Black Friday will never be the same. Here’s how technology is changing shopping.

November 27, 2013

(Courtesy of eBay)

Unstaffed digital stores that track your every move.

EBay, in partnership with Westfield Labs, has introduced touchscreen storefronts this month. Consumers can learn about products and make purchases, which are then delivered to them. Retailers have the chance to gain a larger presence in malls without building an additional store. Malls can find a use for blank walls. Toms, Sony and Rebecca Minkoff are taking advantage of the new technology.

“It really changes what does it mean to be a retailer. We want to be the change agent for how people shop. This is the future of shopping being created by us,” said Steve Yankovich, vice president of innovation and new ventures at eBay.

The storefronts use infrared technology to track how many customers walk by and how engaged they are. The sensors are smart enough to distinguish between a person who merely walks by, a person who walks by and turns his head, and one who stops and faces the glass. That data can be shared with the stores to modify the experience to better appeal to customers.

The goal is a seamless, frictionless buying experience. Currently customers enter their phone number on the glass screen to complete the purchasing process to their smartphones, for security purposes. Yankovich says one of eBay’s next steps is finding a way to glean customers’ cellphone numbers, so that the buying process is even easier for them.

The days of a cashier asking you for your e-mail address or phone number may be numbered.

(Screenshot) Get your kicks.

Apps that reward you for walking into a store, and guide you toward purchases.

Shopkick is essentially a digital layer to enhance the traditional brick-and-mortar experience. At participating retailers, the app will give you reward points, called kicks, when you walk inside. Kicks can be redeemed for gift cards. The app will also recommend items within the store for you.

“Stores are anything but dead, but it is clear consumers can have a better experience,” said Shopkick CEO Cyriac Roeding.

The app relies on your smartphone’s microphone picking up an ultrasound signal emitted from small sensors in the store. Bluetooth low energy technology, which is on newer smartphones, appears poised to take apps such as Shopkick to the next level. Shopkick has begun a trial at Macy’s stores in San Francisco and New York that uses Apple’s iBeacon technology, which relies on Bluetooth low energy.

Roeding calls the ultrasound-Bluetooth combination “the killer solution.” Bluetooth solves a current Shopkick shortcoming, the app must be turned on before you enter the store. The Bluetooth technology can wake the app up, leaving users with one less thing to do.

Swirl is also looking to shake up the retail space, including targeting promotions to the exact type of merchandise you’re standing in front of.

Some things are hard to find. That's where The Hunt comes in. Some things are hard to find. That’s where The Hunt comes in.

Enlist strangers to find exactly what you want.

The Hunt is an app that helps you find the clothes you want. Users post photos of things they’re interested in or help other users find exactly what they’re looking for.

Stop battling the crowds. Or even worrying about picking your own clothes.

On Stitchfix you fill out a style profile and have its experts mail clothes to you. They will account for your price range as well. Keep what you like and send back the rest. The service costs $20, and you receive 25 percent back if you keep the entire order.

We’re still in the early stages of technology changing retail. We’ve seen online retailers such as Amazon chip away at traditional retailers, but the use of smartphones to enhance in-person and online purchasing is just beginning.

(Disclosure: Amazon’s chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post)

Matt McFarland is the editor of Innovations. He's always looking for the next big thing. You can find him on Twitter and Facebook.
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