance, if a company could tell me when their service technician would arrive and send me a text message in advance, that’s a HUGE help. And it helps customers better manage their time, solving a direct consumer problem. But sending me a localized coupons ala “Minority Report” remains science fiction. The mobile killer app for consumers is search–tell me where I can find the nearest Starbucks–with relevant “ads” delivered around it. Sound familiar? Does a… Read more »
Don Delzell
Guest
Don Delzell
14 years 4 months ago
I keep trying to find the competitive advantage delivered by mobile commerce, and extrapolate the business potential from it. And I keep coming up relatively empty. The idea of delivering in-stock status to a cell phone prior to driving to a store is great, but it presumes the ability to specify the intended purchase at the SKU level, something I do not think occurs for the vast majority of people. mCommerce simply does not exist. Yet. Search relevant advertising isn’t new, and applying it to mobile isn’t rocket science. At the end of the day, most of the current applications use mobile to assist in creating awareness, intent or facilitating an already-made shopping decision. While important, these are not high value operations to invest large sums in, particularly going into arguably the deepest retail downturn in a very long time. mCommerce must deliver value to the consumer, and do it in a unique and sustainable way. I have yet to see THAT killer app. And I would really love to.
Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

Mobile phone use will come in two flavors, like cable TV channels: free air time for folks willing to absorb an ocean of advertising versus customer-paid air time for those who can’t stand the ad avalanche. Cell phone texting spam is even more annoying than conventional e-mail spam. Retailers whose cellular applications are shopper-initiated will keep their customers’ respect and loyalty.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
14 years 4 months ago

I totally agree with Ron–mobility and mobile-based solutions was a very hot technology at NRF: a ton of vendors showcased mobile solutions, and a ton of retailers were interested in seeing what they had. Will 2008 be “THE” year for mobility? I don’t think so. The simple fact of the matter is that in the US, the phones aren’t quite ready. We’re close–we’re really close. And there are several offerings out there that try to work around the limitations of “dumb” phones by using SMS, for example.

However, I do believe that 2008 will be the year where retailers stop talking about mobile phones and start doing something with them. There have been a few innovative pilots and experiments to-date–I think that activity will pick up significantly this year.

What I’m really trying to keep my eye on, though, isn’t so much mobile advertising or even mobile commerce, but the ways in which mobile phones start getting used to create interactions that cut across online and in-store. THEN we’ll see something interesting.

Andrew Gaffney
Guest
Andrew Gaffney
14 years 4 months ago

I think it is short-sighted not to look at mobile commerce as a huge opportunity for retailers. As Ron’s column discussed, there were a lot of really interesting personal shopping devices on display at NRF from Motorola, IBM and others.

These by themselves have the impact to be real game-changers for the industry because they can influence shopping behavior in real-time. Done well, mobile marketing and then mobile commerce can take that to a whole new level as search functionality is matched with promotional offers and the research capabilities of the Web. It will be a powerful combination for consumers as well as merchants.

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