Why Not Use Mobile Devices To Let Customers Literally See What's In-Store?

Yet another video-related shopping patent was issued last Friday (Sept. 14), and it's not for retail chains—at least not at first glance. U.S. Patent 8,244,594 describes a personal shopping service in which a customer can use video to actually see the shopper-for-hire collecting the shopping list in real time, so it's possible to reject or swap out items as they're being grabbed from the shelf. That's not a likely candidate for a service from a big chain, but it raises an interesting question: Why aren't chains already using video this way in-store?

After all, customers have long called stores to ask if a particular item is in stock. Associates can check the shelves to confirm, though they don't always get it right. Now that camera- and Wi-Fi-equipped phones and tablets are so cheap, it's practical to let customers watch online as associates check those shelves to see exactly what's there. That's at least as compelling a use of video as Amazon's "watch while we pack your order" approach—and in this case, it could actually save customers time and avoid associate mistakes. Besides, half the retail battle is getting that customer into the store—even virtually.