by Meridith Levinson

Web Technologies: Shopping Unplugged

Nov 01, 20022 mins
BPM Systems

In November 1999, a bunch of teenagers ran around Gwinnett County’s Mall of Georgia scanning bar codes on tags of clothes they liked with a handheld device. When they finished shopping and scanning, they plugged the devices into a console that uploaded descriptions of the scanned products to a webpage they could share with friends and family who needed gift ideas.

The teens were part of Fast Frog, one of two pilot programs started by Clixnmortar (the other pilot, Your Sherpa, involved handheld computers and was geared toward adults). Launched as a division of Indianapolis-based real estate developer Simon Property Group, Clixnmortar’s mission was to bring Internet and wireless technologies to retailers to encourage multichannel commerce. (See “Simon Says: Integrate Your Channels” at Simon was heralded by the media for its aggressive embrace of the Internet?a direct contrast to other companies anxious about channel conflict and cannibalization.

Two years later, on Oct. 19, 2001, Simon quietly recorded a $16.6 million write-off on its third-quarter earnings statement for Clixnmortar and some of its other technology investments.

Frank Riso, director of product marketing for the retail industry at Symbol Technologies, the company that made the bar code scanner, believes a lack of logistical planning between Clixnmortar and its retail partners was to blame. Retailers didn’t have a process for setting aside items teens had scanned, so parents often found items were out of stock. “If we found a way to figure that out, the program would have been very successful,” he says.

A source close to Clixnmortar (who declined to be identified) says political battles were at the root of Clixnmortar’s demise. When Clixnmortar was just starting out, President and founder Melanie Alshab and Vice President of Technology Robert Covington were given free rein over decision making and Clixnmortar operations. As it began to receive more attention, it took on heightened meaning for Simon Property Group CEO David Simon, who wanted more control over the venture. He often clashed with Clixnmortar executives who wanted to bring in outside investors and make the company a spin-off, rather than treating it as a division of a $2.1 billion company. The disagreements led Alshab to quit, and according to the source, Simon never found a replacement. The rest is history.