2012.23 | Nike AR, Uniqlo Pins, SSD & Pickie

Nike Fuel Station at BoxPark – Check out this Nike Store in the UK that leverages a number of new and unique technologies in store including an augmented reality app on iPads.

NikeFuel Station at Boxpark from Dezeen on Vimeo.

Uniqlo @ PinterestUniqlo, the Japanese casual apparel retailer recently “took over” Social Media Site Pinterest with a number of shell  accounts to draw attention to their new release of mesh products.  Pinterest uses an endless scrolling format on their pages, and Uniqlo built a playful sort of animation visible as users scrolled down the page.  Clever and artistic stunt to garner attention in a non-traditional manner in a non-traditional channel.

Falling SSD Costs – I’ve been getting more and more inquiries on the potential of leveraging Solid State Drive (SSD) versus Hard Disk Drive (HDD) technology for data storage on POS systems.  The costs of SSD have been dropping for years.  Seems like the drop is getting even more precipitous.  Hopefully we can look forward to the speed and reliability of SSD at a reasonable price in the very near future.

Pickie - I’m not sure if we can handle yet another social media channel, but here is another one of interest to retailers.  Pickie is a customized magazine that shows products based on your social media feeds.  You need a Facebook account to get an invite for the limited beta.  Social Media is increasingly being leveraged to sell to us.  While it could work, it makes you wonder if you want all your friends to run out and buy all the gear you lust over.

2012.22 | Tablets

While the iPad is certainly the standard for tablets, two new releases over the past couple of weeks may lift the bar for the essentially non-existent competition for everyone but the nerdiest of users.

Microsoft Surface – Leveraging the upcoming release of Windows 8 with its interface that works with desktop and tablets, Microsoft made a relatively big splash with its “Jobs-like” reveal of the soon to be released Microsoft tablet.  While some will deride Microsoft Surface as the Zune of tablets, there is some potential behind Surface. While much of the Surface tablet is speculative at present (price, release, user experience) Microsoft does have some things going for it.

Magnetic Cover with Keyboard –  iPads are not optimal for data entry and entry intensive uses.  While there are a number of bluetooth keyboard options, most of them mar the sleek look and profile of the iPad. If the keyboard included with the Surface tablet works well, it overcomes a missing element on the iPad without sacrificing the look and simplicity of the unit.

Windows 8 –  While iOS receives well deserved attention for its simplicity and ease of use, the OS has not changed a great deal in years.  Those who haven’t seen the look and feel of Windows 8 or seen a recent Windows Phone OS will be impressed.  In my opinion, the dynamic, configurable tile based interface leapfrogs the iOS interface in both ease of use and looks.  Another small item that might be useful in a tablet from a retail perspective is NFC capability.  Windows Phone 8 has NFC enabled and that may provide a way for retailers to get past dongle after dongle issue for payments in Windows 8 if that functionality can be ported to Surface.  It would certainly help here in Canada where EMV readers for tablets are hard to find thus far.

Display Size – It isn’t a massive difference, but the Surface unit has a 10.6 screen with a 16:9 ratio.  It’s slightly bigger than the iPad which is helpful for using the iPad as a shared screen.  Most video is wide format now, so it could display more full screen for demos in a retail environment.

Productivity Applications – While Apple came at tablets from the mobile side, Microsoft comes it from a desktop perspective.  Microsoft Office apps are much more feature laden and better for most business than Pages, Numbers and Keynote.  Much as Apple has some incredible templates and wonderful toys (using iPhone as remote for Keynote), they lack the depth of features that Office has.  If Microsoft ports Office to Surface with full functionality, they will be much more useful in a business environment and have a broader following in business.  Whether this is useful in a retail environment will depend on the application.

Surface may not have the cache of iPad.   Surface may not be the tablet the customers at Starbucks are using, but it may well represent the evolution of the computer at work. From a retail perspective it provides another potential low cost option with a slightly larger beautiful screen. The ability to add data entry without sacrificing usability and portability for client based solutions will help with some applications as well.  Add the ubiquity of Windows as a platform in retail in North America, and Surface could find a foothold in retail applications.  There are lots of details to shake out, but don’t discount it without investigation.

Google Nexus – Google also announced a new tablet recently.  One of many interesting releases from Google this week, the new tablet is made by Asus.  Much different from the iPad and Surface, the new Nexus tablet is a much smaller and low cost unit.

Priced at $199, the unit seems a more fitting competitor to the Kindle Fire.  Like the Fire, it is more of a paper back sized device purpose built to consume media – read books and magazines, watch video, play simple games and browse the Internet.  Like the Kindle Fire, the Nexus is closely tied to a content ecosystem in Google Play.  Nexus leverages the latest version of Android for Tablets  – Jelly Bean.

While not as feature laden as the iPad and Surface, tablets like this will continue to drive expectations of low cost devices that can be harnessed for many uses.  This relatively sophisticated technology is being driven closer and closer to a $0 item used as a loss leader to drive consumption of media, lowering the desire for consumers to pay without clear benefits.

The impact of this device on retailers is more on increased competition for the likes of Amazon, Kobo, and Kindle for electronic media.  It would be surprising to see these devices used in a retail environment as a selling or transactional tool, but that could all change tomorrow.

2012.21 | iOS 6 & Retail

Apple recently announced iOS 6 at the Apple 2012 WWDC in San Francisco. There are the usual hundreds of changes to the OS, but of jthe many that Apple chose to share there are a couple that stand out from the perspective of those of us who work in retail environments.

Passbook – Recognizing that the electronic versions of tickets, boarding passes, coupons and loyalty cards are growing in popularity, Apple has announced that a new app called passbook will be introduced in iOS 6. The Passbook app will represent a mini-wallet to organize these items on an iDevice.

Instead of using an individual app to access each coupons, loyalty card, and ticket, users will be able to access all such items in a central convenient location on their device.

Reminders ensures users don’t forget they have a time based ticket. Based on set times and geographical locations relevant to the item in the passbook, a reminder will show on the screen. The user swipes on the phone to access the relevant ticket, coupon, or loyalty card.

This app is a potentially double edged sword for retailers. While reminders can provide an increase in usage of offers and provide a useful service to ticket holders, it can potentially reduce the need for users to visit the retailers own app, and remove a modicum of control from the experience the retailer wishes to offer.

This is an intelligent first step for developing a mobile wallet. I’m often challenged by retailers on what the next mobile wallet may be. The challenge has not been a technological one for many years – the challenge is an organizational one.

For users to actually commit to using a mobile wallet – that platform can’t be owned by a single retailer or bank or credit card company with walls to keep others out. Users can put anything they want in their wallets and any transition to an electronic mobile platform has to have enough of the things people might want to put in their wallets available.

iDevices and Apple have the mindshare with retailers and other consumer facing organizations as they understand the popularity of the devices with consumers and the potential business increases those can bring. That inertia, combined with Apples locked down app store with its conceptually secure and trusted app ecosystem means many retailers could get on board with Passbook. Starbucks, Fandango and United Airlines are apparently on board and this app isn’t even in broad release as yet.

When key retailers get on board people can get enough of the things they want into their Passbook to make it worthwhile. From there, it’s a logical step to a filing cabinet of store receipts. From there, perhaps payments could follow.

It isnt a sure thing but Apple is well placed to make it happen, and has more parts than anyone else at present.

Accessibility & Guided Access – The other Potential iOS angle of interest to retailers is one not designed for them. To increase accessibility for children and others who may need assistance to focus Apple is providing a locked down mode where users can only access apps the iDevice owner chooses and disables the home button.

Trying it out will show its full impact, but effectively this provides a rudimentary iPad kiosk mode. This is great news for iPad restaurant menus and a step forward for those using iPads as kiosks.

Did you see something in the iOS preview that impacts retail? Let me know in the comments!

2012.20 | Airports, Tactile Touch, Recipes etc.

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Ordering in Airports – Given the unusual footprint and visitor activities in airports, dining has always seemed suboptimal in that environment. Restaurant layouts that make perfect sense in regular life are inconvenient and awkward in an airport. Many of us have walked into the regular pub like setting that has a total of perhaps 40 seats in an airport that serves thousands per day. It’s too busy, you are often lugging bags with you – which take up limited seating areas and cause you to constantly apologize to all around you for knocking everything with your bags.

Installations of iPads thoughout terminals to allow travelers to order food to be brought to them may ease that sense of awkwardness and make great use of airport seating areas if they are well laid out and sensibly arranged. I’ve heard through colleagues that fly through Laguardia where it has been piloted that it seems to work well there. I look forward to trying it in Toronto. Like all other retail technology, the operations behind the enabling solution will be what makes or breaks this! If there is good service level expectation setting and order fulfillment, this could do very well.

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Tactile Touch Screens – Whenever friends ask me what mobile device they should use, my first question is whether they prefer a keyboard. Some people are predisposed to a physical keyboard and don’t want to move to using a touch version. Those people may only have to change a setting on a touchscreen device in the future. Tactus Technology is soon to offer touchscreens with physical buttons that swell up off the display depending on what ‘buttons’ are shown on the display. Check out the video for a real glimpse of the technology and what it could look like. This technology provides an opportunity to have the best of both worlds – a physical keyboard and maximum display real estate. It simplifies multi-language keyboard issues and can offer unique context sensitive keyboard options to UI designers. It also means a potential for a simpler to use self service environment where users attention can be drawn to act as context sensitive buttons rise out of the screen as they are needed.

Recipes on Receipts – Retailer St Marche recently partnered with Hellmann’s in Brazil to print recipes directly on receipts. Taking context sensitive offers to another level, this idea actually prints recipes that include items purchased from the grocery store in that transaction. It’s being tried out on 100 registers. Makes you wonder how much fun POS software would be if every CPG wanted that on every transaction. If it does work out, taking this to the next level with e-receipts seems like an intelligent play; allowing for sharing with friends electronically and ensuring that customers don’t lose any favourite receipt recipes as thermal paper fades over time and could be overheated in a kitchen environment and turn black!

The Extra Inch – Take the time to listen to Terry O’Reilly’s most recent Under the Influence podcast episode, it has some excellent examples of how retailers can win customers over with the little things. More than ever I find retailers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and this podcast sheds some light on how some iconic companies are doing it today. I highly recommend adding Terry’s podcast to your regular playlist – it is always entertaining and you will always walk away with some new ideas. He has a great book as well that I heartily recommend.

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