No, we don’t mean that door-busting deals have returned to the insane smack-down ‘running-of-the-bulls-in-Pamplona‘ kinds of stuff found on Black Friday a few years ago. We are referring to a quote by Vodafone chief executive (in the United Kingdom) Guy Laurence in TheGuardian.co.uk. His point is that stores have traditionally sought to steer their customers toward certain products or up-sales, but modern mobile technology has stripped them of their abilities to draw people into their stores and entice them to buy what they see. The days of the “Personal Shopper” also seem to be numbered.
Mobile smartphones, owned by about 25% of the population but owned by close to 50% of those under 25, mean customers can gather information about a store’s stock and sales before they even cross the threshold (or not, if they don’t see what they were hoping for). The storefront seems no longer to be the window through which stores draw customers in. Instead, information on the mobile networks push customers to decide which stores to enter. From the story in The Guardian:
This wealth of information at shoppers’ fingertips presents a headache for retailers. Laurence argued that retailing used to be “about getting people through the door”, but now shoppers were really in more than one shop at the same time. “Shoppers have access to rivals and other consumers’ views of the products they are looking at. They can see what it costs at an outlet up the road and whether it is in stock,” he said.
His company has even been able to aggregate where in stores messages are being sent (Alright, I admit it. I find this part of the story rather scary. But I’m over 25. We’ll just leave it at that.) “Younger fashion shoppers spend longer and longer in changing rooms … They go in and put on two or three outfits, take pictures, send them to friends and wait to get their opinions back. We know they are doing it because we can see messages going out from a particular corner of a store.”
Not only is shopping alone no longer shopping alone, but one can try out a product in one store, then check the sales price of the same item in other stores in the area. Augmented Reality software can even read some barcodes to get much more information about a product than what the tag tells you. Ikea has even developed a that allows you to place their virtual furniture into your virtual living space to see if it is what you want.
Having access to all this information has empowered customers, according to Laurence and others interviewed in the post, which is surely a good thing. Phil Gault, at mobile marketing agency Sponge, says that many consumers would rather use their phone to find out information than speak to a staff member, which gives great advantage to the customer. But it also means a likely degradation in the quality of in-store service, as well as a likely continued coarsening of actual social interaction when needed. Let’s face it, the reputations of sales people in most stores are already pretty dire, especially during the holiday crunch. But how will they be treated by a 20-something who might not appreciate the distinctions between a quick 10-word text message to a friend in another store’s changing room and the salesperson bruskly told to find him another sized shirt?
This holiday season is probably too quickly upon us to see how the technology will influence commerce and the social interactions that have gone with it for thousands of years. It will be fascinating to watch how those enterprises will be influenced by the continuing boom of mobile technologies, and to see which companies can lasso that technology to their profit and their customers’ satisfaction.