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Stores get more interactive

December 22, 1999


Chicago area retailers are adding computer-assisted shopping devices in their stores as part of a "clicks and mortar" revolution.

Bloomingdale's, 900 N. Michigan Ave., is the first local store to install "e-osks," interactive kiosks that exceed the capabilities of their predecessor, the touch-screen bridal gift registry.

The three e-osks, which look like a stainless steel kiosk with a keyboard, let shoppers select a product from any Bloomingdale store and buy it instantly with a credit card.

Hence, no more hauling bags around the store, waiting in long check-out lines or fighting crowds to discover that the store is out of the holiday gift you wanted. Items purchased at an e-osk will be delivered to your home or any drop-off site you prefer.

Shoppers with more time on their hands can put products in a shopping cart--in this case, Bloomingdale's signature "big brown bag"--and print out the list from an adjacent printer. They can also send postcard e-mails to friends, browse the holiday catalog, and search for items by keyword or category.

Because the e-osks use proprietary networks, the music and scrolling videos on the screens have none of the delays or log-offs common to the Web.

"People today have been raised in a video game world. They expect to see things that get their attention," said Cynthia Hollen, president of Knowledge Strategies, a New York-based e-commerce strategy company in a joint venture with eOSK.com.

eOSK.com is a year-old Princeton, N.J.-based company aimed at leveraging e-commerce for bricks-and-mortar manufacturers and retailers.

E-osks' next incarnation will let retailers broaden their product offerings and extend into non-traditional retail areas, Hollen said Tuesday. For example, JCrew will announce this week that it will offer products targeted to e-osk users in specific venues, such as hotels and sports arenas, Hollen said.

Retailers involved in the project can change product offerings on the fly to suit the targeted audiences. So a store can offer a briefcase on sale via an e-osk for weekday hotel guests--likely business travelers--and change the offering to a sweater for weekend guests.

This is the kind of one-to-one selling in a multimedia environment that solves major channel conflicts between bricks-and-mortar retailers and e-commerce players, Hollen said.

Other local click-and-mortar developments include:

* Evanston-based Perceptual Robotics Inc. provides remote-controlled cameras in the Harley-Davidson store at 1301 S. Harlem Ave. in Berwyn so Web shoppers can closely inspect items on-screen.

They cannot yet buy the products online, but that capability is being built, said Paul Cooper, CEO of Perceptual Robotics.

* Rosemont-based clixnmortar.com, a majority-owned subsidiary of Simon Property Group, which owns malls in Calumet City, Orland Park and Lincolnwood, is piloting the use of two customer hand-held scanning devices in its malls in Atlanta.

One, called the ZapStick, lets teenagers scan products they want, upload the data onto a secure Web page, and enable their parents, friends and relatives access to the "wish lists" of their choosing.

The other, Yoursherpa.com, lets customers scan items they want to buy, and have those items picked up or delivered.

Many details still must be worked out, including how items will be distinguished when shoppers wander around the mall with the hand-held scanners, and how shoppers can buy products that don't have a standard UPC code, Hollen said.

Yet it's another example of how Internet e-commerce can support and help increase bricks and mortar sales, she said.

In fact, Downers Grove-based Spiegel reports that 60 percent of its Web shoppers this year were new to the company, and that customers who shop both online and via catalog spend three times more than other shoppers, said Rich Burke, managing director of Spiegel.com.

Newsbit furnished by:

A: NetShift Software Ltd.
A: Hughenden Yard, Marlborough, Wilts,SN8 1LT, UK
T: +44 (0)1672 511 094
F: +44 (0)1672 511 078
E: [email protected]
W: www.netshift.com

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