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Idea Bar: The Mobile Sales Assistant

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It seems like everyone has a mobile phone.  More than the iPod, more than the Blackberry, the mobile phone is becoming lifeline that people can’t (or won’t do without).  The rising ubiquity of the mobile phone offers many opportunities for marketers.  I have posted before on some such as Placecasting with Bluetooth or the role of text messaging in customer service.  In addition, there are many reports of more interesting hardware innovations in cell phones, such as the Glucophone designed to help diabetes patients manage their disease, or the Motorola Ming phone launched in China which features a business card scanner.  All of these point to the single conclusion that the mobile phone will become a greater part of all of our lives.  There are signs that this evolution may be taking the phone into the retail (real life) environment as well. 

5abe2022500696This is the concept behind Scanbuy, a company that offers a solution to allow users to take a photo of a bar code on their phone and use their mobile internet connection to compare prices for that product online (and they also allow users to create a personal eZcode – mine is displayed at left).  While I love the technology, their model relies on getting consumers to walk out of the retail environment to "buy it cheaper online or elsewhere."  Every retailer hates this model.  But what if the technology behind Scanbuy (and similar services) could be used to enhance the retail experience rather than just offering a sophisticated way to find the best deal?

The Mobile Sales Assistant concept involves using a customer’s own mobile phone to be a virtual assistant while he or she shops in a retail location.  Here is how it could work:

  1. Consumer walks into a store and enters a Bluetooth zone
  2. Consumer is invited to accept a bluetooth transmission with the "Mobile Sales Assistant"
  3. If accepted, a small database catalog downloads to the user’s phone for a temporary session (similar to a cookie on website)
  4. Consumer then looks around the store, sees something they like and scans the bar code
  5. The bar code is automatically recognized and product related data such as sales price, stock availability and other details appear on the user’s phone
  6. The consumer uses this extended information to better inform their choice
  7. Giving the consumer all the information at the point of purchase leads to higher sales

This concept could roll out in a variety of industries and retail environments, including apparel (see images of clothes on real people and get prices), grocery (see wine details, rankings and tasting notes, nutrition facts), consumer electronics (see ratings for products, features, rebate information), toys (see related products, check against an Amazon wish list) and many other retail locations.  Of course, an idea like this does require an assumption of sophistication on the part of the consumer, but with technologies like self check-out and price scanners as options helping to make retail shopping more efficient, smarter technology solutions to assist customers during the shopping experience seem like a logical next step.  After all, who wouldn’t prefer getting product information and current pricing on an HDTV right away rather than waiting for the teenage sales rep at Best Buy to "help" by reading the list of features on the product box back to you?

About the Idea Bar:
Working in a creative team, the life of our business is new ideas.  We come up with them every day for clients, but sometimes there are ideas that just don’t fit a client.  They are too big, too different, or just not quite right.  Inspired by my colleague John Bell (who has a gift for thinking up smart and creative ideas), this post is the first in a new category on this blog that will be devoted to sharing these ideas through an "Idea Bar."  The posts in this category are meant to be "open source" and follow the guidelines generously introduced by Peter Mucha in the title (and philosophy) of his blog …

7 thoughts on “Idea Bar: The Mobile Sales Assistant”

  1. Thanks for the nice mention, Rohit. Interesting idea here. About that unopened package on the shelf, I’d like to know … What do the parts look like inside? Can I see a video demonstration? Lacking a friend’s recommendation, how could we see a video testimonial from a real person? Hook into or some other site? Any options, like other colors or similar sizes, that aren’t in stock? … I’m also thinking a cellphone zone in a store could help me in other ways: How about a GPS find-it service? Where’s the wheat germ? “Sorry, we don’t carry that” … or “You are getting warmer! Turn left, another 10 feet on your left, stop!” … Gotta have a button on that PhoneZone Screen that summons help as well. … Plus, instant coupons! … Hope more people do the ideabar thing.

  2. Rohit – Love the concept and the new blog category. How would this work in stores like Lowes or Home Depot where you need direct human contact for specific questions? Would this idea simply be used to facilitate the sales process as opposed to replace it?

    Keep up the post. I really enjoy them.

  3. Great idea (and great Idea Bar). I have had so many bad retail experiences lately with staff. In many cases, I would prefer to be alerted via phone of something relevant nearby. I am not so sure what I would get out of the data download unless it possibly offered some some comparison data, perhaps, straddling the price point of the scanned product. I hope Best Buy sees this.


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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