2014.08 | vmbeacon | amazon dash

iconemeVMBeacon – Part of the key benefit of visiting a store that sells fashion is to gain a sense of that retailer’s sense of style as opposed to merely rifling through a pile of shirts on a table.  Mannequins have long been a tool for retailers to provide a view of their offerings that reflects how they will look when assembled in real life – very different from how clothing appears while hanging on a rack.   As a shopper, I’ve often been the one in the store taking a photo of the mannequin with my mobile and then hunting through the entire store to assemble the particular items that I like.  If I can’t find any of the items, I drag some poor soul working in the store to the mannequin to show them what I need.

VMBeacon by Iconeme is a solution that adds beacons to mannequins in stores to assist shoppers like myself to avoid the effort of searching through the store for the items I wish to purchase or try on that are shown on mannequins.   The solution connects beacons to the mannequins in store.  Leveraging a yet to be released app, these beacons point shoppers to a page on their mobile that shows all of the items on the mannequin that compose the look.  This allows shoppers quick access to the items, and presumably an easier path to find them.

Beacon powered mannequins seem an inevitable solution, and there are a number of considerations for when that really occurs:

  • Ensuring that the right data is connected to the right mannequin will be crucial.  Checking with the app to ensure that the mannequins settings online match the outfit should be part of the operational store process for changing the mannequin’s ensemble.
  • Providing location for items via a mobile app will be difficult in a specialty store environment.  There are rarely aisle numbers and sections are difficult to identify.  The greater benefit here may just be having the product’s unique identifier and being able to tell if the item is in stock in the correct size.  Knowing that, it would be more productive to drive the shopper to store staff for validation of location.
  • The demo recommends capturing shoppers into a store with the mannequin beacon on the app sending a message.  I’m not certain this is the best use of the technology.  The fashion should be the driver to pull out the mobile to get more information, not to stare at the mobile to see the fashions on a tiny screen when I’m in a shopping area with the fashions in the window.
  • Sharing fashion via Facebook is well and good, but being able to pin it to Pinterest, or add items to a wishlist or evernote or some other service would be more useful to remember favoured items.
  • If the store is not one that I visit often, I’m not likely to have an app.  As beacons only work with apps as far as I am aware at present, there will be some missed opportunity for service.  Signage or video indicating the service exists and a link to the app would be ideal.

Beacon enabled mannequins are a wonderful idea.  Like most solutions, the challenge will be in the details and operations to ensure this concept is implemented to best advantage to retailer, store staff and shoppers.

 

amazon dashAmazon Dash - Continuing their endless drive in any direction possible for more sales, Amazon recently unveiled the Amazon Dash.  Dash is a purpose built bar scanner and audio recorder that allows Amazon Fresh customers to add items to their online grocery cart as soon as they run out by either verbally prompting Dash or scanning them with Dash.  The idea is to have the small device handy in the home and ensure capture whenever the shopper runs out or thinks of a required item.

A few thoughts on this concept:

  • The Amazon mobile app can work just as well for this function as yet ANOTHER device in the home.  How many people have their mobiles on them constantly – everyone.  How many people can’t find a TV remote? Everyone.  This thing will get lost.
  • It’s not clear how this is unit is synchronized to the website/mobile devices, but there will be issues with synching or setup that negate the simplicity of the item. What seems simple to bleeding edge techie lovers is not obvious to someone who uses a purpose built device to scan stuff in the kitchen.
  • Support.  A support team will have to exist just for this item.  Updates because iOS/Android changed their settings?  Time for a new version.  Does this appliance download new setting automatically?  Important back end work that must be handled carefully.
  • Batteries.  Charging.  Another USB adapter? No thanks.
  • Kids love beeping and laser lights.  It would be fascinating to observe a shopping basket once a toddler gets their hands on an Amazon dash!  One or many of everything please?
  • Water, sink, food, kitchen clutter, powder rooms.  All enemies of the Dash that challenge its ease of use and life as a tool.
  • I’m really going to go downstairs, get this thing and scan a package of toilet paper when it runs out?  Who is that organized?
  • I’m limited to one vendor for my groceries with this tool?  What about price checking?  What about coupons?  What about remembering the quantities of something for a recipe.

On paper this seems like a productive concept, and it may suit a particular audience, but this device seems a bit of an odd option for the sorts of people who might order their groceries from Amazon.  Dash represents a creative concept, and it will be interesting to see how the test period. I would personally stick to evernote for my shopping lists.  Let’s see how the Millenials approach it!

2014.07 | TRNK | touchscreen table

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TRNK – Many of today’s successful retailers are really creative curators.  TRNK represents a terrific example of the focus on curation in retail. In fact, visitors to the site may be unclear on whether they are visiting an online magazine, an online retailer, or a blog.  The site portrays a particular style. If readers enjoy that style, they can bring that style into their own lives through buying products showcased.  There are links to all sorts of home decoration elements and furniture – with all of the links pointing to a variety of retailers and even eBay for vintage items.

Sites like TRNK provide an interesting opportunity for retailers.  Specialty retailers work incredibly hard to build their brands with their own sense of style to suit a certain segment, and may consider these sites a potential dilution of their brand.  That said, the emergence of the online world has enabled an incredible number of different communities driven by different interests, and it is becoming increasingly challenging to market to all of them one by one.  Embracing these lifestyle sites / marketplaces and their respective followers can provide retailers a resource to outsource the challenge of marketing to these increasingly diverse communities.

Specialty retailers would find it beneficial to enable these sites to showcase their products paired with those of other complimentary products.  Shoe retailers find themselves challenged with pairing their shoes with entire outfits – a disadvantage from fashion retailers that are increasingly offering shoes for sale as well.  As well as using their own resources to suggest the right ensemble for shoes, these retailers could point to these lifestyle sites so that their clients can see for themselves how the shoes will look paired with the outfits.  Cultivating a network of these sorts of lifestyle sites as partners is basically a retailer version of the Amazon Associates program where participants can advertise products with a link to Amazon and get a cut of the sale.  Why shouldn’t specialty retailers enable the same sort of programs – with more style – and expand their reach?

CapturePizza Hut Touchscreen Table – A concept video for a touchscreen table a la Microsoft Surface (Now PixelSense) was released by a Pizza Hut a couple of weeks ago.  It has the requisite upbeat tunes, beautiful graphics and uncluttered and simple interfaces complete with paying with your phone just by having it on the table. It’s a great idea and really the extension of tablet ordering solutions like those employed at places like Buffalo Wild Wings.  Of course, in real life the challenges are a little more complicated.  From a logistical perspective:

  • Tables are never completely clear of items in a restaurant as shown in the video (napkins, condiments, cutlery),
  • This thing will get quite greasy at a Pizza place (looked at your tablet in the bright light of day recently? Add pizza and kids),
  • Can you imagine fighting with your kids over who has control of this thing at any particular time and do we want to watch them play more games?, 
  • iPhones don’t have NFC, which would be the requirement for the payment element element to work as shown,
  • How much more costly is this table than a regular table?  what is the added value to the customer and to the company?,
  • Is the system connected to the in-store inventory?  How happy are clients when they finally configure their pizza and they are out of onions or whole wheat dough?
  • How much work is it to change this when the menu changes?
  • Isn’t it faster just to tell them what you want?
  • How will people who can’t figure out how Netflix works make this work?

I love the concept.  I would use it, but then, I’m a Netflix guru. It’s much easier to poke holes than it is to make these thing work, and I applaud the vision.  My main concern is around flash over substance.  Over half of the people in North America walk around with a computer in their pocket. Should we put another huge one into every table? I’m for it, but I’m not paying!

2014.06 | internet of things for retail

doorbotCheaper computing power and the ubiquity of technology are making home technology previously considered mundane surprisingly fresh.  Consider the following and how they can make life easier for consumers and open a door for retailers to adapt and use them for selling tools.

Smart Doorbell - Everyone has had to make the drive to the sketchy warehouse to pick up the package they missed after 3 missed drop-offs.  Doorbot is a doorbell that rings your mobile device when the doorbell button is pushed.  The mobile device uses the camera to show a live video feed of the bell ringer at your home.  Used  in coordination with a compatible wifi enabled door lock, users can actually allow entry to the delivery man in to drop off a package inside the home.  Useful for both avoiding that trip and finding a 3 x 4 foot box carefully hidden under your doormat.

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Auto Delivery - Volvo is testing a program in Europe to help with the missed delivery problem as well.  While you sit in your office, your vehicle lies unused in a parking lot.  With the roam delivery service, the shipping location is the location for your Volvo vehicle during certain hours.  On request, a single use digital key is provided to the delivery service by Volvo.  The delivery service visits the vehicle, uses the one time code to unlock the door and place the item in the car. After delivery the car is relocked, and the code is disabled.

automatic-iftttCar WalletAutomatic provides an adapter that interfaces into a car’s service port (almost any car back to 1996!) and connects to a smartphone app via bluetooth.  That connection to the vehicle allows users to leverage automotive data to improve gas mileage, obtain details on trouble lights, and even find a car in a parking lot.  A recent update to the platform leverages Apples new Bluetooth 4.0 location based platform.  With your vehicle part of that ecosystem, and with partners that develop on it, it’s possible to leverage a car with the automatic platform as a wallet.  Your car could be identified and you could pay for car washes, parking or other car oriented transactions.  Add in the recent availability of the Automatic channel on IFTTT, and vehicles are becoming a great deal more than transportation. 

Acloudwashppliance Ordering – I mentioned in an earlier post that it’s now theoretically possible to have our washing machines order detergent for us.   A designer in the UK has developed the Cloudwash – a washing machine that can order detergent through a smartphone, or even directly from Amazon.  Anticipate some single technological clearinghouse for all of our appliance ordering to rule the day.  If we don’t have some central tool to keep track of what all these things are doing, there will be a tremendous surplus of laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent on hand in most households – and that’s without the refrigerator getting into the game. 

These are only a very few examples of the Internet of Things that are coming into play.  It’s still early days for these sorts of technologies, but it is important for retailers to be aware of all of these ideas. There may be a jewel that particularly suits your retail segment, customer base or some other element that could push your business over the top, and it would be a shame to miss a unique differentiator.

 

 

2014.05 | bring eComm cool into the store

CaptureAmazon recently released Amazon Flow with some fanfare.  Instead of having to scan barcodes, users of the Amazon app can now use the camera on their mobile to recognize products visually.  While this image recognition capability has been around for some time in apps like SnapTell or Pic2Shop to scan books and CDs (which we all just download now anyway, right?), Amazon appears to have established a larger database of images for products that go beyond books and audio recordings.    Now it’s possible to add items to an Amazon eCommerce cart without even scanning a barcode.

How can a traditional retailer compete with the ongoing headline grabbing and constant additions to the Amazon technology arsenal?  There are certainly many excellent technological and operational answers that retailers are implementing, but why not bring some of the unique new tools being built to improve retailer eCommerce business into the store to enhance the customer experience?

One key strength of retail stores that is coming to the fore in 2014 is the unique experiences provided in stores. One of the challenges in providing a tremendous customer experience is the incredible amount of information available to everyone.  With online resources, an unprecedented amount of product information is available to consumers, and they use it.  It’s increasingly difficult for store associates to provide value and a great experience to clients who enter the store with access to the Internet in their pocket.  It only makes sense to provide tools to store associates to level the playing field.

There are some unique services available to eCommerce retailers that could be used to advantage by store staff when a customer comes to visit a store.  Consider just two examples:

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Furniture - Everyone has gone furniture shopping at some time or another, and has made the trek to the store with measuring tape in hand, trying to pick the perfect bookshelf, chair, or table for their home.  Most of us now take a photo of the room we are looking to decorate for a point of reference as part of the shopping excursion.  What if the consumer could pick a product and then drop a realistic looking three dimensionally rendered version of that product into their own picture of their home?  Move it around the room?  Change the colour?   Cimagine provides just such a solution to retailers.  Why not put that same functionality on tablets in store? Clients could share their home photos with talented decorators for a consultative discussion on which products would suit their home.  The decorators could then share the photos with their best furniture options in them for the client to review at their leisure or for them to share with friends for input.  The same tool could well be used for home consultations.

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Fashion - One of the biggest challenges around shopping for shoes and clothing online is sizing.  Everyone knows that standard sizing is tough enough in a single store let alone across all banners and manufacturers, there are a number of online add-ons competing to make it an easier task for retailers to give consumers the right fit and the best style.

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True Fit is a sizing plugin that allows users to enter in their sizes of their favourite shirts, pants, and shoes.  Using that information against a cross reference of many brands and products allows True Fit to highlight products that are a good fit given your size and body type.  The plugin will even suggest the right size for the consumer given their profile information.

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Dressipi provides a slightly different service.  Dressipi allows women to develop their own Fashion Fingerprint that highlights the right sizes and styles for them to wear across a range of brands.  The site then provides a range of products on the Dressipi site pulled from retailer sites that suit them to help narrow the purchasing effort.

Both of these services provide capabilities that could be easily leveraged within a store environment by savvy store associates.  What if store associates could pull up a shopper’s profile and have a better idea of their sizes from True Fit?  Less time in the dressing room, less looking for sizes for the customer. What if store associates could see the styles that Dressipi recommends?  Less time trying to figure out what styles may flatter the customer; and the potential to get them more items they like more quickly.

Both the furniture and fashion examples highlight the new sorts of tools to which consumers are just beginning to get exposed.  Why not take advantage of those tools to give associates the opportunity to provide real value?   It’s an achievable goal, and with a few other enablers, these associates can make these transactions seem magical by pushing items from these tools right into a POS transaction on the tablet without scanning a single item, take payment and send the clients on their way.   Sounds like more fun than shopping online!

2014.04 | january linkdump

CaptureGet me there - eCommerce could really meet stores if Google follows through on their latest concept.   The idea is that advertisers may find a transaction valuable enough to foot the bill to pay for a potential client to come to their store.  If an advertiser signs up for this service, a “take me there” button appears on the ad that can be clicked and a taxi can pick up the user to take them to the store.  Their patent even considers a self-driving car being used to pick up potential clients.   Great idea in theory, but there’s lots of room here for people to try for free rides. 

Anticipatory Shipping – Amazon apparently filed a patent for shipping product before clients order it. The idea is that items that are likely to drive demand in an area are shipped to that area and redirected to a person who orders it to minimize shipping time.  I haven’t decided if this is genius or lunacy.

Miserable Men – If you happen to visit instagram, check out Miserable Men – an account full of images of unfortunate gentlemen who appear to be experiencing a sub optimal shopping experience as a shopping partner. While it’s comedy, and we’ve all been there, there has to be some opportunity here for cross-selling, or at least retailers could attempt to entertain or otherwise reduce the pain inflicted on these poor souls.  The account would be better named Missed Opportunities.  IF we are so hyped about the customer experience, here is an area ripe for improvement.

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Apple Payments –  There have been ripples again recently that Apple is making moves to attempt to enable mobile payments in the real world.  With the base of devices they have, they could certainly make an impact.  However, changing payments to mobile devices is rife with challenges.  Google failed at it.  Square was expected to be a big deal at Starbucks and so far hasn’t made any noise beyond the small business level so far.

There are so many opportunities for failure with mobile POS payments between two parties in a store.  To succeed, there are changes to retailer software, changes to retailer devices, training cashiers, training consumers, data connectivity, user interfaces, security, and much much more.  Those are only the initial technical challenges.  You also need to establish consumer confidence in your payment system and make it as universally available as possible.  You also need to get credit card companies on board in some way, and find a way to make money on transactions that are already laden with fees from various players and find a way to do it without charging consumers.

As an early adopter, I would be excited to see an Apple payments system, but it’s a challenging initiative.  As a retailer, it’s best to keep your payments options as flexible as possible to ensure that if something does come along, that your solutions are in a position to enable new tendering options as easily and quickly as possible.

2014.03 | lovelist | electroloom | homechat

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Lovelist – Pinterest is a great tool and quite simple to use.  I use it to remember products or looks that catch my eye and can turn to it for inspiration when I actually look to purchase a new item.  The new app Lovelist takes this to another level by allowing users of the app to scan items and add them to a Pinterest board.  That effectively provides a rudimentary bespoke gift registry as a Pinterest board.  The app allows you not just to take images and describe items you see – as Pinterest’s own mobile app already does – but to scan barcodes on products and have data populate onto a pin that could be added to a board. Scanning minimizes effort for the user and ensures that you are capturing exactly what you see.

This app brings to the fore a potential use for Pinterest as a central gift registry clearing house across all retailers that I think would be relatively simple for Pinterest to implement that could provide them with increased usage as well as some interesting traffic and data. Why not allow users to make a gift registry on Pinterest, and allow other users the ability to anonymously indicate that an item has been purchased.  In fact, Simple Registry already provides this very solution – including the ability to split the cost of larger items.

Where a Pinterest solution could excel is that it can provide cross retailer (even Amazon) registries and the ability to use the app to register and add items.   Pinterest could do this at no charge, and provide retailers the ability to see these registries to allow them to push relevant and timely offers through the life of the registry, understand product affinities and more.

Like every other element of retail, expect the gift registry segment to splinter more and more as there are increasing options for consumers to register on systems outside of retailers. Retailers would be wise to build flexibility into systems and operations to accommodate outside or affiliate solutions like Simple Registry, a Pinterest Registry, or whatever provides the consumer with the experience that suits their needs.    Assist purchasers to search online registries for items that could be purchased in your store, assist them in removing items from the list they have purchased and more.  This means implementing a program with store associates to ensure that they are aware of registry programs beyond the retailer to ensure consumers can shop as they wish in your stores.

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Electroloom – 3D printing is increasingly mainstream.  If you don’t believe it, head down to one of the Makerbot stores.  If you visit, you will see many little printers and scanners happily printing out bracelets and other little trinkets.  Don’t want to leave home?  You can still get the 3D printer experience by using your Xbox One to scan yourself and have the team at Shapify send you a 3D printed action figure of yourself.  While this all seems like silly fun, remember that availability for 3D printables online is growing.  You can find items already on the Pirate Bay, for example, and there many more.

With that in mind, Electroloom is a concept that is getting off the ground with an eye towards enabling the ability to custom print clothing designs on demand at home.  The group are targeting the end of 2014 to have a concept product.  Whether Electroloom is successful or not, this technology is definitely coming and apparel designers and retailers are well advised to stay abreast of developments in this area. Whether enabling printing at a retail store and cutting distribution and unused inventory costs, or allowing printing at home to become a seller of design instead of product, printing apparel has the potential of being a game changer to fashion in the same manner that mp3 and ebooks were to their respective areas.

lg-homechat-ces-2014Homechat – Having recently replaced some appliances in my home, I wondered why I couldn’t connect them to my mobile device to provide notifications.  Seems that the team at LG were thinking along the same lines.   LG’s HomeChat allows for regular language discussions with LG appliances to drive instructions and provide status updates.  While their notion of asking if there is beer in the refrigerator seems somewhat enthusiastic, (how are items going in and out of a fridge getting scanned, what database is it checking to see if something is ‘beer’), the idea is certainly worthy of consideration.   I’m sure I won’t want to program my roomba from the road to change its cleaning schedule, but it would be nice to know if I need to empty its dust receptacle or if my laundry is done.

My experience with the best use of new systems like this is to start with a basic function, get it working in a way that is useful to users and then build out on it.  First, establish basic notifications from appliances, then you can get more sophisticated as the user and solution evolve together.  For instance, start with dishwasher cycle complete notifications, over time move on to notifications that the rinse aid is empty and provide a capability to add it to a grocery list on Evernote or in a grocery app.  As always, the issue is not the technology, it’s how people interact with it and if they gain utility.  Much like email marketing becomes noise, too many messages from anything will quickly become overwhelming.

However this technology progresses, retailers should ensure that they are able to take advantage of feeds from services to make relevant offers or provide help to clients – being able to accept input from a service to an app to add that rinse agent to a grocery list is a good example.  There is no way to be ready for everything, but being open to the idea is a good start.

2014.02 | displair | louis vuitton pass| rough trade nyc

displairDisplair – All sorts of new user interfaces are being developed and that novelty often finds its way into retail – even if just as a way of garnering people’s attention for the short term.  Displair is a good example.  Some enterprising souls have built a solution that makes a touchscreen out of thin air.  Video is projected on mist shot into the air.  Sensors catch where the mist is broken to enable touchscreen capability.   While a novelty for now these sort of projected touch interfaces are a prime solution for changerooms or other areas where technology could help but there is limited or constantly changing space.

pounce-louis-vuittonLouis Vuitton Pass – 2D barcodes have always seemed like a jury-rigged solution.  Originally invented to track inventory, they can hold a lot more data than the traditional barcode, but retain an ugliness that fashion (and really everyone) disdains.  Expect to see more solutions like the one leveraged by the likes of the Louis Vuitton Pass App.  Instead of scanning unseemly 2D barcodes, pointing your mobile’s camera at an ad can open a link with product information.  This technology is not that new, but consider the potential of it being built into mobile apps the same way that shazam is used to recognize music, tv and movies.  If it becomes more common, image searches for the right products become that much easier.

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Rough Trade NYC – Much has been made of the death of retail and of the record store (music for the youngsters) in particular.  Showing that retail is about the experience, and that music stores can survive in the world of iTunes, Rough Trade recently opened an outlet in NYC .   Rough Trade has been around in the UK for decades, so they are doing something right.  The new store in Brooklyn is broken into boutiques: a traditional CD and Vinyl Record sales floor, a curated instrument showroom, an audio equipment area, and a bookstore.  They offer a unique curation of music that seems a bit different from the iTunes crowd and have digital downloads subscriptions as well.  The piece that really pulls it together is a a 250 seat venue with a full bar that appears to be fully booked for shows.  It will be interesting to see if providing unique offerings, concerts, and providing a venue for a community will be enough to make a go of it.  Considering that digital downloads declined for the first time since iTunes opened, this subset of retail is really up in the air yet again, and this is as good an idea as any to pull in the music crowd.

2014.01 | email offers have become flyers

email-hellDear Valued Retailer,

It isn’t me.  It’s you.  Until you can understand the basic rules of relationship, we need to take a break.

It all started pleasantly enough.  I had admired you from afar.  When I tentatively visited your place, the people there were just like me, and even offered me some useful advice on picking out an outfit that I quite liked.  I truly appreciated the sweet one time deal you offered me to get my email address.  I was a little hesitant, but your brand seems reflective of my personal style, and I didn’t mind having you in my inbox.  The people there said it would not be given to anyone else.  You even said you could send my receipt in email and that’s neat, right? I decided to go for it.

Then it began.

I didn’t notice it at first.  I’ve been getting  so much email lately because, let’s face it, I got overexuberant with all the offers everyone gave me in exchange for my email address.  What could it hurt?  A few extra emails is no big change.   They started to pile up, and I figured I’d just read them when I had a bit of time.  But my personal inbox started to look like my work inbox.

One Saturday morning I had a chance to review my personal email and started scrolling through the pile.  I read your first message updating me on the latest fashions for women this season.  I started wondering what on earth would drive you to send me such a thing.  I’m not a woman.  I don’t buy clothes for women.  Must be a mistake.  I’ll just delete it.  No big deal.  You’re my friend, right?

I opened the next one and it asked me if I had said yes – to getting married – and that if I had, you could help me build the party of my life.  Hmmm.  What is going on here?  Let’s scan through the history.  You sent me – let’s see – emails for 12 days in a row. Hmmm.  Discounts and free shipping are in the title of all of them.  Wow.  Pretty much the same as my entire inbox because of my personal email sharing indiscretions.  Sort by sender, aaaaand Delete.

The next day I got another, and then another.  I’m going to have to end this.  It feels like work.  It’s making me not like you.  I decided to hit the unsubscribe button.  THEN you want to know if I want to just hear from you every week instead of every day.  Hmmm.  We’ve moved on to bargaining.  Give you one more chance?  Well… I didn’t know that was an option, but you’re not offering me anything I want, when I want it, or how I want it, so let’s just end it.

Let’s face it.  You don’t know how to have a relationship.  We just met and you acted too familiarly.  You called every day.  You offered help, but because it was SO much it felt like you wanted something; not like you were offering me something.   You acted like you were the only thing in my life.  I like you but I don’t need new clothing every day.  You said the offer was just for me, but all of my friends asked me if I got it too.  I felt betrayed.

Now I come to you and you say you could just call on me weekly as long as we agree to it?  Why is the onus on me to gear down on the familiarity?  Seems to me that you have more to gain from this relationship at the outset.  Nope.  We’re done.  I don’t feel the love.  When I need something, I’ll just check the website.  Maybe I’ll just stick something in my online cart and wait for you to notice and offer me a discount.

I thought you cared, but it turns out you just want my money.  I know you are going to ask me to join some other club or scheme or something, but you can forget it.  The trust is gone.

Thanks for the laughs.

Your Not So Faithful Shopper.

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I jest of course, but this holiday season really brought the current state of email marketing and having an ongoing dialogue with clients.  Let’s be clear.  This is not easy.  In fact, I would argue that for me personally, email offers have basically become the annoying paper flyers that fill your mailbox.  They have become noise instead of a conduit for a personalized ongoing conversation.

Nobody has the magic formula on ongoing communication, however, there are some things I have noticed from my own experience:

  • Frequency – Like a regular relationship, you can’t just assume I love you so much that I want to hear from you every. single. day.  That’s just making it weird.  I don’t need to think about shopping for anything every single day. Don’t fill my inbox.  Start slowly, maybe monthly, and we can move forward from there.  The necessity of your marketing department to look busy does not justify filling my inbox.  Also – think about your target market and your products.  Just because I buy a wallet from a leather goods company doesn’t mean I need to hear from them constantly via email.  The product should stand on its own.  Be intelligent, thoughtful and respectful about how often you contact me.
  • Personalization – If you are saying the deal is just for me, it better be just for me.  This isn’t the first time I’ve shopped.  I have friends online AND in the real world with the same taste.  I know if they get the same deals or not.   99% of the time, the deals are not personalized, or at least – they don’t feel personalized.  Want to blow my mind?  Send me an offer for the pants that go with my new jacket – or the coloured shoelaces that go with my new shoes AND my new shirt.  Let me know that lots of stuff is on sale that is MY SIZE.  Send me an offer on the razor blades I always buy if I buy the shaving cream.  That is a personalized offer.  20% off jackets is NOT a personalized offer.  20 cents off Premium Plus because I bought them in the past is a personalized deal, but it’s not enough to be worth my time.   Use my data well and I’ll welcome you to it.
  • Transparency – I know you you’re selling  stuff, you know you’re selling stuff. Let’s all be up front about it.   If you offer me something, give me the chance to say I don’t want it.  You can be funny about it, but be respectful of my time by letting me get out of this thing easily. If you send me 2 emails and I don’t respond, how about a message that says – seems like you don’t want to hear about this stuff.  If we’re bothering you, we can lay off.  Just hit this button and hit send and we’ll fix it for you.
  • Offer Targeting – Everyone wants the holy grail – if you bought this, you will certainly want that, but it’s difficult.  You will inevitably get it wrong.  First, I’m not a girl.  Don’t forget that.  Basic stuff needs to be sorted NOW.  Once you get past that, you can offer me things I might not want by making offers.  That’s okay, but do me a favour – only show me a few things – not 20 things.  If I see 20 things, I’m not reading it.  If I don’t like your suggestions, let me tell you if I don’t like what you suggested.  Make it easy and fast and I’ll do it.  You’ll learn from it, and I’ll not be bothered any longer.
  • Messaging – There better be something in this message for me if I’m going to even read it – let alone have a dialog with you.  Do you really think I’m going to read a 2 page message about suit jackets- or god forbid, skirts? I’m surprised you’ve read this far – many will not.  ALWAYS have the topic and message be about something I might care about.  Keep it short and to the point.  In business school almost 20 years ago, they gave me half a page.  I’ll give you a couple of sentences.
  • Evernote Camera Roll 20140103 133425Medium - Look, I’m sure you have lots of great ideas that add value that aren’t just about discounts.  That’s great and I might like to hear about it, but not in my email.  If you have lots of cool stuff to share on your brand, put it on social media – be it Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest – wherever your people are.  Put the ideas in blog posts.  Lookbooks are coming around in many new and novel ways.  Make all of it accessible within your mobile app if you have one.  If I like your brand and what you’re showing me, I’ll follow you and remember you when the time comes. Remind me of that when I leave your email list.  
  • Control - I have a feeling that people at companies of all types constantly have meetings and measure how many subscribers they have and how many people are constantly contacted through these email lists. They are loathe to drop any as it’s seen as a negative.  Here’s the thing.  Hiding that unsubscribe button at the bottom is disingenuous.  Make it obvious.  Make it a big button.  Do you really want me to get messages I don’t want?  No you do not.  It will make me resent you.  Not the feeling you are looking for.
  • Timing – I know everyone thinks that by timing I mean Christmas or Black Thursday, but I don’t.  If you want me to buy something, get the information to me when I’m planning on buying.  I’m not planning on scanning my inbox for goodies.  That’s basically the flyer method moved to an electronic format.  That’s not how my kids are going to shop either.  If you want to get me to buy, get me when I’m shopping.  Hard to do that with email.  In fact, that’s why I suggest the content I get in many emails would be better placed on a blog, twitter feed, or lookbook accessible in an app or online in all manner of ways when I’m at your store or at your website.

The bottom line is that as always, selling is relationships.  Be intelligent about relationships.  Treat people like you would like to be treated.  Be respectful, be up front, and treat them as you would your friends – because they are your friends.  That’s how I’d like to be treated and so would you.  The tools and the media are available, and most of what we need to guide us we use every day with our personal relationships.

Remember your clients and targets are your friends when trying to have a conversation and they will treat you as a friend – oh, and buy more stuff.

2013.38 | no cash| subscriptions | stantt

no_cash1

Cash Use Waning - I don’t carry cash at all, and it seems I’m not alone.  A recent report from Visa indicates that the average American carries less than $20 in their wallet.  While we have to take that report with a grain of salt given the sponsor,  my anecdotal experience of late is that cash use is decreasing.  Here in Canada, we recently released new $10 and $5 notes.  Other than in my work with retailers, I’ve yet to spend or receive either as change as of yet.  Increasingly in fast service food lines I see usage of NFC via PayPass and Paywave.  At Starbucks the mobile payment system is incredibly common with over 4 million transactions per week back in April.  Tim Hortons recently released updates to their app to allow barcode scanning and NFC payment depending on the device.

From my perspective, electronic payments are looking increasingly convenient over cash for retailers and consumers alike.  Less handling of bits of paper and metal and more convenience for both sides.  It’s easier for transacting anywhere at any time, and it saves retailers time having to balance and move bits of paper around after hours.  Not to mention the fact that it’s harder to skim electronic payments out of a register than a few bits of paper.

While cash seems doomed to decreasing (though not zero) usage, this does not mean that the credit card companies and current payments processors are the only path forward into the future.  While Bitcoin is a shaky proposition with its fluctuations, more and more places of business accept it, developers are trying to figure out how to leverage it, and it represents a different way of considering non-cash tendering.   Whether it’s a path forward or not, retailers should ensure they keep their systems open to capture any new payment interaction possible and not limit themselves to traditional payment infrastructure.

target-diaper-subscribeTarget Subscriptions - Target is pushing back on the Amazon juggernaut with Target Subscriptions for new parents to subscribe to constantly replaced consumable items like diapers.  This is a great example of a retailer trying something new in a targeted area to test the waters.  I think subscriptions represent a real convenience to time starved consumers and a consistent measurable cash flow for retailers.  An incredible array of items in various segments are bought on an ongoing basis – razor blades, toothpaste, diapers, yard waste bags, cosmetics, food staples and more.  It retailers aren’t considering ways of integrating a subscription service into their businesses, they are missing a sought after commodity – stable revenues through the year.  Getting this right by product and mix, and working out delivery could be difficult, but if the combination can be unlocked, the results could be worth it. 

stantt sizesStantt - Stantt is an outfit that is looking to change the status quo on sizing in the men’s shirt business.  Instead of providing 4 different sizes of shirts (S, M, L, XL) , Stantt has compiled 3D scanned dataset from a set of men to establish data driven sizing to enable a better fit for a mens shirt.  Based on providing 3 data elements, one of 50 sizes will be recommended automatically to ensure correct taper, shoulder, sleeves, and waist.   Stantt recently received funding on kickstarter, and hopefully will begin churning out shirts sometime soon.

Whether Stantt succeeds or not, this could be a way of working out the ongoing problems that retailers encounter with online sales and fit.   A huge part of the success of online sales is fit – the cost of returns and shipping is enough to kill the profitability of a sale.  Any edge to reduce those returns could be a big benefit.  The solution also ensures that men avoid the fitting room so many of us avoid.  Build to order could also help in the cost of inventory if the process can be made to scale and work quickly enough.  It’s a fascinating concept, and worth watching to validate its success.

2013.37 | coin | macy’s beacon

gold-coinCoin - The premise of the Coin card is that instead of carrying a wallet full of credit cards, users can leverage a single electronic card for to use all of their credit cards from a single device.  Users add their cards to the app by leveraging a mag swipe reader with their mobile to scan in their cards. The mobile passes the details to the Coin card via bluetooth.  Switching from one credit card to another in Coin is as simple as pressing a toggle button that toggles through all the card numbers stored on Coin.  The card can be used via MSR with any current card reader, so no changes required at retailers.

The concept of the Coin card makes sense from a transitional technology perspective, and all the details of the solution are not yet revealed, but there are a few concerns with this solution:

  • Acceptance – Retailers and their staff may have some qualms about scanning a relatively unknown black electronic device across their pinpads.  Education will be needed for store staff to be confident that this is a valid technology to use for payment.  If this is not achieved, everyone that spent $100 will be out of luck when they go to pay with their single card.
  • Fraud – What stops a Coin user from stealing cards and putting a number of them onto the Coin card to complete fraudulent transactions?   Hopefully there are some measures to verify that the person scanning the card is the rightful owner of the card.
  • Dishonest Store Staff – If one can easily flip through all my cards with the touch of a button, there better be a PIN lock on it to do that, otherwise you just gave a cashier in a restaurant ALL of your cards.  Hit the button and swipe to capture all of the numbers.  If they’re not dishonest, they may accidentally select the wrong card by selecting a button.
  • User Validation – How do stores validate that the user is who they say they are?  Is there a signature on the back of Coin?  Does it show the card number and expiry date on the screen?  Is a Drivers license needed for verification every time?
  • EMV – Consumers in many parts of the world outside of the US no longer use MSR cards, and we can expect the same in the US over coming months and years.  I see no chip option available but perhaps that is a future consideration.
  • Contactless – I like using the contactless feature of my cards to make my purchases quick and simple. No indication that coin has NFC capability

Payments are difficult and complicated and require buy-in from many parties to make them work.  The concept of Coin is very slick, and the hardware is incredibly impressive.  The challenge will be in the implementation, and if they can get over the risk factors, and gain an enthusiastic user base, perhaps Coin can lighten wallets everywhere.

macys-ibeaconiBeacon - Macy’s is starting a trial using iBeacon with Shopkick to notify users about offers they may be interested in when they enter the store.  More important than the actual technology is how this gets implemented.

If beacons are used in any way like email marketing is today, they will make virtually no difference.  I am spammed with email EVERY DAY with multiple messages for items that I don’t find interesting (hey apparel sellers – I don’t need ladies wear).  If we are spammed in real life on our mobile devices – increasingly an extension of our very selves – EVERYONE will opt out of this and turn it off.

For beacons to work, there needs to be something in it for the retailer and for the consumer.  If there are offers, they must be very very relevant, they must be valuable to the consumer, and they must be right the first time there is an offer.

I look forward to seeing how it works, but I’m not enthusiastic. This has been tried with SMS and other technologies, and from my perspective, the magic in this experience isn’t contacting people in a timely way, it’s having the right communication.  From my perspective, leveraging this platform for some sort of relevant messaging or entertainment to make a unique customer experience is probably a better use of the technology, though I understand the need to directly attach an ROI to such an enterprise.

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