I read with interest in TechCrunch that Amazon is launching an SMS buying service. If you have a cellphone, you’ll be able to text a name, a description, a UPC, or an ISBN (Library of Congress book number) and get back search results from Amazon. If you like what you see, you can elect to purchase and get a callback from Amazon to complete the transaction. As TechCrunch points out, the obvious application is comparison shopping when you see something you like. Got a book at Barnes and Noble? Check it on Amazon and order it there if the price is better. I already use Amazon frequently to check prices when ordering online. A certain percentage of the time, their price is better and I am diverted there instead.
It’s a clever idea, although I hate the SMS interface. I suppose their assumption is if you have a phone capable of a more powerful UI platform you’ll just go to the web site. It does make me wonder, though. Retailers typically hate comparison shopping. Those that are in the low cost provider niche may offer price guarantees, but that doesn’t mean they like to honor them. The ubiquity of contact makes it almost a certainty customers can have access to the lowest price quotes wherever they go. It makes me wonder whether some retailers won’t decide they want to jam cell phones ala some movie theaters to stop the practice. After all, having paid for an expensive bricks and mortar presence which favors the spontaneity of browsing, now they have to suffer the indignity of having defeat snatched from the jaws of victory just as they’re about to make the sale.
As pricing information becomes more available, the friction in the markets will reduce. Retailers can find themselves less up to date on pricing than their customers, which is a dangerous place to be. It will be absolutely essential for retailers to have great pricing intelligence that operates in real time. Imagine what a great impression it would make if the service was tied into the point of sale terminal. You walk up with your purchases and the clerk informs you with a smile that several of your items are being marked down on the spot in keeping with the retailer’s, “We bring you the best value,” policy. It wouldn’t take much of that to make me loyal for life, how about you? There are companies in this business of providing such pricing intelligence. RivalWatch is one such and claims to have 12 of the top 15 online retailers as customers. Such services are quite different than shopping bots because they’re providing intelligence to retailers and are focused on being accurate more than letting resellers buy placement or play other games with the integrity of the data.
It will be an interesting arms race to see whether outfits like RivalWatch can keep access to critical data they need to deliver the information. After all, retailers are not incented to let such information out to a service like RivalWatch. Many higher end markets go out of their way to limit the availability of pricing information.
Progress marches on.