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Recently, Maureen Atkinson, Senior Partner at J.C. Williams Group, chaired a panel of bright mobility experts at the annual joint ICSC/CSCA Canadian Research Conference in Toronto.  Now this is usually made up of a series of presentations about land-based retail by property owners, leasing agents, and the consultants who work for them.  To have a panel addressing the issue of e-commerce and mobile technology was a bit like hearing from the enemy. To our surprise, our audience was engaged and had lots of questions.  So what were key takeaways?

  • Mobile technology is alive and well in Canada – As retail “experts” we have despaired of Canadian retailers in the mobile universe.  They seemed to be hopelessly behind and although aware of the trends, just did not seem to be even experimenting.  Well, we were proven wrong by this great panel.
  • Big retailers can actually be nimble – Who would have thought that Canadian Tire www.canadiantire.ca, not exactly noted as a leading edge company, could come up with an app that was so useful?  With this app, you can view their flyer, which looks like their paper flyer, get product specs on flyer items, add flyer items or other store products to your shopping list, and find out if the items are in-stock at your local store.  Try to do that with a paper flyer.  It also has a store locator feature and once at the store, the app can scan a barcode or QR code to get more information on in-store products. Kudos to them for also listening to their app users who complained loudly in the blogosphere when the first version of the app had a GPS locator that was automatic.  Users complained about “Big Brother” tactics.  Three days later they had an upgrade available that gave users the option to turn off the GPS.
  • Retailer innovation can happen in a closet – Well.ca www.well.ca, not exactly a household word, literally started in a closet in the back of the founder’s father’s drug store.  Now they are partnering with no less than Proctor and Gamble to produce a virtual pop-up store in Union Station in downtown Toronto.  See our blog post reporting this event. Hundreds of downtown workers downloaded their app and bought Tide on their lunch hour with their smart phones; one of those chores that needs to be done but nobody really cares to spend their precious weekend hours doing.  All purchases are delivered for free.
  • The developing world is way ahead of us – One thing that Artin Youssifian from Push Science www.pushsci.com pointed out is that mobile use in the developing world is far ahead of North America, possibly because of our strong reliable landline network.  In places like Brazil where the phone system can be touch-and-go at best, the mobile phone has become ubiquitous.  With this comes an explosion of new uses.  As rightly pointed out, the cost of using some of these great applications is much more expensive in Canada simply because our usage costs are so high.  Maybe instead of blaming retailers we should be looking at the telcos for the reason we are still lagging.

Conclusions – All is not as dismal in Canada for mobility as we assumed.  We will continue to look for the leaders because sooner or later the laggards will not be there.

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