Mobile retail is looking for its Uber

          Laura Heller

During a recent weekend away to attend a family wedding, one word was on everyone's lips: Uber.

If you haven't heard of Uber, it's the car service upstart that has taxi and limousine companies petitioning local governments to limit the company's ability to operate. Like Airbnb in the hospitality industry, Uber is solving an important problem and reaping the rewards.

Users download the Uber app and can summon transportation anytime, anywhere, with the push of a button. It's instant, transparent and reliable in all the ways taxi cabs, shuttles, buses and car services are not.
Dallas isn't known for being a particularly pedestrian friendly city and we have a rather large family with divergent interests, so we decided against renting multiple cars. Being from Chicago where taxis are plentiful, it seemed natural to rely on the existing network of car services. It was a mistake.

We took a shuttle from the airport to the hotel, realizing later it likely would have cost less to use Uber, which provided larger vehicles too.

The hotel's cab line had plenty of cars waiting, but drivers weren't familiar with destinations. One took some younger members of our group on a wild ride, running up the meter and all the while insisting he had no idea where a popular area filled with shops and restaurants was located, or how to get there. This was both scary and expensive.

But the 20-somethings among us were happily arriving at destinations, delivered by friendly and informative drivers, courtesy of Uber. By the end of the weekend, Uber was being used as a noun and a verb. Uber, quite literally, saved each day.

This weekend away in Dallas really hammered the point home and made me wonder what Uber-like mobile application would transform retail. Will it be an app that finds an item and brings it to the buyer at a location as pinpointed by GPS? Or a retail app that provides a superior level of customer service or faster checkout?

Most likely it's something that I haven't the imagination to conceive of, something that someone, somewhere is dreaming up as I write this.

We talk a lot about disruption in retail today. About Amazon's ability to disrupt both pricing and the delivery model. We talk about an upstart like Warby Parker and its ability to change the way people buy eyeglasses.

Uber certainly disrupted the car service model, but more importantly it transformed how people accessed and used transportation. It solved a problem we didn't even know we had. Taxis seemed a fine option, until something came along and showed us how wrong that notion was.

We're still waiting for that transformative experience in mobile. -Laura