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The Future of Retail Is in Your Hands

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h1 I don't want to freak you out, but I think that I may be the voice of my generation.

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It’s 2013. It’s been six years since the first iPhone was unveiled, an event that turned our cell phones from communications devices into a way of life. Today, smartphone penetration is nearing 60 percent in the U.S., up from 47 percent last year, and 78 percent of those aged 25 to 34 now own one. Adoption by adults over 55, the age group with the smallest percentage of penetration, doubled from mid-2012 to mid-2013.

Small wonder then that mobile shopping is on fire. In a recent Latitude study, 77 percent of respondents confessed to shopping regularly with these devices while at home. It’s so convenient that they’re forgoing their desktop computers, which are usually not far away, to shop on their tablets or phones.

So why aren’t more retailers and brands rushing to meet their customers on their phones on the path to purchase? Or as Gary Vaynerchuck puts it: “It’s 2013. Why are we marketing to our customers like it’s 2004?”

Picking Up the Pace

With online shopping continuing to grow more than 15 percent year over year and a prediction from eMarketer that it will reach $434.2 billion by 2017 (doubling 2011 totals), it’s only going to get harder for late adopters to keep up. But technologies exist right now that could make shopping much easier.

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One great example is Hointer. Started by a former Amazon exec, Hointer is not your average jeans retailer. Walk into one of its three locations (two in Palo Alto and one in Seattle) and you won’t be greeted by a sales associate. Instead you’re greeted by a QR code. Scan that QR code to download the Hointer app (you only have to do it once), and then use the app to scan the jeans you want to try on. The app will tell you which fitting room to go to, and once you’re there your jeans, in your desired size, are already waiting for you, delivered via a chute. If you don’t like them, simply drop them down the other chute in the fitting room and they’re automatically removed from your app’s shopping cart. If you’d like to keep them, just swipe your credit card in the fitting room’s card reader and you’re gone. No lines. No hassle.

You don’t need to be a Silicon Valley whiz to leverage mobile for retail commerce. Shopkick is an app intended to drive in-person foot traffic through the doors of merchants. Simply put, Shopkick rewards its 4 million users for in-person shopping. Walk into Target, check in and you earn 50 “kicks.” Buy, or even just view, certain products while you’re in Target and you earn more kicks. The more you shop, the more rewards you earn, and you can redeem them for gift cards for electronics, clothes, gas, food, movies and more. Merchants can join Shopkick for as low as $50 a month.

If you’re looking for even more shopping apps, Kickscout helps you turn online saves into offline purchases while Target, Best Buy and Starbucks all have great branded apps.

Though they help, it doesn't require a technology like Hointer or Shopkick to make mobile and retail shopping a better experience. With technologies that are readily available and widely adopted, and a little help from online media sites that drive commerce, merchants can simply apply a little innovation to improve and reward in-store experiences.

· Restaurants could offer a special appetizer that is only available/unlocked when customers share their check-in on Facebook or Twitter

· Clothing retailers could create Instagram hashtags and reward customers who tweet their “try on” photos (photos in good taste, of course)

· Car dealerships could add tags on each car so customers could see other inventory, other options and the car’s history right there

“Future requests,” in the Latitude mobile-retail study, all of which are actually possible already, included the ability to tap “smart” posters for coupons, virtual try-on and in-store maps. The list goes on and on.

It’s not a matter of if shoppers will demand a more mobile-friendly, digitally enhanced in-store experience; it’s a matter of when, and it’s soon.

Jon Thomas is a senior digital Strategist at TracyLocke and frequent contributor to Say Daily. Follow him on Twitter @Story_Jon.

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