Facebook, Mobile Phones and the Future of Shopping

Forget the mall. Retailers are tapping Facebook and mobile phones to get closer to customers wherever they are.

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These kinds of projects demonstrate new IT thinking about business alignment. That is, IT can clear the channels between customers and the company. At Starbucks, for example, the mobile commerce application came out of its My Starbucks Idea website where registrants submit and discuss ideas they want the company to adopt.

Sony CIO Martin talks as much about customer strategy as about technology. "We're trying to emphasize the out-of-the-box experience," he says of the SonyReader's built-in customer knowledge. "Right away, you can download content and get reading." But Martin admits this commerical orientation isn't yet a common role for a CIO. He still has to propose ways to other executives that his department can contribute beyond servers and wires. Martin points out that his IT department supports Sony's CRM system, which contains the data that will differentiate and polish the customer's experience. "Our systems are going to touch the customer no matter what," he says. "Even if [an outside developer] creates something elegant, it will come across to consumers as the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing."

Innovation for Growth

Weak signals of an abating recession have begun to appear. Retail's sacred number, Gross Domestic Product, which measures goods and services produced in the United States, rose 3.5 percent for the third quarter, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. But in the second quarter, GDP sank 0.7 percent on top of an 8.6 percent drop the quarter before. Lasting recovery will take time. CIOs can, nevertheless, use this period to lead their companies to new sources of revenues, says Hotka, the consultant. Experimenting with mobile and social commerce creates the opportunity for forward-thinking projects that many companies in many industries will eventually adopt, she says.

Help pave the way, advises Sony's Martin, by not reporting to colleagues only the naked costs of corporate IT. Instead, those numbers should be accompanied by specifics about where and how the technology department can help generate sales for the company. "Every CIO has the opportunity to be involved. You have to step right out and take it."

Senior Editor Kim S. Nash can be reached at knash@cio.com.

Do you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @knash99. Follow everything from CIO Magazine @CIOMagazine.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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