IBM Research announced the prototype of a mobile app that can act as a personal shopping assistant in stores.
The mobile app could be branded and provided by retailers. Consumers would download the app and then input products they're shopping for and their selection criteria.
For example, a shopper looking for breakfast cereal could specify a product that's low in sugar, highly rated by consumers and on sale. As the shopper pans the mobile device's camera across a shelf of cereal boxes, the augmented shopping app will identify cereals that meet the criteria - and could also provide a same-day coupon or loyalty points.
Consumers could also opt in to include info from their social networks, such as reviews or comments from friends. Their preferences would be stored and added to during subsequent shopping trips to build a more robust preference profile.
On the front end, here's how it would work: Upon entering a store, consumers download the app on their smart phone or tablet, register, and create a profile of features that matter to them - from product ingredients that will inflame an allergy, to whether packaging is biodegradable. When the shopper views a product via the camera viewfinder, the app recognizes it and, via augmented reality technology, overlays digital details on the image, such as ingredients, price, reviews, and discounts that apply that day.
"This will help you make a very accurate and precise decision relative to the criteria you have," said John Kennedy, VP of corporate marketing for IBM Research.
Of course, the magic would happen on the back end, and that's the big play for IBM.
IBM Research thinks that the app can help retailers offer marketing - in the form of product information, coupons or suggestions for related products - that would be welcomed by consumers. At the same time, the data it produces can give retailers insights into consumer trends.
But the devil is in the details. Exactly how this would work, data-wise, remains to be determined, according to Kennedy.
The app would pull information loaded by the retailer into its database running on IBM Smarter Commerce software, which IBM said provides a single view of the customer, inventory orders and shipments. But it's unclear whether that database would contain all the criteria that might be important to an individual shopper, such as environmentally friendly packaging.
Kennedy could not say how the app would be packaged with other technology or services to provide a full product for retailers.
Nevertheless, IBM has a goal of releasing the technology by the end of the year, Kennedy said, adding, "At this point, it's a demonstration of a really interesting technology that starts to provide a glimpse of how shopping will evolve. There's more work to be done on the implementation and roll-out. The goal for IBM is that this would be another aspect of our relationship with retailers."
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Susan Kuchinskas has covered interactive advertising since its invention. The former staff writer for Adweek, Business 2.0, and M-Business covers technology, business and culture from Berkeley, CA.