When Mobile and Retail Collide

May 16, 2012 4 comments

The trend isn’t new, but it is fast becoming the norm with smartphone users.

At first you may have felt a little guilty about doing it.  I did.  And then it hit me—things have changed and they’re the ones that are out of sync.  Not me.  Not you.  Not any of us.  It’s entirely their fault.  The customer is always right.  Right?

I’m talking about “showrooming”—a by-product of the social-mobile commerce trend.  It’s the experience of walking into a local store, finding an item, holding it, looking at it from all angles, comparing colors—and then walking right out to order it for 20% less online.  Or even more dastardly, using your smartphone to compare prices and then buying the item online while you’re halfway to the parking lot.  At the end of last year, Amazon launched its much-maligned (by other retailers) “Price Check” app that specializes in doing exactly that.  Local retailers feel they are fast becoming nothing but glorified showrooms.

So why shouldn’t you feel guilty?  Because technology has changed the rules.  Stores—especially large chain stores—are not defenseless.  Retailers like Target have tried to address the issue by leaning on their suppliers for greater discounts and by offering brands or products that can’t be bought elsewhere.  Other stores are seeking legal intervention, and sales tax reform is on the table in many states.  While these initiatives may help stem the bleeding (at the expense of consumer choice), a true win-win won’t happen until physical stores adapt to the new shopping paradigm.

Just like e-commerce pioneers brought elements of traditional stores to the web over 15 years ago (think of terms like “shopping cart”, “checkout” and “browse”), now it’s time to bring the power of the web back into the physical store.  Consider these questions:

  • Why do you typically feel you know more about the store’s product line than the folks that work there?  Because you do.  Stores should give their associates the tools they need to provide information at their fingertips—not in some backroom or at their manager’s station.
  • What about providing kiosks with built-in scanners for you to identify, research and compare products?  You’ll do it on your phone anyway, and the stores can glean a wealth of marketing info in addition to fostering trust and increasing traffic.
  • Why should you have to wait in line for 10 minutes to buy breath mints or a flash drive when the guy in front of you has a full shopping cart?  Provide roaming checkout clerks that can zap your items and take your credit card for small volume purchases.
  • Why aren’t stores more flexible in their pricing?  While emerging location-based apps give you access to instant coupons and mobile-only deals, let’s be creative.  Has anyone thought of a real-time in-store auction accessible through a phone app?
  • Why don’t more stores provide free wifi?  It’s relatively simple and inexpensive, and as a side benefit, shoppers can log in (no names, just age, gender and zip, perhaps) and stores can quietly monitor their shopping and browsing habits if they want to be sneaky.
  • To borrow an idea from Barnes and Noble, how about a lounge area where you can comfortably research your purchases online?  Are the stores afraid people will abuse it?  Or instead, will the store that does it become a magnet for tech-savvy shoppers interested in the physical experience a traditional store can provide?

The truth is that in most situations we’d rather see, touch and carry home the merchandise we buy.  Retailers need to exploit this inherent benefit while simultaneously embracing ubiquitous computing.  This will involve creativity, boldness and risk, but the new paradigm is waiting for someone to discover it.  And when they do, you won’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Categories: IT, Mobile

What does it take to change your mind?

What does it take to change your mind?  As you finalize your decision—be it the selection of a technology vendor, the color to paint your living room or whether your teenage daughter can go to the kid with the tongue piercing’s party—what are the catalysts that allow you, actually compel you, to reverse course and head in another direction?

Economist John Maynard Keynes famously stated, “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”  All well and good if you’re a totally objective automaton constantly sifting through the evidence ready to make a change at a moment’s notice.  (I’ll bet your relatives have pointy ears and hail from the planet Vulcan as well.)  And if you are indeed mathematically minded (which I am not), there is actually a branch of probability theory pioneered by mathematician and Presbyterian minister Thomas Bayes that formalizes this process.

But what if you’re more than half-human, and like most of us, you actually become emotionally tied to your decision?  There are many emotional and environmental factors that may cause you to become unreasonably wedded to a course of action.  Pride, fear and laziness are a few common vices that come to mind.  Given this, how can you be sure you’re making your decision with open, objective eyes?

I’ve found there are three basic questions that I informally, but periodically, must consider to ensure that I am not flying in the face of contradictory evidence:

1.  Are my assumptions correct?  If not, then reconsider.
2.  Have my assumptions remained unchanged?  If not, then reconsider.
3.  And most importantly, have I shared my assumptions and conclusions with other knowledgeable people?  If not, then do so and reconsider.

If I honestly answer “yes” to each of the above, then I am probably adequately immunized against my own subjectivity and can safely proceed forward.  Recently, I found myself hanging on to a decision I had made whose assumptions were no long valid.  It took a shower moment for me to realize that the uneasiness I was feeling with my initial recommendation was a red flag indicating that something was amiss.  Once I realized that a minor but key assumption had changed, I did a mental “halleluiah” (a verbal one would have been weird in the shower) and the new direction became clear.

And that’s probably one more question I should add to my list above:

4.  Is there a nagging little voice of doubt inside my head that won’t go away?  If so, then go back to step 1.

And in the case of letting your teenage daughter go to the tongue-piercer’s party?  My advice is don’t—and I guarantee that you won’t hear any nagging little voices of doubt either.

Categories: General