In-Store Uses for Smartphones

Have you ever been grocery shopping and had no clue where to find canned pineapple slices or some other product? Like, where are the 50 inch plasmas in Best Buy, Italian cookbooks at Barnes & Noble, or dry erase markers at Staples?

If you’re like me, you spend half of your shopping day just trying to find the items you went to the store to buy. With all the hype about the new iPhone (with the compass in it), I stared at mine and screamed, “Lead me to the pineapple slices!”

In the e-commerce world, we’re all figuring out what multichannel applications can be built for this new breed of phone. Amazon and others let you buy products from the phone, and many applications point you to nearby attractions, such as restaurants and movies.

Meanwhile, most retail stores are figuring out how the mobile channel can augment the Web channel or how the mobile channel can provide a connection between online and offline.

That’s all fantastic and very important. But business channels are like houses. You need to get the houses right, then build the pathways between them.

Let’s think about the physical stores as a channel unto themselves for a moment. What kind of applications would be interesting strictly for in-store use?

There are probably a million ideas, but here are some of the more obvious ones:

  • In-store maps. Your phone has GPS and maybe even a compass in it. Instead of helping us navigate a street, help us navigate your aisles. Let us enter the products we’re looking for and give us turn-by-turn directions on where we can find it in the store. Even just an aisle number would be helpful if full-on directions aren’t pragmatic.
  • Wish list scanning. Visual recognition technology is coming of age. So let people scan their wish lists (which they printed out from your site) and get a list of which products are in stock, what their sale prices are, and what aisles they’re in.
  • Store-specific deals and promotions. A specific store (or third-party) could build an application that shows what deals and coupons are available for this store. Ideally, this would tie into any loyalty program the store has.
  • Movie/CD previews. Many stores have kiosks set up that let you watch movie previews or listen to CD tracks in the hopes that you’ll buy them. Don’t have that kind of infrastructure in your store? Why not let users photograph a DVD’s or CD’s UPC symbol and automatically load a preview right from your iPhone app?
  • Start the checkout process. Many stores (Wal-Mart, Home Depot, etc.) have an automated checkout device that lets you scan your items and pay for them without dealing with an employee. What if this checkout process started while you were shopping? What if every time you put a product in your cart you took a picture of the UPC symbol? This could start the checkout process (and show you a running total of all your items). That way, when you got to the front of the store you could scan a barcode displayed on your phone into the machine and it would already know what’s in your order and even your credit card details.

    Starbucks already lets you text in a coffee order. Why not develop this into a full-blown application that lets you send your favorite orders (which are stored) to the store, keeps a running tally of your orders, and so on.

  • Customer support. Need to know something while shopping at the store? The store should have a Twitter address posted or a short code you could text with a question that a live person would answer immediately. No more looking for someone who works there. The phone app could have this functionality in it, instead of relying on Twitter or some other technology.

And a Million More

There are a million uses for customized applications specifically for shopping in a store. Think about it, and you can find a useful application that will make your in-store shopping experience better and cut down on customer service costs.

Until next time…


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