8 Cool Ways Technology Is Improving Shopping

By Lou Carlozo

"The next five years will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years," says Cyriac Roeding, CEO of Shopkick, a location-based shopping app. And he said that a few years ago.

DealNews talked to retail executives and observers about changes that are starting out or are coming. Through these changes, you'll see various themes emerge, including the growth of the individual experience and the explosion of digital technology.

"It's reaching out and interacting, being able to have a more personalized dialogue," says Bruce Molloy, vice president of global business development at Customer Mobile and an expert on the evolving retail space. "It's where we are as consumers, that people want that kind of individuation. And people want a continuous experience whether people are speaking to someone, or on a tablet, or on a smartphone. All the pieces in the process will know you and what your interests are."

If the Shoe Fits, Upload It

In terms of a custom-made shoe experience, nothing can top what's going on at The Left Shoe Co. in Los Angeles. The Left Shoe puts customers' feet through a 3D scan that takes 150 pictures. "Those photos are then sent to Portugal, where the shoes are made to order," Molloy says. "To the extent that it works, it's pretty powerful. It's a forerunner of things to come with this kind of personalization."

You Favorite Store Goes for the Geofence

Geofencing is a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area. So let's say you set a boundary via mobile communications that encompasses a six-square-block area. That would be your geofence, and anyone who enters that area whose contact information you have can receive a text message or email via smartphone or tablet. And when the bullseye of the geofenced turf is a retail outlet, things get mighty interesting.

Media industry analyst Gordon Borrell of Borrell Associates cites a San Francisco company called Placecast, which ran a promotion with a Lands' End store in that city. A bulletin went out via mobile, and the results make Borrell laugh in admiration. "Eighty percent of the people who saw the message went in the store. And 60 percent of those people bought merchandise," he says. "Direct mail campaigns have a 1 percent to 2 percent response. It was amazing."

Package Delivery at Your Convenience

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Missing the FedEx (FDX) or UPS (UPS) truck can prove quite aggravating, especially when you have to retrieve the package or figure out a time range to hang at your house in anticipation of the driver's return. Harvard Business School students have come up with an innovative solution. Their nifty start-up, Boxxify.com, not only handles and signs for your packages, but also delivers them by appointment to your doorstep anywhere in the metro Boston area, from 7 p.m. to midnight. Since going live on April 15, the service has attracted more than 1,300 unique visitors and more than 80 customers. "We're targeting entry into several other metro areas over the next one to two years, including Chicago, Washington, and Atlanta," says co-founder Paul Moskowitz.

Navigating the Supermarket in Super Style

The smartphone has all but replaced the standalone GPS as a product in the average consumer's tech arsenal. That's because mapping apps from Google, Apple, and Waze help us get from point A to B. Ah, but they don't do it indoors. Molloy sees a time in the not-too-distant future when app developers figure out how to map your favorite grocery store or retail store, so that you can just enter your grocery list, for example, and the app does the rest. "You can imagine a GPS that would take you on the most efficient course, where the store knows the things you buy and leads you there," he says.

Customized Commercials

Right now, commercials target consumers as a big group. But as big data gets bigger, retailers will have the ability to hit up each of us as individuals. Based on what retailers know about our buying patterns, "shoppers will receive targeted messages and promotions while in the store, as the system will already know who they are, their lifestyle and purchasing patterns," says Jonathan Asher, executive vice president of Perception Research Services. "It will also link them to cross-category suggestions or specials. So if they put hot dogs in their cart, they'll get a coupon for beans and chips or something in the deli."

Tweeting Your Shopping Needs

Some savvy companies already use Twitter to monitor customer complaints and address customer service. But it's now going a step further than that, where you can tweet at a store and get fashion or purchasing advice on the spot. It's all done by software made by HipLogiq, which combs Twitter looking for tweets that would include a client's keywords and phrases. "A women's clothing store client, for example, may be looking for 'fashion,' 'cute outfit,' or 'closet makeover' on Twitter," says HipLogiq marketing director Ben Read. "Once our software flags the Tweet on a user-friendly dashboard, the owner can then reply directly back with an offer to encourage them to take a look at their store."

Busting Out of Barcode Prison

Everyone who's been in a long checkout line has experienced the frustration of watching a cashier fumble with a product trying to either find the barcode or scan it correctly. In January, a company called Digimarc introduced a new technology that incorporates an invisible digital watermark, not unlike the kind used for currency.

"The clerk no longer has to hunt for the barcode because it's all over the package," says Ed Knudson, executive vice president of sales and marketing for the company. "You and I can't see, it but other devices, including a smartphone, can see it." The code can be embedded onto the product label via Photoshop, though Knudson says it will still be in the trial stage this year. Not that we can wait: Digimarc says the new technology speeds up checkout times by as much as 33 percent.

If You're Just a Touch Hungry, Touch This

Waiters and waitresses do get busy, and there's nothing more frustrating during a lunch or dinner rush than to have them ignore your table. "But imagine sitting right down and placing your order from a touchscreen tabletop menu," says Molloy. He went through this experience at airport eateries in Toronto and Charlotte, North Carolina, which makes sense, since air travelers often have to eat and run. "I saw tablets the size of iPads and you can scroll through, see the descriptions and order what you want," he says. "The photography is fantastic, and it'll make some suggestions about side orders, wine or other things that can go with the menu."

5 Personalized Gifts for Mom for Under $25
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8 Cool Ways Technology Is Improving Shopping
Has it been a long time since your mom sat down and watched a really good chick-flick? Or even a thriller? Create a movie night basket for your mom. You can include a good DVD you can purchase from Amazon for under $10 or get her a one-month Netflix subscription for $7.99, include a box of microwavable popcorn that costs under $4 and her favorite wine for under $10. Package it up nicely in a gift bag or a small basket and include your own homemade card. The key is to personalize every detail to her taste.
With most moms, everyone comes before them and by the time they get to themselves, they are simply too exhausted to do anything, even take a bath. Create a gift basket for mom by including her favorite scented bubble bath (which should be less than $8), her favorite bottle of wine for under $10 and a copy of her favorite magazine for under $5. Since mom is usually busy, having it right there for her will give her the incentive to take some time out and enjoy her evening doing absolutely nothing.
Your mom might have been saying that she wants to get in shape in passing conversation, but she probably also mentioned that she didn’t have the time to do it. Put a fun fitness gift bag together for her to enjoy on her time off. If she likes yoga, include a nice DVD you can find for under $10, a yoga mat for under $10 and a water bottle for her to hydrate during her workout for under $5. No more excuses for mom and she will be grateful that you actually listened to her when she was talking and got something that she needed.
 Is your mom a foodie? Does she like to cook fabulous meals at home, but she doesn’t have the time to shop, prep, cook and eat. Well, leave it to you to do all the shopping and prepping and leave it up to her to do the cooking and eating. Pick her favorite meal, get a fancy recipe from a cookbook and buy all the ingredients. Portion it out according to the recipe card and put them in sandwich bags with labels on them. Put them in a gift bag with the recipe card and directions, asking your mom to cook and eat within a given time period since produce can go bad quickly. If you have a bigger budget than $25, you can also include the cookbook in your gift bag.
Does mom have a sweet tooth? Depending on when your mom was born, she might have fond memories eating certain candies and she might have also told you about them. Gather your mom’s top five to ten candies and package them nicely in a tin can or a see-through plastic bag you can get from any party supply store and tie it with a big bow.  For example, if your mom was a child in the 1950s, consider Atomic Fireballs, Hot Tamales or Cup-O-Gold. If she grew up in the 1960s, take a look at bananas splits and Twizzlers. Check out the website OldTimeCandy.com for more ideas.  
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