REAL ESTATE

iRate Over iPhones

BY Deena Amato-mccoy

I admit it. I am totally enamored with the new iPhone, even though I have yet to purchase one. After hearing about the activation snags within the first 48 hours, however, I am content with waiting to make the investment.

Even before the television commercials saturated the airwaves, my iBook advertised the cool new gadget every time I logged onto Safari—and I was instantly hooked. iPhone, which hit the marketplace on June 29, combines all the goodies a gizmo-lover wants: It’s a mobile phone with wireless Internet access, and it also features Apple’s iPod music and video player. I mean, this is too good to be true! Of course, after some research, I realized I was right.

While it is a great personal device, it may take some time for iPhone to become a tried-and-true tool for reliable business communications. According to Ken Dulaney, VP of mobile computing at Gartner, this first generation has its share of hurdles, including a lack of support from major mobile-device management and security suites, and its construction leaves much to be desired. For example, some critics are complaining that the unit does not have a removable battery, making it a breeding ground for support issues.

I am more concerned by the fact that only one mobile-solution provider— AT&T—supports the gadget so far. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not turned off by the company per se. But I am turned off by how it handled the activation process.

Those lucky to get an iPhone were instructed to activate the gadget directly through the AT&T Web site. Doing as they were told, thousands of users flooded the Web to get their iPhone online. However, heavy traffic overwhelmed the telecommunications carrier and left approximately 2% of buyers out of touch for about 48 hours.

Asking buyers to activate iPhones from their own computers “is a brand new process in the industry,” according to Mark Siegel, AT&T spokesman. “No other carrier has had people activate their phones or accounts this way.”

Some analysts described the activation woes merely as a short-term “public-relations issue” for AT&T and Apple. Maybe those lucky souls got their phones to work.

In reality, I see a bigger problem: Apple and AT&T dropped the ball when integrating their activation services. The iPhone launch is described as an event that drove more traffic during its first weekend on the market than any other device’s first month in the marketplace. Related media blasts and promotions ensured this. That said, both companies should have taken a very serious look at whether they were prepared to handle the potential consumer volume and taken stronger steps to back up the operation.

Let’s face it. These days, if anyone is knocked off of a Web site or if screens freeze as a user tries to place an order online, that shopper will take her business elsewhere. While the iPhone is only available through one carrier today, the situation might make me rethink the experience if I were Apple.

The good news is that many of these activation troubles were fixed by Monday, July 3. But to me, that was two days too late. Will the glitch kill the hype of iPhone mania? Probably not. However, I patiently await the next generation of iPhone when the price comes down and third-party support goes up.

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REAL ESTATE

Report: Bloomingdale’s May Return to Dallas

BY CSA STAFF

Dallas, Bloomingdale’s might be returning to Dallas, according to a report in Women’s Wear Daily.

Bloomingdale’s has been on a growth pattern for the past several months, and Dallas is reportedly on the brand’s radar for future expansion, the WWD report said. Phoenix and Seattle also were mentioned as potential sites.

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Mobile Moves In

BY CSA STAFF

M-commerce is already booming in Asia and parts of Europe. While the United States has been gun-shy about committing to the process, tech-savvy retailers are getting a head start stateside.

Currently, there are 230 million wireless subscribers in the United States, and it is no secret that these consumers are relying on their mobile devices for more than mere phone calls. If the iPhone hype last month is any indication of what is to come, retailers are beginning to understand that they need to be ready.

“It’s a marketplace that has exploded overseas and one you can’t ignore here,” said Joe Domek, director of e-commerce for TicketsNow.com, Crystal Lake, Ill. “It’s extremely cost-effective for getting traffic and the brand out in front of new eyes.”

Ticketsnow.com has been selling tickets to sold-out events since 1999, but it recently extended its e-commerce functionality to the mobile environment. However, some mobile browsers have sluggish speeds and operational problems that could deter consumers.

To avoid this issue, Ticketsnow.com turned to Seattle-based mPoria’s flagship service GoMobile!, a solution that allows retailers to build their own mobile-shopping site. Using a cell phone or mobile device, shoppers can research, compare prices and purchase brand-name products directly from the palms of their hands.

“People have their cell phones with them 24 hours a day,” Domek said. “So instead of waiting for a customer to get to a computer, we can be always readily available to them.”

Ticketsnow.com may not be seeing an overwhelming response yet, but it’s steadily growing, Domek said.

“We’re not focusing on the conversion rate right now; we want to be a leader in this landscape,” he said. “We also haven’t had a massive marketing campaign out there, so a lot has been happening organically.”

Ultimately, the company wants to be considered a “mobile concierge” that can offer all ticket information to customers. It also plans to send text-message alerts and coupons to key demographics through regional-targeting solutions.

“We are going to take it as far as the platform lets us,” Domek said. “We like to live by the idea that if something works, we are going to throw all of the money at it. If it’s good eating, we’ll eat all we can.”

Ticketsnow.com isn’t the only one helping itself. Realizing that its consumers are likely to have devices that allow them to surf the Internet, GameStop of Grapevine, Texas, is also testing the m-commerce waters.

GameStop’s EBGames.com site, maintained by mPoria, allows consumers to view its catalog, access site information, pre-order and shop. GameStop also has a reformatted checkout interface for mobile devices. Instead of forcing shoppers to thumb-in cumbersome shipping information, the interface automatically pulls up the user’s address through her phone number. Credit-card information is not stored for security reasons.

John Brittel, VP of e-commerce and direct marketing at GameStop, said that the company’s main initiative is to drive sales to the store.

“E-commerce is exciting, but the immediacy of driving customers to stores is amazing,” Brittel said.

“In the gaming industry, it’s all about getting the product as soon as possible,” he said. “While that is a disadvantage of e-commerce in general—a delay due to shipment—we want to get the customer into the store to close that sale right away.”

GameStop is also exploring how to initiate product reservations, notifications and availability functions. It plans to beef up its search capabilities and add a feature that sends item recommendations to friends, too.

In the meantime, GameStop is learning how its m-consumers shop.

“Like our e-commerce site, a lot of our traffic is research-based. They are inquiring about pre-releases and when products hit stores,” Brittel said. “What we found in the mobile category is that there seem to be more inquiries about catalog purchases—those looking for niche games— rather than pre-release products.”

Now that the iPhone is setting a new foundation for the future, m-commerce could be on the horizon for more retailers nationwide.

“I think it’s eventually going to meet up with traditional in-store shopping,” Brittel said.

“We are channel-agnostic, but given our limited resources, we have to prioritize the technology and services we adopt,” he said. “This offers us the marketing and revenue opportunities that puts us in front of our competitors.”

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