June 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Gulliver’s shoppers

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Once customers find an item on Digby they’re interested in, they click on it to view a larger picture and a product description. If they want to purchase the item, they click Add To Shopping Cart and select Proceed To Checkout. There, their billing information already is typed in from the registration process and all they need do is note if they want the item sent to them or someone else-either someone whose address already is in their Blackberry or someone for whom they must enter an address.

Shoppers click on Cheapest or Fastest delivery options and, if a gift, type in a message. For gifts, Digby again speeds transactions by providing pre-programmed messages, such as “Happy Birthday” or “Happy Anniversary.”

Don’t forget birthdays

Digby also enables family and friends’ birthdays or other special days listed in Blackberrys to be integrated into shoppers’ Digby databases. Customers can get messages a week before special events reminding them it’s time to send a gift.

Once orders are placed, Digby passes them to the participating retailer. Customers can order from multiple retailers using one shopping cart and making one transaction. Digby, though, first determines if a purchase is being made with an invalid credit card before accepting an order.

The retailer is responsible for clearing the payment, collecting the revenue and shipping the product. 30 Second Software collects a commission from retailers on every purchase based on a negotiated rate, the specifics of which Slezak declines to reveal.

Industry observers say the 30 Second Software approach is rare-for now. “Other technology companies are experimenting with mobile commerce in different ways,” Baird says. “Rather than streamline the interface as they have done with Digby, other companies are looking at improving existing interfaces on mini-browsers.”

Vikrant Gandhi, mobile technology analyst at Frost & Sullivan, says other technology vendors and e-retailers are concentrating on adapting browsers and search engine technology for mobile phone applications rather than looking to a whole new approach. Included in other approaches are efforts to combine voice recognition technology with Internet search so consumers can talk into their phones to find products rather than type in keywords or product names.

But while Digby’s approach appears to be novel, a big challenge will be getting the word out about the service.

So far, 30 Second Software has placed online banner advertisements and advertised with campaigns directed at technology early adopters at web sites and trade shows, Slezak says. It also is relying on its retailers to get the word out. Godiva, for instance, has promoted the service in its e-mail newsletters.

Because the service is so new, Godiva has not yet obtained sufficient feedback from customers or been able to determine how significant added sales are from Digby. “We’re still trying to find out just who is using this and how m-commerce is going to shake out,” Sash says.

But Sash says Godvia executives love the concept. “We’re always looking to innovate, and this is really innovative. We’ve not come across anything like it before. I have a Blackberry and most people here have Blackberrys and we all love the idea of being able to shop on them. Everyone we’ve shown this to loves the concept,” Sash adds.

But many industry observers believe the Digby approach, at least initially, won’t have mass appeal. “This is not for people who want to compare prices or check out a lot of options,” Forrester’s Baird says. “It is for people who need to buy now and people who are heavily dependent on using their Blackberrys to do many things. I’ve used Digby and I am not sure I would want to shop this way very often, but it does have appeal to a certain consumer group.”

Are they ready?

While Baird has reservations about how big the market that’s ready for Digby is, another industry analyst believes the time is right for the concept. “This space is exploding and the Digby concept is a good one,” says Frost & Sullivan’s Gandhi.

The biggest problem Gandhi sees, however, is the current limitation of platforms on which Digby can operate. For now Digby only runs on Blackberry devices, although Slezak says his company is talking with other platform vendors.

“The demographics of Blackberry users fit our key target of high incomes and people on the go,” Slezak says.

But while Gandhi says Blackberrys are a good start, he adds other mobile phone options will be essential to success. And he says Digby needs the endorsement of one or two of the big mobile service carriers as well.

“They need multiple devices and more product selection. But getting a mobile carrier behind them is most important,” Gandhi contends. “If they can partner with a mobile operator that can validate their concept, that would give them the edge they need. They may need only one really big operator, and I’m sure they are talking to all the top players to try to get that support.”

While the initial push by Digby is on gift and impulse buys, 30 Second executives believe the concept can be extended to other products. Slezak says take-out restaurant chains such as pizza outlets are good immediate prospects to add. And in time, he believes a whole range of products, including clothing and other nonperishable items, can be sold on the device.

Still, that could be a while away. For now, market observers are watching to see whether there are enough consumers out there who want and need to make those impulse buys from their Blackberrys and whether Digby can successfully get the word out. l

Lauri Giesen is a Libertyville, Ill.-based freelance business writer.

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