The Mobile ‘Wild West’

During a recent conversation with Mike Brown, executive director of retail marketing services and technology for Unified Grocers, he referred to the mobile technology industry – particularly for retail – as the Wild West. What he meant was that there are no clear standouts as far as vendors that dominate the industry such as there are for point-of-sale systems or supply chain, plus there are so many new applications and functions around mobile launched every day, that it’s difficult to create a snapshot of the mobile arena – it’s just too dynamic.

Curious, I scanned through coverage of mobile solutions over the past year of Progressive Grocer’s daily news coverage and realized that it validated Brown’s view. Just over the past few months alone we have covered mobile solutions developed by dozens of startups, as well as some retailers’ homegrown apps, and those from larger established technology vendors.

Not only are many companies getting in the mobile game, but the uses for which mobile technologies are being applied vary tremendously, and new uses are being discovered all the time.

To show you just how varied these mobile solutions are, here’s a small summary of some we’ve reported on over the past few months:

eZcommerce Solutions’ Swift Shopper app was developed for those retailers that are hesitant to invest in a mobile point-of-sale, and it enables consumers to scan items into their smart phones as they shop, eliminating the need for unloading and reloading carts at the checkout. The only requirement for the retailer is that they have dual line handheld scanners that can read barcodes off of mobile devices. Shoppers scans items while they shop and then the cashier scans the customer’s phone instead of the products.

Palo Alto-based mobile solutions vendor Mobeam’s Beep and Go application gives consumers the ability to keep their loyalty, gift and membership card information on their smart phone and beam it straight to a store’s existing scanners.

Buehler's is using the ibotta app to enable customers to earn cash rewards at checkout.

Harris Teeter is working with Paydiant to pilot a cloud-based mobile wallet, cardless ATM access and offer redemption platform. The solution will allow the grocer’s Express Lane customers to use the mobile wallet to pay for groceries ordered online for curbside pickup – without leaving their car.

Toronto-based Unata’s mobile app, used by Longo’s, not only gives shoppers loyalty points for mobile shopping, but also rewards them for using the app functions as well.

Peapod’s mobile app enables people to shop for groceries from places such as ballparks, concert venues and recreation centers by scanning QR codes of products on digital billboards featuring virtual grocery aisles.

Market research company Ipsos ASI has developed an app called Brand Shout that enables advertisers and marketers to understand and optimize touch-point exposure by measuring things such as "in the moment reactions” including emotional response to the ad effect on brand perceptions, the motivations that drive purchase in-store on site or online, and the power and influence of word of mouth.

News America Marketing has launched a program that leverages near-field communications to deliver branded media content onto NFC-enabled smart phones or tablets whenever a shopper places their mobile device in close proximity to the in-store media without the need for an app or QR code.

Plus, with all the new apps that are being developed, we still are getting tremendous value from simple SMS text messaging. The United Family, formerly United Supermarkets, recently launched a campaign that offers store-specific information regarding promotions, events, special offers, new product releases and recipes that are delivered straight to their mobile phones.

All of this is just scratching the surface of mobile device possibilities in terms of marketing, business analytics and research, shopping and B2B applications. The only limits are our imaginations (and money to pay for them, of course!).

Indeed there are so many uses out there for mobile applications that we often overlook one of the most important mobile apps around – the phone itself.

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