Next-Gen Mobile: Turning Mass Marketing Into a Point of Sale

How can retailers use mobile marketing's new technologies to their advantage? Here are some scenarios.

Way back in 2002, I wrote a column discussing the movie “Minority Report,” and how it inappropriately mixed personalized marketing with mass marketing. In it, I speculated about the use of handheld devices to make this interaction more natural and personal. Skip ahead eight years, and it’s time to revisit that conversation. No, this is not another column about mobile websites. Today, let’s look at a much more interesting prospect: mass marketing as a point of sale, as facilitated by mobile devices. I’ve already reported on European uses of text messaging to pay for anything from candy bars to parking spaces. But technologies are about to transform mobile devices even more, enabling smart, personalized transactions with one-click functionality.

A company called Mobio is leading the way in this new frontier. Its technology has many layers to it, but for the purposes of this column, I’ll skim the surface and talk about the new user interactions it will enable. In essence, it turns your mobile phone into an über credit card. The technology works by scanning a bar code using your phone’s camera. Retailers can put any amount of information into this bar code, such as its own retailer information, specific product information and price, and product attributes (such as color selection) it needs to know to complete the transaction. The Mobio app (you can get it in the iPhone app store) stores your credit card information and whatever other preferences you wish to tell it, such as your shoe size. By pointing your camera at one of these bar codes, you can instantly buy products simply by clicking “OK.” Any other information needed to buy the product and ship it to you is automatically transferred. For those interested in security, this app actually generates one-time use credit card numbers so there is virtually no way your identification can be stolen.

Let’s look at some possible scenarios for this technology. I’ll use some of our clients as examples:

  • H&M could put a bar code on its huge ads in Times Square. The ad is currently a picture of a woman wearing an outfit, and the ad shows a price for the entire outfit. With the bar code, a user could simply point her phone up to the billboard and automatically have the entire outfit shipped to her. The system would pass her size and color preferences automatically.
  • SkyMall magazine could put bar codes for products in its magazines. On a Wi-Fi-enabled flight, users could impulse-buy from their catalog without entering any information online. Or it could batch process later, once the Internet connection was restored.
  • Yves Saint Laurent could put a bar code next to its window display that enables a passerby to purchase the item without entering the store, or add it to her online wish list.
  • ShopNBC could put product bar codes in the “lower third” of its TV channel. Home shoppers could easily buy merchandise without calling up or going online.
  • Reebok could include a bar code in a weekly circular that gets included with your local paper. Instead of printing a specific price, it could offer you dynamic pricing based on your customer loyalty. The application would show you your personalized price once you scanned the bar code.
  • Sergio Rossi could put a bar code in its next Vogue ad, transforming magazine advertising into a point of sale (and perhaps reviving interest – and traceability – in print media).

Those are just some examples of how a few of our clients could use this technology. There are many more possibilities. Netflix, for example, could sell its subscription service off of a billboard ad. We are even exploring a few more advanced ideas for clients that I can’t talk about yet. Let’s just say that this type of technology, if it caught on, could bridge the brick and mortar/digital divide in a lot of really exciting ways. In fact, in much more exciting ways than simply replicating a sales channel on a mobile device via Web app or native iPhone app.

One of the most important uses of mobile devices is barely being tapped at the moment: using it as a payment method. Once we fully understand this, we can turn “old” mediums, like billboards, weekly circulars, or store windows into their own point of sale, complete with personalization, dynamic pricing, and loyalty program tie-ins.

Thoughts, comments, questions? Leave them below.

Until next time…



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