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The future of retail or m-advertising rebooted?

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Fast Shopping. Anywhere commerce. Wait marketing. Phrases flung about with gay Parisian abandon at the launch of PowaTag’s first actual live client, French fashion retailer Comptoir des Cotonniers this week. As our story attests, the retailer and the technology vendor – an up-sell-spin-off of Venda, driven by e-commerce powerhouse Dan Wagner – have transformed billboards, magazine adverts, bus stops and taxis into “10,000 boutiques” across France, using the power of QR codes and Shazam-like audio recognition technology. They have even built in seamless m-payments.

On the face of it, the “the future of retail” and “transformational retail revolution” bombs dropped at the chaotic launch appear very much to be true and having seen the demos (the video will be posted anon – stay tuned), it certainly has some credence. It is impressive. You point, you click, you buy; you listen, you click, you buy. You buy while waiting for a bus, while struck in the dire Parisian traffic, you buy while reading a magazine in the hairdressers. Voila.

But, while it does impress and it does offer a new view of retail, there is still the massive problem of getting both retailers and consumers to buy into it. The company claims to have 475 ‘brands’ including leading retailers signed up to use the service (either currently trialling it in secret or poised to roll it out) and a sneak peak Internet Retailing got at the confidential list reveals the likes of Waitrose, Argos, Laura Ashley, Screwfix and Universal Music tee-ed up and ready in the UK.

But even with this impressive list – many of whom are Venda customers, the platform on which PowaTag is built – it still remains, for now, a list of people not publically doing it. And I am not sure that all the hoopla and a fancy-pants launch is going to change that.

Comptoir des Cotonniers sticking its head above the parapet and going very public with its launch – a three week trial in all but name – is a bold move. It will be interesting to see how it performs in the coming three weeks. If it is a success then I think other retailers will follow. If not, then it may well be yet another attempt to truly make sense of omni-channel retail and m-payments and mobile marketing.

Even if more retailers buy into it, however, there is still the perhaps more tricky question of how to get consumers to use it. The idea is to create a burgeoning eco-system of retailers, so that consumers only need to PowaTag app to shop from a mass of retailers (everyone eventually, if Wagner’s dream is realized) and that could be a very powerful play.

But how do you get consumers to come to the game? The app is pretty slick. Sign up is quick – but you do have to give it your email, password, passcode, card details and delivery address before you can try it, something that many people are still unsure about.

Comptoir des Cotonniers is approaching this by offering heavy discounts and special PowaTag only offers to encourage shoppers to try it. This may well work. It is a lovely, quick seamless interface and experience. It buries the payment in the process and it brings together all the, until now, disparate elements of mobile marketing, audio recognition, payments and traditional print and TV marketing.

But when was the last time you saw a billboard and wanted to buy what was on it? When was the last time you looked at a billboard? When was the last time you saw an advert on TV and immediately wanted to buy that product? When was the last time a print ad caught your eye and made you want to act there and then?

Perhaps this sort of tech can change all that – actually add value to advertising: something that hasn’t been done since the invention of Google. Or perhaps this whole Fast Shopping is doomed simple because consumers are now so bombarded with adverts that they are inured to them.

I hope it’s the former: this really would be a shift (not quite a revolution) in retail. It would also be the culmination of much of the debate about mobile retail and how to really use it to glue omni-channel together. But I think it needs a much bigger buy in from more retailers and consumers to real fly.

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Our awards

Last year the winners of these multichannel and ecommerce industry awards included Tesco, Burberry, Asos, Lakeland, eBay, Amazon, Oasis/Warehouse and LoveHoney, who celebrated their wins at a rooftop party in the middle of the City. Who will take this year’s titles? The full shortlist can now be viewed online with the winners revealed at an exclusive event at One Mayfair on Thursday June 26. All shortlisted retailers are also eligible for the Internet Retailing Award sponsored by Venda and chose by you. Choose your winner for the Internet Retailing Award by voting here. Click here for more information or to buy a ticket to the event.

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