From Your Keychain to Your Mobile
By Eric Lin, Wed Aug 25 23:45:00 GMT 2004

Vivotech wants to add customer loyalty programs to the growing list of ways that shoppers are using mobile phones. Now phones can save money and save some space in members' pockets.

Loyalty programs, which often require members to carry a bar code or RFID dongle on their keychains, are starting to weigh heavy in peoples' pockets and not just because they keep wallets a little fatter. Not only are all these dangling tabs a nuisance, they don't do anything for members until checkout -- or worse, after they've already paid. Vivotech wants to use mobile phones or PDAs to create loyalty programs that will entice members when they walk in the store instead of when they leave, without the bulk of keychain dongles.

Vivotech's initial plan calls for kiosks placed in front of stores for loyalty program members to stop by on their way in. Software on their smartphone or PDA will have a little chat with the kiosk via Bluetooth or IR and send ads, sales and special offers to the mobile device. This is similar to the technology driving WideRay kiosks often seen at trade shows, and even a few high-tech shopping centers. The company feels that by catching customers before they start shopping, they are more likely to take advantage of offers than ones they receive at or after checkout. Using a wider range technology (like Wi-Fi or GPRS), this idea could be moved from before the shopping experience to during it, where it actually belongs.

As mobile devices become more powerful and more integrated into daily life, they are becoming a part of every step of the shopping experience. Users receive ads and share product information. They can comparison shop. In some countries they can even use phones to purchase items. Companies will continue to round out the consumer experience on mobile phones and other personal devices, loyalty programs are only one such aspect.

Two years ago, Tesco tried to tie together nearly every aspect of shopping at its stores into an application called Pocket Shopper. With it, members could create a shopping list on their Pocket PCs at any convenient place or time and then send the order over the Internet directly or via a PC's Internet connection. Like most applications launched before their time, it quietly disappeared. This year's services are more refined in that they integrate with the actual experience of shopping as opposed to trying to replace it like Pocket Shopper did. Mobile device assisted shopping is on the cusp of adoption, stores will start to differentiate themselves by embracing this opportunity.