Cell phones and virtual worlds morphing shopper ways

Virtual worlds, mobile coupons and bar-code readers on cell phones are the next technology wave that U.S. chain stores must ride if they hope to stay competitive in the fast-changing world of global retail. Retailers, gathered in New York this week for the National Retail Federation's (NRF) annual convention, were urged to go high-tech to stand out in the crowd and improve sales, especially amid a flagging U.S. economy. "The cell phone is shifting the way consumers shop, and U.S. retailers need to get ready," said Pat Conroy, vice chairman at Deloitte & Touche USA, in a keynote speech at the convention.

Wendy Liebmann, chief executive of consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, points to prom dress shoppers who take pictures of themselves with their cell phone cameras, then post the photos online so friends can help pick which outfit to buy.

The Internet has also become more interactive, with consumers spending more time -- and money -- in virtual worlds like Second Life and Webkinz. "These technologies are going to change the way you interact with your customer, they're going to change the way people shop, they're going to change the way you manage your brands," said Giff Constable, general manager at Electric Sheep Co, which designs content for virtual worlds, like Second Life.


U.S. retailers need to adopt technological advances that have already changed shopper behavior across the globe, Conroy said.

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