That’s one of the tools the world’s largest retailer plans to use to improve the in-store shopping experience as it looks to mobile-influenced purchases outpacing e-commerce sales, said Gibu Thomas, Wal-Mart’s global head of mobile, in a CTIA Wireless keynote speech on Wednesday.
“The future of retailing is the history of retailing, of a personalized interactive experience for every customer delivered through a smartphone,” Thomas said. Citing independent studies of the U.S. market, Thomas said in-store buying influenced by mobile use was on track to be about twice as big as e-commerce sales by 2016.
Mobile already drives about one-third of the traffic to Walmart.com, spiking to more than 40 percent during the holiday season late last year, Thomas said. The store’s smartphone app also boosts buying: Customers who have the app make more trips to Wal-Mart and spend as much as 40 percent more there, he said. A majority of Wal-Mart’s customers have smartphones.
The app already includes a shopping-list function, which can tell customers where to find their products in the store and give them relevant digital coupons they can redeem through the phone. Wal-Mart is testing a system called “Scan and Go” with which shoppers can scan each their purchases with the Wal-Mart app and then scan their phone once at a self-checkout register to pay, Thomas said.
But through analyzing what customers usually buy, the company now thinks it can automatically compile a list that will come up whenever the shopper opens up the app. It’s designed to anticipate what the customer will need.
“The best shopping list is the one you don’t have to create, so that’s the one we’re working on,” Thomas said.
DAS (distributed antenna systems) using coaxial cable have been the main solution to the problem, but they now face some limitations. To address them, Corning will introduce a DAS at this week’s CTIA Wireless trade show in Las Vegas that uses fiber instead of coax all the way from the remote cell antennas to the base station in the heart of a building.
Cable-based DAS hasn’t kept up with the new world, according to the optical networking vendor. Though Corning is associated more often with clear glass than with thin air, it entered the indoor wireless business in 2011 by buying DAS maker MobileAccess. That’s because Corning thinks optical fiber is the key to bringing more mobile capacity and coverage inside.
The system, called Corning Optical Network Evolution (ONE) Wireless Platform, can take the place of a DAS based fully or partly on coaxial cable, according to Bill Cune, vice president of strategy for Corning MobileAccess. Corning ONE will let mobile carriers, enterprises or building owners set up a neutral-host DAS for multiple carriers using many different frequencies.
Though small cells are starting to take its place in some buildings, DAS still has advantages over the newer technology, according to analyst Peter Jarich of Current Analysis. It can be easier to upgrade because only the antennas are distributed, so more of the changes can be carried out on centralized gear. Also, small cells are typically deployed by one mobile operator, and serving customers of other carriers has to be done through roaming agreements, he said.
Corning ONE links each antenna to the base station over optical fiber, converting the radio signals to optical wavelengths until they reach the base station. Fiber has more capacity than coax, can handle higher frequencies, and requires just one cable from a MIMO antenna, Cune said. Because of fiber’s high capacity, it’s relatively easy to bring other mobile operators onto the DAS.
The system is based on optical fiber, but it can be extended over standard Ethernet wiring to provide backhaul for Wi-Fi access points. Each Corning ONE remote antenna unit that’s deployed around a building will have two Ethernet ports to hook up nearby Wi-Fi access points, which can use the fiber infrastructure for data transport to wired LAN equipment, Cune said.
American Express has just debuted a digital payment and commerce service that makes it possible to use Android-based devices and Apple iPhones for person-to-person online payments. Visa announced a similar personal payment product in the U.S. on March 16.
Analysts say the moves by Visa and American Express are clearly aimed at challenging PayPal in the personal payments business.
The new Amex service, named Serve, allows consumers and small businesses to make purchases and person-to-person payments on iOS- and Android-based devices. Serve accounts are also accessible on personal computers through Facebook and at Serve.com.
Serve also allows users to create and manage sub-accounts for friends and family members.
The new service is based on technology that Amex obtained through its $300 million acquisition last year of Revolution Money.
Visa on March 16 said that it will rely on internal network enhancements and agreements with CashEdge and Fiserv to bring its personal payment system to the U.S. by the end of June. CashEdge and Fiserv will access VisaNet, which is Visa’s global payments processing network.
Separately, Visa officials at the International CTIA Wireless show last week said they are in the midst of four pilot programs in New York and San Francisco to test Near Field Communications (NFC) technology on smartphones, to assess the feasibility of using smartphones to make purchases at NFC-ready terminals. Those trials are being conducted with Bank of America, US Bank, Chase and Wells Fargo. No rollout date for the service is being announced, said Elvira Swanson, a Visa spokeswoman.
Amex also plans to waive one consumer fee for the next six months during the ramp-up, he said. Putting money into a Serve account will normally carry a fee of 2.9% plus 30 cents per load-in, but during the first six months that fee will be waived for cash, debit and Automated Clearing House payments. Otherwise, the fee for ATM cash withdrawals will be $2 — though there will be no fee for the first one each month.
The Serve program calls for consumers to set up online accounts through a smartphone app or at Serve.com. Once a user establishes an account, he can transfer funds to it directly from bank accounts or other Serve accounts or via debit or credit cards.
Customers can use Serve accounts to send money to friends, to receive money from friends, to pay bills or to make purchases online. In addition to having the ability to make payments using smartphones, customers will issued reloadable prepaid Serve cards linked to their Serve accounts that can be used at any retail outlet or ATM that accepts Amex cards.