Let me tell you from personal experience that if you hang out aimlessly in the aisles of Best Buy, Target, or just about any major retailer these days, you may attract security. I have been on mobile watch these past few weeks, just checking out how people are using their phones to research items and access pricing information while they shop. By all accounts, this is a bargain hunter’s holiday season, when just about any tool at the consumer’s disposal will be deployed to get the most for her buck. I am getting the feeling that the salespeople are on notice to get to the customer before they call in support, because the volume of “can I help you find anything?” assaults by the staff is overwhelming this year.
The cell phone has the ability to hijack a customer from a retailer just as surely as if a rival salesperson were skulking a store looking to poach customers. The war for retail mindshare is now going on inside the store itself, as just about any good third-party app can tell you of a better price or source for the product you are considering with a simple UPC scan.
And retailers have a new enemy in the iOS app from Decide.com. This is the online company that predicts price drops and gives the kind of human-like advice to shoppers you might get by bringing the know-it-all geeky nephew with you into Sears. Decide.com’s neatly and simply designed app understands the retail experience. It just presents the user with a search box or opportunity to engage the camera for a UPC code scan. The app delivers a clean screen with three key elements: the going price of the item from other sources online, how it is priced nearby, and whether it is likely that the price will drop in coming weeks. The app even warns you that a newer model may be coming -- yeah, just like that insufferable nephew who breathes in Engadget postings all day.
Decide.com says that when it comes to consumer electronics, shopping on Black Friday may not be the best strategy. CE items tend to drop in price in early December. Likewise it advises using the tool to negotiate an in-store price downwards. Retailers may not match prices with digital competition -- but the savvy shopper now has a big intimidation device to use.
I am a fan of the sheer simplicity of the Decide.com iPhone interface, because it anticipates the difficulty of managing a smartphone in a store. The clean entry point knows exactly what you are here for and gives you a few big fat buttons to get started simply. Inside a store, faced with the pressures of the crowd, uneven lighting, poor cell reception, etc., no one wants to navigate a fancy-ass interface.
The same holds true for the first screen of results. No scrolling, no squinting. A small burst of data gives you what you need. If you want to drill down for graphics of price changes over time or to set alerts to warn you of price increases/drops, it’s all there. But the app acknowledges that you probably have five angry shoppers around you trying to get a look at the same thing -- or an approaching salesperson hoping to snatch you back from the mobile ether.
Not all apps can predict price changes, but they should be able to predict how, where and under what conditions the customer will use the app -- and design accordingly.