About an hour ago, I was standing in the Genius Bar at the Apple store, trying to figure out a few things about my Mac. The conversation concluded with the purchase of an Ethernet cable; not the most glamorous of products, but necessary nonetheless. As I handed the associate my credit card, he grinned mischievously and said “What kind of iPhone do you have? Wanna see something cool?” And he proceeded to show me how to purchase my cable using only my iPhone and the Apple Store app.
Now this was not my first rodeo with a barcode scanner or QR code and yes it came out in November, but it was my first time seeing Apple EasyPay in action. And it made me realize that I could just wander around the store and scan and buy whatever I wanted, without the assistance of anyone in a turquoise shirt, much less a cash register. This was a dangerous realization for several reasons, not least of which was the potential impact to my credit card bill.
Helloooo, frictionless commerce.
[The other realization was that letting customers purchase independently in the store must really make companies rethink their security processes. If everyone can eventually buy stuff without having to get a bag or deactivate a security sensor, how do you know they actually purchased the things they're taking out the door? This is one of the many ways mobile is disruptive; it invokes the law of unintended consequences.]
But it also made me realize that with this simple transaction Apple has seriously tweaked yet another assumption about how the world works.
Did I buy the cable in the store? Yes.
Did I buy the cable online? Yes.
Did I buy the cable on a mobile device? Yes.
Goodbye, multichannel space-time continuum.
Now, for Apple, the channel-smashing is less momentous than it has been for other retailers, since Apple owns the revenue from both transactions. This is not the case for Best Buy, which, many have stated, has become a virtual showroom for Amazon. But don’t count Best Buy out; as my colleague Chris Silva argues in his new research report “Make an App for That: Mobile Strategies for Retailers,” Best Buy saw the writing on the wall early on and has been able to get ahead of the curve–at least for now.
But imagine the implications for say, Samsung. Or Louis Vuitton. Or BMW. What if, in the future, I could take my Shopstyle app into Saks and physically buy a handbag? Or to a dealer showroom and buy a car? It’s not that different from how we use apps today, although it would wreak some serious havoc on retail operations.
While we’re not there yet, there are glimmers. And while mobile strategy has been through several painful iterations in the past decade, the mobile shopper is finally, irrefutably here.
If you’re a retailer (and, I would argue, a manufacturer), you need to read Chris’ report, register for his webinar on Friday March 2 at 11:00 am PST, and make sure that your strategies align to your customers’ engagement paths. And, if you have questions, you can find Chris on Twitter [at] 802.chris or on email at csilva [at] altimetergroup [dot] com.