Feb 272010
 
who is norma?
Image by Norma Desmond via Flickr

Shoppers will soon be able to stand outside the designer Norma Kamali’s boutique in Manhattan, point a phone at merchandise in the window and buy it — even late at night when the store is closed.

Ms. Kamali is at the forefront of a technological transformation coming to many of the nation’s retailers. They are determined to strengthen the link between their physical stores and the Web, and to use technology to make shopping easier for consumers and more lucrative for themselves.

The main way they plan to do it is by turning people’s mobile phones into information displays and ordering devices. Can’t find the flour at the grocery store? Grocers will offer phone applications that tell shoppers exactly where to go. Is the department store out of size 8 jeans? Retailers want to make it simple to punch a couple of buttons and have the desired size shipped home.

Some supermarkets intend to offer real-time coupons while people shop. For example, a promotion for milk may be sent to a shopper’s mobile phone the moment her cart rolls into the dairy aisle. Drugstores will offer loyalty programs on cellphones, not on plastic cards. And specialty chains will allow shoppers to breeze through the aisles compiling a wedding registry, just by pointing at merchandise.

It remains to be seen how readily shoppers will embrace such aggressive merchandising, which will generally require them to download free applications onto their phones and consent to being tracked electronically while in a store. But many stores are betting they will go along. After all, people already wander city streets guided by maps on their mobile phones. Why shouldn’t the same technology lead them to the toilet paper in Aisle 3?

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