"What customers want is personal service," said Jeff Erwin, chief executive of Experticity LiveSupport System in Seattle. "Retailers are struggling with how to provide that in a cost-effective way. We're increasing the capability of the retailer to give you that experience."
Now the only question is when this technology will actually show up in stores. Some are already being tested, but the companies are keeping mum on the locations.
Federated Department Store chairman Terry Lundgren has given up worrying about whether Macys.com is stealing from stores. Instead, he has vowed to put dollars behind the site.
"I don't have a choice; it's what the customer wants," Lundgren said. "They're going to take the business away from my stores anyway and go shop online somewhere else."
About 40 percent of the U.S. population now shops online, and another 40 percent has researched a product online before buying it in a store. Online sales for 2005 hit $172 billion, and online research is estimated to have influenced another $100 billion in offline sales.
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