Looks to Tap Into Impulse Shoppers

SAN MATEO (04/24/2000) - Impulse buying is one of the few grown-up, guilt-inducing pleasures I allow myself these days. I've systematically eliminated dozens of bad habits over the years -- with scores more on the list -- but the cheap, or not-so-cheap, thrill I get from buying something I know I don't need is a temptation too great to resist. As a result, I often find my cabinets stuffed with an assortment of Yodels, Pringles, beef jerky, and the occasional TV Guide I just had to have on my way out of the grocery store.

So when I realized that Inc.'s plans to give customers access to its site from any wireless device imaginable was targeted squarely at my bank account, I was concerned for its well being.

Amazon has been cutting deals with the likes of Nextel, Nokia Corp., Motorola Inc., and Sprint PCS to ensure that users of any device, at any time, in any location, can buy stuff from the companies' site. And as part of their Anywhere program, they've set up a special URL at for people to access the site on small-screen cell phones.

Well my first reaction to all this was, "Oh my, I'll be broke within days," and I had a fleeting impulse to plead with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos not to go through with it. Then I reconsidered the proposal.

Bezos painted a few pictures with the announcement of the new URL, saying that people at a concert could purchase the band's CD on their phones while they were enjoying the show. Or that people watching a movie could buy other movies from that same director while at the theatre.

Now I would call these services slick, even technically advanced, but reaching the level of impulse needed for me to buy an album while I actually watched a band would probably require about six or seven beers. Why I wouldn't be able to wait until I got home is beyond me, unless my memory was so bad that I wouldn't be able to remember who it was that I had just seen. (See six or seven beers above.)Besides, you still have to wait at least three days until the thing is delivered to you. And at the height of my impulsiveness, I can't wait that long for something I want. As it stands right now, I can just bring up Urban Fetch or on my Web browser and within an hour, I've got it. But that would explain Amazon's $60 million investment in

If you're really that impulsive, you might want to check yourself into a help program. But where the wireless-shopping technology really will be helpful is in what Bezos refers to as "guerilla shopping." Bezos foresees a day when shoppers bring their phones or handhelds into a brick-and-mortar store and comparison shop between online and physical stores. It may be a bit too early to show some usually helpful store clerk at your local book shop a quote from Amazon and expect him to come down on his price.

As impulsive as this Internet-enabled world has become with the likes of Amazon, online trading, and one-hour delivery services, wireless has the potential to take it to a whole new level. It's a level that threatens my already limited sense of self-control.

Do you have any concerns about self-control or anything else? Write to me at

Dan Briody is an InfoWorld editor at large based in New York.

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