Concept and project objectives
The complexities of modern life are changing the way consumers purchase goods today. The lack of time to spend searching around marketing areas, combined with the increased number of choices, as a result of market globalization, put considerable pressure on the consumer to make fast yet wise purchase decisions. Internet, and especially the World Wide Web, has opened the possibility of electronic commerce (e-shopping), allowing consumers to shop at any time from their own home, thus saving traveling time and in many cases the price comparison overhead. Searching or browsing an online catalogue can be much faster than walking through the aisles of a shopping mall. There are no geographical boundaries and products can be bought from almost any part of the world.
However, e-shopping has certain limitations that for some people may become major barriers. There is an obvious need for computer equipment, a broadband Internet connection and some level of basic training for using online tools. Even for customers that are willing to try an online purchase, transaction security is a major concern. The need to provide personal information including credit card numbers prevents many traditional consumers from accepting online commerce. In addition, many people doubt the quality of products offered online, especially when coming from not well known sources. There is no way to try or test a product with on-line shopping, so customers can rely only on pictures, reviews, or word of mouth. For products such as clothes or shoes, a consumer can never be sure how they will fit on him/her. Furthermore, the enjoyment of spontaneous street shopping is lost. Many people enjoy shopping with others and it is often a good way to make social connections.
On the other side of the equation, traditional shop owners and retailers are searching for mechanisms that will allow them to remain competitive against large merchants in today’s high-speed very competitive business climate. They are interested in exploiting the potential to automate their internal procedures and promote their products to a wider audience. Especially small shop owners compete fiercely to attract customers to their stores. Thus, they seek intensively for a strong marketing tool which will enable them to expose the characteristics of their products and services. There is a growing recognition that retail shops will not be able to survive if they fail to adapt continuously to the modern consumer needs and behaviors. Subsequently, shop owners are trying to understand how shopping patterns evolve and what features will be most attractive to the consumers of tomorrow. Forward thinking companies are already looking at the ways in which emerging technologies can contribute to future business success.
It becomes then obvious that there is a need for a shopping system which will combine the advantages of traditional shopping and e-shopping to help consumers find what they need and save time. Such a system should be accessible any time from any place, easily handled even by computer novices, and ensure a high level of security and privacy management. In addition, it should enable shop owners to differentiate their products from competitors’ to maintain their stake in a rapidly evolving market. Mobile (m-) applications, and especially location-based services (LBS), offer the ideal environment for the development of such a service. Shopping, since it is considered both as an “every-day activity” and a “leisure-time-activity”, represents a key, largely untapped opportunity for the development of innovative, mobile, location-based services.
ShoppingMate’s main objective is to develop an innovative digital shopping system that transforms mobile phones into highly interactive personal shopping assistants for consumers’ everyday lives in a way that combines the advantages of e-shopping and traditional shopping. To achieve its main objective the project will explore how to best utilize cutting-edge technologies and harness the potential of location-based services, so as to provide a platform that can address the spontaneous mobile user shopping requests by identifying stores in a specific shopping area that match the mobile user’s specifications for a purchase.
As the outcome of the project is a network application, most of the project objectives match with the characteristics that this application should have. Thus, the ShoppingMate system should be:
- Attractive and easy to use. This means customization and adaptation capabilities according to each user’s experience, habits and personal preferences, both on the consumer and the shop owner side.
- Flexible, with respect to the product lines that can be supported.
- Efficient, in terms of the quality of the search results, the response time, the navigation performance, etc.
- Profitable for all involved payers, i.e.
- for service providers, as a result of extensive usage and proper revenue models,
- for consumers, that will have better value for money,
- for shop owner that will gain from the increase of their sales.
- Secure, to ensure full privacy and anonymity.
- Extensible, through the use of proper design decisions and used technologies.
- Scalable, to ensure acceptable performance in areas of different size.
- Network independent. The system should be able to operate over any IP-based wireless/mobile network (e.g., GPRS, UMTS, WiFi).
- Terminal independent. Considering the wide range of terminal types (PDAs, WAP enabled, etc.), development will be based on well-known platforms to support most popular terminal types, including stationary computers.
Other objectives include:
- proper dissemination of the project results, through a number of publications to scientific journals and international conference proceedings,
- transfer of technical know-how from the RTD Performers to the SME staff, and,
- execution of extensive field trials that will result in measurable evaluation results on the above system characteristics.