2012.07 | Carts, Pinterest & Registries

Kinect Shopping Carts – Check out this concept where your shopping cart can follow you around or lead you through a store to products via it’s Kinect Interface.  This goes into the “intriguing but probably a ways off” folder – like Google’s self driving cars.

It is a tremendous idea, but will take some time to work out the kinks in a busy store full of customers.  Also remember the usual questions around ROI.  Much as we all want magic shopping carts, and as much as technology is getting cheaper, will this technology double shoppers’ basket sizes?  Will it save on labour?  Can this thing keep up with people in the real world?  How much more will a shopping cart like this cost to buy and maintain?  How will they stand up to the beating they will take from the public?  I’ve seen a lot of tablets mounted to shopping carts in my time in one way or another, and much as I like the idea, it’s a tough solution on which to show a return.

I want my jet pack too, but I’m not sure if we’ll get it any time soon.  The media loves stories like this – with Jetson’s-like futuristic devices.  The public and store staff who have to deal with stuff like this in real life are generally less enthusiastic.   I hope it happens, but I’m skeptical.

Pinterest – Because we all need another social network to fill our hours of downtime, Pinterest is the latest to catch the imagination of the Internet and the media.  Basically it’s a bulletin board where anyone can pin any image that happens to catch their fancy – generally some object of shopping desire.  Others can jump in and like another user’s item, and that item shows who likes it.  Users can follow each others with similar tastes – like Facebook.

I personally don’t enjoy the social aspect of this as much as others seem to do.  Items that I want to remember to purchase later can go in my evernote or favorite on twitter via flipboard.  They also don’t have an iPad app, which seems a bit of an oversight that I’m sure will be corrected.  Either way, I don’t really browse the web as much on my desktop as I used to do, and I’m not adding another bookmarklet.  I’m bookmarkleted out with instapaper, delicious, and evernote already.   All that said, savvy retailers still need to be present and get their stuff out there for the masses who do love this thing.

Gift Registries – Long the purvey of chain retailers, gift registries are going rogue.  A recent Globe and Mail article outlined the changing demographic of those getting married, and how services like The Gift Network are springing up outside of retailers to fill the gap left by traditional registries.

What this article highlights is that the broad availability and relatively low cost of technology can enable solutions to compete with traditional ones that would not have existed in other times.  In the past, the gift registries were owned by the retailers – there wasn’t much choice available.  Now there is technology that reaches into every home to every friend, grandmother and child.  That kind of reach means that not all of the great ideas have to come from the retailers for a gift registry.   It does mean that retailers should find some way to accommodate potentially unrecognized needs from their shoppers, and perhaps shake things up in their own way to.  Expect more and more of these sorts of services to come into the mainstream.

2012.07 | Mobile Payments in Canada

A few options for mobile payments that have come to my attention as of late:

Verifone PaywareVerifone will soon be releasing a pinpad solution for iPhones in Canada that allows for EMV (also known as chip and pin) enabled payment acceptance.  A peripheral attached to the iPhone allows for the card to be inserted and a pin entered on the back of the peripheral.  This effectively provides a completely portable wireless (via wifi or cellular data) payment unit to business owners in Canada.  While not necessarily a device that larger retailers will want to use initially, it certainly lays the groundwork for change to the current industry model where countertop devices are connected via internet or a phone line and enables a whole range of small business owners to take payments wherever they do business with a device they already have on hand.

It’s the right move by Verifone – effectively giving the masses what they want.  I have had the question from numerous non-traditional small business owners of how they can accept electronic payments, and this is one potential answer.

I think it’s a great idea, but see challenges for retailers who already have issues with security.  There is also the challenge of charging – hopefully these devices have a USB pass-through charging cable that avoids the challenge of a small retailer forgetting to charge their iPhone.  No matter the challenges, this is a solution that needs to be there.   The use cases and issues will be worked out over time.

Interac e-Transfer - While most Canadians aren’t aware of it, Interac has been providing financial institutions the opportunity to enable Interac e-Transfer – effectively a slightly updated debit transaction – for some time.  It allows for individuals to transfer funds to other individuals without knowing their bank account information – the key barrier for most people transferring funds from person to person.  I’ve used this solution a few times via my bank both on my PC and on my mobile.

Users establish a payee on a list and set up a personal question that they have to answer.  An email or text message with a link is sent to the payee.  The payees then follow the link to enter their banking information and complete the transfer.  While this is a fully functional and usable system, it is not terribly convenient using my present service provider.  Payees for my bank have to be established on a PC and not on the mobile device – though once they are established, they can be selected form a list.  If it is not possible to establish a user on a mobile, few people will go for it.  Why not allow users to pick from the address book?  Probably fear of security holes.  Looks the Barclays in the UK is trying the same with Pingit, and I’m sure there are other offerings I have not heard about.

Google Wallet – Google Wallet continues to stumble along.  You can only get it in the US on a Nexus S through a single carrier, and now there are concerns two different hacking issues.  Yikes.  Wonder why it might be delayed in Canada?  Here’s hoping it gets flushed out, though I continue to wonder if NFC may not be doomed from a business perspective.  It’s fine technology, but there are always too many players who want their slice of the pie, or want to keep others out when payments come into the picture.

The End of Money – On the subject of electronic payments, I recently listened to a podcast with David Wolman, author of the newly released book “The End of Money“.  As a proponent of  a cashless society, I was intrigued by his discussion of the hidden costs of currency – costs of which I’m very much aware – and have picked up the book.  I’m looking forward to reading it, and you may want to pick up a copy as well.

2012.06 | Apple iTV

Last week in Canada we had some local news on the mysterious Apple iTV.  An article in the Globe and Mail indicated that Bell and Rogers – Canada’s two largest wireless and telecommunications carriers – are in talks to be partners with Apple on the launch of the hotly anticipated Apple iTV device.

While I understand the rabid interest in all things Apple, I have to question the real potential of this future solution.  I unsubscribed from cable TV over 3 years ago.   I have an AppleTV and I love it to death.

Instead of spending $100 per month for programming I don’t want to see in various packages that don’t appeal, I can pick and choose show by show what I want and just buy it on a pay per use basis.  There are way more shows than I could ever buy.  I can watch all NHL highlights for free the day after the games on demand.  I can rent movies from home – no late fees, no out of stock, no calling home to see if my family wants that film.  I use the costs saved on cable for faster internet access and large download ability.  It’s a great deal at $100 and it exists today and works with my plain old LCD TV.

I have some doubts around iTV seeing the light of day as it is currently described in the media.  There are some serious questions around it:

  • Apple has maintained that AppleTV is still a ‘hobby’.  While they have sold millions of units, it remains a niche product in many ways.  I’ve had to physically show people how it works before they go and buy one.  People don’t seem to get it.  They are confused by where the content comes from and how.  My less technical friends get a pained look on their face when I explain how it works.   We need a paradigm shift to move your average consumer to something new like this.
  • The solution offered here is a 42″ maximum screen.  Not exactly going to win the spec war there as screen sizes are only growing.
  • Making a TV a giant iPad?  Not the same thing.  Remember Nick Bilton’s theory of varying interfaces for mobile, internet and TV being 1′, 2′ and 10′.  Different needs, different interfaces.
  • The rumour is that they will use a Siri like interface to control the iTV.  I really can’t picture that happening.   Siri doesn’t really blow my mind as it exists on iPhone.  It doesn’t work for all functions in Canada, so why should we expect it to be different here?  Ever try dictating on Dragon Dictation?  It works, but it’s different than selecting buttons.  Going through menus by speaking out loud like an automated voice driven IVR?  No thanks. Significant culture shift to make this take off.
  • Youtube like video feature?  Youtube is on AppleTV already to watch videos, and adding my own videos to Youtube is one button click on an iDevice.  What’s the win?
  • Why do they need local Canadian TV providers to support it?  Live programming?  Perhaps, but do they need a TV to do that?  No.  A device similar to the AppleTV could do that given the right web interface.
  • What is in this for the local Canadian TV providers?  Winning back the dissenters of cable like me?  Hardly a winning proposition, and not significant revenue winner.  It may in fact move people from cable and reduce their revenue and perceived value.

In today’s market, a winning device needs content and  I don’t see Apple getting that here beyond what they already have.   AppleTV already does this.  If they are looking to sell a better cable box or TV, they could do that, but I think that would dilute the value of their brand, and their history of late indicates they would try to do more.  I’ve been wrong before, however, so we will have to wait and see what they do.

What has this got to do with retail?  The AppleTV already has won 100% of my video rental dollar, and the dollars of all of those who see it at my house.  I don’t rent older movies anymore for any price because I can watch them on Netflix.   I’ve started subscribing to TV shows on it as well.

Canada has almost no DVD rental left in my area.  Blockbuster is gone.  Rogers is moving away from DVD rentals.  The mom and pops are rare.  I’m sure retailers are selling lots of $5 DVDs these days for those of us without the fancy toys and high speed internet.

The AppleTV is just one example of how consumer needs and desires are changing.  Wise entertainment retailers will watch for situations like this and think hard about how to make take advantage of these channels.  Others will be left by the wayside.

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