Bears Business Brief: Smartphones for smart shopping August 8, 2017 by Mary Grace Phillips Martin Jones Recently, I was shopping at a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market and received a text message offer about a product. My immediate thought was that the security of my smartphone had been compromised. Then I remembered reading an article about how many retail stores use “proximity marketing,” which can be delivered through your smartphone’s Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connections. You can prevent this by turning off these connections while shopping if such messages become annoying. Considering this, companies have developed sophisticated programs that analyze your path to pinpoint more appropriate offers. Since your smartphone has its own unique “MAC address,” the programs can also recall your previous paths from prior visits to the store. It may, for example, notice that every third visit you spend more time in the condiment section, and will therefore send you a sale alert on ketchup during your next “third visit,” as a friendly reminder to not forget the ketchup! Retailers are also considering combining your store path patterns with facial recognition to make your visit more efficient. There are many surveillance cameras in retail stores currently for security and shoplifting prevention. Software is being developed to accurately read facial expressions from these security and higher-resolution cameras. Back to the ketchup example, while in the condiment section your face may have expressed disappointment with the available choices or with where you expected your favorite brand to be located. Analysis of customers’ facial expressions could provide retailers information leading to more appropriate product placement and variety. In addition to store “suggestions,” consumers are increasingly using their smartphones to actively shop for the best price. Recent surveys show that about two-thirds of millennial retail shoppers use their smartphones to buy or shop online either through store websites or a smartphone app specifically developed by retailers. Surveys also show that over 90 percent of retail shoppers use their smartphones while in stores. Over half of those shoppers are using their smartphones to find a discount or coupon for a product or to check competitors’ websites for comparison pricing. By using the smartphone’s camera, shoppers can scan bar codes on products to check prices, availability, and even their location within an aisle of the store. Using a general shopping app or a retailer’s app, shoppers can even add the product to a price watch list to be alerted when its price drops. To complete the full shopping cycle, smartphones are also being used by customers to pay for their purchases and by retailers to follow up with their customers after purchase. Customers can link their credit card account to their smartphone so it can be scanned for payment in place of the plastic card. The security of these transactions can be verified by passwords or the customer’s fingerprint. After purchase, some large retailers have their own apps that enable their customers’ accounts to be automatically credited if they could have purchased the same product for a lower price at a local competitor’s store. That’s what I call “smart shopping”! Martin Jones, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Technology and Construction Management in the College of Business at Missouri State University. His specialties include nondestructive inspection, electronics, and quality control. This article appeared in the August 5, 2017 edition of the News-Leader and can be accessed online here.