Alphabet Soup

2 03 2012

When I was a kid, it was always fun to eat hearty bowl of alphabet soup. It was not the kind of soup you ate when you were sick; no, this was strictly for grins. It was like Scrabble comes to dinner.

In many regards, I feel like we consumers are swimming in a different bowl of soup, one with what seems as many letters, yet all involve shopping and gadgets.

Over 15 years ago we were introduced to the idea of e-commerce (in spite of the fact that nearly 30 years prior, futurists envisioned a day in which we would shop from our then-to-be-invented home computers). Everyone and their brother co-opted the use of the letter “e,” and even to this day, it is used with nearly reckless abandon (think: ebooks and e-readers…you decide whether the hyphen is required).

It was around the turn of the century that folks starting talking about m-commerce, a day in which we would purchase things from our phones. Of course, this was all pretty much Dick Tracy kind of stuff, with all manner of speculation as to what kind of devices we would one day have, and whether we would wear it on our wrists. but they were certain about one thing: we would eventually be able to shop from anywhere.

It was not too long before Accenture published a white paper predicting devices much like the Palm Pilots of the day that could literally scan a person walking toward you, and then pop up with opportunities to purchase the very clothes they were wearing. Thankfully, we haven’t quite gotten there yet.

During this same time, Apple came along and claimed the letter “i” for what would one day be a enormous product line of devices that played well together. Apple apparently has no problem with after-market companies using the i-letter, and as such we have been inundated with a plethora of cases and doo-dads that work with our iPods, iPhoens and iPads.

More recently, though, m-commerce has gained significant traction, in the form of in-app purchases and interactive “magalogs” created for tablet devices. It’s probably not exactly how people envisioned this a decade ago, but it’s taking off…just like the e-commerce that eventually came about in the 1990s was not the same as predicted three decades earlier.

Other aspects of m-commerce revolve around mobile payments like Google is developing. Essentially, our smartphones will become our wallets. I have been using an early effort with mobile payments with Starbucks. My SBUX app has a unique QR code tethered to my credit card, so I never have to bring money (or plastic) when I want coffee. They just scan the QR and I am on my way to becoming caffeinated.

Now imagine using something like this everywhere you go shopping. Oh yeah…and think about how Apple’s i-products are in the middle of all this.

The big question mark, though, concerns social shopping (or, as some like to call it, f-shopping, for Facebook). Twitter has recently joined the game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Pinterest finds a way to start selling to all those happy pinners.

Facebook was all the rage the last two years as major retailers built social shopping sites, but recently, many have been shuttered for lack of sales. Best Western hotels just added in-Facebook room reservations, but it is too early to tell if it is working. Earlier this week, Facebook teamed up with several wireless carriers to handle mobile payments, but these are aimed primarily at those who use gaming apps.

Missing from the discussion thus far, though, are three letters used together: BAM, as in brick-and-mortar. Where do these folks fit in among all this emphasis on out-of-store shopping?

Simple. They still exist. And they will continue to exist. The only difference is that their bottom lines will either be padded by their e-, m- and s-sales, or deflated by the lack thereof.

Which means that for the winners, there will be alphabet soup…and for the losers, perhaps chicken soup. Because the soul of their business is going to need it.

Dr “iDeclare” Gerlich

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