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The Future of Retail From Mobile World Congress


Barcelona -- There are few, if any, limits to how digital technologies will transform retail as we know it.

At this year’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, established players such as IBM and Qualcomm and nimble startups including Imersivo and showed off innovations in augmented reality, mobile payments, clienteling, and more, offering tools for employee empowerment, data-driven decision-making, true omnichanneling retailing, and beyond.

IBM MobileFirst Sales Assist

Apple devices have been the go-to choice for retail for years now. They are re easy to navigate and intuitive to use, offering a familiar experience for both customer and associate. Part of the MobileFirst trio of iPad, iPhone and iPod touch apps, IBM Sales Assist aims to eliminate several pain points of the retail experience. Sales Assist for iPad enables store associates to have detailed product information on-demand and real-time inventory data a fingertip away, including the channel in which that item is available — putting an end to the days of associates disappearing off into back rooms to search for products.

With the iPad’s form factor, customers can examine crystal-clear product images, and staff have a valuable tool for cross-selling. The app integrates with CRM to provide customer purchase history, which can help associates offer personalized recommendations, and stands in as a POS, enabling associates to conclude purchase transactions on the spot.

MobileFirst’s two other apps, Dynamic Buy and Pick & Pack, aid with data-driven in-season merchandising decisions and enable stores to commence ship-from-store programs, respectively.

Proximity-based payment

While the Apple Pay announcement last fall signaled a major momentum shift forward for the mobile payments space, newcomers to the industry have their own innovative ideas about to how to improve the mobile payment experience., for example, leverages LTE Direct for discovery across apps, and can be used to enable secure in-store payments between shopper and retailer. It works up to 500 meters, doesn’t store any data locally on the mobile device, and, perhaps most important of all, won’t drain the battery.

Immerse yourself in gesture-based shopping

Minority Report references abound when discussing future-forward developments in retail, but Imersivo, a Barcelona-based startup, actually has a connection to the company that developed ground-breaking technology for the film. In a nutshell, Imersivo creates software that enables a true omnichannel experience, tying together all of a retailer’s channels — from mobile to e-commerce to outdoor digital displays. Imersivo takes things one step further than the giant touchscreen digital display, instead taking a cue from our swipe-left, swipe-right mobile habits to enable gesture-based commerce. The company is also working on a retail concept that’s “like a vending machine but better,” allowing customers to purchase online and pick up at the machine. This means shoppers skip out on long lines and can retrieve their purchase at their convenience, 24/7.

Emotion analytics

Social video company oovoo knows that businesses are looking for ways to take video to the next level. That’s why the company is incorporating Affectiva’s “emotion analytics” into its own Intelligent Video platform. Using these tools, retailers can analyze videos and incorporate their customers’ emotional responses (smiles, frowns, brows wrinkled in confusion) in real time, which can help them shift gears quickly with product design, for example, and also improve the consumer experience, according to Affectiva co-founder and chief science officer Rana el Kaliouby.

Reimagining reality

Want to see what that cool new sofa would look like in your living room before buying it? Qualcomm’s Vuforia mobile vision platform aims to do just that, bringing augmented reality (AR) to smartphone and tablet apps on both Android and iOS. Moosejaw Mountaineering, in keeping with its cheeky brand persona, launched an X-Ray app in the period leading up to Black Friday that allowed users to peek beneath the clothing of its outerwear models (revealing the poser’s underwear) in both the iPad and print versions of its winter catalogue. At a time when interest in print is famously waning, the outdoor brand found a clever way to leverage AR to boost catalog engagement and generate buzz.

Skip the cart

For consumers who love shopping in stores but hate schlepping things home, SK Telecom’s Smart Shopper commerce platform should bring welcome relief. Leveraging Internet of Things connectivity, the platform lets a shopper use specially designated devices to browse the aisles scanning barcodes on desired products that are then delivered to the customer’s home.

Anne Marie Stephen, is CEO and founder of Kwolia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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