Shoppers in your Palm and Rainy Day Checks

Gregory Alan Bolcer (
Thu, 10 Jun 1999 14:59:21 -0700

Some comments on comments on comments concerning a Rohit conversation
regarding e-commerce/e-business. [Look Ma, no workflow; business to consumer]

3com always uses the Web-enabled PalmVII as having the potential
to revolutionize shopping because it will allow offsite comparison
of instore items and pricing. Rather than hope customers don't
bring these gadgets into the store, onsite retailers should be
augmenting their non-virtual shopping experiences by being
the first to provide them to the shoppers, allowing them
to search interactively and handheld search their local
(or even wide-are inventory). Paul Allen's e-commerce startup, Mercata,
takes this one step further, suppose the instore person could
find 10, 50, 500 other shoppers around the globe that are interested
in the same item and can collectively bargain-discount (or bid-premium) on the price.
Similar to how bookstores needed to bring coffee bars back instore
to lure onsite customer back to a good shared user expereince, or pharmacies
are predicted to have to put soda shops back inhouse to keep everyone
from buying all their drugs completely online, retailers will need to
augment the onsite buying experience (e-tailing?) bringing smarter price
comparison instore.

Suppose the following scenario. You as a shopper are browsing through
your girlfriend's favorite clothing store (please don't say Old Navy).
As you go through with your handheld, she's picking out belts and skirts
and alternate outfits based on magical preferences as you only know. As
you only gave her a $250 gift certificate (limits/constraints) for her birthday (why don't
they have online gift certificates?), you are hoping that the bundle
of clothes you are slogging around for her won't go over
the limit as you can only guess who gets to break out the plastic. When
you get to the counter, you find that items are mismarked, missized,
flawed, whatever. This causes a whole re-evaluation of the final 'configuration'
of clothes you (and she) want to close the transaction with. Finally
you get out of the store and head home. At home she finds out that the
blouse she bought doesn't really go with the skirt she has and decides to
return it. When she re-evaluates her purchases and even goes back at a later
time, she needs to recreate all her previous decision and relationships
between items. Suppose you had the ability to tear off digital tags, coupons,
configurations and store them on your PalmVII based on your interest. These configurations contain
the understanding of the thinking process you went through to come to the decisions you did.
You can go back to arbitrary points by reversing decisions and re-evalute the outcome.

Think of what Dell does when you configure and order a laptop. You
make a series of what-if decisions and tradeoffs about how much memory, how fast a processor,
how big a disk, whether or not to pay the extra dough to get the leather carry bag, etc.
The problem with Dell's site is that once you configure your machine, tear off the bookmark
and store it on your desk, you lose all that information. Most of it is currently hashed
into the URL. Revisiting the URL a couple days later after you've had time to think about it
causes a missing data error. The best you can do is put it in printable form and recreate
it from the stored HTML page or print out and go back and recreate all your decisions.
Companies like Selectica help end user customers do some sorts of configurations, but
don't store the decision making process.

Imagine your PalmVII (or Nokia) which you take everywhere you go, has the ability to
grab these electronic coupons (over HTTP) that either the retailer has pre-configured for you to
offer a price discount or you interactively configured someplace other than at home at
your desktop computer. You grab that information for later use to decide if you really
want to purchase it--not all purchasing decisions or factors can be accounted at point
of purchase which requires same time and possible different location communication and
coordination. Imagine grabbing the electronic tag, which in essence is just an HTML
page that is aware of switching context from the kiosk, shelf, article of clothing, etc.
to your computing device, Palm, Nokia, laptop, desktop, etc. Not only does the page
you grabbed have the current configuration information, it embeds in its headers and
meta tags or links off to 1) the process you went through to reach that configuration,
2) other dependencies that you thought were important in making that decision, and 3) the
process for determining how long the offer is good for, how to go about changing the
configuration, how to determine if more recent information and configurations are available,
how to purchase (e-procure) the items, who to contact for a variety of customizations,
special orders, time to shipment, etc.

Early information technology was seen as a tool to improve decision making by
evaluating alternatives. As computers spread to the desktop, this allows for
more and more people to make informed decisions. As information becomes ubiquitious,
I think you will see more informed decisions at places where the information
had previously been unaccessible. In order to do intelligent comparison, you need
a mixture of human an automated understanding. So in essence, you've embedded
passive intelligence into the document at the point you electronically tear it off
the the dress or clip it out of the news(paper). It becomes active on demand as
you require more from the information you've garnered, similar to traversing
a hyperlink. Suppose that in addition to storing it on your file system, it was
also accessible invisibly through a Web-server like hook that could do CGI-like
things to it, including figuring out how to update, alert, timestamp, tag, invalidate,
warn, evolve to be appropriate based on smarts put into the document. The documents
and tags are both passive, but only when you generate the interest do they become
active as you allocate cycles to them.

This might be a pretty useful mechanism to have.