Mobile And Retail: Calling In Air Support
Knowing the gene pool whence this behavior came, and after two decades of similar experiences with her mother, I understand how quickly a bad idea can implant itself irrevocably in her head. Quick and certain countermeasures must be taken before the misguided notion takes root and resists all tugging. I take a quick stab at getting her to questions whether she really wants to plop down $60 on a game before even reading the back of the box, but she just gets irritated and resistant to my doubting her first impulse. I flash back to 16 years of a previous marriage. My God, these genes are a powerful thing.
I literally call in air support. Luckily, the video games media publisher IGN has a great iPhone app that aggregates all of their reviews. I search the title and lo and behold the site gave that particular title a rating of 2.5 out of 10, which is just about drink coaster status. I luck out and show it to my daughter. "Hmm. OK. Lemme see that." I will spare you the inevitable conversation that ensues: "This is why I should have an iPhone, because of all the money it will save you... ." She proceeds to spend the next ten minutes running phone searches on all the titles that catch her eye. Meanwhile, Dad is running interference against the countless store clerks desperately trying to help this rara avis, an attractive 17-year-old girl in a game store. Even my daughter is giving me "save me" looks as legions of geeks in fading "Assassin's Creed" and "Mass Effect" T-shirts descend in a bizarre attempt to impress her with their current "World of Warcraft" level status.
As this small father-daughter techno-tableaux suggests, the retail experience is on the cusp of radical change. It is long in coming. More than four years ago I recall conversations with Consumer Reports about its first mobile app and how putting product reviews and competitive intelligence in-store in people's hands was a genuine game changer. I am still waiting for Consumer Reports to give me that killer app. But in large part similar power is already there, but consumers and retailers are going to have find their way to make the inevitable transformation of shopping occur. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy and others already have mobile tools that peek into their inventory and user reviews in ways that can and should change the way we shop. I now can take a snapshot of any book at my local Borders and get competitive pricing, reviews and related titles from my Amazon and B&N apps. I could even order it from a competitor. In fact, the B&N app lets me find the book and reserve it at their store down the road from this aisle at Borders. What happens when even a quarter of my fellow Borders shoppers realize they too have the same power?
The problem is that half the time I actually forget that I have this power in my pocket. I still peruse store shelves and try to remind myself that I should "check the reviews online when I get home." The reflexes are not there yet , even though the technology is right in my pocket.
How people shop and how technology will meet, meld and eventually transform these habits is going to be a critical question for mobile marketing in the next few years. The first step in the process is a better understanding of how people are using mobile platforms in the wild and how it might map against retailer tools. The geotargeting company Placecast today launches a six-part video series and consumer research program with Harris Interactive called The Alert Shopper (blog.placecast.net) that will explore some of these issues.
Only an introductory video is at the site now but CEO Alistair Goodman tells me that the completed interviews and Harris studies will start to show how mobile can align better with shopping patterns. "We learned that 27% of women 18-to-24 with cell phones make at least one impulse purchase every week," he says. "There is a real opportunity if a retailer already has a strong relationship with the user to influence them with a mobile device." In order to get over our tendency to forget the power we already posses in our pockets, Goodman suggests that consumers might opt into letting a trusted brand use the phone's geo-location capabilities to send alerts when the consumer comes within a "geo-fence" set around the retailer. Placecast will be looking at consumer receptivity to certain kinds of geo-location services and opt-in mechanisms and will be doing some tech trials this fall.
Reflecting on the video interviews we will be seeing in coming weeks on Alert Shopper, Goodman says that we do need to bridge a disconnect between what mobile is capable of doing and how consumers want it to work. "We haven't framed the service is a way that the consumer finds valuable rather than useful. What came through loud and clear in interviews and the data is that if you can create something really relevant and reach me in a channel I find important, and you do it in a useful way, then it is something I want more of. It involves changing the dynamic a bit and not using mobile devices in the way we use them -- but beginning to evolve an interaction with the device based on where I am in time and the things I am really interested in."
We're just getting started in understanding that mobile-at-retail model, but any retailer that is not working hard on this problem is about to get a rude awakening. I don't know why Borders has no mobile site and isn't telling me at the door the things I can do with my phone while there. I also don't know why GameStop isn't buying up every inch of IGN's mobile inventory to give me coupons aimed at preventing my daughter and I walking out their doors with no game at all, the way we did the other day.
And while everyone is innovating, how about a Gamestop app that geo-tags all of their store clerks so I know when one of these mouth-breathing 120-pound Orc-slayers is penetrating a no-geek "geo-fence" around me and my daughter? Or perhaps an iTaser peripheral? I don't want to hurt them, just let them know that this Dad isn't as easy to take down as some virtual dungeon boss.