2014.22 | findbox | robots

findbox – If you’ve ever gone to a big box DIY store with a strange looking screw or bolt in hand, comparing your piece to those in little tiny drawers, findbox is the tool for you.

Findbox is a fixture mounted screen with a camera and image recognition software.  Shoppers place their item on a platform under the camera, and the system completes an image search for the item on the platform.  The system will then display a photo, name and product id of the item if it is in stock at the store.  The system also has the ability to provide shelf tags that can flash a light on the shelf to indicate where the hardware item is located in the aisle.

findboxAs a shopper who has searched for small unusual items countless times, this sounds like a wonderful concept and one I would welcome in my local DIY store.  Finding someone to help you with one screw is a bother for both parties.  If a system can do this quickly and easily, I’m all for it.  If it’s accurate, it will probably also save me trips as ideally it’s better at this than I am.

Findbox also enables retailers to own the search results enabling them to highlight found items based on whatever parameters suit their model – margin, product fit, or whatever they wish.  The retailer could also look at what is most commonly being searched on the device, and if there are commonalities, that information could be used to modify the display for ease of search, or even highlight other potential sales opportunities for related items for nearby placement.

For the right situation, this solution provides benefits to both retailer and shopper.  The retailer can ideally provide a higher level of service for more shoppers with no change in staff, and provide a service at the shoppers convenience to help them find what they need.  There is data to be gathered and potentially used for benefit.

The shopper minimizes search time and frustration and avoids the need to find staff to ask a question unless they wish to do so.  The system could potentially recommend alternative or related items they may require to finish their job and save them a trip as well.

findbox find by lightOne wonders if this solution could be taken another footprint, with an app for devices so that users can take a photo of the item and be provided details on local establishments that can supply the item.

Perhaps the logic of the solution can be provided as an API for DIY retailers to include in their own apps.  While retailers like Amazon have offered this capability for some time for Books, DVD’s, and more, I’ve not seen it for identifying hardware items.

Contractors who regularly visit DIY retailers may find this to be another useful item on their mobile device to save them time.  Virtually no shopper is going to type in a long description full of fractions and measurements to see if it is on hand at a store, but taking a picture to find something unusual would be a great way to narrow the search and save DIY regulars time and effort.

robots - Lowes certainly took the mission of finding that unusual hardware item to heart with a novel twist.  The Lowes innovation team and Fellow Robots have deployed a robot assistant in one of their California based Orchard Supply Hardware on a trial basis. The robot has the ability to capture an image of an item that a customer brings to the store, identify it, and then direct the shopper to the right location to find the item they need.

lowes-robot-1This search model takes the process a step further by having a robot greet shoppers, ask them if they need help and then lead them right to the spot where their item is located.

This is an incredible concept, and like all technology solutions in retail , there are many operational challenges to overcome:

  • Wayfinding is always challenging within the ever changing footprint of a real life retail store.  It will be important to ensure that the data here is 100% accurate on location of products and that any planogram changes are immediately passed to the system that informs the robots.   The first time the robot takes shoppers to the wrong item, they will ignore the robot for future visits.
  • Some shoppers will not want to interact with a robot for whatever reason.  This isn’t a problem, but needs to be understood and accepted.  Retail is all about choice.  Store staff need to acknowledge this solution isn’t for everyone. They should encourage usage to those who wish to use it.  It is important that the staff support the use of the robots in the stores or they will fail.  This is key.
  • Ruggedization is always a challenge in retail and hardware retail is particularly challenging based on the dirt and types of projects supported.  All technology in a retail environment requires some ongoing care and feeding for optimal usage.  Solutions with moving parts are particularly subject to failures and require ongoing maintenance.
  • Ongoing support of the robots for store staff will need to become part of the daily regimen.  Ideally the robots can recharge themselves at a station like a Roomba, but staff will need to regularly ensure that the units find their way to charging stations correctly and validate that they are still in good working order from time to time.

Whether shoppers are ready for robot assistants remains to be seen, it may be a novelty, or it may become common in the future.  Either way, it’s great to see new concepts like this being tested in retail!

All channels for retailers are viable from my perspective as long as they provide benefit to retailer and shopper and have an ROI acceptable to both.  I for one, welcome our robot overlords, and look forward to one day interfacing a point of sale engine to one of these robots so that they can complete the entire transaction and have us out the door to our self driving cars as soon as possible.

2014.21 | poynt

With so much re-invention focus on payment with the likes of Square, Google Wallet and Apple Pay, it’s no surprise that someone in silicon valley decided to take a run at updating the old school point of sale payment terminal.

Poynt is the iPhone to the traditional point of sale pinpad’s Blackberry.  It will be interesting to see if it takes off in the same way that the iPhone did.

Poynt’s device is certainly different than it’s more traditional competitors in looks and basic utility.  The unit has a sleek contemporary look that utilizes an android tablet and has no physical buttons for pin entry.  Like other newer units, it has all the standard payment interfapoynt-still_02ces – MSR, EMV, and NFC – but also adds a QR/barcode imager and a bluetooth antenna.   Poynt also has a basic built in point of sale software solution, and a Software Developers Kit to allow others to build applications that can run on the platform.

On the plus side, Poynt certainly has a look that retailers can embrace.  It takes point of sale pinpad terminals away from the spongy buttoned senior citizen’s calculator look to a software based, touch driven, futuristic device.  Every base is covered with payment options with all of the capabilities included on the device.  All of this is positive for the right application.

For high volume retailers, this may not be the right device.

  • With two screens, the device appears to be designed for an interaction sitting on top of a counter that starts with the store associate entering data on the device and then passing it to the customer for payment entry.  This is sub-optimal for a high volume retail environment where every motion counts.
  • The device does not appear to have any security mounting options beyond a kensington type lock interface.  Given the need/desire for tier one retailers to mount devices on checkstands, selfcheckouts and more, the device cannot be mounted in stores with certainty that it won’t be stolen for attempted security incursions.
  • Touch screens are still an experiment for payment terminals in North America.  Shoppers are accustomed to buttons for pinpads.  Shoppers at tier one retailers are more than just twenty something hipsters in New York ordering cronuts who want to try the latest thing.  Most shoppers at high volume retailers want to get through the line.  Our moms need to know how to use this thing and get through the line in seconds.  This is certainly less and less of a problem as time passes, but the issue is still worth noting depending on the target market of particular retailers..
  • Pinpads take a lot of abuse in retail.  Mobile phones and tablets are replaced by consumers every 3-4 years.  Tier 1 retailers often target keeping devices for 7-12 years.  Can these devices last this long?  Certainly the software aspects mean that the devices can be updated over time, and looks can even be changed over time.
  • Most of the traditional calculator looking pinpads have some sort of privacy shield.  This device has a screen that is quite large that may be difficult to use without sharing your pin with the entire staff and entire shopper population.

This is not to say that Poynt was even built to deal with these challenges.  Poynt is solely a better looking device that enables every type of payment interface possible.  Selling payment terminals is a messy business.  As articles on this device point out, payment device vendors need to convince payments processors and banks, and to a lesser extent retailers, and not consumers, that their devices are worthy of certification and usage at point of sale.

Poynt raises the bar and provides a fresh perspective, and for that alone, it is worthy of consideration.  While other articles seem to focus on the old school nature of pinpads on the market, in Canada, there have certainly been changes in recent times with the move to EMV to newer sorts of pinpads like those provided by organizations like NBSPS that have features like sleek good looks and audio prompts.

EMV requirements in the US means that timing is good for new devices, and Poynt should take advantage of that change.  No matter whether Poynt takes off or not, it certainly provides other vendors the opportunity to change the paradigm that embodies the conservative payments industry.  I can’t wait to use a touch screen pinpad.  Expect it to become common sometime soon.

2014.20 | coin vs plastc

The newly hyped Plastc sure looks a lot like Coin – both are electronic replacements for the plastic cards carried in the wallets of consumers.

Let’s revisit that product and see how it stacks up against Coin, especially given all of the recent hype around alternative payment schemes such as Apple Pay.

CaptureC O I N 

Coin raised some serious concerns for me when it was first revealed – from the original post.  Since that post, additional information is available from the Coin site and FAQ.  Here are the concerns I had with updates from Coin:

  • 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.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that card branding and details will be visible on the screen of the card.  This should help with this challenge.  In the intervening year since Coin has been under consideration there have been so many new payment schemes that have popped up in the media that as long as a card scans, store staff will probably not question it too deeply depending on the transaction value and type.]

  • 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.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that the card owner must have a card in hand in order to enter it into the database.  A mobile app takes an image of front and back and matches it to an MSR swipe.  The system also requests a temporary authorization on the card in an amount that must be validated by the user by looking at the account online.  That’s a clever move and reduces the potential of this card becoming a tool for fraud.]

  • 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.

[UPDATE: There are no details I could find on the FAQ that indicate that there is a PIN lock to stop someone from sorting through all of the cards on the device, though there is reference to tap code that may serve this purpose.  As the device is swiped as an MSR, this would indicate that if you hand that card to a server in a restaurant and they take it to a POS to scan, they could theoretically scan all of the cards on the Coin device to capture all of the account numbers if they are familiar with it. While the device avoids the concern of being a fraud tool, it doesn’t really protect the user in the restaurant scenario any further than current 40 year old MSR technology.  As a consumer I would want to know if the tap code locks a particular card for use on the device.]

  • 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?

[UPDATE: There are no details on the site other than the fact that the Coin will display the card details.  One can only assume that a cashier or server would ask to see your drivers license or alternative ID to see a signature for validation. Probably necessary to carry ID anyway, but it really negates the point of having a cool device for payment when users scratch a line onto paper to prove who they are.]

  • 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.

[UPDATE: Coin it its current iteration – not released yet by the way – will not support EMV.  This is a serious shortcoming that becomes more crucial over time.  As a consumer I see little benefit to purchasing a tool like this that will only be usable in some places when EMV takes hold.  Also: International markets can’t use this solution – that’s disappointing for us.]

  • Contactless – I like using the contactless feature of my cards to make my purchases quick and simple. No indication that coin has NFC capability

[UPDATE: No indication of NFC or other contactless capability.]

Some other interesting points that came available after the original post about Coin:

  • Coin uses low energy bluetooth connectivity is used to remind users that have left cards behind via their mobile device.
  • The device is supported via an app for both apple and android mobile devices.
  • The device uses a non-rechargeable battery targeted for 2 years of usage.  Mileage will vary.

As a Canadian, Coin in it’s current iteration won’t work for me – it’s not targeted at international markets.  A US consumer may find it useful, though I have concerns about security and the real benefits.  Also in the currently prescribed video of an affable dude with a beard showing us the solution, Coin should really scrap the big wallet.  Do people who want a single card really carry a George Costanza wallet after they get this sleek new device?  I think not, but that’s just one voice.   All kidding aside, the Coin solution is intriguing.  Bringing something new like this to market is very difficult and they deserve full credit for pushing the idea; it’s certainly a credible concept.

P L A S T C

CaptureLet’s consider the same real world concerns for the newly unveiled – and yet also unreleased – Plastc.

  • Acceptance – Plastc has an e-ink screen that covers the bottom third of the front of the card.  This allows for graphics and details to be shown on the card that should lend it credibility when it’s used for payment.  That same e-ink screen is scannable with a barcode to allow the use of loyalty cards with it as well. Another point of consideration is EMV.  With future EMV capability, store staff have no reason to look at cards.  In fact, once consumers and staff are accustomed to staff NOT having to check signatures, the need for the laughable security measure of checking signatures becomes aggravating to staff and shoppers alike.  (Ask Canadians about visiting Gap Brand stores – a rare holdout that checks signatures – it annoys all.)
  • Fraud – Details are less specific, but the Plastc Wallet mentions the requirement of a facial scan and authentication.  Details of how cards are added are not provided at present.  The card shows an image of the cardholder, which should also be useful in minimizing fraudulent transactions.
  • Dishonest Store Staff - There is a PIN on the card, but the site does not provide details on whether the card is locked when cards are passed to staff.  That said, the card supports NFC and ships with a chip that will enable Chip and Pin / EMV in future, so there is less need to leave a card with a server or cashier, reducing the potential for card number capture.
  • User Validation – At release, signatures would be used.  Signatures could theoretically be stored on the e-ink screen, but there is no indication of signatures shown on screen.  Once again, with NFC and EMV options, the necessity of a signature is avoided, and the use of a PIN or just the NFC itself simplifies the validation.
  • EMV – The card has a chip to be activated later via a software update.  This is key for future proofing with EMV coming on the scene in the US in 2015, and opportunity for international usage.
  • Contactless – The card has contactless capability.   This avoids the need for signatures, enables small value purchases and reduces fraud compared to MSR options.

Other points:

  • Like Coin, Plastc uses Low Energy Bluetooth to alert users to cards left behind.   The card automatically locks if left behind.
  • An app is used to manage account information stored on the app.
  • Barcodes can be put on the screen and shown for scanning. This means that the Starbucks app could be enabled to work with it.
  • The NFC function could also be used for access doors to add additional card functionality
  • The Plastc card is rechargeable on a wireless charging pad. Entire lifetime is not indicated.

Both the Plastc and Coin cards aim to eliminate all of the cards we carry in our wallets, and both appear to have created the miraculous with such tiny hardware.  Both certainly represent viable options, but given the need for a chip in particular and contactless to a lesser degree, the edge goes to Plastc.  While some pundits may suggest that mobile programs like Apple Pay would supersede card hardware like this, but the complexity of payments is such that cards will not go away quickly and card solutions definitely fulfill a need for an interim solution to move us all to the mobile wallet.  It’s hard to say if consumers will shell out $100 or $150 for the convenience of cards like these, but one must wonder if the card companies may not eventually decide to fund such things.

2014.19 | shelfie | repack | #retailing

Photo 2014-10-06, 8 55 58 PMShelfie – Looking to reduce the disappointing out of stock experience we’ve all encountered at one time or another, the good people at DataCrowd offer the cleverly named Shelfie app for both iOS and Android to remedy the issue.

Shoppers who see an out of stock at a store take a picture of the items tag and empty shelf, upload it to the app and the GPS details and products in the image are used to notify the retailer.  Apparently DataCrowd will take steps to advise the retailer of their out of stock issue, who will ideally take steps to tweak their replenishment model to avoid the problem in the future. The shopper, for their trouble, gets points for reporting the shortages to use towards gift cards.

This is a great use of crowdsourcing.  Why not put a simple tool in the hands of the masses to collect data to drive useful insights.  It will be interesting to circle back and see how this project works out.

A very brief look at the app indicates that the number of points that are awarded for reporting drive relatively small rewards.  The app store images show 100 points for one scan, and 10,000 points required for a $5 gift card. That’s 100 scans of out of stocks for $5. While a meager reward, it’s reasonable and a fair offer for what  a shopper would get for telling the store staff; which would be nothing.  While it’s not for everyone, there is definitely a coupon cutting crowd at the supermarket that would enjoy this game.

I fully expect that same coupon crowd to hit the supermarket at full tilt on late Saturday afternoon and fight the stockboys to take a photo before they replace the merchandise!  It’s a great idea.  Anything that has a chance to reduce out of stocks is a positive. via Springwise

CaptureRepack - One of the challenges with online shopping is that eco-conscious shoppers miss the opportunity to bring their own bag or eschew packaging all together.  While recycling all of that cardboard and plastic is a good answer, avoiding the waste is even better.

Repack has developed re-usable packaging and a system to use it for eCommerce retailers.  Shoppers pay a small deposit when they purchase an item from an online store.  On receipt of their products, they flatten the package and throw it back in the post for return to the retailer.  On receipt of the packaging, the retailer refunds the deposit.

While this seems a bit overdone, who among us has not received a huge box in the mail for replacement headphone earbuds or some other tiny item?  Given that many retailers also provide free returns, and services like Trunk Club have many boxes going back and forth, the idea seems like one with some merit – one that could protect shipped items and save the retailers some packaging costs if the items are done right. via Trendhunter

Capture#retailing – Always on the lookout for monetization avenues, Twitter has announced a couple initiatives that may be of interest to retailers looking to add twitter to their list of channels where their shoppers can purchase their merchandise.

Buy Button – In September, Twitter announced public access to a Buy button that certain retail and other partner would use in the Twitter mobile app. Twitter wants to make shopping on mobile devices simpler and say they will store your card details to make it easier to shop in Twitter after that first purchase, presumably by not having to enter the details again.  Frankly, there are so many parties trying to do this already – what with Apple Pay and Google and various others trying to do the same thing.  Not sure that they will get a lot of uptake just by saving a credit card  number.  Also – a buy button is just one click away from a mobile website link. Why does twitter need to put a special button?  Why would retailers with perfectly serviceable eCommerce platforms need a button when a link will do?  Especially when the retailer wants to provide their own unique experience and pull client details into the process.  This may work for musical artists to sell t-shirts – which seem to be a lot of the initial partners – but major players seem unlikely to do more than test the waters with this one.

Amazon Wishlist – Amazon never turns their back on an opportunity to sell through another channel.  Amazon has enabled shoppers to save an amazon item in a tweet to their item wishlist by replying to the item with the hashtag #AmazonWishList. While this one is handy, it seems like something only the most die hard twitter fan would want to use twitter as a way of adding items to their amazon wishlists.

While these are really great attempts at thinking differently and putting together interesting pieces, it would be very surprising if these were to take off in any really large volumes.  That said, who can say what will take off next?   Perhaps Snapchat will add buy buttons to Our Live Stories next.  Retailers can never tell where the next channel for business will arise.

2014.18 | iOS8 for retail

CaptureiOS 8 will be released this week.  Among many changes to the operating system for apple mobile devices, there are a number of changes that are worthy of consideration to retailers.

Apple Pay – The moment Apple Pay was released, a flood of POS providers showed their support and ability to enable Apple Pay on their platform (my own employer among them).  Apple are releasing the program in the US with support from a number of well known tier one retailers.  While there is no way of knowing whether showing an apple logo on the retailer’s door will get people to finally jump to a mobile wallet, it’s a good strategy to keep options open in the event it becomes a commonly requested payment method.

apple-pay-retailers-iphone-6-announcementRetailers in Canada that implemented new pinpads for EMV  over the past few years enabled NFC on those pinpads as a matter of course.  With that NFC capability, they should be well placed to enable Apple Pay when it becomes available in Canada.  US based retailers that do not currently have NFC capability and are working through EMV certification would do well to include NFC and Apple Pay integration as part of that process.    The incremental cost of enabling Apple Pay as part of an overall EMV effort is likely to be minimal.  While it would be optimal to deploy quickly to take advantage of consumer interest, EMV takes time and if the devices onsite do not have NFC capability, a deployment of new devices will be necessary.

It will be important for retailers to track where and how Apple Pay gains traction.  The area of focus may vary – hospitality and small transactions could be the sweet spot, but perhaps it will be popular with shoppers at luxury retailers.  Retailers should watch closely and ensure that their shopper’s preferences are fulfilled.

Photo 2014-09-15, 9 09 00 AMScan Credit Card for eCommerce – While much was made of the ability of scanning scan credit cards to add them to Passbook, the ability to scan credit cards into Safari for eComm purchases is also a nice addition.  As someone who makes eComm purchases on my mobile devices for items such as movie tickets, making a purchase is an effort.  Shoppers must TYPE their full name, credit card number, expiration date and card security code.  I have those memorized, and it’s still clunky to do on a mobile.  For some retailers one also must type in a verified by visa password.   If that whole process can be replaced by a scan from my phone, or an autofill from my safari keychain, it saves a whole lot of typing and removes obstacles from mobile purchases.  Retailers who enable this function are likely to drive more sales through their mobile channel with the removal of obstacles.

Capture2Location Based App Shortcuts – On earlier versions of iOS, Passbook provided a lock screen notification for Starbucks if you were in a store.  Passbook also provided a lock screen notification for a plane or movie ticket if the time for the ticket was approaching.  While this was a convenient workaround an unnecessary pin code entry, it also required some setting changes.  For Starbucks, users had to identify “favourite” sites that enabled Passbook to provide the lock screen notification for Starbucks payment.

iOS8 provides a non-Passbook lock screen shortcut in the bottom left of the screen based on your GPS location.  Users have noted that their iPhones with apps from Vons, Tesco, Starbucks and more  show an app icon in the bottom left of the lock screen.  When users swipe up on the icon at bottom left, the app is opened with out a PIN [Update: you still need your PIN to access the full app.  Passbook = no PIN).    While it may appear that beacons are at play, it sounds like it may be driven by GPS as some users had no connectivity at the time.  One user also indicated that a Costco icon showed at the bottom left even though they did not have a Costco app installed.

Retailers stand to benefit from reduced barriers for shoppers to use their mobiles once again.  Making an app easier to access while actually at the retail location is a great idea.  Providing a visual cue right on the lock screen is even better.  This access sets the stage to enable retailers to bring online and stores together with some unique functionality.

CaptureHey Siri! - The latest iteration of Siri allows users to access the personal assistant without having to push a button.  iPhones can now listen for users to ask for help.  Siri is also finally going back to its roots with integration to more services.  Siri is able to listen to songs for you with Shazam to find and purchase the name of the song/tv show/movie you are observing.

While Siri will be a great sales tool for Shazam and iTunes to sell it doesn’t help other retailers much on the surface, but it does indicate a possible door widening to integration with other services.   When Siri was originally launched, it connected to 45 services, but after Apple bought them, it connected to only 12.  The founders of Siri are working on another service – viv – that promises to take the personal assistant to another level – and ideally connect it to a plethora of services that can access it via natural language.

Retailers that can make their transaction engines available to channels like AI personal assistants will be exposing their products and services in a new way.

Privacy – In past iterations, mac addresses were easily harvestable from idevices by pinging them with a wifi signal.  In essence, ‘free’ consumer tracking was possible.  With iOS8, iDevices provide a pseudo MAC address until consumers actually establish a connection with the wifi network.  This means that retailers and other consumer facing organizations will need to track consumers via an iBeacon option or even through accepting a wifi connection with shoppers.

Making the MAC address data private is the right thing for retailers and shoppers alike.  All retail programs should be opt-in and retailers and all consumer facing organizations should be clear on data tracked, for what purpose, and allow shoppers the right to opt out of anything they are not comfortable with.  Selling is a two way street and being as honest and straightforward is possible will have the best returns in the long run.  Shoppers who are willing to provide their data for improved service are not hard to find, and everyone appreciates an honest trading partner.

CaptureIndoor Positioning -  Apples latest offering enables indoor maps and wayfinding to be more easily implemented by shopping centres and department stores.  Apple has made iPhone motion sensors available to their API.  With that API update and a more powerful processor, indoor systems can access phone data to make navigating large venues simpler.

Retailers that leverage any tool possible to provide access to their products and services make themselves more readily available to shoppers.

iOS 8 looks to be a landmark release with lots of new features and functions.

Check out a longer list of deep dive functionality, and please share any retail oriented features discovered at release!

2014.17 | starbucks pre-ordering

660-Denver_Drive_ThruRecent news indicates that Starbucks will add order ahead capability to their mobile solution. I’m a daily user of the mobile payment app and even use Pebblebucks, but Starbucks may find mobile pre-ordering a more challenging system to implement.

Pre-ordering sounds great on paper and I think it can work in some environments but coffee represents some challenges.  Here are a few details that would need to be clarified:

  • What is fulfilment process? Order printer, kitchen display, other?
  • How are orders prioritized? If there is a line of customers in the store waiting, does the barista make the coffee for the absentees first?
  • When are ordered drinks made in relation to pickup time? Ice melts in cold drinks and hot drinks can cool quickly.  That’s a complicated equation for a barista with a long list of drinks to make from the till in the store.
  • How will queues be arranged in stores? Many stores are already short of real estate. Is there a separate queue or do they enter the same as everyone?
  • How do customers validate their order and take it away?
  • What happens if customers miss their pickup time?
  • How will customers and store staff be notified of the process change?  Will it require alterations to the store?  To current standardized processes that have been in place for years?

Starbucks are certainly working through the details but it will require a serious assessment of their current in store fulfilment processes. The questions above only scratch the surface.  Adding pre-ordering is a significant change to the system which will require the acceptance of new processes by both store staff and customers.

Panera Bread’s Founder and CEO Ron Shaich is embarking on just such a process and is doing the necessary legwork to change the business at the operational level. This is the right approach of Starbucks is committed to pre-orders. The right setup will require significant testing and adjustment.  Tacking a mobile ordering tool on the app is just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s the behind the scenes work that will have this system sink or swim.

From my perspective, there are too any places where pre-ordering can go wrong.

At a grocer I worked with, a kiosk was installed by the deli counter for ordering sliced cheese and meats. The concept was to enter your order and then complete your shopping through the rest of the market and return later with a ticket to pick up the order.  Instead of waiting in line, shoppers could shop while their order was assembled and pick up their deli order just prior to checkout.

What happened in reality is that shoppers saw a queue at the deli counter, walked over to the kiosk, entered an order, printed a ticket, and then walked to the deli counter and demanded their order from staff that were already slammed and getting order requests from two separate systems. This ended up displeasing staff, the kiosk users and shoppers who had waited in the ‘traditional’ line. Beyond these concerns, there was no obvious ROI from such a solution.  They didn’t buy more meat.

There was and is nothing wrong with the technology.  The technology is the easy part.  The system just didn’t fit the store without changing processes and customer expectations and making that plain to all parties.   Without complete commitment to a new paradigm by all parties, the result will be failure.

Imagine you walk into a Starbucks that is slammed with customers.  There is a long line and a 10 minute wait.  With this new system, how many people are going to see the queue, pull out their mobile and try to order with that to skip the queue? With the number of users Starbucks have for their mobile app, many people will certainly attempt this. If it works, it’s unfair to those in line. If it doesn’t, they may place a second order, putting strain on an already overloaded system.  Either way, it now adds thought to the process. Do I order ahead on the morning commute or just go in the store.

For any new system to flourish, there must be value to the retailer and to the customer. Whether there is value to both here remains to be seen. Customers may get their coffee faster, but if the process falters it could slow the whole store system. Will Starbucks sell more coffee? I’m not sure that pre-ordering will drive more sales.  Pre-ordering complicates the store system with what could be little upside to stores or customers.

photo-2-250x375If Starbucks wants to improve the process for stores and clients, they should consider ways of speeding transactions without making major changes to its fulfillment process which works fine as far as I have seen.  Ordering and order entry at Starbucks can range from the simple to the complex. Some customer get a Tall Pike Place.  Done.  Some customers ask for coffees with 6 adjectives and it takes baristas many keystrokes to enter.  Even simple orders require many keystrokes.  I order a very simple drink and always need to wait while the barista enters my order – though the staff at my store even have my order memorized.  It takes 10-15 touches to enter the order.  I’ve watched.

Consider an alternative to pre-ordering to kill the line.

  • If orders require many keystrokes and many users order the same thing again and again, why not automate the order entry?  Starbucks has more than 10 million users for their mobile app.  Users are trained to use the app to pay.
  • Why not build a drink builder that allows users to configure and save drinks within the app?
  • Use the Starbucks app to configure a drink as it used to do.
  • The app generates a unique id barcode that repesents that drink order.  The code is saved on the phone for repeated use.
  • Customer scans their mobile at the POS on currently installed scanner to order.
  • The barcode can be a string that the register recognizes as the full drink with all foams, soys, non-fats, whatever.
  • The point of sale system is populated with the drink details and the barista can confirm with the customer instead of tapping 15 times.
  • Avoiding entry would save precious seconds off of many transactions, and increase throughput.
  • Avoiding entry by barista could also enable consumers to order something different than their usual without having to figure out how to order it and go through the translation discussion with the barista.
  • Users could share their codes with friends and save them in their own apps so that we can order for them correctly.
  • Don’t these guys know my name?  With a bit of customization the customers name can show on the screen so we don’t see any more of those cups with the crazy names on them, speeding the pickup process.

Pre-ordering could work, and I am hopeful that Starbucks will find the magic formula to make it so, but I’m not yet convinced that this will make lines shorter.  It doesn’t look like a simple path, but kudos for trying something new!

Simple is good.  Even if something isn’t simple on the back end, it must appear that way to clients.

2014.16 | google indoor maps

CaptureOn a recent trip to Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, I noticed that Google Maps indicates the stores within the building directly within the online version of maps as well as within the iPhone mobile app. The functionality is enabled by the Google Indoor Maps Program.

I prefer not to install retailer or mall specific apps solely for location finding. They clutter mobile home screens with rarely used apps. It makes more sense for shoppers to get this data where it belongs and where users look – in maps – online or within a map app on their mobile.  Providing maps this way removes the barriers to getting what shoppers want – the location of the store they wish to visit.

Picture2The indoor maps work pretty well, though on the mobile it can be a bit finicky to zoom correctly to get the store name to reveal itself. Users can touch a pin to show current location in the building. For multi-level shopping centres you can also select the level via a handy popup. Check this out at The Eaton Centre in Toronto in Google Maps as an example.

This is a tremendous offering from Google for retailers. As part of the Google Indoor Map Program, the facility owners control the indoor map, which makes the most sense as it puts the ability to update the information in the hands of those who have control of what is in the building and have a vested interest in ensuring the data is accurate.

All shopping centres should upload store details as a service to their tenants. All retailers should demand this service and ensure that their stores are represented correctly.  Shoppers should demand this service from retailers and shopping centre landlords.

The biggest challenge to wayfinding solutions is keeping the data current. Wrong location data represents lost sales and shopper frustration and retailer’s real estate teams should keep a close eye on their store sites in shopping centres to ensure the data is current. Oversight is bound to vary by facility.  Google Streetview can become dated depending on the location as stores change, which they do frequently.  Updating floor plans is more easily completed and where shoppers are likely to look.

Google also ups the ante with Google Business View – the ability to show the inside of the stores, like Google Streetview for the insides of buildings.  This seems more oriented at unique individual shops versus retail chains, but may be a way for retailers to bring some traffic in to unique flagship stores or new banners or concepts.

If Google wants to take these maps to the next level as I expect they will, expect Google Now to give shoppers a list of chain stores in the mall to visit based on their email messages and receipts in Gmail. No need to download store site or mall apps. A deeper step would be to enable a Google Card to show emails from the Gmail account divided into offers and transactions so that users can consider deals or have transaction details available for returns from their most visited retail establishments, and allow users to pull up info quickly and easily and have it ready before they know they need it.

Associate facing devices in stores could also leverage the indoor maps so that store staff can assist shoppers with directions. Department stores may even wish to have various departments mapped within the store to fully direct shoppers.  Google Indoor Maps represents ‘free’ IT infrastructure for retailers that should not be overlooked.

Accurate location data makes life easier for a segment of the population who are often high value clients and this data will soon be expected by the general population.  Get those stores on the maps and share the news with shoppers!

2014.15 | disney magicbands

Disney-MagicBandI’ve seen the future of payments and personalization and it is already in place at Disney World.  The MagicBand program is relatively new but represents what so many of us have wanted for so long – an end to wallets, cards.

In preparation for my recent vacation to Disney I was aware that the MagicBands were part of the deal with the resort vacation booked, but it wasn’t until our arrival that it became clear what a game changer these relatively simple devices really are.  I had used similar wristband technology at Great Wolf Lodge many times over the years, but this implementation was far more immersive and impressive as it would need to be, given the scope of Disney’s properties.

As the smartphone combines functions like telephone, address book, camera and more into a single very useful multi-purpose device, these bracelets provide a single device to simplify your vacation experience by providing a room key, payment device, and ticket and much more all in one device.

My family and I stayed at the Disney Yacht Club resort on a Club Level.  On arrival, we were met and led to the Club Level and the concierge provided us MagicBands and instructions.  The MagicBands were the colour of our choosing and had the names of each family member on the inside.  The concierge explained that the MagicBands would take us directly to the club level by scanning the bracelet in the elevator on a special pad.  They also acted as room keys.  Everyone in the family can use the bands to gain entry to our room.  The bands are also scanned for access to the pool area as that particular themed pool is for the use of resort guests only.

The bands are used for payment as well at all on-site food and shopping locations.  I had pre-set a PIN established for payment online prior to check-in – it could be the same for the whole family or unique by family member.  Those under 10 cannot purchase with their band – logical as they are most likely to lose them.  Pinpad like devices are used at payment counters.  For restaurant service, iPod touches with sleds are used to scan the bands and accept pin entry.

IMG_4983The bands also act as  your ticket to the resort and are programmed with your dates and ticket permissions.  First time entrants scan a fingerprint with their band that is checked on each subsequent entry.   They are also used to validate FastPass+ entries – your pre-booked access to popular rides.  Visitors pre-book their fastpasses online or on the Disney app, and scan their bands during the approved times for their rides and are provided access to the rides as booked.  The Disney staff also see the wearer’s name as my daughter found out when she was greeted by name on her first entry to Magic Kingdom.

My favourite part of the MagicBand was the connection to PhotoPass.  As part of our package, I purchased a Memory Maker package which gave you online access and download permissions to all of your photos taken by Disney photographers at the parks.  Instead of giving or scanning a photo card, the photographers scanned your MagicBand.  The real magic of this element is that photos on the rides are automatically added to your online account.    You get on the ride, you see your photo on the screens at the end, and then you can go online and see your photos and download them –  no waiting, no extra charge, no silly frame or print.  You get relatively high resolution image files of your ride that you can then use as you wish.

As someone who works in retail, I have a tremendous appreciation for how much work all of this represents.  Connecting all of these systems and making it appear flawlessly interconnected represents an incredible effort of connecting data, devices, and operational changes to make this happen, and it works very, very smoothly.

In order for solutions like this to work for transactions, they have to be very simple, and they have to work quickly.  The MagicBands fulfill this promise by working quickly by holding the wristband against a giant circle with a mickey logo and the entry of a PIN.

IMG_4980-002In order for solutions like this to be embraced, there must be a benefit to the retailer and to the shopper.  The MagicBands fulfill this requirement by providing convenience to the shopper who no longer needs to carry their wallet, worry about various room keys, cards, or barcodes, and just wears a very unobtrusive bracelet.  Disney surely gains throughput increases for rides by getting away from having to print and check FastPass tickets, and probably increases spending as shoppers are increasingly separated from the dollars and cents of their transactions by merely tapping a wristband instead of looking at the money they pull from their pocket to pay for souvenirs and snacks.  Disney has also effectively enabled full tracking of every purchase, and the entire path that visitors take through their entire stay, allowing them to further

Also, not missing a single opportunity to sell the Magic, Disney now sells all sorts of charms and covers for the bracelets as well.

I can only suggest a few small opportunities for improvement to this impressive system, though I’m certain these improvements are probably on a roadmap somewhere and are yet to be implemented and are not fundamental shifts:

  • wpid-13-Disney-0826-093428-172When paying at a restaurant, on scan of bracelet and entry of pin, there is no opportunity to enter a tip for your server. That functionality is standard on bluetooth pinpads in Canada at restaurants, so should be relatively easy to add.  Even if tip was already included in price due to the size of the party, the wait staff still brought a paper receipt to sign.  This resulted in being chased down by a server for a signature on at least one occasion.  Entering a PIN and signing felt superfluous and even confusing, as entering a PIN and scribbling a signature should amount to the same thing.
  • The connection to the web and mobile app was impressive.  Free wifi in the park made it easy for international roaming visitors to get good coverage to use the apps to book FastPass+ times.  The first time I used the PhotoPass service was on Space Mountain and I was uncertain of whether I had to identify my photo or not.  Staff at the ride indicated photos would automatically go to my account.  Skeptical, I stayed at the site, pulled up the website for PhotoPass on my mobile and was amazed to see the Space Mountain photos show on the the PhotoPass website within minutes of getting off the ride.   While I could see the photos on the website, zooming was awkward as the photopass site was not built for mobile.  It would be great if the mobile app had a section for photos as well, and even notification of photo additions.
  • Electronic receipts would be a great addition to the mobile app and website.  Getting a paper receipt over many days seems wasteful, but keeping a running tally of your resort bill would be helpful.

Retailers, Payments Processors, Credit Card Companies and any party interested in enabling next generation payments should definitely study this environment.  As Starbucks did with their mobile payment solution, Disney have looked at their own closed environment and leveraged current technologies and implemented them into their operation to suit their needs.  While it’s a closed environment, there are some really intriguing lessons I took from this experience.

  • Removing wallets, cards, and even mobile devices from the transaction made it incredibly easy to pay.   Holding up your wrist is dead simple, and people caught on quickly.  I would use a bracelet to pay everywhere if I could.
  • Using the wrist band to buy is like one click purchasing at Amazon.  Like the one click, it’s so easy to buy it’s dangerous to your bank balance.
  • PINs are important.  If Disney can read my wristband and connect my family’s band to mine on a ride, they did it from a distance.  If they can read it from a distance, bad guys probably can as well.   Disney can control their environment well.  That may be more difficult in the real world outside of Disney, but the risk is no more than with cards, really.
  • Wearables may be more useful that I initially thought.  Using something convenient on your person to pay like a ring or bracelet or watch could be customized to the user and play a very useful role while removing the wallet from your pocket.
  • It’s possible to provide an electronic ID used with a wristband.  Disney brought up our names and approval to enter parks and save money.  Scanning that bracelet can just as easily pop up your image and details for drivers license, age verification, etc. Requiring ID has always been a challenge to removing a wallet completely.
  • Keeping the technology out of the way made it so simple to use that the focus of users was completely on their experience and not paying or getting access.

Much like the Starbucks mobile solution, the Disney MagicBand is not a panacea.  While it’s not for every situation, it was a fascinating experience to see it work, and to consider how elements of the solution could be used outside of a closed environment.  I applaud Disney for taking the initiative of connecting the wristbands to so much functionality and hope to see the learnings drive similar solutions elsewhere!

2014.14 | yo | modiface | buy it now

Photo 2014-07-04, 8 39 44 AMyo – In the age of texting and electronic communication, many of the phone calls we still make and take are not optimizing our time.  Why do we still wait for a phone call from a mechanic to tell us our car is ready?  When the call come, nobody answers, and now there is a voicemail that says: “Your car is ready”.  This process has way too many steps for both parties.  Wouldn’t it easier to just get a text?  At the same time, we don’t want to share our mobile number with absolutely everyone.

Yo is a ludicrously simple service.  Install it on your phone and you can send one message that says Yo to a selected user(s).  That is all.  Famously, the World Cup has an account that will send a Yo every time a goal is scored.

The service reminds me of days when long distance actually cost money and one of my room-mates in university used to call his parents when he got to the dorm from home after a long drive and let the phone ring at his parents twice.  They knew he was home and no long distance charges incurred.  Yo is similar – a message service where both players already know what the message is and a very simple vehicle is in place to support the message.

On the surface this seems silly and far too basic, but effectively it puts into place an arm’s length notification engine.  You tell your dry cleaner your yo handle, and when your stuff is ready, you get a Yo notification that pops up on your phone.  No spam, no additional mailbox, no app for every retailer, nobody knows your mobile number, and it’s a one on one message as opposed to a broadcast.  Retailers don’t need anything other than a pc or mobile device and a handle.  Simple is good.

While the system only says yo right now, nothing stops Yo from building additional standard statements beyond yo -service complete, pickup ready, it could be anything.   Social media service Path has already implemented a service called Pathtalk to enable texting with businesses, but it requires retailers to maintain yet another social media service.

Texting is so prevalent, that notifications by text for retail services must happen. It’s just a matter of when and how.  Yo is but one candidate that shows promise.  It is simple and avoids the trap of  yet another social media channel.  Watch for it.  It might be yet another button on a retail station or mobile device in the future.

[Update: If you want to get uber geeky with Yo, it has an IFTTT channel so that users can turn on AC, text someone automatically or turn on the lights and more.]

modiface2modiface - It follows that if a retailer has a great product, then letting shoppers try it out is a great strategy.  Selecting makeup colours is a challenge, and while I’m not a consumer of cosmetics, demo makeup appears time consuming, and relies on the opinions of strangers.  Anyone who has walked through a cosmetic section of a drugstore has also wondered who really puts those lipstick demos on their actual lips. Using those seems like a real life game of roulette.

These challenges can now be eliminated.   Sephora has teamed with augmented reality provider modiface to develop a solution that lets shoppers try out numerous new colours of makeup without the time and effort of actually applying it in store.  Shoppers stand in front of a screen with a built in video camera and a palette of colours.  Shoppers can select various facial options, such as eyes and then select various colours to see how the cosmetic colour would look on your eyes.  The screen shows full motion video and the shoppers can tilt their head from side to side to see how they look in real life.

The video on this solution appears much smoother and more realistic than all of the clothing apps that allow shoppers to “try on” a virtual outfit in a magic mirror.   This app is a great use of augmented reality and even if it doesn’t sell more cosmetics, it has to improve shopper satisfaction with purchases.  Put it on a tablet as well, and it could also speed up the selling process for cosmetic selling associates.

firefly buttonbuy it now - Actual purchasing on the phone may pick up given the full court press in place from many key players in the mobile selling spectrum.

  • Amazon Firefly – Amazon’s new mobile device called the Fire has a function called Firefly that uses image recognition technology to look for items on the Amazon store.  Take a picture with your mobile device, or capture an image on the screen and press the Firefly button to link to the Amazon store.
  • Twitter Buy Now – Some twitter users  have reported seeing a Buy Now button on selected post.  While it is uncertain at present whether this is a feature or an experiment, this is a great monetization option for twitter, and a time save for users who may wish to purchase or add items to basket for futures depending on the retailer.
  • Snapup - Similar to the Firefly option above, upcoming app Snapup allows users to take screenshots from their iPhone and use the image to search through 1000 sites to allow an online mobile purchase.

As the channels continue to split, it’s going to become increasingly challenging for retailers to establish interfaces to all of these points of purchase, and it will also become important to track them and understand where the business comes from.  There is lots of opportunity, but it will be challenging to keep track of it all.

 

2014.11 | using icons at pos

Retail-shop-iconFashion and specialty retailers with strong brands are increasingly global with stores in many countries, and employ associates with varied demographics and many languages and cultures.

At a recent meeting with a fashion retailer, the question of icons for use with POS User Interfaces arose.  POS is used in many languages, and they inquired as to the possibility of icons on function buttons instead of text.   Icons are certainly available and we have utilized them for implementation, but the question made me consider icons and how we use them.

Touch POS is relatively new to many fashion retailers and is FINALLY poised to become the norm and take over the realm of keyboards and function keys in tier 1 department and specialty stores.

To fully enable touch as an interface, the concept of using icons seems a reasonable path.  Minimizing translation of languages is ideal to simplify deployment across an enterprise and simplifies support, training and more.  We changed from text to images on labels on self-checkouts a number of years ago to indicate where shoppers should place notes, coins and receive receipts.  This change was in response to the increasing demand for self-checkout in international markets.  The move to symbols instead of text made the systems easier to use and simplified configuration of new systems as there was only one option for labelling instead of one for each language.

The main challenge with symbols and icons is whether they drive universal understanding in real life.

Consider the icons on your mobile device.  Mobile devices bring together an incredible range of functionality previously fulfilled by many different devices in the past, and those devices are represented on mobile devices as icons – phone, clock, camera, music, movies, television, settings and more.  The icons used to represent those functions are representative of those devices.  The images are relatively well understood by a majority of users who would use the devices.  While devices and software vary, the icons are relatively common.   The phone functions are represented by a phone handset, clock by a rotary analog clock, camera by a DSR camera, music by a music notes, movies by film reels or a clapperboard, television by an old CRT television and settings by gears.

126652-1280For those of us who have lived in both the pre-internet and internet eras, these are easily recognizable, but technology is changing that.  Today’s children don’t use a rotary phone with old style phone handset, look at analog clocks or at old CRT televisions.  They know the icons because they have learned from their parents what those icons represent.  Even newer icons fall victim to this ongoing change.  The original iPhone had an iPod icon instead of music.  That only existed for a few years, and it won’t be long until children ask what that image even is, as iPods with a clickwheel fall into history.

Technology is rapidly driving all of the traditional devices with their recognizable shapes to all be a rectangular slab of glass – not terribly useful for an illustrative icon.

While this may sound like hyperbole, consider that the children that grew up without these old school devices are moving into retail.  Children born near the turn of the century are now eligible to enter the retail workforce, and it is important to consider their understanding as well as that of pre and post internet users.  POS providers and retailers need to ensure whatever icons are put in front of their users will drive understanding and ease of use.

POS also has a much different range of functions than a standard mobile device.  Users of a POS device have to be able to support administrative functions, item lookup, gift receipts and returns, suspend/resume transactions, tendering, discounts, clocking in and out, locking and unlocking the POS and much more.

Many of these items are accommodated with old fashioned icons as has been done with mobile phones.  Some obvious examples include:

  • administrative functions = gears
  • item lookup = magnifying glass
  • returns / gift receipts = a giftbox (box with a bow on top)
  • discounts = price tag with $ / % on it
  • suspend / resume = a yield sign or open hand
  • tendering = cash, coins or a credit card
  • clocking in/out = a timeclock or clock
  • locking / unlocking = padlock

Some of these icons are more self evident than others.  For those of us that use a system every day, the icons make complete sense.  For new users they can be baffling – particularly if they are not familiar with the functionality in question – suspend / resume can be challenging for example, as an open hand can mean many things, and suspending a transaction is probably not something that inexperienced staff new to the workforce will know without some training.

Now consider the international aspect of the icons above.  My experience with Canada and the US is that these icons will be recognizable, but what about Asia?  What about South America?  Cultural differences are likely to be discovered with international implementations.   Even if globalization drives consistent symbology, using images of notes, coins and pricetags will need to vary by region – $, £, ¥, € should all be used to correctly represent tendering.  Even credit cards are changing – an image of a magstripe already seems old fashioned in many countries as an icon.

From a usability perspective, the use of both icons and text on function buttons makes the most practical sense for POS.  It enables new users by providing context to new icons. It enables experienced users by giving them a shorthand to recognize the functions they want at a glance.  Where it is not possible due to screen real estate to show both text and icons, the ideal option is to enable the user to select which they would like to use via a simple toggle.  Having a text tip pop up if users leave their finger on an icon is another useful option.

While removing text translation from all buttons would be a benefit, usability and understanding outstrip that benefit if the collective benefit of all the users in a tier one retailer chain are combined.  In fact, adding the text to the buttons can be an enabler – driving consistent terminology at the retailer for various functions to ensure simple consistent associate and shopper communication.

With respect to the icons selected, the quantity of icons being generated has never been greater – witness the expansion of icons in the emoji world – there is no right answer.  While ISO has graphical symbol standards for many things, retail POS does not appear to be covered in their standards.   NRF’s ARTS may be a good place for all providers and retailers to focus on standard icons that would benefit the retail industry in general.  If not, expect the collective power of the Internet to drive new and interesting icons for standard items and features that everyone can understand.  The icons may change, but touch is here to stay.

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