Enterprise Mobility & Connected Devices Blog

Retail Sector Returns to Life

NRF’s 2010 Big Show lived up to its billing with a reported 25%+ increase in attendance over 2009. Several VDC analysts attended the event to learn about key initiatives for 2010. The overall mood at the show was refreshingly upbeat with 2009 clearly in our rearview mirrors. Some of the most compelling news indicated at the same time how far we have come regarding mobile commerce and mobile retailing initiatives and how far we still have to go.

Initial mobile retail initiatives centered on the delivery of a mobile web experience – i.e. extending an existing service to just another platform. This has begun to morph whereby retailers are leveraging the power of the mobile device – i.e. its portability, integrated camera, GPS/LBS and its 3G network – to introduce a new – and more importantly, valuable – shopping experience. Clearly, multi-channel retail strategies are nothing new, but what has been missing is the integration of all channels and ensuring that, for example, the mobile experience is on par with other channels. Acknowledging trade-offs between channels is critical as is ensuring that service policies are integrated to ensure a consistent user experience.

Clearly the iPhone has been at the center of much of the innovation. For example, the mTurk-based Amazon Remembers application identifies and provides prompts to merchandise images captured by the iPhone camera. Another interesting application is Yelp’s – a social networking and user review service – use of augmented reality to provide directional pointers to Yelp-reviewed institutions (this application is available for all major mobile platforms). From a purely mobile commerce perspective Starbucks has been trailing their Starbucks Card Mobile App that allows users to use their iPhone to directly make payments (via a 2D barcode displayed on their iPhone).

Another potentially significant development relates to the impact of these emerging mobile retail/commerce/etc. initiatives on today’s supply chain. Consumers are already comparison shopping among retail outlets. However, in this increasingly competitive market for the consumer’s ‘share of mind’ (not to mention ‘share of wallet’), retailers and products suppliers (i.e. their partners) are developing similar mobile applications. What happens when it is more attractive to purchase directly from the vendor? While this should not be confused as a eulogy for ‘brick and mortar’ retail establishments (much like was famously done at the advent of e-commerce) mobile solutions will deliver a very real wrinkle to how goods are evaluated, tested and ultimately purchased.

However, even with all this momentum behind mobile retail solutions, the fact remains that we remain very much at the infancy of this development curve. Moreover, much of the development has lacked true innovation in the context of leveraging the unique capabilities of a mobile device (what is truly unique about purchasing an item from eBay on your Smartphone as opposed to your notebook?). Furthermore, the lack of a well developed mobile retail technology solution eco-system will be a major barrier over the next 6-12 months. Finally, acceptance and adoption will be driven by a subset of the market – the more tech savvy Gen Y consumers – and for a subset of products, further limiting the overall impact in the near-term.
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