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A Brave, New Multichannel World

New York — We're well past the simple Internet.

Anywhere, anytime, anyone retailing is already entering the mobility revolution of the 21st century, fueled by lightning fast broadband connections and a steady stream of feature-loaded devices.

“We're entering a new world where consumers expect to be able to touch you as a retailer or a manufacturer anywhere they are,” said Jim Crawford, vice president of Retail Forward, and the consultancy's expert in multi-channel retailing and next generation technology.

Although the current e-commerce experience is limited mostly to point-and-click actions within a browser window, desktop or notebook computer, the future will incorporate a variety of mobile devices that will offer consumers multiple touchpoints within the shopping experience, Crawford explained during Retail Forward's Strategic Outlook Conference.

The point is that consumers are rapidly learning to expect 24/7 access in the air around them, free from the limitations of traditional Web sessions. And beyond simply offering a broader selection of products, retailers will use the mobile Web “to offer individualized products to individual consumers,” he said.

One of the most overlooked marketing and shopping devices to date has already eclipsed the installed base of computer users. There are more than 65 million cell phone users in the United States, two million more than are on computers, Crawford pointed out.

Forty percent of them are sending text messages, 22 percent are taking pictures and 18 percent are accessing the Internet through their cell phones. (Other data suggests there are more than 2.5 billion text messages being sent daily worldwide, by a mostly younger demographic.)

How does that translate for retailers? Crawford noted that in Japan retailers are taking advantage of cell phone cameras which have downloaded software enabling users to photograph product bar codes in stores. The photos will trigger an Amazon response with product information and reviews and a list of nearby retailers and their prices.

Crawford provided the example of a consumer standing in one retailer's store, photographing the bar code, reviewing the information and clicking to buy.

“They've just bought it from your competitor,” he offered. This is the real world that's here today.”

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