American Marketer


Amazon tcommerce: Cloud meet mall

September 28, 2011

Gary Schwartz is president/CEO of Impact Mobile


By Gary Schwartz

For all the science of shopping, even Paco Underhill, the retail guru, would tell you that designing an optimal commerce experience is a fairly simple proposition. Words such as frictionless, seamless, impulse, uninterrupted and accessible come to mind: One-Click Ka’Ching?

But between the idea and the reality falls an unwieldy shadow.

With the launch of Amazon’s new Android tablet, will Amazon’s signature one-click checkout meet portable desire and allow for an optimal commerce experience for the impulse shopper on the go?

In a world where Amazon has gone far beyond the book, is this the new Kindle for the shopper?

Will a low price point unit – predicted to be in the $399 range – bundled with commerce wallet toolkit including reviews, consumer recommendations, shopping comparison and a fairly simple checkout bring the cloud down to the shopping mall?

Shopping disruption

But all these shopping innovations, tools and shortcuts beg the question of what is the ideal and optimized mobile checkout?

Visa “Square” has democratized point of sale of plumbers and pool cleaners across the United States. It works because it offers a simple, cost-effective solution that is riding the existing commerce rails.

Square allows for a plastic card swipe and serves up a merchant account through the audio jack on the phone. Everyone is now a store.

Visa and PayPal continue to work to create similar quick-checkout for the small screen, eliminating the clumsy data form fields needs to check out on the large screen desktop that make for abandoned mobile shopping carts all over cyberspace.

Visa’s purchase of PlaySpan is a perfect example of frictionless commerce engineering.

PlaySpan – before it was acquired by Visa – allows gamers to buy virtual swords and pumpkin seeds for their virtual battle grounds and farms without leaving the game.

Visa is using this same technology to launch a quick check for all those folk for whom real-world shopping is a game. We should see this roll out in 2012.

Google’s M-Wallet promises tap-and-exit shopping at your local store. The problem here is that for all the hype, NFC-phones are only entering the market now and few retailers outside of McDonald’s has contactless point-of-sales systems.

I love the bricks-and-mortar dream-scenario of tap purchase using your phone for payment, loyalty, affinity and marketing.

However, I will remind the reader that self-checkout was a sexy idea 20 years ago and took two decades to start to appear in supermarkets in the U.S.

Retailers are unlikely to pay soon to retrofit their existing DOS-like POS when the reward of quick-flowing aisle and proximity marketing is yet to be proven. Until the ROI calculator can be taken out, Google maybe waiting at self-checkout.

VeriFone is answering the call by designing Swiss Army knife units such as Payware that allow for mobile point-of-sale (mPOS) in store and can accept magnetic swipe, Chip & PIN and NFC. It can scan bar codes and enter promotional PINs.

Companies such as GlobalBay have integrated to all major POS vendors such as SAP, Epicor and Oracle to allow this unit to mobilize the existing cash register without retrofitting it.

Apple has yet to show its NFC card. When it does, look for NFC to meet iTunes checkout. There is a tremendous opportunity for Apple to take over the traditional media space with tap-to-shop service riding on it iTunes’s quick checkout. Until then, we have Amazon’s tablet.

More fizz

Tom Daly, head of mobile globally at Coca-Cola Co., is focused on making the beverage company’s products within arm’s reach of desire.

If Amazon can allow their customers to have a commerce tablet that enables them to shop where they want, they will succeed.

By fourth-quarter next year, look for Amazon consumers all over the U.S. side-saddled in the waiting area of the mall after comparison shopping in their favorite store – showroom – checking out in the cloud.

Will Visa and PayPal design more optimized digital checkout? Yes.

Will Google’s Wallet continue to expand retail doors and eventually become part of our shopping experience? Yes.

But until then, Amazon will disrupt the mall and dominate the cloud shopper.

If this all seems a little depressing for the store owner, here is some advice.

While Amazon focused on tcommerce on a portable screen, store owners need to focus on mobile CRM on the small screen. They need to start owning the mobile two-way relationship on their shopper’s handheld and use the device in-aisle to drive tonnage.

Gary Schwartz is president/CEO of Impact Mobile, Toronto. Reach him at