Sources close to Google are reporting that the company will announce the release of a Virtual Wallet with NFC (Near-Field Communication) functionality, available on Sprint’s Nexus S smartphones using the Android operating system. The primary functionality will include the ability to pay for goods with a simple swipe of the phone, as well as redeem coupons and rack up points in a loyalty program; working with Google to make this technology possible are VeriFone and ViVO Tech. The news is expected to be broken tomorrow, May 26th, at a press event in New York City. The list of retailers who will be participating in the early stages of this release includes Subway, Macy’s and American Eagle Outfitters, which should bode well for the generally younger, more tech-savvy user base of Droid smartphones.
This release should also serve as a wake-up call for retailers and grocers, and underscore the need for mobile device functionality at their stores. Smartphone and financial payment technologies are clearly converging and will certainly be tied to social media and location based services like Foursquare and Gowalla in the very near future. One example of a retailer with good intentions in the area of customer engagement is Target, which has been making great efforts to meet their customers on their smartphones. Interestingly they are holding off on mobile payments for the near-term, citing uncertainty in the smartphone mobile payments landscape and somewhat slow user adoption to this point. With Google entering the space on one of its most popular Droid devices, the issue of user adoption could be solved very quickly, and retailers who grasp this reality and are able to get a head-start over their competition (for example by using software like ours!) will be in a great position to win more business and delight their customer bases.
Target, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Walmart have all officially entered the arena of Social Networks in an attempt to boost their market share, and there’s still plenty of room for growth. With Walmart over 1.6 million Facebook followers, and Target with almost 1.8 million, the race is on to see who will be the Retail-King of social media. These large chains are fully underway in social media to gain exposure and build customer relationships, but mid-size and smaller grocers are strangely proving much slower to implement the technology.
Clearly there are some market-leaders when it comes to technology adoption outside of the major chains – Newport Avenue Market in Bend, Oregon and Granite Falls IGA Market in Washington state are two great examples – but the segment as a whole appears to be lagging behind their larger competitors. In an industry where smaller retailers are unable to compete with the big-boys on price or product selection, building and maintaining customer relationships should be priority number one; the vast majority of small and mid-size grocers are missing a great opportunity to connect with their customers through social media.