Have App, Will Shop

Jul 05, 2012

American shoppers are experimenting with reality. An IBM-supplied augmented reality app is being tested at unnamed U.S. retail chains that lets shoppers specify the ingredients they want in the products they are seeking on store shelves.

Typical specs include "more wholegrains," "less" or "no" gluten or lactose, biodegradable packaging, etc. Meal components can also be specified. After creating a profile detailing dietary, environmental and religious preferences, as well as pricing, all the shopper has to do is scan the shelf with the smartphone or tablet’s video camera. No more time-consuming reading of small print on labels, the app does it all for you.

John Kennedy, IBM’s corporate marketing vice president, explained to Advertising Age that, "the app will recognize it and superimpose the information you’re looking for on the product itself. … Therefore, it brings more information to bear on the decision." He added, "It opens questions about what can happen in the relationship between the retailer and shopper and ultimately the [brand] marketer."

Another bonus is that shoppers have control. Their own equipment displays the information they want. No dependence on what marketers or retailers choose to reveal. And, if the device can connect to social media, shoppers can gather opinions and exchange comments in all the usual ways.

IBM says the app can scan a shelf of cereal for multiple criteria and find "a brand low in sugar, highly rated by consumers — and on sale." The information requested is supplied along with a coupon "to entice consumers to make a purchase." Satisfying consumers’ specific needs should "keep them coming back" while understanding preferences also helps with offers for related products.

Wired.com expands on the app’s non-grocery potential for "digging deeper into product minutia once you’ve made your first cut. … Point it at a row of video games, and the app will tell you which game is suitable for little Timmy." Their source, mobile commerce initiatives global leader, Paul Papas, explained, "It uses image recognition … can pick out individual products similar to how humans see."

It’s also hoped the app will reduce "showrooming" through the quality of experience and information made available. Once proved, promotions and loyalty schemes will be added.

Discussion Questions: How will apps that personalize the in-store experience change the way Americans shop? Do you see the potential for apps such as the one described in this story to reduce the amount of showrooming that takes place?

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17 Comments on "Have App, Will Shop"

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Ken Lonyai

To answer the questions: as I’ve said now endlessly, it’s about consumer experience, not about technology that C-level execs sign-off on because they think they have a clue. The retailers that get the message, listen to what their customers value, and provide the tools that they desire. will benefit in many ways, including fighting off showrooming. Unfortunately, most retail execs DO NOT get it and prefer denial and complaining. Hmmm… if only I could get them to a seminar and get them to act on what they learn, I could save retail!

David Biernbaum

This app has possibilities and potential if it’s well planned and user-friendly. Yes, apps can definitely enhance the in-store shopping experience and help retail stores. I believe that over the next couple of years many retail chains will create apps specifically for their own brands and stores.

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
4 years 11 months ago

This is just a continuation of the merging of the online and offline worlds, enabled by the advancement of mobile functionality. In-store shopping will become more and more like online shopping. Showrooming will not go away, as consumers can still instantly compare prices once they find out what exact personalized products they are looking for.

Mark Heckman

Without a doubt, shopping applications are and will continue to make their way into the common practice. Two important factors will drive the speed and depth of acceptance of these applications, the first being the level of relevant content that is available through the app. Abundant content will only materialize when both brand and retailer communities make a commitment to re-allocation of existing non-digital content to these new digital touch points.

Secondly, and of equal importance in my view, is the ergonomic utility of these applications. If they can indeed be designed to serve the shopper in a completely comprehensive way, from shopping list generation to product information to providing relevant coupons and, ultimately, serving as a payment device, shoppers will embrace the tool. With this type of customer proposition, showrooming will likely be less desirable and decrease.

As with any new entrant in the retail environment, leaders and early adapters will have to drive acceptance and prove the economic viability of the concept … then the herd of fast-followers will break down the doors!

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
4 years 11 months ago

Customers want the path of least resistance. Allowing a customer to use their own hardware is a move in the right direction. Although I have not used this solution by IBM, it sounds like the customers need to spend a lot of time making choices. When selecting a video game for little Tommy, it may help. I question the value when shopping for cereal.

This type of solution won’t help with showrooming. The customer is still just one click away from comparing prices online. Excellent in person customer support reduces showrooming.

Joan Treistman

If this app takes off, it will have incredible impact on the value of advertising and package design. My understanding of the app suggests consumers no longer require awareness of brands or products. The app can make the buying decision based on the profile entered by the consumer. From the shopper’s perspective it can minimize or eliminate the need to have prior information. From the marketer’s perspective there will no longer be an advantage of promoting differentiating benefits of brands and products. That’s mind blowing! Did I get it right?

gordon arnold

The software application described in this article is designed to give a more personalized service to the individual customer. If the app is engaged upon entering the store, the likeliness of switching apps to engage in showrooming is diminished.

Many of the new features included in this app will make it very compelling for customers to use. The most interesting is the feedback of product content and use. This is an almost perfect means of electronically engaging the market, hands free. The amount of information received without interpretation may be used to make real-time consumer awareness reports. With this type of information retailers and manufactures will potentially engage the market with products the customer wants at a price they want to pay, which will further dissipate the desire to engage with a showrooming app. Or so the story goes.

Adrian Weidmann

Object Recognition which drives the app described could, in my opinion, become a ‘killer app’ in the world of mobile devices. The lens on your mobile device and associated ‘app’ software recognizes an object that you ‘view’. This is a visual equivalent of SHAZAM recognizing and naming music through the microphone of your mobile device.

I believe Object Recognition will be accepted rapidly by shoppers and dramatically improve the connected shopper experience. I don’t believe this will reduce showrooming to the degree people may be hoping. In the end, it’s about digitally empowered shoppers wanting to find, discover and purchase the products and services they want through a seamless and easy process. Just because some technology connects the dots doesn’t mean a purchase follows. Retailers need to understand what their shoppers and customers want, and figure out how to provide those things in the most seamless and cost-efficient manner.

Max Goldberg

I can’t see a lot of consumers walking down the aisles of a grocery store, pointing their smartphone at hundreds of products, then reading the information generated to find the one that meets their criteria. It takes too much time. This is a good idea in concept, but not in reality.

Christopher P. Ramey

Object recognition is very powerful for robots. Not so much for humans. Consumers aren’t rational. Sales are driven by emotion. Add this to the ‘just because you can doesn’t mean you should’ category.

Cathy Hotka

An app like this has numerous uses beyond the grocery functionality described here. Apparel customers could locate pants by fabrication or fit, for instance. And retailers might gain some insight into what customers want (as opposed to what they purchase). Interesting idea.

Carlos Arambula

I believe apps will completely change the way Americans shop. Millennials have already altered the shopping experience and apps will only help in changing the behavior.

It will reduce showrooming, but only because along with this and other (current and future) apps the shopper will have conducted the majority of research at home.

What’s interesting about this IBM-supplied augmented reality app is that it maintains the final shopping decision at the retail level, so it underscores the importance of the brick and mortar location in the shopping experience.

Ralph Jacobson

Cathy Hotka, Joan Treistman and ‘gjarnoldjr’ all can see the vision of this app. I do believe that shoppers can use this for items with which they have less familiarity. I don’t see them looking up each and every item they pick up off the shelves, however, I do see them using the app for new item purchases. I also see this aiding retailers in the fight against showrooming, although for grocery purchases, that is currently less of a threat.

Herb Sorensen

I find it fascinating that people are creating all manner of apps to assist shoppers, without paying attention to what shoppers actually want to do in stores. I presume their studies have included careful ideation sessions, surveys and focus groups with shoppers (and professionals,) etc. But quite obviously their studies are NOT on what shoppers actually do, and how they do it in the stores.

This costly “hit and miss” development strategy will, willy nilly, generate a huge amount of learning, and probably some real winners. But the ROI on the vast majority of these initiatives will continue to be negative. Although, as they say, even a blind hog finds an acorn now and then. πŸ˜‰

Roy White

Whatever the IBM app does for the overall shopping experience of all consumers, one thing seems possible: It can be a major step forward for those individuals that are interested in healthy eating as part of a healthy lifestyle. The app will make it much easier to seach out products that will meet healthy eating standards (if they are to be found) and fill a shopping cart that can provide a diet which can emphasize healthy ingredients and reduce or eliminate negative ones, primarily sugar and salt. Since the app lets the consumer set the standards, in contrast to on-package “good-better-best” labeling, the consumer could now be in charge of exactly his or her vision of a healthy diet.

Unfortunately, the devil, who is frequently in the details, may be in the details here, relative to ease of use by the shopper in the aisles and the data that is available to define products’ ingredients.

James Tenser

IBM’s augmented reality app is an early demonstration of what will very likely become a very common use for personal mobile devices. But we should be realistic about the likelihood of widespread behavioral change by shoppers. The technology overlay makes the shopping chore more complex. There is a learning curve and a new habit to establish. Speaking as one who is still challenged to remember to bring my cloth grocery bags into the store from my car, I can tell you that habits die hard.

I’ve been advising a firm that is developing advanced image recognition technology for the retail grocery sector, and I can tell you that there is still a hill to climb when it comes to accurately identifying products in situ using a tiny cell-phone camera. But improvements are coming very fast, which means the above-mentioned habits may be influenced rapidly too — at least among younger consumers.

In-store product search is, I think, a different animal compared with showrooming, which is most often applied to high-consideration purchases. While one app may enable both practices, I believe it would be prudent to consider the two behavioral complexes as separate instances.

Mike Osorio
Mike Osorio
4 years 11 months ago

Many of these apps will be great for niche users, e.g. those with dietary issues who want a quick way of finding things they can eat. As a shopping device in grocery or general merchandise, it seems less likely as the knowledge gained from scanning and receiving data will not be worth the extra time spent. For higher value purchases, it may have better usage.


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