The line between e-commerce and traditional retail just gets fuzzier and fuzzier. Two recent examples make the point. The first is a company called Swirl, which last week launched its mobile in-store targeting platform in Boston. From the release:
Swirl today launched the first software platform specifically designed to attract and influence in-store shoppers with micro-targeted digital content and real-time, personalized offers delivered to consumers’ smartphones while they shop. The Swirl In-Store Mobile Marketing Platform enables retailers to quickly and efficiently make mobile phones an engaging and value-added part of the in-store shopping experience for consumers. Alex and Ani, Timberland, Kenneth Cole, The Blues Jean Bar, Scott James, and Exhale Spa are among the first retailers to deploy the new technology at their retail stores in New York and Boston starting today.
Like all innovations, this is basically Minority Report in real life, but uses your phone rather than your retina to do the targeting. Even when you’re shopping in a physical store, digital marketing can be a great way to drive a sale.
But that sale might not happen at that moment, in that store. And so this technology could conceivably also help address “showrooming,” where shoppers check stuff out in the physical store and later buy online. Typically seen as a threat to retailers, this kind of mobile targeting could drive showroomers to purchase through retailers’ e-commerce platforms rather than Amazon.
We’ll be writing more about all of this as part of BostInno’s upcoming State of Innovation report, but my major takeaway is simple: talking about brick and mortar vs. e-commerce no longer makes sense. Some shoppers research online and buy in-store; some research in-store and buy online. Some do both simultaneously, thanks to mobile. With digital only getting bigger, and physical not going away, the future of retail is a messy spectrum.