This semester I am taking Design Anthropology. I took this class as an undergrad and it is one of the reasons why I chose to pursue my masters in anthropology. The experience in working with a tech company, in both cases Motorola, on a real research issue where we go out and do field work and then as a class analyze the data, is simply amazing. This semester we researched how people extend their experiences through second screens or mobile devices.
I spoke at the beginning of the semester about how I use my iPhone (and previously Blackberry and before that Treo – I’ve had a smart phone since 2002). Several of the things I do include using it to share my immediate experience with my friends such as picture blogging (Twinkle for Twitter and Flickr to Livejournal), actual blogging, looking up information for class while listening to the lecture and participating in the discussion, and researching products in stores while in the store. This is all in addition to checking my email, chatting, texting, playing games (Spore at the moment), reading blogs, and using many other programs. The class looked back at me as if I was an alien. Most use their phone only for talking or at most texting. So, I made it my mission to actually find someone to do my fieldwork on that did the same thing I did.
And I did! I chose First Saturday, a tech swap meet, to do my research. I knew I’d find SOMEONE that did what I did there. And sure enough, my partner and I spotted someone at about 3am trying to buy a Macbook. What we found out was that during the half hour we observed him he used three phones, 2 Blackberries and 1 iPhone, to chat with his partner who was there with him (he had one Blackberry), look up prices, research the product itself, and research a technical problem the Macbook was experiencing. Aha! I am not the only one! This does, however, bring me to an interesting trend – on the spot researching, and stores seem to be cashing in on it.
Two ads come to mind immediately of stores mentioning how they provide access to a computer right in the store in order to research the product and their competitors prices. I think though, that they should take this one step further – why not offer an in store wireless connection that mobile phones can use to do the research with. Through that connection offer a ‘homepage’ or default page that comes up when they go to connect with all of the in-store specials. These specials then list not only the store’s price, but also their competitors online prices as well as specs, compatibility, and upgrade information about the product itself.
While yes, I agree that few people will use this in the beginning, but imagine those people then SHARING that information with the people around them. Then those people the shared it with learning of it, using it, and then sharing it with others too. It’s an in store marketing device, one that they are already providing through the use of an in store computer, but one that is a bit more private and a hell of a lot more useful than most sales people.
This can then be extended even further than that – say using a barcode scanner or photo recognition software. Just imagine the possibilities when you put access to pertinent information in the palm of a consumers hand.
One example would be utilizing Target’s Amazon relation ship by putting URLs on the tags for all the electronic items in the store. Here I can go an extra step and actually read the reviews for the item I’m looking to purchase. I not only get to look up prices, specs, and other important information, but I also get to see what OTHER people think of the product too. Then, if I purchase it in store I can say perhaps get $5 off my next Amazon or Target purchase if I leave a review thus perpetuating the cycle.
Nintendo sees the light letting you download demos of games right to your DS in some stores. Bookstores should jump on that letting you read reviews of the latest releases right on your mobile device, or go one step further by allowing you to download ebooks/zines after checking out the real thing. Giving people access right in the store to information as well as reviews and then allowing them to EASILY share their experience with others is, in my humble opinion, one of the great ways to bridge the gap between the brick and mortar stores and their thriving digital counterparts.
The trend has already begun. Stores are already giving people access to computers right there in the store to do this – it’s time someone started taking just a bit further.
/end being a dork, usability junky and ex advertising agency information architect…
p.s. My chapter for our report to Motorola is on Complex Multiple Engagements – think of it as an analysis of our observations on how people strive to do things simultaneously or in quick succession through the use of technology – then design implications based on my analysis of these observations.