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.

2014.10 | mink | #amazoncart | google shopping express

mink makeup printerMink - 3D printing isn’t just for plastic toys.  Mink is a makeup printer that allows any colour to be printed on to makeup substrate so that home users can prepare their own favourite colours.  Instead of being limited to colours that are pre-made and ready in store, shoppers can build whatever they want on demand.

It’s obviously early days for this technology, but retailers generally have better results when they to recognize disruptive technologies like this early and either get on board or find something that accomplishes something similar.    This is the same story as mp3 and eBooks all over again as immediate gratification will make the status quo of purchasing pre coloured makeup less convenient.

It will be interesting to see the real solution itself and how easy it is to use.  A pretty white box looks nice and simple, but for a solution like this to fly it has to be dead simple.  As is the case with regular printers, they will obviously run out of substrate or colour just when it is needed most.  Having automatic fulfillment would avoid such issues. Retailers should be moving towards open and connected systems to enable automatic replenishment for clients.  Connecting a system like Mink to an ecommerce subscription service or standing order for automatic fulfillment online with the printer ordering its own supplies will be key to its success.    Expect an Amazon plug-in sometime in the near future.

amazoncart#amazoncart – As the retailer of every channel but a store (so far), Amazon recently expanded its ever growing list of channels it makes available for consumers to interface with them.  The newest is #amazoncart, whereby if twitter readers see a product that they like, they can reply to a tweet with a product link with the hashtag #amazoncart, and the item will be automatically added to their Amazon shopping cart online.

While not the right strategy for every retailer it is an interesting attempt by Amazon to strengthen their already extensive hold on default online shopping cart online.  If a shopper has an item in a retailer’s online cart, odds are good they will complete a purchase for that item, or at least have to remove it from the cart.  Allowing this functionality also allows Amazon to quietly capture the twitter account of their clients – which can be mined for more information on how often this strategy results in a sale, or to leverage big data solutions to improve other product recommendations.

This is potentially a great tool for Amazon devotees, but for products that aren’t carried by Amazon (yes, those exist, especially outside of America) and if shopper preferences skew to other retailers, there are many other ways of tracking items that don’t require sticking them into a cart.  Not all great items are found on twitter, but for shoppers using twitter, the web, or even an aggregator like Zite or Flipboard, shoppers can easily add items to services like Evernote, Pinterest and even Pocket to track shopping lists.  No need to remove from a cart.

google-expressGoogle Shopping Express – Google recently opened the gates on an Amazon Prime type offering called Google Shopping Express where shoppers can order items online for immediate same day delivery from retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods and more in Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.    The service is available online or via iPhone and Android apps.

Initial reviews and reviews for the apps indicate that the service works very well and is either free or very very inexpensive.  The service is reminiscent of Kozmo.com, a well known dot.com bubble company established to provide this very same service that expired in 2001.  That service suffered under the high cost of providing this service on low value items, but they obviously did not have the Google machine behind them.

The question that arises is whether Google will provide this service at a loss, charge clients a commensurate amount for the service, or find another way to finance it within other elements of their business.  There are a wide array of options they could investigate moving forward.  What current retailers need to carefully consider and be ready to move on is if Google mines all the data for items shoppers may want delivered in this paradigm and then decides to stock them on their own and fulfill them to shoppers directly.

2014.09 | worn on tv | beacon sunglasses | emoji search

As Seen on TV

Worn on TV - Showing that alternate channels and affiliate sales continue to expand as alternative sales opportunities for retailers, Worn on TV lists clothing and accessories that are showcased on television shows.   Visitors to the site can search by show, by episode and even by character.  It is not evident how the site is validating the clothing shown – whether it comes from the network, the service or is crowdsourced; but it’s a novel idea, and you have to expect that they are capturing some revenue by sending traffic to the retailer’s eCommerce sites.

From a retailer perspective, a site like this represents a tremendous opportunity to sell fashions in an understated manner without relying on commercials that are being avoided via DVR by most people anyway.  Retailers would be wise to track how many hits they are getting from the sites, and even by show to understand where their clients are coming from so that they can best showcase their fashions on the shows driving the traffic.  Making this data actionable, sales staff enabled with tablets and access to this site could potentially drive more product by understanding clients taste and leveraging the publicity from the show as shopper profiles are connected.

tzukuriBeacon Sunglasses – While those of us in retail technology are focused on using beacons for unique retail experiences, Tzukuri are putting iBeacons directly into their sunglasses.  Much like many card based bluetooth tools that will tell you when you leave your wallet behind by sending an alert to your mobile, these specs will send a notification from a built-in solar powered beacon to your iPhone via iBeacon when you get more than 16 feet from them.  An app can then later tell you where your iPhone was last in contact with them so you can return and pick them up.

Leveraging beacons in sunglasses is a novel and practical idea; who hasn’t left sunglasses behind at some point.  Stepping beyond the ability to locate lost frames, with beacons built into the glasses and central profiles kept on clients, retailers could now even leverage the beacons on the sunglasses to identify shoppers who come into their store – even if they don’t have their mobile device. To take advantage of these sales and customer service opportunities, retailers will need to be nimble in building out the data fields required in upcoming versions of their client profiles and consider how to interface all of these identifiers to staff working at stores.

yelp emoji searchEmoji Search – Yelp recently updated their mobile app to allow searches by emoji. Instead of having to search for wine, for example, by typing the word wine, users of yelp can now type one character – the wine glass via the emoji keyboard on an iphone – to search on wine.  While searching via emoji seems a silly idea on the surface, it represents an understanding of a certain subset of users that use their app.  Emoji entry avoids the annoyance of typing on touchscreens or waiting for Siri to look.  It’s a fresh, simple idea, and drives users to approach the app with a different perspective.  It’s also another way of providing shoppers choice – a key function in today’s endless sea of options.

 

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

IMG_3794

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.

volvo-roam-delivery

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.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 656 other followers

%d bloggers like this: