A New Level of Window Shopping

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Apr 19, 2005
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By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting

I recently had to renew my cell phone contract, so I went shopping for a new phone. It never occurred to me that a new phone could soon help me do my shopping.

Deals these days generally include a “free” phone. Of course, the logical way to choose a phone would be to hear someone speaking over it and be able to see some information on signal strength and reception. It would also be nice to know how much RF radiation you are exposed to while using it. Logic aside, the way I made my choice was to get the most features that came with a free phone. I never really understood how I would use them all but, since they didn’t cost me anything, I figured, “Why not?”

One of the features offered was the ability to take pictures. To my surprise, I have made use of both the picture phone and the text messaging while on a ski vacation to Utah. The difference in time zones allowed me to leave late night messages on the east coast and the picture phone allowed me to let others know where I was while they were hard at work. Both things were either unnecessary or could have been handled another way but I wanted to try my new capabilities.

Now The Economist magazine in their latest technology quarterly has shown the real purpose for a cell phone camera. Grocery shoppers in Japan are able to photograph the barcode on their fresh fish selection and see when it was caught, by what boat, and even the fisherman. Another service offering allows shoppers to scan the barcode on a retail item and see the prices being charged by other retailers. This brings “window shopping” to a whole new level as shoppers armed with cell phones compare appliance prices while standing in the showroom.

Moderator’s Comment: How should retailers respond to their newly informed consumers? Should they combat the use of these tools? How should the salespeople
be prepared to react when a shopper displays competitor prices?

Retailers always have the “service card” to play, but in today’s world that is often taken over by the manufacturer. In many cases, retailers have said
all warranty service is between the manufacturer and the consumer. I am not sure how to address this new level of window shopping.

If the consumer is so price conscious that they are willing to walk around the retail store with price comparison charts, then I guess the retailer is going
to have to give his sales people some “wiggle room.” Salespeople will need to be able to validate the competitor price and then offer an alternative of their own. This may open
up an opportunity for the “no haggle retailer” format similar to what we have seen in automobiles with Saturn.

Bill Bittner – Moderator

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6 Comments on "A New Level of Window Shopping"


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W. Frank Dell II
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

I classify this as electronic window shopping. Part of the low Internet purchase rate is due to window shopping. Yes, there are comparison web sites, but they have yet to establish a true trust factor. Many Internet shoppers think the sites selected for comparisons are rigged. Now add the camera phone. Not only are bar codes being photographed, but also items. Now the consumer can take a picture of an item at retail and go on the Internet to comparison shop. They also take pictures of items for friends, saying, “I saw this at XYZ retailer and thought this is what you were looking for.” Matching bar codes makes sure the consumer is comparing the exact same item. Consumers no longer want to be fooled by the Bissel rug cleaner without the heating element. Retailers must consider the affects of technology as part of the shopping process. No longer is it just display, advertise and sell.

Mark Hunter
Guest
Mark Hunter
15 years 10 months ago

Retailers should do nothing. If a retailer tries to attempt to stop customers from using a camera phone in a store, they will be pushing water up hill. The amount of media attention it could create, let alone the bad feelings, would not be worth any perceived gain of not allowing pictures to be taken by a customer. If the person taking the pictures is doing it for a competitive reason — to help another retailer — then they have a right to stop the person.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Colour me shocked that you are even asking this question and that Bill Bittner claims not to know how to react. In the UK, most shops (or at least the bigger chains) offer to match the best price a customer has found or refund the difference. Some of them offer one and a half times the difference. Industrial espionage? Mystery shoppers working for the competition? So what. If a store is overpricing something, they deserve to be told and to lose the sale if they won’t meet the customer.

On the plus side, I found when doing some research recently that photographing bar codes and taking information home for research is particularly helpful to the visually impaired. It is also useful for anyone trying to shop where the sales staff have insufficient knowledge of the product. All of these things help to make a level playing field. Any retailer that tries to restrict the ways in which customers can get information before making a purchase deserves to be squashed by Wal-Mart.

Tess Parker
Guest
Tess Parker
15 years 10 months ago
I have had a camera phone for about a year now. When I got the phone, I had really no idea why I would need a camera in it, but my husband wanted it and there was a buy one get one special. After taking some worthless pictures, I decided it wasn’t a feature I really would use again. But then I needed a new dishwasher. So I went shopping. I found a model I really liked at one store, but they had to order it and it would take about 10 days to get it. The appliance store across the street had the same model for quite a bit more, but they had it in stock. I asked them if they matched competitors’ prices and they did, if I had proof of the lower price (i.e., a sales flyer or a purchase order). I went back over to the other store and took a picture of the sale price, the model number, and the bar code and then returned to the store with the… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
The Economist story is fascinating. A bit of software transforms the low-res camera element on a digital phone into a multi-purpose scanner and input device. Who’da thunk? We may be witnessing the dawn of the era of the fully connected shopper, with access to perfect memory about their prior purchases (“Does this top match my new pair of slacks?” “How much did I pay for paper towels last week?”) and the ability to compare prices and features of branded items across multiple retailers. Of course this effort may be more often associated with comparison shopping for high-ticket goods than commodity purchases. But the legions of secret shoppers and merchandising services firms could use this technology to capture competitive price information by scanning shelf labels or hang tags. Retailers of high ticket items like consumer electronics should be prepared to face this pricing transparency. In the first place, price sharp. Second, establish a clear policy about competitive price matching and train your associates to apply it consistently. Third, use the same technology to monitor competitive pricing… Read more »
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
Guest
Rochelle Newman-Carrasco
15 years 10 months ago

Meet or beat, retailers…meet or beat. And it’s not only meet or beat the price…because, if you give a shopper a compelling reason to pay a little more (convenience, trust, service, perks), then you might get the extra few cents or dollars you’re charging. These technological realities are here to stay. The only thing I hope is that all this window shopping doesn’t start happening at the wheel of our cars as we drive to stores. Somehow I see the GPS satellite systems getting involved and beaming comparative pricing to our navigation systems. We will then decide whether to make a right to one retailer or a left to another. And, slowly but surely, we will kill each other off, crashing our cars as a result of vehicular multi-tasking.

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