All the world's a shopping cart.
A wave of experiments at various companies could take consumer convenience (and impulsiveness) to new heights. The ultimate vision is a form of shopping nirvana, where consumers can buy what they covet on the spot — straight from an attention-grabbing magazine ad, for instance, or off a television screen, or even from a refrigerator.
On Tuesday MasterCard plans to announce a partnership with Condé Nast, the publisher of Vogue, Wired, Vanity Fair and other popular magazines, that will allow digital readers to instantly buy items described in an article or showcased in an advertisement by tapping a shopping cart icon on the page. The partnership, called ShopThis, will begin in the November tablet edition of Wired, due on Oct. 15.
Peapod, an online grocer in the Northeast and Midwest that provides home delivery, recently developed a feature on its mobile app that allows customers to restock household staples by scanning bar codes with their smartphones at home.
"You are finishing the box of Cheerios, pouring your last bowl," explained Mike Brennan, Peapod's chief operating officer, "and before throwing the box away, you take out your phone and scan the bar code." The order goes straight to the consumer's virtual shopping basket.
And Paydiant, a company that develops mobile payment platforms for clients in the finance and retail industries, has created a technology for scanning a QR, or quick response, code off a television screen to redeem a coupon or instantly buy something a viewer fancies in a commercial or perhaps even during a television show.
"We have developed it, but we haven't deployed it," said Chris Gardner, a co-founder of Paydiant. "I would imagine someone is going to want us to do that over the course of the next year."
Such developments seem a natural extension of a culture that has immediate access to information, and more.
"The whole world right now is about instant gratification," said Matt McKenna, the founder and president of Red Fish Media, a digital and mobile marketing agency based in Miami, who is working with retailers to amp up their mobile sales strategy, including developing personalized digital look books that text new releases to consumers for instant purchase.
This push for immediate retail gratification is occurring as the delivery wars are escalating among some of the biggest e-commerce companies in a dash to get orders to consumers as fast as possible.
EBay and Amazon have initiated same-day service in a handful of cities. Walmart has been looking at ways to use its 4,000 stores as distribution points to fulfill orders the same day to customers outside major metropolitan areas.
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Even Google has gotten into the act with Google Shopping Express, a program that allows Northern California residents from San Francisco to San Jose to receive deliveries within hours of ordering from numerous local and national merchants, including American Eagle, Walgreens, Toys "R" Us and Target. They must pay with Google Wallet, the company's mobile payments system.
And while many experiments like ShopThis are in very early stages, they have the potential to shake up traditional business relationships among advertisers, consumers and merchants as they gain traction.
"With any sort of disruptive technology, people want to walk before they run," Mr. Gardner said.
For example, the ability to sell directly to a consumer could squeeze some of the so-called middlemen of commerce like big-name retailers.
"If Sony started selling stuff directly on a TV commercial, Best Buy might not particularly like that," Mr. Gardner said. "Once you can go directly to consumers, there's always the possibility of disintermediating one of the middlemen. Efficient markets don't like middlemen."
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Still, he and others say it is unclear what the effect will be, and established players like Amazon are unlikely to suffer.