March 5, 2004, 12:00 AM

‘I`m just browsing` may take on new meaning in stores

Although retailers have become accustomed to the growth of multi-channel comparison shopping, much of it done on home or work computers, they`ll soon have to deal with comparison shopping within the four walls of their stores.

Shopkeepers beware: that device shoppers are holding may not be just a cell phone; it may be a web browser that they’re using to check store prices against offers at their favorite online merchants. Although retailers have become accustomed to the growth of multi-channel comparison shopping, much of it on home or work computers, they’ll soon have to deal with comparison shopping within the four walls of their stores.

“Shoppers will walk into stores, find a product, then see if they can get it cheaper or easier via the web,” says Jon Nordmark, CEO of eBags Inc. “A person may be shopping in Zales, but have a jewelry store like BlueNile.com in their pocket.”

EBags.com, of course, could also be on in-store shoppers’ pocket web browsers, and it will proactively reach shoppers wherever they happen to be, Nordmark says. “EBags will benefit from this by e-mailing delivery notifications as well as other messages straight to our customers,” he says.

Nordmark says it may take a while for the cost of pocket web browsers to come down before they become widespread. The Treo 600 smartphone from palmOne Inc., which offers wireless high-bandwidth web browsing, for example, retails for $449.

But as such devices become more common, and as wi-fi speeds get faster, Nordmark adds, eBags, as well as other retailers, will find new ways to retail products directly to consumers’ handheld devices. Retailers will have little choice but to participate, he warns. “Customer expectations around information are increasing dramatically,” he says.

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