retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Without realizing it, and without much warning, retailers all over America may now be serving as showrooms for Amazon.com.

According to a Cnet story, Amazon has just unveiled an updated free iPhone app, which “contains a bar code scanner in its search screen. As with bar code scanners in other mobile apps, Amazon Mobile uses your iPhone's camera to take in a product's zebra-striped bar code. Amazon's servers then find a match, and after you select the item, you can sign in to your account to purchase the product on the spot.”

In other words, if the consumer is in virtually any store that carries any product sold by Amazon - and that covers a lot of territory - they can comparison shop ... and if Amazon offers a better price (which it often does) or the convenience of home delivery, the shopper can instantly order online using the application.

Writes Cnet, “Amazon's iPhone app isn't the first to match bar codes to items in a database, of course, and shopping comparison apps have existed for a couple of years. However, Amazon's addition will be an effective way to convert bar code scanning into concrete sales with the touch of a finger.”

Yet another way in which retailers in a wide variety of segments are competing with Amazon ... even if they don’t realize it.

This story comes at the same time as TechCrunch reports that a UK grocery shopping comparison site, MySupermarket, that “lets its users compare prices of single items, and more importantly, entire carts, when ordering online in four leading UK supermarket chains,” now is averaging one million monthly users.

Glen Terbeek, who was envisioning such developments decades ago when he was running Smart Store for Andersen Consulting in Chicago, makes the point that developments like those at Amazon and My Supermarket demonstrate how “the internet is driving pricing down to the lowest common denominator.  It will be difficult for retailers to compete on price in the future.  And it raises the question as to what value does a retailer create in getting the shoppers what they want.”

Bingo.

And that’s our Thursday Eye-Opener.

- Kevin Coupe
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