The role of the internet for the retail of *physical* goods. ~ Sounds + Food 'n' Retail

One of the stories, I covered last week in my links, uncovered an interesting statistic. Only about 3% of retail sales in the US happens online. I don't think these stats are at all coincidental. While I see a bright future ahead for the online retail of media-products, I find that what the internet cannot provide, is the "closeness," that is sometimes needed for evaluating certain types of goods, like food and clothing. I have commented on this before, implicitly, with a post on the web as a third place, and about the lack of cohesion that Facebook provides.

At the same time, as The New Yorker story reports, what the internet has changed is how we shop; it is much easier to research and comparison-shop than it was before the internet-days. A survey by Accenture found that ca. 66% of those surveyed compared products online, and another study showed that the internet played a significant role with ca. 75% of electronics purchases.

IInnovate has an interesting podcast interview with Scott Dunlap, CEO of NearbyNow, which has come up with an interesting way to exploit the informational advantages of the internet and mash that with the qualities of physical shopping. Following short video shows how their service works:

Clearly technology has evolved a lot in the last few years, making this possible. NearbyNow works via the web and via mobile. I'm not sure if they are using any location-tracking & matching services, but certainly they are heading in that direction. On the retailers' side, there is plenty of technology that makes this possible also. Electronic inventory and point of sale systems allow both for the checking of stock-levels and for consumers to reserve items to be picked up and tried on at a later date.

One issue that entered my mind, is that of efficiency. The way NearbyNow operates is through malls in the US, most of which are, as I found out, owned by 6 major companies across the nation. US's scale-economies win again! In Europe, the situation appears a little different. Culturally, linguistically, technologically, and legally, it is a much more fragmented market, with far fewer malls also, and that may make it difficult for a unified service like this to operate as efficiently as it would in the US.

There is also the issue of too much transparency, which is worrying to some retailers, and addressed in the podcast-interview. But what does seem certain is that this is exactly the type of service that consumers value, and as such one that any consumer-centric business should encourage.

Will a service like this ever replace shopping in its entirety? No, I'm essentially betting my future that there are plenty of qualities *real* environments will continue to offer over virtual ones. But there is no reason, none at all, to try to integrate the good qualities that the web does possess—information at your fingertips—as elegantly and effectively as possible into those experiences.

This article is mirror-posted on Tech IT Easy.


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