Retail’s mobile-led future loses sci-fi feel

Eric Schmidt

Looking back through my notes from Cannes Lions, I remembered the fact I wanted to flag up some thinking relevant to retail from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, 2011’s Media Person of the year.

One of the most interesting speakers during the week of seminars, he covered everything from globalisation to self-driving cars and accessing consumer social graphs (which makes far more sense since following the launch of Google +).

He also spoke about the benefit of ‘cloud computing’ and asked delegates to imagine that everything they needed for daily life was accessible through their smartphone. [Not a bad focus considering this is a company that has previously said everything it now does is based on a “mobile first” policy].

You’re walking along the street in Cannes, he said, your phone knows you, knows who you are. You tell it you want a t-shirt. As you’re walking it tells you which stores are nearby that you can go to, and which ones have discount or offers on. It directs you to one of them and you go in. The shop assistants already know you’re coming and welcome you as you arrive. You take your t-shirt and pay for it through your phone.

Simple.

Now, that would have sounded foreign just a mere few years ago – science fiction almost. To many it probably still does. But when you consider the fact technology for location-based services and offers are commonplace, with mobile transactions (Google wallet) the latest focus, it’s all perfectly feasible. Schmidt further highlighted this at Cannes when he said a third of all checkouts in restaurants and retail stores will allow “tap and pay” through mobile phones within about a year.

The concept reminded me of one of my favourite-ever posts from Federated Media’s John Battelle: The Gap Scenario. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend you do now.

In it, he takes the idea of the retail experience itself to the next level, incorporating everything from customer service to CRM. Now not only does your phone know you, but the store does.

As Battelle highlights, however, while the technology and the platforms exist for such scenarios to play out, what’s not solved as yet are the business processes that sew it all together.

Watch this space. The term Google “branding” might just take on whole new meaning for retail.