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Exploiting mobile

Exploiting mobile

Exploiting mobile

Paul Skeldon, Mobile Editor, InternetRetailing takes his mobile phone to pieces and dissects just what retailers can do with all the bits that make up the device

The mobile phone is an everyday object to most people, but deconstruct one and you realise just how amazing they actually are. They contain an array of 20 or more micro radio transceivers, several cameras, accelerometers, GPS tracking devices, processors more powerful than those used on the space shuttle, a battery that powers all this for 12 hours and a glass screen that not only responds to touch, but also which, given that it is glass, is pretty hard to break. All these pieces work together to give the user a handheld device that connects them to everyone they know, all the data and information in the world and let’s them navigate, listen to music, take photos and share things. It is the remote control for their lives and they rarely give it a second thought.

But these many components also offer a massive – and often missed – opportunity for retailers. Each of the major building blocks of a mobile device allows the development of ever-more engaging and personalised services that help retailers sell more.

So let’s dissect a smartphone and see what retailers can do with some of the bits.

The Camera

Each smartphone comes with a high-resolution camera that can be accessed by a wide range of apps and can be used to create a variety of experiences that can transform the retail experience.

The use of the camera as a barcode and QR scanner is well documented, but this can be used to enhance real-world experiences with more data from the web and can shorten search times. WhatsApp uses a QR code to link the phone to the computer to fire up the desktop app version of its product. It is quick and easy and just what retailers should be thinking of when QR coding everything.

The camera increasingly is going to play a role in visual search too, where shoppers can find what they are looking for using images or scans. Furniture retailer – and IRUK Top500 retailer – is one of the first mainstream brands to use visual search. Working with a tech company called Hullabalook, which claims to revolutionise the search process by reading product descriptions, to analyse product images on behalf of shoppers, transforming them into a visual product discovery experience.

Jonathan Howell, Chief Technology Officer at, explains: “Technology innovation is core to our thinking at and we’re always looking for ways to provide the best customer experience. As our range grows, we are particularly interested in making sure customers can find the right product for them as quickly and easily as possible.

GPS and location

Where the phone is at any given time is one of its greatest strengths to retailers. The likes of Uber have turned this to their advantage and built a whole business model around connecting driver location with customer location. This is harder for standard retailers to achieve, as you have to have the tacit buy in of the customer to know where they are and what they are doing.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t start to assess the context of where they might be based on the knowledge you do have. Are they on home wifi, are they in the store, are they in the high street?

“Retailers need to use their data to ensure they are delivering the right content to the right people at the right time,” says Mike Harris, VP EMEA at Monetate. “In comparison to physical retail, where the shop assistant needs to discover whether the consumer is in researching, browsing or buying mode, savvy retailers can use the data they have to help them identify where consumers are on the purchase journey.”

According to Harris, one in five shoppers complete purchases more than seven hours after first visiting a site, which frequently start on mobile and end on a desktop, so brands must offer experiences accordingly and create a consistent path across all channels through understanding the context and location of the user.


All smartphones have a series of accelerometers in them that measure movement in 3D of the phone – it’s what tells the phone to switch from portrait to landscape when you flip it and what is used to deliver the necessary information to fitness apps to calculate your calorie burn.

Understanding the pace the shopper is moving around can help you understand more fully the context in which they are shopping, where they are dwelling and so on and you could, in theory, pop a location specific message to them.

Perhaps more importantly it can be used to differentiate between those shoppers that are browsing and those that are not – so that you can market to those that are in shopping mode, not those that are rushing to the toilet or to the car park.

Retailers can also use these to create really interesting and interactive marketing. Working alongside the vibro-motor (the small, off-centre electric motor that makes the phone vibrate when you set it to vibrate), the accelerometer can be used to make adverts that offer sensations of touch and which can be interacted with by shaking the device.

Tech company Adludio has already tried out this haptic advertising technology with brands such as Sony Music, Heinz, Sky and Unilever. It is in its infancy, but this technology is set to shake up (if you pardon the pun) the way mobile is used in marketing and how consumers interact with the device.

Back in the day Bump pioneered phone-to-phone sharing my bumping the devices together. Soon this deceleration could be used to make payments, change what is being done or how the shopper interacts with real-world shop displays.


Lest we forget, the smartphone was born out of a device known as the telephone, a name that literally means transport voice – this means the smartphone has a microphone.

While you could use this to make marketing creepily personal by phoning them up, the microphone that enables the phone also has some interesting uses.

Apple, Amazon and Google are all slowly trying to perfect audio recognition – through Siri, Echo and Google Cloud Speech API respectively – and are looking to arrive at a point where you can search and shop and buy simply by talking to your device.

Anyone with any of these offerings knows that they aren’t perhaps as good as they could be, but their potential is enormous. The ability to ask your device to find ‘a pair of boots like the ones the guy on Suits is wearing’ is huge.

The technology has already been proven with music, with Shazam’s audio recognition software coming built into phones: hold it up to a tune and it will tell you what it is and, if you are on an iPhone, try and sell it to you through iTunes.

Shazam has also been used to fire up extra content around adverts on TV and the web in the same way. Getting to the point where you can talk to your device and simply ask it to do things, find things and buy things is going to be huge.

The phone

While I may have said it was creepy to phone people up, that doesn’t mean that they won’t call you. In fact some retailers are banking on it – as is Facebook messenger – and are investing in chatbots to handle FAQ calls more personally and effectively.

Mastercard is now launching an artificial intelligence (AI) bot platform that allows consumers to transact, manage finances, and shop via messaging platforms.

According to research firm Gartner, nearly $2bn (£1.6bn) in online sales will be performed exclusively through mobile digital assistants by the end of 2016. Mastercard will develop bots for both its merchant and bank partners, which will use chat, messaging and natural language interfaces to communicate with consumers.

With the Mastercard bot, partners will be able to have a true dialogue with consumers and provide personalised service, seamless user experience and contextual offers and rewards.

In the US, fast food giant Tacobell has already started to use chatbots to handle enquiries about its menu: the robots are coming.

As you can see, there is more to mobile retail than just trying to sell things on a small screen. There are many other facets to the device that can be exploited and, taken together, these can revolutionise not just the sales process, but marketing and the on-going interaction with consumers that is all part of that all-important personalisation play.

Many of these things may look fanciful right now, but retailers are doing them and now is the time to start looking at how you can use them, because these things will be standard this time next year.

Shopping with Alexa

Mike Clark, Director, NFC World


Amazon’s Echo is the greatest combined cooking timer and kitchen radio ever invented, make no mistake. But this silky-voiced overgrown can of beans can do more – quite a lot more – than “Alexa, play Radio 2” or “Alexa, set a timer for 12 minutes”, including lending a hand with the shopping.

As a stereotypical male, I do retail in the spear fishing style; I know exactly what I want and I go in and grab it. I’m not much of a browser. The voice-activated Echo works brilliantly for this.

Today I want an adapter for the upstairs TV. I’d bought one just a few weeks ago, so when I asked the Echo “Alexa, order me a three-way HDMI splitter,” she instantly found a matching item in my order history. Just to be sure, she read out a description of the product, and told me the price.

“Would you like to buy it?” she asked.

“Yes,” I reply. It’s hard not to add a thank you but, well, it doesn’t seem right to be polite to a robot.

“What’s your voice code?” This is a handy feature designed to stop witty guests and small children ordering up little surprises for you every time you turn your back. I say the four-digit PIN that I’d chosen during the set-up process.

“Thanks, order placed,” she replies. And it’s as simple as that. Checking on the website later, I can see that the order has been processed on Amazon like any placed by more conventional methods, and the item will arrive in the post tomorrow.

On another search, this time for a product I hadn’t bought before, Alexa wasn’t sure she had found the right item and said she couldn’t order it for me but instead offered to pop it in my basket so I could green light the purchase next time I was on Amazon. Meanwhile “Alexa, order me a Dash button” saw her inform me that the top search result for “Dash button” was the Andrex variant at £4.99, and asking if I’d like to buy one.

She’s really pretty sharp, that lady. As I leave the kitchen I mumble over the mellow tones of Radio 2, “Alexa, off.”

“I’ve put tofu on your shopping list.”

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