So, you may ask, what was all the rage at this year’s NRF show? Last year, it felt like it was RFID and digital displays. I remember some of the vendors couldn’t complete their demos because of the radio interference from the neighboring booth. Sometime between then and reality, Walmart quietly scaled down some of their mandatory RFID deployment, and it seemed that technology vendors understood the message by lowering the volume on hawking their RFID wares.
If I had to pick a dominant new technology this year, it would probably be various attempts at interfacing with consumer devices. Usually called Digital Something (Concierge, Assistant, Shopper), they give vendors an ability to send and receive specific messaging directly from consumers at a specific location, using a near-range radio, such as Wi-Fi. The messaging may consist of specialized offers, coupons, promotions, multi-channel integration (retrieval of wish-lists), find-me features – essentially, anything that you can poke with a stylus, thumb with a smart wheel or direct an iPhone finger at.
This technology already works great in a pull scenario, when consumers select a Wi-Fi network in a particular location. Taking it a step further, Cisco showed an early example of a push scenario, where the retailer’s icon appeared automatically on the phone display when a person was in range. Combine that with the increasing market penetration for smart devices (described in one of my prior posts) and a relative ease of adding digital content once the infrastructure is in place, and you have a brand new channel with a relatively low capital entry point.
Every time I upgrade the firmware on my multiple cell phones, I think how far we’ve gone from the days of ugly analog grey boxes which offered us rudimentary abilities to call from the road and apologize we were late for a meeting. In several developed countries, there are already more mobile phones than eligible subscribers. Using these devices to make shopping easier for customers is the next natural step. What is yours?
I will write about more about specific scenarios of mobile device integration in one of my future posts, so please check back in a while.