A virtual paradise for the world's shopaholics

All the world could soon be a shopping cart. A wave of experiments at various companies could take consumer convenience (and impulsiveness) to new heights.

All the world could soon be a shopping cart. A wave of experiments at various companies could take consumer convenience (and impulsiveness) to new heights.

The ultimate vision is a form of shopping nirvana, where consumers can buy what they covet on the spot - straight from a magazine ad, or off a television screen, or even from a refrigerator.

MasterCard this week plans to announce a partnership with Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue and Vanity Fair, that will allow digital readers to instantly buy items described in an article or showcased in an ad by tapping a shopping cart icon on the page. The partnership, called ShopThis!, will begin in the November tablet edition of Wired.

Peapod, a US online grocer that provides home delivery, recently developed a feature on its mobile app that allows customers to restock household staples by scanning bar codes with their smartphones at home. The order goes straight to the consumer's virtual shopping basket.

And Paydiant, a company that develops mobile payment platforms, has created a technology for scanning a QR, or quick response, code off a television screen. Such developments seem a natural extension of a culture that has immediate access to information, and more. "The whole world right now is about instant gratification," said Matt McKenna, founder of Red Fish Media.

And while many experiments such as ShopThis! are in the early stages, they have the potential to shake up traditional business relationships among advertisers, consumers and merchants as they gain traction.

The ability to sell directly to consumers could put more pressure on the middlemen of commerce, such as big-name retailers.

"If Sony started selling stuff directly on a TV commercial, [electronics retailers] might not like that," said Chris Gardner, a co-founder of Paydiant. "Once you can go directly to consumers, there's always the possibility of disintermediating one of the middlemen. Efficient markets don't like middlemen." Still, he and others say it is unclear what the effect will be, and established players like Amazon are unlikely to suffer.

Garry Lyons, the chief innovation officer at MasterCard, said the company developed the click-through shopping technology to be "digitally agnostic", meaning it may be made available across several digital platforms, including television, video and movies.

"We believe any device is potentially a device of commerce, enabling the user to buy what they want from within the content without having to leave the content," Mr Lyons said. "There is no reason why ShopThis! couldn't be rolled out when watching a movie or video. You see an actor who has a nice shirt on, you activate ShopThis!" he continued.

Mr Lyons speculated that one day refrigerators could be programmed to send alerts when milk or eggs are low or even send orders. Washing machines could do the same with detergent.

"The potential is endless," Mr Lyons said. "We're not trying to force people to buy things to drive them into debt but to make people's life easier. We want to use tech to make your life easier - in some cases that will result in a commerce transaction."

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