The business and tech community is obsessed with accessing the real estate on our mobile devices. Why? Because whether we are consuming content or creating content, be it through direct communication or the posting of our life story on social platforms, we are highly engaged and this engagement creates a very valuable channel for brands to target us as consumers.  

Naturally, this has driven tech startups to become persistent about finding new ways to keep our eyes locked to our devices. They passionately argue performance figures for their apps and games, supporting data that would allow them to grab their portion of the extensive advertising pot of gold.

Recently, as the excitement and expectation around the Internet of Things has grown, we have seen a trend in the device no longer just being a means to engage directly with the user, but rather playing the role of a remote. Various functions of our vehicle can now be controlled through our device, we can monitor our homes while we’re away through our device, and we can ‘manage’ our health through our device. This shift may seem counter-intuitive for companies vying for consumers mobile attention, as it involves potentially less engagement, resulting in a loss in valuable advertising real estate. However, it’s actually a natural evolution.

As the device becomes a dynamic tool to help us better engage with our physical environment, it creates opportunities for more meaningful interactions across the board. Take this one step further. Rather than constantly locking our eyes to our phones, or holding it in our hands to function as a remote, consider what can be done by removing it from sight entirely and having it sit in our pockets to simply act as a sensor?

If we apply this to brick and mortar retailers, this perspective can open up unlimited possibilities.  Imagine that we, as a customer, could control and maintain the list of brands we wished to engage with online and offline, instead of being bombarded with unwanted marketing, perhaps enabled by a like or unlike on their Facebook page.  This can then prompt our phone to connect with those brands’ in-store devices seamlessly, allowing a ‘digital-introduction’ when we arrive at their location. The result? A personalized and relationship building experience every time. The barista welcomes my visit and suggests preparing my last order.  The stylist may share with me a selection of products that fit my preferences.  The retailer could complete my transaction without asking me to produce any payment cards or cash, or wait in line for that matter.

This may sound a bit extreme, but it’s already playing out in our everyday lives. Take Uber and Airbnb for example. In both cases a user’s engagement with the app is purely to allow them to identify themselves onto the organization’s networks, with the outcome then being a tailored experience delivered by the Uber driver or the Airbnb host. The device in these examples is simply a sensor. Payment, which is often placed first and foremost in the physical environment, disappears into the background and becomes a non-event.

Here at Lucova, we are focused on how this dynamic is playing out in the retail space. Specifically, we are interested in the intersection of e-commerce and the physical in-store. While many are concentrated on an impending battle brewing between e-commerce and in-store, our premise is that if you can bridge the divide between the two, then the synergies are infinite – revolutionary if you will. The existing divide between online and the physical environment is arguably one of the most exciting developments in commerce and only solvable when the mobile device is viewed and treated as a sensor.

The return to a personal, more human interaction is already in motion.  Millennials appear to be much more receptive of this type of engagement than their Gen X counterparts as the recent launch at Southwestern college exemplifies.  It will be only a matter of time before brick and mortar retailers will look up from their current technology challenges and catch up to the new economy, one that is human.

Darren Behrendt is a Board Member and Advisor at Lucova Inc.