Shopkick's Clever Twist On Mobile Catalogues: In-Store Inventory Hook

Shopkick, which has creatively pushed the mobile interaction world quite a bit this year, has added an intriguing new feature to bridge the in-store and mobile worlds. It's a mobile catalogue, but its clever twist is that it interacts with real-time inventory from retail partners. To what end? When shoppers at home or at work say they like (with a little heart icon) a particular catalogue product, the app will alert them if it happens to be in-stock at a store they're visiting.

Shopkick didn't say how it is interacting with the inventories of its retail partners, including American Eagle Outfitters, Best Buy, Crate and Barrel, ExxonMobil, Macy's, Old Navy, Sports Authority, Target, Toys"R"Us and Wet Seal. However, given that the catalogues from each retail partner are relatively small, there's little need to grant access to the full inventory. All a chain would need to do is broadcast to the Shopkick app the inventory status of the couple dozen SKUs it is currently pushing in its mobile catalogue. This would be a relatively easy task. And although security is always a concern, the tiny number of products being shared would make that information of trivial value to rivals.

The app now sports a map feature, but that's less interesting than it might have been. The statement issued Wednesday (Oct. 17) spoke of a "quick glance (that) reveals high-value shopping areas, making it simple to plan the most fruitful route that also minimizes the number of trips taken."

Ideally, that would be the capability to examine all the products a shopper has checked off and flag which shopping areas have most of those products in stock, in the size and color desired. What it actually delivers, though, is simply a map showing the greatest concentration of Shopkick retail partners and not necessarily even the ones a shopper cares about. "It is simply showing the shopping areas with the most stores. The more kicks a shopping area has, the bigger is the bubble. It emulates the real-world mall on your phone. And it shows how far away each shopping area is from you," Shopkick said in an E-mailed statement. "We learned from our users that that is how they plan their shopping trips: They look for the areas with the most kicks, and then decide to shop there and visit multiple stores."

Is Shopkick actually arguing that shoppers lay out their shopping expeditions based not on product availability or prices but on where they can get the most mobile points? That might be true for some enthusiasts, who are trying to max out their numbers, but product selection and price—and store ambiance—have to be a much bigger draw for most shoppers.

That said, Shopkick has been impressively pushing the envelope this year, first with some innovative store-and-forward tactics, but also with a miser's heartthrob move that lets chains offer Shopkick by piggybacking on the store's existing sound system.