2011.31 | Shopping from your Car

The rebirth of the American auto business is thanks in part to the efforts of the car companies to integrate two great consumer loves – automobiles and mobile phones. It started out with Bluetooth integration to allow hands free calling, but given the increasing power of smartphones and their usability, auto makers are taking it up a level to provide remote control capability, audio integration and more.

I saw a wonderful demonstration of the potential of these solutions in the demonstration centre at my own place of business some time ago. At the time it seemed a bit fanciful to me, but over time, I’m starting to see the real potential of the idea.

At present the integration of mobile phones and automobiles is mostly linked to telephone calls and audio integration.  Some solutions are going a bit further as mentioned above, but there aren’t any shopping solutions that I have seen yet.

If we take that technology a few steps further you can imagine the incredible change that is coming our way.

Consider a drive home from work a few years hence:

You get in the car, and begin to drive home.  Your phone rings and it is your spouse.  They indicate that you are short on milk and bread, and that you had promised to pick up a jar of olives that day.  This sort of conversation is routine on a car ride home in today’s world.

The part that will change is that after you hang up the phone, you will then be able to ask your mobile via audio command to check the stores on your route home for three items: bread, milk, and olives.  Your mobile device can take the command given and can identify the stores in order of preference, price, or location.  You can speak the name of the store you would like to buy from, and the purchase will be made instantaneously over the phone.  You stop at the store and pick up the items purchased at a special counter – or even better – you pull up and someone puts them in the trunk of your car.  The receipt is already in your receipts folder in your email.

While it sounds like a bit of a dream, all of the solution components exist to do this today:

Smartphone with Automobile Integration–  The power of any of the smartphone mobile devices available today is well within the realm of reality required for completing these sorts of solutions.  Many new cars have bluetooth integration and that technology should expand and improve.

Audio Input to MobileGoogle has been doing this for some time.  It is getting more accurate, as well.  I use Dragon Dictation and have tested it in loud environments and it works well.  Apple is also rumoured to be building this into next iOS – expect others to do so.  Expect people to abuse it in public to everyone’s embarrassment, as well.

GPS Search along route – It is already possible to identify locations along a route using Google Maps.  While stores need to be identified in some way, sites tags could be used.

Inventory Search – There are already UK based services to price compare specific grocery lists.  While more rare in Canada for grocery, there are some that provide inventory searches in general merchandise already – Chapters Indigo and The Source already provide it.  If there is an API to get the information, it could be brought together for this solution.

Online Purchase – There are many services to purchase online already like Paypal, or a retailer can leverage an existing web store.

Paying without Entering a Credit Card – The purchase could be completed via a one click purchase by keeping a credit card number on file as  is already done by iTunes and Amazon.  The solution would have to be adjusted to a verbal equivalent, but this could be done using a solution like Amazon’s PayPhrase.

While this sort of solution would not be without its complexities, it is certainly within the adjacent possible.  Like the Tesco Korean Subway grocery shopping solution, or like the Starbucks Mobile Payment solution, it is a matter of assembling a number of components that already exist today and cleverly packaging them.   Being the first one to a solution like this could provide a terrific competitive advantage.

The greater challenge for retailers is integrating a monster like this into their operations infrastructure.  To make something like this really take off, execution would need to be flawless.  If the inventory is missing, or the store staff don’t provide a pickup, or the payment process isn’t simple, customers will not use the solution and it will be a wasted idea.

While this is a challenging area – it seems like a true possibility.  Retailers are already struggling with the many channels for sales – web, mobile, store, self service kiosk and more, it will only get more complex over time as these channels snowflake into various subsections – like mobile ordering via an automobile.

Beyond the complexities of all of the items above, there are two things for retailers to consider before being able to leverage a solution like this:

1.  A service oriented architecture of some sort needs to be in place to deal with ongoing requests for new channels. If every solution is custom, this will never happen.

2.  In order to accommodate customers via all of these channels and to understand what channels customers are using and what they want, it will be come increasingly important to implement a back end solution that allows retailers a view of customers across all of these channels as well as a vehicle to interface with them across all of them in the simplest most transparent way possible.  Without this infrastructure, the business will become increasingly fragmented and impossible to operate efficiently.

A solution like this would have been mere fantasy even 3 or 4 years ago.  It is exciting to see the possibilities for consumer convenience, and the potential for retailer differentiation.  Hopefully we will see implementations of this type in the near future.

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