A Sign of Things to Come: eShopping at a Store near You

A small article in the Wall Street Journal (a subscription is needed to read the whole article) is a precursor of a big shake up to come. It’s something I’ve been predicting for sometime now, and while it will take awhile to gain traction, it will turn local retail upside down.

Three malls in California and one in Arizona have agreed to allow shoppers to check prices on actual inventory through text messages from their cell phones with a service called NearbyNow. According to their site, NearbyNow plans to add another 17 malls throughout the US to their network by April. Another service called Slifter is focusing on national chains like Best Buy, CompUSA and Foot Locker.

Here’s why this is revolutionary and why you’ll be hearing more.

  • For shopping, this represents discontinuous innovation. It’s a big win for the user, allowing them to shop smarter than ever before. Consumer demand will drive adoption of this new approach.
  • For retailers, this is scary as hell. By allowing their inventory to be captured realtime, they’re agreeing to be compared side by side with everyone else, including online retailers with no physical overhead to drive up prices. It completely levels the playing field.
  • As a number of technologies improve and converge, this will become substantially more useful and powerful. Mobile computing, GPS and search functionality will make this a must have for consumers.
  • It completely fuses the online and offline worlds, making the transition seamless.

This is one of those ideas you just know will take off, but there’s going to be some significant hurdles to overcome. These services are only as good as their success at signing up merchants. The more stores in the network, the more successful. If only a few are included, consumers will always wonder if there’s a better deal that isn’t part of the service, defeating the purpose. And a number of retailers will resist this trend til the bitter end. Ultimately, it will be consumer insistence that will force the laggards to join.

Another challenge will be the user interface. Right now, both services run on cell phones, meaning you have to deal with an awkward keypad and stripped down display. But this problem will rectify itself with advances in mobile technology.

In the world of shopping, this changes everything.

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