Wallet perpetually jammed with little paper coupons, receipts and a fistful of plastic store loyalty cards? Fear not. Silicon Valley gadgetmakers are on the case.
New tech applications marketed to store executives at the National Retail Federation convention in New York this week include digital receipts and Ecrio's MoBeam master key ring remote that resembles a garage door opener filled with reward card numbers and downloaded electronic coupons.
Just point and click one of the 80 stored card numbers or coupon codes at a checkout laser scanner and you're on your way. AllElectronic Systems' digital receipts are not e-mailed like those from the Apple Store. Rather, all your receipts are stored in a secure Web site like an online banking account, so there's no fumbling around to retrieve proof of purchase for returns or extended-warranty toll-free numbers.
The average consumer wallet today is stuffed with six reward cards and four coupons.
Who's going to pay for gadgets to save all that paper, plastic and printer ink is the unanswered question. The retail price of a MoBeam would be about $20, possibly a nice come-on to sign up for a loyalty card.
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Here's another measure of just how far easy credit the past few years pushed the consumer spending binge well beyond many Americans' means.
In 1983, consumer spending was 63 percent of the economy. In 2008 it peaked at 72 percent. Deloitte Research estimates the recession and increased government spending will beat consumer spending back down to 66 percent of gross domestic product by 2010.
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Martin Lindstrom, the British author who puts consumers in an MRI and measures the brain's emotional reactions to advertising, confirmed that some iconic brand logos are so embedded that consumers subconsciously recognize them even when they're not all there.
The author of Buyology recorded measurable mental cravings in subjects at just the sight of the distinctive red and yellow tile roof at a McDonald's, the glass shards of a smashed classic Coca-Cola bottle and a billboard showing the Marlboro Man riding into the sunset even without the presence of the logo or product name.
"We proved those government bans on cigarette advertising actually have just the opposite effect. Even government health warnings in Europe with atrocious photos of lung disease posted on cigarette packs trigger cravings to light up," he said. "No wonder smoking continues to increase."
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Lee Scott turned heads in his last public speech as chief executive of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
He called on Washington politicians to settle some unresolved debates left hanging during the Bush administration that are "critical to the country."
"There has been too much partisanship, too much gamesmanship, too much selfishness, and the people are tired of it," he said.
It was quite a list from a CEO whose company almost exclusively wrote campaign checks to GOP candidates since the Reagan administration.
Making Scott's must-do list: reduce reliance on foreign oil, a national policy for environmental sustainability, immigration reform, "bold action" on economic stimulus and an end to "our national embarrassment of 47-million people" not covered by health insurance.
Scott drew the line, however, at being conciliatory over President-elect Obama's priority of relaxing union certification election rules, an issue dear to organized labor that gives retail executives heart palpitations.
"That is just too flawed," he said. "Maybe it can be addressed through the National Labor Relations Board" which will likely take on a pro-labor bent when restocked with Obama appointees.