American Marketer


Mobile commerce and the store of the future

February 14, 2014

Patrick Moorhead is vice president of mobile brand development at Catalina


By Patrick Moorhead

It is already cliché to talk about “the store of the future.”

Systems that recognize shoppers as they enter the store, as in the film, “Minority Report,” sound exciting. So do the smartphone applications, described in a recent Smithsonian magazine story, which distinguish between Fuji and Granny Smith apples, and eliminate the need to put our items on a conveyor belt at checkout.

But success on the way to the grocery store of the future – the one that caters to the “geek mom” I described in a previous column – will require patience, and a customer-centered approach. Retailers must embrace innovation and design an experience built around what shoppers want.

Check it out
The ultimate experience will require in-store technologies that use real-time data and purchase behavior to target shoppers with relevant coupons and offers and educating shoppers on how to get the most out of their phones in the store.

First, however, retailers must resolve to “do no harm.”

Mobile shoppers will not be happy if you put them to work through a mobile point-of-sale system or make them open six apps to complete their shopping trip, rather than providing them with an in-store experience that is easier, more efficient and more affordable.

After all, if your app is not making the chore of grocery shopping easier for the shopper, why are you giving it to them?

Shoppers have been conditioned to swipe and wave their plastic at self-checkout stands, even to bag their own purchases. But that is not enough to get them excited: A 2010 Food Marketing Institute study found only 16 percent of supermarket shoppers opted for self-checkout when it was an option – a substantial drop from previous years.

And remember Minority Report?

In the movie, an in-store computer at Gap uses an eye scanner to recognize and greet Tom Cruise’s character, and ask how he is enjoying his last purchase. It then suggests other clothes to go with that item. But he is not there to buy clothes.

His reaction? Annoyance.

Mission accomplished
Better will be in-store systems that understand why the shopper is in their store and what she wants, offering through her smartphone meaningful ways to complete her mission.

I am talking about technologies that are about time saving, cost saving and mission completion – not mind reading and irrelevant offers.

Using the purchase history and purchase frequency data available from a Frequent Shopper Card (FSC) account, combined with awareness of the day of week and time of day of the visit, for example, could give us the ability to know the difference between a stock up trip and a quick, grab and go trip for a particular shopper.

This will have a dramatic impact on how and what we communicate to her given the context.

At Kroger stores, cameras measuring in-store traffic are helping managers to cut shopper wait times from four minutes to 26 seconds, according to the Smithsonian report.

The piece also mentions scan-and-bag apps developed for Stop & Shop.

I expect tomorrow’s supermarket to look a bit more like Apple stores do today: Staff, perhaps armed with their own mobile devices, will emerge from behind counters to engage with shoppers, who they know as well as knows its shoppers, to help them find a new brand of dry food that is better for their pet’s nutritional needs.

ONCE WE embrace the idea that the basic premise of the store layout – with checkout at “the front” – is not necessary, we could very well be looking at an entirely new experience for grocery shopping. Hopefully, it is one that makes the mission less of a chore and more of a magical event.

After all, what still captures the imagination in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report all these years later is the simple idea that technology could evolve to a level of personalization that the store itself would become less like a place and more like, well, a person. And would not that be nice?

Mobile commerce and the consumer packaged goods arms race

Mobile commerce and how personalized value drives adoption

Making the phone a seamless extension of the in-store experience

Anthropology of the mobile consumer

Patrick Moorhead is Chicago-based vice president of mobile brand development at personalized digital media company Catalina. Reach him at