Shop and charge: stores offer cellphone charging

ChargeItSpot founder Doug Baldasare plugs a cellphone into one of his phone charging kiosks.

Cell phones sleep next to us at night and travel in our pockets just about everywhere we go. All those hours reading, texting and Facebooking lead to a predictable but terrifying result: low phone battery. In this age of "I'm always available on my cell," businesses hope to make a buck by offering a place to charge.

The strategy is playing out on a warm afternoon in an Urban Outfitters store in Center City Philadelphia. Among all those dresses and sweaters, people are stopping at a kiosk.

Doug Baldasare is the entrepreneur behind this phone charging kiosk. You can find them in businesses in half a dozen states.

"Shoppers can go open up a little locker door, charging tips in each one, charge your phone, lock the door, you can go freely shop, browse." Baldasare says the "ChargeIt Spot" kiosks are free for phone owners.

So, who's footing the bill? "Traditional brick and mortar retailers are dying to find ways to bring customers in, keep customers shopping longer, ultimately get them to buy more stuff," Baldasare explains. His business has grown rapidly in the last year, and the key to his success hinges on our fear of low phone battery.

Valicia Mack, visiting from Washington DC, says her phone is dead and that makes her feel nervous. "Like I'm missing something," she says. Mack says she's never even seen one of these kiosks before. But she's so desperate for power she admits she'd pay for it.

Meanwhile, retailers have to find any way they can to bring people into their stores and get them to linger.

"Foot traffic is down pretty much across the board," says Barbara Kahn, Marketing professor at the Wharton School. She says the one thing that isn't clear is whether people who use the kiosks will actually spend more money. "In the past, there have been studies that show different things can get people to spend more time a store," says Kahn. "That does not necessarily translate to more purchasing."

Kahn says people who stop in to charge their phones might not buy much while they're in the store. But she says their exposure to all those products may prompt them to pull out their powered up cell phone later on, and place an order online.

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