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EDITORIAL Sainsbury, Ford and Volvo – three very different faces of mobile in retail

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The sheer variety of uses of mobile is clearly demonstrated this week, with retailers of very different stripes around the world all using it for new – and in some cases very unique – ways to shake up the old order.

Sainsbury’s is joining the throng of retailers that are turning to mobile in store to make the process of checkout easier, with an app under trial that allows scan and leave shopping. This is perhaps the least interesting of this week’s mobile news, being something of a trend among everyone from Amazon to Co-op to even Budgens looking at how the mobile and apps can make the in-store shopping experience all the better.

And it couldn’t come soon enough. Shops are awful. Easter weekend reinforced that for me. Staff are ill-informed and downright rude and the way to buy things is long winded and antediluvian. The argument that high street retailers are being unfairly killed by Amazon is rubbish: they are killing themselves. All Amazon is doing is doing it right. But I digress…

While Sainsbury’s is doing its bit to make the in-store shopping experience bearable and perhaps stave off the inevitable move to online, Ford in China is revolutionising the buying of a car. Using the marketplace Tmall and its app, drivers can order a car, collect it from a giant vending machine, test drive it for three days then, if they like it, buy it – all using mobile.

Volvo has gone one further: it has totally changed its business model using mobile. While Ford China’s giant vending machine is eye catching, the Detroit motor giant is still basically selling people a car. Not so Volvo.

Volvo is looking at other mobile business models from other industries and is trying a mobile subscription approach. For $600 a month subscription, US customers can get an SUV with insurance, servicing and road side assistance all in, no money down – and all through a mobile app. Neat huh?

Whether this will shake up the way car companies do business remains to be seen, but you have to take your hat off to them for trying. In fact, a titfer-doffing salute is owed to all of these companies as they are at least trying new things. They are looking at what works out there in other businesses and seeing what they can try themselves.

While many – the US president included – diss Amazon, some people have been getting on with trying to live in today’s world, not harking back to yesteryear when things were different. It’s like Brexit, all these deluded people longing for a past that never really existed, retailers are looking back on the rosy old days before Amazon ate everything.

But Amazon is so big and eating so many people’s lunches because it does what consumers want it to do. Amazon isn’t huge because it is particularly nasty – we leave that to Facebook, haha – but because it offers consumers a way to shop that they like. If retail doesn’t like it then they have to do something about it. Is anyone – other than Blockbuster  – moaning about Netflix killing the VHS market?

Volvo and Ford need to be commended for trying to take their businesses into the Netflix age. Rather than complaining about Uber, car sharing and so on, they are looking at new ways to fit their products to the shopping habits of their customers. And isn’t that what retail has always been about?

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