Make us your home page
Instagram

Retailers seek to enhance shopping experience through gadgets

NEW YORK

With holiday shoppers feeling better about spending, the nation's retailers are encouraged about their prospects in what's shaping up as a long jobless recovery.

"Our premium brands like Sperry are doing terrific while our mass-market brands like Payless Shoes Source remain challenged," said Matt Rubel chief executive of Collective Brands, the nation's biggest footwear chain. "But I'm seeing positive signs. The high-end customer clearly is back. And when we do get the mainstream customer in the store, they buy."

Perpetual optimists, top retail industry leaders in New York for the annual National Retail Federation convention heard forecasts of continued modest economic growth and jobs despite rising prices for gas, cotton and many food items.

"After three very lean years, 2011 should be very good," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics. "We are close to creating enough jobs to start bringing unemployment down."

There wasn't much time for celebrating, however, as record hordes of tech vendors mobbed top chain executives with sales pitches that tap into retailers' new obsession: the march of mobile and wireless technology.

"It's not about the Internet anymore," said Jill Puleri, retail industry leader for IBM.

"In 10 years, the entire world will be mobile 24 hours a day with a device that's getting smaller and more powerful," said Peter Sachese, chief marketing officer with Macy's Inc. "We have to get our hands around this because the consumer demands a two-way dialogue."

Actual sales results linked to smart phones and social media remain minimal, but it's hard to miss how many people are texting, comparison shopping and researching products while shopping their stores. It's so common that some stores are adding WiFi to the sales floor to improve reception for savvy shoppers browsing rivals online.

An IBM survey found only 14 percent of shoppers have no interest in using a smart phone to augment their shopping experience. That's down from 20 percent a year ago.

Much of the latest retail tech explosion is rooted in the spread of wireless technologies, not all of it linked to cell phones. Walmart and Macy's are starting to replace UPC bar codes on apparel with little radio transmitter chips that are packed with 10 times the information on color, size and where every item is. It enables the stores to account for their stock at any instant. The process, known as RFID, or radio frequency identification, also lets salespeople find an item with a handheld device that ticks like a Geiger counter when they get close.

Also among the new tricks, vendors are pushing flat-screen TVs that superimpose animated dresses over a live shot of a customer. Intel unveiled a big digital sign that shows targeted videos to passing shoppers. It uses face-detection software to determine the shopper's gender and approximate age.

Today's big mobile phone apps for shopping in stores — price comparisons, digital coupons, shopping lists, store-navigation aides and group bargain sites like Groupon — were labeled as "just scratching the surface" by Patti Maes, who creates Jetsons-worthy products at the MIT Media Lab.

"Today's shopping connectivity between the smart phone and the Internet is too cumbersome and requires learning how to use them," she said. "In a couple years, it all will be seamlessly integrated."

She unveiled a lightbulb-sized prototype that screws into a electrical socket. Touch a product placed under its projected light and an index appears on any smooth surface. The index has links to product information, instruction manuals, price comparisons and a button to buy. Plus there's a teleconference link to ask questions of a live expert at another location.

She sees a home application embedded on the product linked back to the store with warranty information, upgrade notices and discount offers. Just touch the product to choose what you want.

"The store will become a showroom offering an immersive experience," she said. "But the product you sell will become your store."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

Retailers seek to enhance shopping experience through gadgets 01/11/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 11, 2011 9:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Powerball jackpot climbs to $510 million, 8th largest

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — The Powerball jackpot has climbed to an estimated $510 million, making it one of the largest in U.S. history.

    A store clerk pulls a Powerball ticket from the printer for a customer, Tuesday, in Hialeah, Fla. The Powerball jackpot has has rolled 18 times, since the June 14, drawing, resulting in an estimated $510 million for Wednesday night's drawing. [Associated Press]
  2. Why are so few Tampa Bay houses for sale? They're being rented

    Real Estate

    Oreste Mesa Jr. owns a modest 40-year-old house in West Tampa just off MacDill Avenue. It's an area where many homeowners are hearing the siren song of builders and cashing out while the market is strong.

    Attorney David Eaton poses in front of his rental home at 899 72nd Ave. North. in St. Petersburg. He's among a growing number of property owners who see more value in renting out unused homes than selling them. 
[SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Wanted: New businesses on Safety Harbor's Main Street

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager …

    Whistle Stop Bar & Grill is one of the main stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  4. Q&A: A business leader and historian jointly delve into Tampa's waterfront

    Business

    TAMPA — As a native of Tampa, Arthur Savage has always had a passion for his hometown's history. And as a third-generation owner and operator of A.R. Savage & Son, a Tampa-based shipping agency, his affinity for his hometown also extends to its local waterways.

    Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell, co-authors of "Tampa Bay's Waterfront: Its History and Development," stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. McKay, who passed away in 1876, was a prominent businessman, among other things, in the Tampa area. He was Arthur Savage's great great grandfather. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Tampa's connected-vehicle program looking for volunteers

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Drivers on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway can save on their monthly toll bill by volunteering to test new technology that will warn them about potential crashes and traffic jams.

    A rendering shows how new technology available through the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority will warn driver's about crashes, traffic jams, speed decreases and more. THEA is seeking 1,600 volunteers to install the devices, which will display alerts in their review mirrors, as part of an 18-month connected-vehicle pilot.