Motorola Solutions gets serious about shaking up shopping


Shopping could be better. Motorola Solutions wants to bring the perks of online shopping to brick-and-mortar stores. (Jorge Silva/Reuters)

Motorola Solutions is the latest entrant to take on the reinvention of in-store shopping. It’s launching a comprehensive mobile marketing platform — Mpact — for retailers who want to use cutting-edge technology to enrich their brick-and-mortar shopping experience.

“We believe this is going to become not only an absolutely critical part of retailers’ way of interacting with you. In fact they have to give you all of the best benefits that you’re used to getting from an Amazon environment if they want to be able to compete. They’re going to have to implement this one way or another,” said Barry Issberner, marketing director for enterprise solutions at Motorola Solutions.

Physical stores still account for the overwhelming majority of sales, so businesses are determined to optimize their in-store experience. One of the most promising solutions is beacons, Bluetooth-powered sensors placed throughout stores. Motorola will begin selling its own beacons, which will deliver location-based information and deals to customers’ smartphones. Motorola Solutions will also provide retailers analytics of the in-store location data and upkeep of the network of beacons.

It’s partnering with a handful of companies focused on retail innovations — Swirl, Aisle411, Digby and Phunware — to make the experience possible.

Motorola Solutions appears well-positioned to deliver its platform given its existing relationships with retailers. Motorola technology is already in use in the 100 top retailers. It provides everything from devices to scan barcodes to WiFi network infrastructure. Given the popularity of smartphones, Motorola Solutions realized it had the chance to grow its offerings to stores.

“What we see is that vocal minority of shoppers today — which we think will become the majority over time — that want to use that personal mobile device as an interaction tool,” Issberner said.

A unique aspect of Motorola Solutions’ approach to reinventing retail is including WiFi.

“The other folks in this space have isolated this to just the Bluetooth Low Energy capability, and we think that is really not giving the retailer the level of scalability and capability that they’re after,” Issberner said.

“As marketing campaigns get more sophisticated with rich imagery, even perhaps audio and video down the line, you’re going to need that strong connectivity,” Swirl chief executive Hilmi Ozguc said. “And unfortunately cellphone coverage isn’t great inside some of these stores.”

Motorola imagines a time when it’s normal to have a live video chat with a store employee.

“You can chat with someone at corporate headquarters at Best Buy who is an absolute expert on that TV you’re considering. That is coming. Most retailers can’t support that today, but that is going to happen and that is going to evolve,” Issberner said.

Motorola Solutions’ interest in beacons is the latest example of the building momentum behind the devices, which have the potential to remake our experiences in all physical places. But the company is staying open-minded about alternatives as well for delivering an engaging, location-based experience to customers. For example, Philips is developing lights with built-in sensors that detect the location of shoppers.

“We’re seeing a time in the market where the playing field of online and in-store is being leveled,” Aisle 411 chief executive Nathan Pettyjohn said. “For a long long time the in-store, the brick and mortar had won and dominated. They’re at a critical point where they have to digitize the physical store so it all works together, or the physical retailers are at a huge risk of losing ground.”

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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