Retailers taking tech battle for shoppers to next level

Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:12am EST
 
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By Phil Wahba and Jessica Wohl

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The store of the future has arrived and it is threatening to leave technology laggards behind.

The modern store is equipped with cameras that look at you, guess your tastes based on your gender, age and behavior, and send deals to your smart phone accordingly. It also has the technology to reduce endless check-out lines and speed up the process for picking up something ordered online.

The deal-sending screen, by Intel Corp and used by Sears Holdings Corp and others, was just one example of cutting edge technology on display at this week's National Retail Federation conference in New York, showcasing the innovations retailers are trying out as they fight for shoppers.

New technology can help retailers know their customers' habits and preferences better and further integrate physical stores and e-commerce to make the most of the online sales boom.

"It's anticipating what the consumer wants," Don Kingsborough, the executive overseeing the push of EBay Inc's PayPal online payment processor into physical stores, said at the NRF convention.

To succeed, technology has to bridge the chasm between how people shop online, in stores and on their mobile devices, with more customers now doing all three simultaneously, he said.

Wall Street sees success in this area as a decisive factor in who will thrive in a tight retail environment: The NRF this week said U.S. retail sales rose 3 percent during the 2012 holiday season, below its forecast of a 4.1 percent gain.

U.S. retailers are expected to increase technology spending 1.4 percent this year even as they cut 0.7 percent from total capital investments such as store renovations, according to Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig.   Continued...