What's The Future Of M-Commerce Look Like? Home Depot Snr. VP/IT: Customers Will Dictate Real-Time Inventory

The future of mobile commerce includes instant Facebook data mining, real-time inventory and lots of seamless integration with every channel. At least that's the view of most of the retail IT leaders who gathered recently for a panel to discuss where retail should go, mobile-wise, with one suggesting that many of the largest chains can't even build regular mobile apps yet.

"The ultimate vision for anyone in retail or hospitality today would be if someone lashes out on their Facebook page about an issue they had with your brand," said Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors. "And you would quickly be able to see that person's spend. Is this a person who comes once a week? Is this a person who this is the first time they've ever stepped foot in my restaurant? That's the ultimate vision, but we're not there yet."

The executive panel was moderated by StorefrontBacktalk and it has been turned into a series of podcasts, including "Mobility liberates information. It encourages the ubiquity of information and that information flow is bidirectional. It is from the retailer to the client and from the client to the retailer. It can be used to great power and perhaps to great harm, in either direction," Sajor said. "Obviously you are going to want to have some controls, to allow privacy. But if you think about it from the vantage point of operationalizing the client to make intelligent decisions, of course it can aid. And if the data is there—and there's no reason it shouldn't be—then why can't we share that data productively with the client and let them make intelligent decisions? If the client walks into a store and sees a product that she likes hanging on the rack and doesn't want to go through 37 of them to see if the size 6 is there, yeah, let the data be there, let it help. That data can either be there for the client or it can be there for the associate."

Cara Kinzey, the senior VP/IT at Home Depot, agreed with Sajor and added that real-time inventory is an area where consumers will simply not give retailers a choice. Mobile is giving them a way, and they will quickly acquire the will.

"I think the customer is going to dictate that retailers are going to have to provide [real-time inventory data,] because as more and more people get smartphones, it's expected," Kinzey said. "Then it's desirable on the retailer side to provide it and be accurate, because it's going to increase sales. They're going to go somewhere else if you're not the one who has it."

HSN Operating VP Sean Bunner agreed that the goals, hopes and dreams of the rest of the panel have merit and are compelling. But then he added that much of retail hasn't even mastered the mobile basics yet."Technology and mobile devices make it easy to instantly jump to all of these wonderful things that they can do that are way out in the future. If you just pull up the Top 10 retailers [on mobile], and if they have a WAP site or an app, just try and navigate," Bunner said. "It's funny to see a lot of people making the same mistakes as 10 years ago in E-Commerce. Things are hard to navigate. You hit the wrong button, because they are too small. Pages aren't tagged. This will be the year of better user experience on mobile, ubiquity across applications" and 2012 will be the year for fancy stuff.

Home Depot's Kinzey laid out a more conservative future vision.

Let's say that "you came into our store and you had a [home improvement] project going. You had part of it online, through Kitchen Design, and part of it is on your phone. We will know where all of the sources for it are and we'll also know where all of the statuses are and be able to help you accordingly," Kinzey said. "And you go on to whatever device and see that yourself. That's an end-goal objective and we have a roadmap to get there from here. It shouldn't matter to us how you sourced it. It is not something we're doing today. I am not aware that anybody is doing it holistically all the way around the clock today, but I think everybody is probably striving for that right now."

Ann Taylor's Sajor made his point about the future of mobile by going backward in time—to the 1800s, to be precise.

"We all like to want to hang onto models that are rooted in 19th Century technology for some reason. What's a cashwrap for in a store? It's a place where you could put the great big brass register, with the big arm on the side that went 'Ka-ching!' Why do we need one? What's the point? What's it there for?" Sajor asked. "The only reason it's there is because you still have this big thing sitting there that you have to interact with. There's no reason why cashwrap can't be a device sitting in the palm of the associate's hand. Scan, scan, scan; swipe the card. Many retailers are doing this today. It works. Why is that artifact of the 1970s sitting in your store? Reclaim the space and use it more effectively."