A revolution is underway. And, odds are, you already own the weapon of choice, tucked away in a pocket or purse: your smartphone.
To brick-and-mortar retailers across the country, this makes you armed and dangerous. You are able to engage in the consumer-savvy practice of “showrooming,” or in-store comparison-shopping. Have your eye on that $999 51” Samsung plasma flatscreen? You can get it for $200 less on Best Buy.com. Or those must-have Gucci boots? Why pay the retailer price of $1250 when you can find the exact same pair for $700?
And online retailers are in a better position, in terms of marketing, than their real-life counterparts. Every time you view a page, click on a link, or add an item to your virtual cart, retailers and their marketing teams are watching. The data they collect is used to learn more about who is shopping at their site and what they are looking for, and target advertisements to your preferences accordingly.
But when you walk into a store, be it Walmart, Whole Foods, or Prada, what do retailers know about you? Nothing.
That’s where Brian Wargo comes in.
Wargo is the co-founder of a startup company called Nearbuy Systems, which explains its mission as “help[ing] retailers build competitive advantage from the smartphone revolution.” In order to do this, the site claims, retailers need to do two things: “thoroughly understand shopping behavior across the in-store and mobile channels” and “engage shoppers better with high-touch service that reaches across channels.”
How are Wargo, and his co-founder Marc Jamtgaard, attempting to accomplish this goal? By stalking Boba Fett.
NPR reporter Steve Henn visited a warehouse in Menlo Park where Nearbuy has created a mock-up of a big box retail store. Instead of shoppers, there are two “customers” – robots holding iPhones – browsing through the empty shelves: Star Wars’ Boba Fett and a Stormtrooper. Wargo and Jamtgaard are using a combination of Wi-Fi and video survelliance – two technologies that most retail stores already have in place – to follow the movements of their “shoppers” and tailor the retail experience to them.
The technology could be used by retailers in various ways, say the company’s founders, from creating apps that guide customers through the store aisles to delivering discounts based on the shopper’s location.
“The vision everyone has for this technology,” Wargo told NPR, “is that you walk in front of the soda. And then Coke and Pepsi in the background are going to bid up to see who can send you that coupon.”
What the technology is aiming at, in essence, is to replicate the personalization of the online shopping experience, in real time and space. No more customers walking out of stores empty-handed only to sign online at home and order the same products at a discounted price.
No more “showrooming.”
Wouldn’t you like to test out the features of that plasma TV before you mount it in your living room? And wouldn’t it be nice to see if those boots actually fit before splurging? Online shopping is convenient, but it definitely has its disadvantages.
The revolution has begun. But who will emerge victorious after the dust has settled – and do brick-and-mortar retailers even stand a fighting chance?