June 14, 2007 A knowledgeable store assistant who knows what to suggest at the right time can mean the difference between a t-shirt sale and a whole outfit - not to mention making shopping a much more pleasant experience for the consumer. Motorola have just released a fascinating new handheld device for retail outlets that acts as a virtual shop assistant as a customer carries it around a store. Customers can use it to locate items, check pricing, options and availability, see related or complementary items, scan coupons and even whizz through the checkout process - and it's an ideal platform for intelligent cross-promotion and pinpoint-targeted advertising.

Motorola's new MC17 mobile computer is a faintly industrial-looking handheld device that runs Windows CE 5.0. Retailers can develop custom software through Motorola's PocketBroswer or Microsoft's .NET platform to integrate with in-store POS and inventory systems.

The unit contains a scanner that can be used to read tags, barcodes or coupons - otherwise, it's operated by using a simple 6-button interface. The unit's cover can be interchanged, allowing some cool branding options, and the MC17 should retail under US$1000 per unit.

It's a small outlay for the sort of system that can finally allow bricks-and-mortar stores to combine the security of a physical purchase with all the cross-selling, accessorizing and marketing opportunities offered by online stores like Amazon.com. You like this CD? Check out these other guys, and here's a special if you buy both albums. Or - here's a jacket and shoes that go with the skirt you just tried on.

As it's a new technology, early adopters will likely find it makes a great difference to sales due to the curiosity factor alone - but we see this as a great step forward in retail, and look forward to seeing how imaginative stores and chains can get with the technology.