BrainTrust Query: Killer Tech for Phones

Discussion
Jan 26, 2010

Commentary by David
Dorf
, Director of Technology Strategy, Oracle Retail

At the tail-end of
the Mobile Retailing panel at NRF, I was asked, “What will this panel be discussing
next year at NRF 2011?” I gave a quick answer that I think merits further explanation.
From a mobile technology perspective, especially with reference to the iPhone
and similar devices, I think we’re in our third generation of “killer tech” (similar
to killer apps).

For me, the mobile
phone wasn’t really interesting until I could combine the PDA functions of
email, calendar, and contacts with the convenience of a phone. So I was underwhelmed
until my first Blackberry, and then I was immediately addicted. When I switched
to an iPhone, it was a prettier version of the same basic functionality, albeit
with greater access to 3rd party applications. But I was soon impressed with
three waves of tech.

1. Location-based Services

The first killer tech
of the iPhone was anything that used GPS. I never got lost with Google Maps,
and there were a few apps that helped me find nearby restaurants, gas stations,
and even friends. I recently saw an interesting app for Android that counts
down the time to your scheduled departure for an appointment/meeting/event,
taking into account your current location, the distance and traffic to your
destination in real-time. Yowza! uses your location to find coupons from nearby
stores.

2.
Computer Vision

The next killer tech,
which made its way onto the scene last year, is computer vision. For years
we’ve been able to take photos and e-mail them around to friends, but now apps
can finally “see” what’s in the picture. Walmart’s app lets you take a picture
of your living room and determines the best size TV for the space. Tesco’s
app let’s you photograph a wine bottle’s label to get additional information
on the wine (and prices, of course). RedLaser let’s you scan a barcode using
the phone’s camera in order to get additional product information.

3. Augmented
Reality

I think 2010 will be
year when augmented reality takes off. This technology is made possible for
phones that have GPS, a camera, and a compass. Yelp, an app that provides reviews
for stores and restaurants, was the first to release a mainstream AR app for
the iPhone. Now Brightkite is partnering with BestBuy to offer advertising
on its AR app. Imagine standing in front of a shopping center and using your
phone’s video camera to pan across the storefronts to see reviews, promotions,
and store hours. Wired Magazine recently
published their 7 Best Augmented Reality Apps.

Taken a step further,
imagine using an AR app within the store to immediately see additional product
information, promotional videos, and get access to coupons. OK, now fast-forward
a few years and replace the phone with a wearable computer. Now fast-forward
a few more to use AR contact lenses. This will someday significantly change
the way advertising reaches people.

Discussion Questions:
What is the next step for mobile retailing? What
are your favorite mobile apps available today? What advances do
you see occurring over the next few years?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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18 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Killer Tech for Phones"


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Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Augmented reality. David just scratched the surface of what AR will do. From recognizing products to providing reviews, from store layouts to recipe help, AR will change the way consumers interact with retailers. The only thing that could hold back AR would be the inability of the wireless carriers to handle the traffic.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I am about 3 generations of technology behind on mobile phones, but the future is very clear. Any retailer who does not have a plan to be integrated into the capabilities of mobile phones will die just as quickly as their brick-and-mortar-only customers die.

I recently heard a forecast about what television will be like when the current children become adults. It suggested that cable TV will no longer exist. All TV shows will be downloaded or streamed at the viewers’ convenience. This generation will not be ruled by “what is available,” but only by what they want and how it fits into their life.

Retailers must note this trend. Online retailing eliminates store hours and adds the home or office as a location. Mobile retailing will eliminate all the rules and put the entire shopping process in the hands and at the whim of the consumer.

Liz Crawford
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I’m not sure it’s the killer tech itself that will be a game changer. Instead, I think it’s the integration of these capabilities into experiences that truly benefit the shopper.

The question on the table is, how can these technologies be used in tandem to meet shopper needs better?

Pete Reilly
Guest
Pete Reilly
11 years 3 months ago

David is right but in terms of location-based services, I would add things like Foursquare and Gowalla to the mix. Leveraging data from location-based social networks will become standard fare in retail social media strategies.

What gets interesting to me is when mobile applications move from the realm of marketing to the realm of the in-store customer experience. How do I leverage the customer’s own device to drive a differentiating experience in-store? We are just scratching the surface in terms of store locator apps and mobile versions of ecommerce sites. So, I think next year we will talking more about leveraging the customer’s device more fully while in-store.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Augmented reality is so compelling that, years from now, we’ll wonder what we did without it. That said, very few retailers are even aware of it, much less deploying it. I’ve mentioned it at CIO dinners for several months and have had to explain the concept before getting responses. You won’t see it soon, but when it arrives in retail, it will be ubiquitous.

Camille P. Schuster, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

Thinking of the phone as a primary tool for staying connected is what retailers need to think about when developing plans. The phone is not a tool for just pushing information to consumers. It is becoming a tool that allows the consumers to have more control over their information gathering, a way to share information with their friends, and a way to communicate with retailers and manufacturers if they look for, retrieve, and listen to the information.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
11 years 3 months ago

While it’s a lot of fun, it’s unlikely that any of us will be able to accurately forecast what technology will be like in 3-5 years. That’s like trying to forecast the limits of imagination.

The one thing that I do think is inevitable is that we will all stop talking about mobile, tablet, laptop, and any other type of separate platform or channel. I believe we’re approaching a time where technology becomes integrated, ubiquitous and embedded–smart sunglasses providing visual information, music, and communications while you’re away from your residence. Video monitors disguised as mirrors and/or framed art hung anywhere you want in home or office with wireless connections to an internet feed for any information, video, and sound you want.

Sound far-fetched? iPhone apps now available just passed the 100,000 mark.

Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 3 months ago

All of these new technologies are nice and they have some value/merit. Yet the learning curve associated with them can be quite daunting. Inasmuch as the Apple phone has [over 100,000] apps, most are NOT being used. American (even very engaged ones) have a very finite attention span and usage interest. The “flavor” of the day tends to get old after a while; we cannot process all of these new applications. I think the organizations we have loyalty to may see larger adoption than others, but some will continue to struggle.

I always quote “the Paradox of Choice” and “Small is the new big.”

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
11 years 3 months ago

The impact of augmented reality cannot be overestimated. It goes way beyond the ability to collect additional information about one’s position in time and space. The increased bandwidth will turn stores into showrooms. Customers will see products on display, access detailed comparisons much as they do today from home, and make their purchase decision. Final price, coupons and delivery information would be collected over the network and instead of carrying products home they would be delivered from a nearby distribution center. No store inventory, no shrink, no damage, no restocking, no checkout.

But this is a while off; in the mean time, there is a cleanup in aisle six.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

I want to have one foot in the augmented reality camp and the other in the Liz Crawford “it’s all about the integration” school.

Mike Romano
Guest
Mike Romano
11 years 3 months ago

Who ever knew buying a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk would require a $500 phone with internet and endless apps? Grandma is laughing at all of us. All this technology is great and I agree it will dramatically alter the way we shop and how we shop.

All that being said, retailers–and especially grocers–throw nickels around like manhole covers. Therefore, the applications need to have scale, deliver high consumer receptivity, have a low threshold of usability, function across low end as well as high level mobile devices, and have a measurable ROI. Otherwise, grandma will just walk down to the corner variety store and leave her brick-phone at home.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 3 months ago

Max Goldberg buried the lead in his excellent comments. We’re running out of FCC-approved broadband space, and all of the largest wireless suppliers are lobbying for more spectrum. For a great explanation of this problem, you can go to http://www.sacbee.com/847/story/2458320.html. I recommend reading the entire article. There’s a lot of information in there.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
11 years 3 months ago

I think what we’ve proven in this round of mobile advancements is that we can PUSH-market to handhelds with things like SMS, E-coupons and near field communications. If nothing else, we’ve validated the handheld as a viable destination for marketing communication and truly the “third screen” in the consumer’s life.

I think the next big wave will be in allowing the consumer to PULL information that they want and need, when they need it, in order to facilitate a better and more informed shopping experience.

As Liz Crawford points out, this may not be so much about new functionality as much as the convergence of existing technologies like barcode scanning, QR codes, augmented reality, location aware programs and local search.

So, the challenge now is to bring these technologies together in a meaningful way to empower the consumer on their own terms. That’s the new frontier in my opinion!

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
11 years 3 months ago

On, ON! This is for sure the trail to the future. But the winners will be those who understand the SELLING process in minute detail, and leverage the technology in a natural way, to lead the mind to the close – including checkout.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
11 years 3 months ago
The next killer app for retail is “customer service.” We are seeing it now in apps that provide information about products in-store. Next we could easily see an app that would allow a device (iPhone) to record items placed in a basket (barcode or label recognition). The price of the item would be PLAINLY displayed when the item is scanned and a running ticket is displayed in a second window. The consumer could then compare his totals with the supermarket’s register total or the list could be copied directly to the register. Additionally, consumers could be rewarded by reporting OOS or OOD product to the store’s computer via in store WiFi. The primary purpose of customer service is to provide information. The information transfer via device will not be adapted for several years in that the baby boomers are past the point of adoption, but most of the members of the younger generation could easily use this service. The complete ability to utilize what the camera in a hand-held can see will be the next… Read more »
Dave Haynes
Guest
Dave Haynes
11 years 3 months ago

Mobile apps are such a moving target it is extraordinarily difficult to predict what will be prevalent in two to three years, but what we do know is that a lot of consumers now do a lot of their purchasing research online, and online is now in our pockets and purses.

Smart phones allow that research to happen right in the store aisles, and capabilities like geo-location and photo-scanning will have a massive influence on whether shoppers pick something up and head to cash, or walk out and head somewhere nearby where the deal is better or a competing product gets more positive reviews.

I have genuine doubts that people will make final decisions on a significant purchase based on a 3 or 4 inch photo image on a phone screen, but they’ll use that screen to validate the thing on the shelf they’re thinking about buying.

JoAnn Hines
Guest
JoAnn Hines
11 years 3 months ago

Killer tech for phones has its applications for the retail industry, especially in the arena of augmented reality. But at best, it will appeal to only a certain sector of the market–mainly the younger generation. I saw a startling statistic that by 2020, for the first time ever more than half the world’s population will be over 50.

That population has the money and willingness to spend the question is how much killer tech will they embrace as seniors. Being over 50 myself, there are only so many brain cells I’m willing to dedicate to learning new technology. The more sophisticated the offering the less opportunity to connected with 50% of the market.

Gary Edwards, PhD
Guest
Gary Edwards, PhD
11 years 3 months ago
Mobile apps, mobile-optimized Web sites and mobile commerce are becoming prominent among the leading brands today. It’s a testament to the times, as today’s consumers are more demanding than ever and have little time to waste. They want instant gratification, and convenience remains key for many brands. Aside from improving consumers’ access to your brand via their mobile device, retailers should also connect with consumers to improve their in-store experiences. This can be in the form of quick, one-item mobile surveys throughout the experience (“Have you found what you’re looking for?”) and made available at the end of the experience at the POS. For retailers, this translates into more timely and relevant feedback. Discounts and store specials sent directly to a mobile device also saves consumers the hassle of printing coupons at home. Finally, we predict also seeing social commerce start to merge with mobile strategies. If you purchase an item in-store or via a mobile device, you can instantly share that purchase and/or retail experience with friends–posting to certain networking sites like Facebook. Mobile… Read more »
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