TORONTO Shoppers walking into a clothing store in New York City's SoHo neighborhood should not be surprised if a smartphone app, rather than a salesperson, greets them at the door.
Some retailers in the United States are starting to communicate with shoppers via a smartphone app called Swirl that uses in-store sensors to track their location in the shop to send them personalized offers and recommendations.
It's just one of the ways that brick-and-mortar shops are using apps to appeal to younger, more tech-savvy consumers.
"Retailers want to give consumers something that's value-added and does what an expert salesperson might do -- for example, tell them ‘Here's some great new products,' or ‘Here's a special offer because we know you've been looking at handbags'" said Hilmi Ozguc, CEO of Boston-based Swirl Networks, creators of the Swirl iPhone app.
Retailers in New York City and Boston are among the first to adopt the technology, which uses bluetooth sensors placed on store walls and shelves to communicate with the Swirl app.
Although Swirl's use of sensors to detect shoppers in stores is among the first of its kind, several other apps provide deals or tips when entering a shop.
Shopkick, available in the United States for iPhone and Android, tells consumers about offers and points when they walk into select stores, and allows them to redeem points for rewards such as gift cards.
The Swirl app can also help shoppers across the United States find products and deals available at major retailers nearby. Several other apps, including Clutch, released for Android last week and also available for iPhone, and a new app called Sudo, also on both platforms, help consumers find deals nearby.
A new iPhone app called Shopcaster is designed for shoppers looking for products at independent retailers across North America. Users can browse goods available in a particular neighborhood before heading out shopping, or order items directly through the app.
"For (our users) shopping is a sport in many cases," said Judy Sims, the CEO of Toronto-based company Shopcaster, adding that the appeal for consumers is often the story behind the product and where they bought it.
Ozguc said for major retailers the main driver behind the in-store apps is to provide stores with web-like analytics and marketing tools.
"They want the benefits of e-commerce but in their brick-and-mortar stores," he said, adding that Swirl helps retailers track when the shopper came back and where they spent their time.
The app also learns the consumer's style preferences over time and uses the information to customize offers in the app.
"We know form years and years of advertising that the more relevant and contextual the offer, the better the response rate," Ozguc said.
(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Andrew Hay)