File this one under "be careful what you wish for." I have been lamenting the slow uptake of mobile by retailers for years. The opportunity for merchants to leverage the phone in-store is staggering to me, and I do believe that here is a case where the consumers are ahead of the technology. I have seen people at Home Depot on their cell with spouses who are at Lowe's -- literally comparing items and pricing over the phone, and trying to haggle with salespeople over the difference.
Now it has evolved into aisles of smartphone users doing quick product look-ups. The opportunity for retailer poaching is enormous. When I walk into Borders now, the company is operating at a distinct disadvantage with me because its two main competitors, Amazon and Barnes & Noble, have mobile apps with easy product look-ups. They deliver product reviews, used book pricing, and user ratings. Borders struggles to keep up by offering an inferior Web site experience, no mobile app, an offer to ship to my home free what isn't in the store, and good email coupons that I can't get direct to my phone where I need them.
Within two years I am sure that consulting a cell phone's many shopping resources in-store will be a reflex for many people. This is where the mobile platform maps perfectly with America's official national sport, consumption. This is also where the competition among retailers and their apps, third parties and their apps, and online retailers and their catalogs is going to become heated. The war for the aisles is just beginning.
This week the dam seemed to burst with new offerings aimed at the in-store experience. First and foremost is this morning's New York launch of shopkick. Leveraging some of the check-in and gaming motifs of Foursquare, shopkick lets users accrue points for checking in at partnered stores and even scanning bar codes on specific products. In select stores a device at the entrance will actually detect when a cell phone with an open version of shopkick is present, do the check-in automatically and awards points. This high-profile launch stands out because of its pedigree and partners. Founded by former CBS Mobile head Cyriac Roeding and funded by Kleiner Perkins' iFund, the model has already attracted major partnerships from Best Buy, American Eagle, Sports Authority and Macy's.
I have not entered one of the partner stores yet with the shopkick app, but I have been playing with it enough to see that the designers are on-point. They make it fun. Using animations, clear explanations and usage paths and a spare nomenclature that non-dweebs can understand, it avoids the geekiness of too many check-in and social media apps. You even "level-up" as you scan and check in to get more points with every action. The points are being attached to real rewards like gift cards and discounts. There also seems to be an area where the user will be able to keep and track rewards cards for specific partners. These guys seem to have designed the app around the shopping experience, although it is less clear to me how much focus is being put here on product research and look-ups.
Also out this week is a much revised version of the FastMall app, which offers mall maps and directories. Version 3.0 adds check-ins, which triggers in-mall deal offers. The integration of the Shop Savvy bar code readers lets the user search for the best deal on an item in the mall. It is a nicely crafted app that catalogues all of the stores in the mall and even pulls in relevant coupons.
And finally we get from eBay's Half.com an app that seems designed to poach shoppers from the retail experience. Hot on the heels of its acquiring the Red Laser bar code scanning app, eBay has integrated scanning as a part of its basic search box in the app. Pitched initially at students who are struggling with high textbook costs, the app lets the user scan an item in-store to find a better bargain among Half.com's online vendors.
For the time being, it is likely to be a messy land-grab among mobile shopping options. How will the retailers' own mobile strategies fit within these third-party apps? For instance, in the case of Best Buy, which is a prominent shopkick partner, which app will I most want to launch in-store, shopkick or Best Buy's own excellent app that also seems designed for in-store use? As a consumer, of course I now go out to the mall armed with several options.
And apparently I will be field-testing all of these apps whether I like it or not.
"Good," my partner says as I demo the various apps to her. "I need a dress for next week in Tahoe." The first Mobile Insider Summit takes place Aug. 25 to Aug. 28 in Lake Tahoe. "Let's go shopping."
We will be there -- she in a new outfit, me a bit poorer.