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IBM, NCR, Honeywell and AT&T among few pushing mobile at NRF

Aside from a few clichéd promotions – text this keyword to that short code to win a 32GB iPod touch – there was hardly any recognition of mobile’s use for searching, researching, shopping, store-driving or even transacting on the device itself.

That said, the National Retail Federation’s 99th Annual Convention & Expo did see some major players promote their mobile offerings to the thousands of retail executives flocking to this four-day-long event.

Among the standouts for their mobile offerings were IBM, Escalate Retail, Honeywell, NCR and its mFoundry investment, and AT&T’s Sterling Commerce. 

Big bloom
The IBM booth was packed with visitors seeking information on the software giant’s WebSphere platform. Clumps of people gathered to listen to Luis E. Rodriquez, product manager for WebSphere Commerce within the IBM SWG Middleware Software unit in Durham, NC.

Consumers interacting with an IBM customer’s mobile storefront can also conduct side-by-side product comparisons. The Web-based application works on the iPhone, BlackBerry, Nokia and Android phones.

Once the transaction is concluded, consumers will receive an SMS alert about the order. The system lets consumers shop mobile and pick up in store to complete the final leg of the transaction: payment on premise.

Why not the ability to pay on mobile?

“They don’t feel comfortable entering the credit card information on the mobile phone,” Mr. Rodriguez said about today’s customers, echoing a sentiment held of ecommerce ten years ago.

A few exhibits away, Escalate Retail had an elaborate display of Beatles memorabilia with the Microsoft Tag emblazoned on the merchandise ranging from caps to T-shirts and other tchotckes. 

“It’s a commerce-centric retail platform,” said Richard G. Harmatiuk, vice president at Escalate Inc., San Diego. “It’s the total cross-channel experience. Buy in any channel, pick up in any other channel.”

Buck stops here
At the NCR booth, mFoundry senior vice president of wallet and payments Jon Squire was a step ahead in the mobile evolution process. Mr. Squire gained a pod within the NCR booth courtesy of the POS giant’s minority investment in the mobile company.

Mr. Squire, based in Larkspur, CA, drew attention to the Starbucks Card Mobile that his company created. The mobile application lets Starbucks customers check their card balance, reload the card and view transactions. Customers can even pay with their Starbucks card using the iPhone or iPod touch in 16 Starbucks stores in Silicon Valley and Seattle.

“Because it’s mobile, and more likely to be in your pocket than your wallet these days, registration – which protects your balance – is eased,” Mr. Squire said. “It’s the convenience factor … People not only check balances, but they do it in line [at Starbucks]. They’re reloading with more frequency and ease.”

MFoundry is targeting quick-service restaurants and big-box retailers as well as healthcare companies for its mobile service.

“We’re really focused on the gift card piece,” Mr. Squire said. “It’s folks that really want to avoid all the hassles of NFC [Near Field Communication], the complexity of the ecosystem without going through third parties.”

Over at the First Data booth, executives were touting a new mobile commerce product called the Micro-Gift. Set to launch in March or April, this product lets consumers send an item-level gift such as a cup of coffee, magazine or a sandwich to a friend through a mobile device.

The idea is to move gift-giving from special occasions to everyday occurrences, according to First Data.

The Micro-Gift functionality is available through the retailer’s page on social networking sites such as Facebook or through smartphone applications. Consumers receive the code from mobile gift-givers and then redeem it on Facebook online or mobile, for example.

For its part, Honeywell was busy promoting its CodeBroker Digital Loyalty Solution that offers end-to-end mobile marketing, couponing and loyalty services to Tier 1 retailers such as Target and Starbucks.

Mobile is the third offering in addition to email and direct mail, per Geoff Gelay, solution architect at Honeywell’s security and data collection unit in Blackwood, NJ. The product works on 500 phones.

“This is a full end-to-end solution with tracking data,” Mr. Gelay said. “[Retailers] will be able to manipulate the bar code image for individual phones.”

Found sterling
Meanwhile, AT&T’s Sterling Commerce launched two new mobile applications for the iPhone.

The Sterling Store Associate Mobile lets store associates use the mobile application to check for product availability not only across stores in the city but also stocks in transit, for example. It ties into the backend ordering system of the retailer.

The application beats point-of-sale systems, according to John Stelzer, director of retail industry marketing at Sterling Commerce, Dublin, OH.

“As you tie up POS trying to do this, you’re potentially inconveniencing other customers,” Mr. Stelzer said. “So I serve one customer and alienate another.

“The second key reason is that if I use POS, POS only has visibility into in-store availability or availability across stores,” he said. “What POS doesn’t know is inventory in distribution centers or on order or in transit.

“It has a holistic view, giving you the opportunity to sell available-to-promise inventory. So it also assists with inventory optimization in addition to closing a sale.”

Similarly, the Sterling Mobile Store Channel application lets the retailer’s customer place orders themselves, again with deep visibility into product availability.

One feature unique to Sterling’s offerings is that the application is not connected to the Internet. And credit card information is immediately encrypted and downloaded to the server, with the ability to choose pick and ship or pick and hold options.

“Because it’s a mobile interface to the backend order management system, it’s substantially faster than to access an Internet site on the phone,” Mr. Stelzer said.

Here are some pictures from the National Retail Federation’s 99th Annual Convention & Expo in New York.