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Ben Palmer: The POP Is Everywhere

Retailer-specific apps allow consumers to pursue a path to purchase anywhere their mobile devices go.

Ben Palmer
Ben Palmer on November 17, 2013.

Consider the customer with a reusable shopping tote in one hand and a mobile device in the other.

The habits of the commercially ambidextrous have so far seemed to pose nothing but threats to the brick-and-mortar retail model. Retailers are freaking out about ‘showrooming,’ but it’s turned out to be a really great user experience — see how much fun people are having shopping with all the new tools at their disposal. For a shopper, it’s the best of both worlds to be able to go into a store and look at physical products and then maybe find a cheaper price online (or just have it sent home for convenience). How else can we empower these early adopting pioneers of ‘anywhere commerce’?

After all, look at Chipotle. They have a really cool app that lets you preorder a burrito for pickup, clearly recognizing that part of the bummer of having a physical retail environment is that lines happen. They’re the analog equivalent to the ‘beach ball of death,’ and just as infuriating. Chipotle could have added employees and registers, but instead, they let people construct their burrito on their phone, essentially taking the getting-there time and waiting-in-line time and combining them — all without sacrificing control over the end burrito. Users frequently use the app while in a long line. It’s a pretty perfect app-cum-retail experience that can be replicated in other types of stores.

(Before I move on to more examples, I should anticipate that some people are grinches about all of this. How, they ask, can we continue to enable such a massive sense of entitlement? The demands that some of these tech applications answer can’t be spoken without sounding whiny, it’s true. But here’s the thing: giving a customer a product in exchange for money is an even exchange. But giving a customer what they want, how they want to get it, without charging extra for the cool? Now you’ve got customers loyally indebted to you. This isn’t enabling; it’s leveraging.)

warby parker home try on

Take RentTheRunway. One truth about fashion is that for big, formal occasions, it’s maybe gauche to be seen in the same outfit twice. Or you need a really fancy outfit and you don’t think you’ll need it again. The answer, until recently, has been to buy expensive dresses or borrow from a rich friend. RentTheRunway democratizes the borrowing thing, allowing anyone to rent a dress (with a free back-up in a size larger or smaller for safety) for a few nights at a fraction of the cost of buying. They’ve even got “go-to” girls to consult for fashion advice. RentTheRunway would already have received a DMCA takedown order, if dresses were music. Warby Parker’s try-at-home model for glasses is as innovative and disruptive, and their online success has led to opening a quite successful retail store.

Now these are just a couple examples happening now that aren’t even that techy. They’re business-smart. Imagine the ways we could go combining business insights and emerging tech.

It’s easy to limit ourselves by the size of the screens we’re working with, but whether it’s a phone, a tablet, or a phablet, your canvas is everywhere. In Korea, Tesco put giant gigapixel posters of their shelf space in subway ads, made each item scannable for purchase by mobile device, and watched their sales skyrocket without having to add any locations. Over 10,000 commuters scanned these life-size grocery items, getting their shopping done as they waited for the train.

buy anywhere retail

We used to talk about how mobile advertising could draw consumers into brick-and-mortar retail space. Now the stores are the ads, and the whole world is the retail space. It’s a deep opportunity and we’ve only just begun to plumb it. If a friend recommends a book or movie, Amazon’s mobile app makes it just as easy to buy it now as it does to write yourself a note.

Could we leverage Beacon in ad space to suggest nearby running trails to passers-by who’ve recently bought a pair of Nikes? Or install store-mode WLANs that take bar tabs past a certain number of drinks and push a branded taxi voucher to patrons paying on Google Wallet? Why not scan a shopper’s Amazon Universal Wish List to feed floor associates suggestive sales? “Sir, I see you’d like a bespoke suit. When you get it, you’ll need a belt. Here are four in your size. You should already have a coupon in your inbox.”

The point of purchase is everywhere. Which means we’ve reached a singularity in retail where all the calls-to-action of the past (remember “pick up the phone…”?) have coalesced into one: buy now.

Photos by Quiet Like Horses, youwanttotalkjive and Steam Feed

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