2014.03 | lovelist | electroloom | homechat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2013.30 | wearable technology & retail

fashionable google glass

After years of experimenting with barely wearable technology, society is beginning to accept wearable technology as part of our every day life.  From bluetooth coats to change tracks on your mobile, to heads up displays in ski googles, wearable tech is slowly and innocuously making its way to the mainstream.  As with so many technologies, there are opportunities for retail to provide a customer experience to suit the needs of their constituents.  Consider the following wearables and their impact on retail.

glasses – Yes, google glass look ridiculous, but work is underway to remedy that shortcoming.  if glasses with augmented reality can be made to look less ridiculous, rest assured there is a significant segment of the population that will wear and use them.  Recognizing the potential concerns of arming people with subtle recording devices, some places are doing are banning them.  While this is an understandable reaction, can bans be maintained if google glass and other augmented reality systems become indiscernible from regular eyewear?

There was a time when whipping out a camera in a store would be so noticeable that store staff would react immediately and may ask you to stop or to leave.  Now it’s more common than not to see someone using their mobile in a store.  It now requires effort to tell if someone is taking photos on store, and it’s challenging to address reasonably even if you could tell what they were doing.

crystal shopper

Mobile usage in stores is everywhere, fuelling the concerns of showrooming so common over the past few years.

If glass becomes common enough, controlling client interactions in store becomes a bit more challenging.  With a heads up display and hands free operation, comparison shopping gets a little easier.  In fact, the Crystal Shopper app lets users comparison shop hands free so that when glass ramps up for distribution next year, you can expect other similar apps to find their way into the hands of consumers.

smart watchesPebble made a big splash with support to the tune of over $10 million on Kickstarter last year.  Pebble is a watch that connects to iOS or Android devices via bluetooth.  Out of the box, the unit shows the time, sms notifications and messages, gmail notifications and messages, controls music tracks and are essential geek status symbols.  This sidekick to the mobile allows users to keep their mobile in their pocket instead of constantly pulling out their mobile to communicate, a benefit to which consumers indicated their support with their wallets on kickstarter.  The Pebble vision is to allow developers to make apps to build on this functionality via an SDK, though this has been slow to pick up to date.  Samsung wisely took this show of support to heart by developing their own smartwatch scheduled for release in fall 2013. Samsung has added the ability for developers to build apps for their watch via an SDK.

eBay-app

While they are fun gadgets, retailers may wonder what value they may hold for shopping.  There are a number of usages already possible.

  • Use your smartwatch to pay at Starbucks by scanning it at the register in place of the mobile device  I did it recently with a giftcard barcode substituted for a watchface. Now a customer can pay for coffee even if they forget their wallet AND mobile.  There is no reason a retailer couldn’t build an official app to enable gift card payments with a smartwatch.  One more small step towards not having to pull out anything, as the watch is already on your wrist.
  • As part of their initial release presentation Samsung indicated that they will have a number of apps available at smartwatch release.  One of them was the eBay app.  This app provides realtime updates of auctions so that bidders don’t miss out on their favourite auction items. Interactive notifications for other retail services could be implemented by others.

jewellery – There are a number of technology based jewellery solutions that have an opportunity to find usage in the wider world.

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.24.19 PMThe Nymi bracelet identifies the user by their unique ECG signature.  This bracelet is designed to assist with password replacement.  Being able to unlock our devices is a unique way to identify ourselves to our devices that could as easily be used for retail situations.  If a standard API is available to work with mobile devices like iPads or Android powered tablets, this bracelet could also replace signatures on deliveries, provide simple customer (loyalty) identification or to open lockers for shipment pickup.

Retailers are best to consider these wearable technology solutions as an opportunity.  Every new situation is an opportunity to differentiate.  LIke building mobile apps for clients to fulfill unrecognized needs or provide unique services that weren’t possible before, all of these devices represent opportunities.  The greater challenge is that the next big thing isn’t the ONLY next big thing.  Entertainment began with live theatre and added endless channels such as recorded music, radio, movies, television and more.  It hasn’t shed any of these channels.  It’s just adding more.

UPDATE 2013-09-17:  belt – Now wearable technology can assist with wayfinding in retail as well.  Mobile Travel Guide provider Triposo are experimenting with a belt that can help users to find their way without staring at a screen.  The gps app communicates with a special belt to direct users.  Four vibrating motors (front, left, right, back) are embedded in the belt.  As users walk, the belt vibrates the correct direction of movement and users move in that direction.  Get in store location working and now kiosks are not needed, and customers can keep their heads up as they walk.

2013.16 | #music | curation | pizza

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Twitter Music – It’s difficult to believe that iTunes turned 10 this past month.  The way that music is purchased and consumed has certainly changed drastically in that time.  Perhaps the way we discover new music is about to change as well.  Twitter recently released their twitter music service which allows users to see and sample top and trending music as well as music that interests the people you follow on Twitter. Accessible online or via mobile, subscribers to rdio and spotify can even link to their accounts to be able to hear the complete tracks.  It’s a clever way to leverage data at their fingertips to provide value for their users and to monetize their system.

Curation – It’s interesting that the focus on so many things retail is moving from price and selection to curated experiences.  It makes a great deal of sense to move the retail experience away from commodity items that can be obtained from the lowest bidder to becoming the sales agent by providing clients a window into what they like.  Leveraging data and taste to sell stuff is a natural move and we can expect to see a great deal more of this.

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Two of the most interesting retailers I’ve been following are Frank & Oak and JackThreads.  Both of these retailers are blurring the lines between online retailer, a social club, and a mens magazine.  Email marketing missives from these organizations are as fun to open as messages from your friends – because they read like they are from friends.  Recent messages from JackThreads parent company Thrillist included gems like roomba like mini bbq cleaners, a walking hexapod and HD video glasses.  Frank & Oak’s first email to me was an invitation for me to join from an actual real life friend of mine.   On registration they asked me to categorize myself by selecting how I dress at work, what kind of clothing elements I like etc.  From that, they show me my store when I get online.

The communications from these organizations don’t feel like they are constantly trying to sell with discount offer emails like more traditional retailers.  They all but force you to get a login so that we can be identified, and yet they feel more like the promise of the ongoing conversation we’ve all been looking forward to with omnichannel retailing – with an actual conversationalist.  Online, mobile, email, and apps in JackThreads case, all seem to provide a single view to the client.  There’s some work to be done, but there is a promising future for these sorts of new retailers.  Perhaps like Amazon and Warby Parker, stores will be in the cards for these retailers as well.

Screen Shot 2013-04-27 at 7.04.23 PMPizza Hut on Xbox 360 – You can never have too many ways to order pizza.  Over the years we’ve seen pizza ordering from websites, fridge magnets, augmented reality, tablets, facebook, and now Xbox 360.  The ability to order pizza via a video game console makes perfect sense.  It’s just another touchpoint, and provides another channel through which the target market spends their time.  This is yet another example of a savvy organization noting where their potential customers spend their time and making it easy and fun to do business with them.  Other organizations would do well to take note.  With a proliferation of channels, it’s important to be selective, but picking the right channels to suit your business and your customers could result in a perfect match.

2013.11 | Retail Tech Miscellany

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.17.52 PMWaste Elimination – Check out The Disappearing Package – a Masters Thesis based on eliminating the packaging part of consumer packaged goods altogether.  Not sure how realistic these are, but eliminating packaging is a welcome concept, and there are some interesting options shown.  via Fast Company

Mobile Selling Across Platforms - There has been lots of talk about mobile retailing, but Gucci took it to heart and redesigned their mobile website to provide a unique experience suited to buying on a smartphone or tablet as well as a traditional pc or notebook.  One can’t help but notice that Gucci chose to update their mobile website instead of an app.  Given the increasing pile of mobile os ecosystems and flavours (iOS, Android, Windows) and devices (smartphones and tablets of various shapes and sizes), setting up a great website with mobile optimization seems the way to go.

IBM retail AR appShelf OverlayAugmented Reality is another concept that has been touted as a game changer for retail.  IBM has a conceptual mobile app that allows users to use their mobile device’s camera to capture items on the shelf with image recognition and then allow shoppers to sort through the assortment based on various parameters as they would on a website.  Customers could find gluten free items, or see what items are on sale.  I love the concept, but I’m not sure if most people today will have the patience to search a store this way.  If they do, everyone will be bumping into each other and trying to stand back from the shelves.  It could get a bit awkward walking down the aisles!

Data elements are likely to be a challenge for this.  If a retailer doesn’t have a fully populated database with all the elements needed to filter, a significant effort will be required to update systems on the back end to support this effort.  Apparently it’s being tested in the UK.  Some fun additions in my mind: highlight items from my shopping list on the shelf in green in case I can’t find them, highlight my usual items as I walk by them, put blinking green on items that may interest me, and finally integrate this into Google Glass to make it less awkward to use.

Loyalty Apps – I’ve always hated those little loyalty cards that you got stamped for a free coffee.  My sushi place has a terrible version of this that you can’t even read.  I also hate carrying paper cards and I’m not alone.  Check out this recent blogto profile of a number of smaller loyalty programs that are trying to take this niche into the smartphone age.

CapturePinterest Analytics – Pinterest is one of the most interesting social media stories to come on the scene for some time, and it got a bit more interesting as their Web Analytics have been released.  Now pinners including retailers, will have a better idea of what people are pinning.  It’s unclear if that changes much for retailers that pin, but at least some gauge of reaction is possible.  Perhaps the ability to tag whether an item was purchased would help.  I’ve always thought Pinterest would be a great social media network for retailers to add to a client profile.  When I visit higher end retailers or am looking for something fashion related, staff always ask about my hobbies and style.  It would be nice to just let them glance through a few Pinterest boards to give them a flavour for what you like. Not only that, but the retailer sees what you like at other retailers.

2013.09 | Barclay Center App | Reddit

Barclay Center – I find myself more than slightly jealous of visitors to Brooklyn’s Barclay Center.  The Barclay Center App has all of the nonsense we expect from all apps we download, team schedules, and pictures of the venue, but they also have some really incredible features made available from wifi in the stadium including:

  • play_e_slamcam1_gb1_576access to live in game video
  • access to the live TV feed
  • replays with rewind capability
  • up to four different camera angles
  • ordering food from your seat
  • submit messages for scoreboard display

It appears this is primarily used by the Nets, but is able to work at concerts as well.  What better way to allow fans a better view of the game from the worst seats than by leveraging the screens in their hand?  Not only that, but enabling in seat ordering is a real treat.  I’d be interested to see the operational side of the food ordering.  If it got too popular, it might be challenging to fulfill orders for delivery in a timely manner.  I’m sure the team at the Barclay Center would love to tackle that problem!

Reddit – While it doesn’t have the wide audience of Facebook, the ubiquity of Twitter or the slick visual appeal of Pinterest, Reddit represents a tremendous opportunity for retailers in two ways: to gain information and to influence customer experiences.

reddit

While Reddit is not nearly as well known as these other online communities, they still represent a huge swath of humanity with 37 BILLION page views in 2012 alone.    I would encourage retailers to get on Reddit as I have to read through what is being said about their brands and technology and see what can be gleaned from it.  Like any other wide open discussion, you can expect incredible enthusiasm, fantastic negativity, and lots and lots of stories and comments.  Take all of it with a grain of salt, but the information may change your perspective or drive discussion in your organization and is 100% free consumer input.  Visit reddit.com and type in your company name in the search box.  Before you visit, you may want to understand how it works.

I would not recommend retailers or their representatives fake a consumer post outlining the wonders of any item or their brand.  From my many hours on Reddit I have the sense that full on commercialism will get someone downvoted to oblivion, but even worse is the commercial disguised as a post from a Redditor.

Lots of actors complete an AMA (ask-me-anything) post to shill their latest movies, and Reddit welcomes that with the understanding that for a short paragraph asking for consideration of seeing a movie or reading a book (and maybe not even that), Redditors get a once in a lifetime chance to ask a question directly of a famous person.

If a retailer wants to drive their brand in Reddit, they could have someone famous and beloved by the tech/geek/youth community speak on their behalf and not be too forward about it.    A better vehicle for leveraging Reddit is the provided messaging capability between registered users.  If retailers see a negative or positive post or comment and act to remedy the problem as many have via Twitter and Facebook, Reddit represents a vehicle for customer service.  Getting more information from a failed customer experience and resolving it can provide positive feedback from a large audience.  Combining the advice from the recent Customer Service Podcast on CBC’s Under the Influence with solving complaints and problems seen in  Reddit could drive some real customer loyalty and interest as long as the intent is genuine.

2012.34 | Square Canada | Watch2Pay | Passbook Canada

Square Canada – Square is now available in Canada.  Now small businesses in Canada who want to take credit cards or operate a very simple cash register on an iOS device can take advantage of the Square offer.  Can’t wait to see which Canadian businesses show up on their Canadian directory of users.   Should change payments in Canada as we know them if they use Pay with Square. [Interesting point - turns out they are just using their MSR dongle and not a chip and pin solution to read the card.  Not ideal in Canada where EMV is the norm, as retailers bear the risk of an MSR (non chip) transaction!]

Watch2Pay – Watch2Pay, which sounds a bit like a wig for your watch, offers an NFC enabled watch.  Basically, one purchases a watch and it includes a PayPass NFC enabled Mastercard as well as a MasterCard Watch Card.  The Watch Card looks very much like an old school SIM card but is actually an NFC chip.Plug the Watch Card in the back of the watch, and you can use your snazzy new watch to pay anywhere Mastercard PayPass enabled payments are available. Watch2Pay is currently available in the UK and Poland, and appears to be coming soon to the US and Russia.

Passbook Canada – As an iOS user, I’ve been using Passbook where I have had the opportunity – mainly as a Starbucks customer. So far in Canada,  Cineplex, Starbucks, Porter Airlines, Canada’s Wonderland, Living Social, Valpak Coupons and Air Canada have released apps that support Passbook.    If you know of more, highlight them in the comments.  I’m also interested to hear experiences with using Passbook in Canada.

While it works as a place to keep your loyalty cards and tickets, I don’t find that Passbook is working for me.  Tickets and cards are supposed to be easily accessible via alerts based on your proximity to where they would be used, avoiding the need to unlock your mobile, open an app and find the applicable item.  So far, it’s been a mixed bag on usability and functionality.   I have another post in the works where I’ll share my limited experience with Passbook.  For now, let’s say I agree with Rene at iMore on Passbook.

2012.30 | Passbook | Touch Wall | TipJar

iOS 6 Passbook - With the release of iOS 6 comes Passbook, and those of us in retail can start to see how pre-cursor to a mobile wallet really works.  As someone who uses tickets on my mobile for movies (Cineplex) and airlines (Air Canada, WestJet, United), this is an idea I can get behind.  I also have a bunch of loyalty cards I already use, some on my mobile, and some in my glove compartment

On the ticket side, I really look forward to avoiding screen caps, and then having my ticket autorotate as photos do when I turn my phone from portrait to landscape, or dim when I’ve been waiting too long.

I’m just updating my iPhone tonight, so I haven’t tested it on my own device.   Lots of keen users have already started posting their experiences.  There are a number of apps that are already Passbook CompatibleCineplex appears to be my sole option in Canada, and it’s sorta working.  It turns out you can also add passbook items to your passbook without an app passing the data via PassSource.

Let me know your experiences with Passbook.  I’ll be sharing mine.

Touch Wall – Looking for an entire wall of touchscreen LCDs so that you can blow your clients’ minds with interaction?  Engage Production in the UK has a new demo screen for clients that is composed of 24 linked 55 inch touch displays.  While there are some incredible things that can be done with a space of that magnitude, you have to wonder at all of the associated costs and how that can be used to drive business.  It’s difficult to come up with engaging content for any space let alone something so large!

It would be incredible to use this as a giant video wall display or split into screens with various types of media playing, and then allow customers to touch a spot anywhere on the display to initiate an individual screen usage area that could be defined by the application.

Now an interactive self service applications that is defined by the hardware in place has a great deal more flexibility.  Just turn on the app at the site, and give customers the option!

Customers could touch on an image of a shoe on the wall, and see a 360 degree representation they can manipulate.  Perhaps the system can have store staff  paged to bring a sample shoe to try for fit.  If the product is out of stock in their size, provide directions sent to their mobile on how to get to another store, or have the shoes shipped to their home.  If new products or ideas come up, change the apps and how clients interact.

TipJar - Seems like someone figured out one answer to my question about how we deal with
the age old tips problem in the age of electronic transactions.   The problem many of us have is that we never carry cash, but on the rare occasion where a cash tip is the only option, running to the ATM for $20 isn’t really a viable option.  Enter DipJar - a jar with an MSR built in.  If you want to tip someone, you dip your card in the MSR/Jar, and $1 is passed.  No more cash or someone stealing tips from the counter.  At the same time we can maintain the Funny Tip Jar tradition.

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.

2012.18 | New Interfaces for Retail

Lots of ideas around new interfaces have been showing up this month.  Here are a few notable examples:

UI Concept for Sharing Files between Devices - Check out this User Interface concept.  While this example is to move an article from one device to another, why not consider an interface like this for a digital wallet?  It would be far more intuitive for a virtual cash register to show on a tablet, and a wallet on a mobile.  The cash register ‘sees’ a customer’s mobile wallet and they can ‘slide’ some virtual cash onto the cash register.  It seems over the top, but it’s increasingly achievable.  Using a visual interface that provides a bridge from the physical interaction of today to the virtual transaction of tomorrow can add a cool factor that could drive mobile payments more than what we see today.

Projected Interactive Retail Display – We’ve all seen how Microsoft Surface is able to react to physical objects.  Perch Interactive has put together a projected display to interact with physical objects in a store – translating the experience to one that online shoppers, and one would assume the millennial types, will understand, recognize, and enjoy.  This appears to be an incredible way to provide product information and recommendations to clients.  This should work particularly well in the low light environments of Abercrombie and Fitch type environments.

Connecting Facebook Likes with Real World ObjectsC&A in Brazil have set up a Facebook page for followers to like their favourite ensembles.  Those items are showcased in stores on clothes hangers with a display that indicates the number of Facebook likes directly on the hanger in real time.

2012.08 | Interactive Screens – not Kiosks

Interactive kiosk solutions have been a part of retail for as long as someone was able to stick a computer in a box.  While mobile is definitely a phenomenon in retail, we are far from saturation on kiosks as self service solutions.   In fact, there has never been a better time to consider a self service kiosk solution – and those solutions don’t have to be limited to a little square screen on a stick.

The technology options available to power these solutions has improved tremendously and there are an increasingly wide range of form factors, as well as peripherals of all sorts to serve pretty much any market or need imaginable.    In fact, I would suggest that the use of the term kiosk is outdated.  It refers to that little square screen on a stick or in a box from a decade ago.

The days of a cobwebbed kiosk in the corner are gone, and new technology means a new generation of interaction in sites.  Consider technology and societal changes that make these new interactions possible:

Larger format screens – 50 and 60″ LCD devices are now available for the cost of a regular old 15″ solution from a number of  years ago.     This reduced cost makes it more affordable to implement a kiosk that has some visual appeal, lots of space for visual elements, and more easily blends into the customer experience in the store than the technology of years gone by. Projection options are also finding their way into the mainstream – meaning a whole new opportunity for engagement and new placements of interactive experiences.

Increased Use of Touch –  - increased availability of touch interfaces means more people are comfortable with them.  If you think back just a few years, there was far less use of touch interfaces.  The release of iDevices, touch on Blackberries and various tablets and eReaders means that a comfort level has grown that was not there before.  This increases the willingness and comfort of the average consumer to interface with a touch system.

Pervasive Technology – There is now a generation of young adults who have never lived without mobile phones or the internet.  Where for many years one saw customers saying they “don’t want to use that thing” or “I want to talk to a person”, there is a whole new generation of shoppers are hungry for different touchpoints and shopping experiences.

What works with interactive kiosk experiences?

With the technology to enable incredible interactive experiences in any place where stores can exist, it is important to consider what experience is being provided.  I have seen a number of interactive experiences requested over the years, and there are a few learnings I can pass on.

1.  Buy-in – If an interactive experience in a retail setting is going to work, then all stakeholders have to be invested in it. If executives, store management or store staff don’t believe in the solution then it will fail.    Any half-hearted solution will not work.  It is like any other group initiative.  Without the conscious involvement, understanding and enthusiasm from the team, whatever solution you have will not work.  It will be doomed from the start.

2. Functionality – The solution has to have a benefit to all who use it.  A benefit for the user, the store staff and the business in general.  For the customer it could be helping them avoid a line, or get help without having to ask a staff member.  For the store staff, it could help them with capacity. For the business, it can keep customers in the store instead of leaving, it could upsell them, it could give them an experience that will keep them as a long term customer.

As an additional detail, my experience has been that transactional systems tend to get more use than informational ones.  Where some customers may be interested in reading product information in great details, there is greater usage and more direct measurable benefit to the business when someone wants to buy something and can do so directly on the solution.

If customers can look at product information, that’s great, but if they can buy the product and have it sent to their home, they don’t need to consider a second interaction.  They can do it on the spot.   Bottom line in my opinion – no ROI – no interactive solution.  If it isn’t driving business, it’s taking up space.  Don’t implement technology for its own sake.

As a personal aside please don’t waste time with the following:

  • e-flyers – I’d like someone to show me how this pays off.  Why would I scroll through an e-flyer at a screen in a store?  I will do it at home, but that is a different user experience.  It is always faster to scan through a paper one in a store, users have no audience waiting to use the unit, and often the paper flyers are sitting in a giant pile right next to the screen.
  • games – I’ve never understood why I would want to play a game on a screen in a store or how that would benefit a retailer. I’m also annoying others who may want to use the screen to find a product.  Exception – if it’s a contest where I get a discount and it’s quick.
  • in store wayfinding – Nobody trusts these in stores anymore.  In a small store there is no need for them.  In a large store who keeps this updated?  Stores change around so much, and I doubt that planograms are updated and automatically interfaced.  It can also take longer to scroll through than just walk through the store.  Exception 1 – if there is an automated interface to constantly updated planogram system. Exception 2 – if there is a version that works with your mobile device Meijer Findit – maybe.  Just put stuff where we can find it.

Based on what I’ve seen, these items are add-ons designed to flesh out a solution, but it never feels useful or natural to me, and drives out more value more than it adds.

3.  User Experience – If the customer doesn’t at least find the experience useful, they won’t use the screen again.  I’m not a UI designer myself, but self service best practices should be followed that suit the application, and having an experienced consultant design your interface is well worth the investment.

Examples of best practices include using as few screens as possible to get a user to completion of their task, using buttons and text that are easy to see and read, and minimize and simplify data entry unless absolutely necessary – especially duplicate requests.  Providing a simple and convenient experience will draw them in and bring them back.

4.  Ongoing Support – If the solution isn’t working, it’s not getting used.  If it’s not getting used, the benefits above are not being realized.  If people see it not getting used, it will be used even less until it is completely ignored, negating the initial intention of having the solution at all.  Ongoing support means making sure the hardware is working to it’s full potential.  No failed peripherals, or a paper sign tacked on it saying out of order.  That can’t happen.

Just as importantly, content must be accurate and updated where relevant.  If a kiosk never changes, unless it fulfills a very specific and key function it will die.  Retailers would never consider leaving their stores the same through seasons – they are always updated with fresh ideas, programs and products.  Interactive solutions must be part of any store updates – the graphics, the videos, the interactions must all keep pace.  People are always engaged with new content – we all know this.  Make sure the solutions are constantly updated to pull people in.

This is a key element that gets missed.  Project teams move to the next new thing, funding is pulled to other new projects, and solutions die.  Don’t let that happen.

5.  One Brand Experience - Retailers understand that providing a seamless single experience to retailers across all parts of the business makes it easier for consumers to buy, which means more sales.  Now that barriers are being removed web stores and brick and mortar stores, allowing returns across the banner, for example, customers are expecting this barrier removal to continue across all interface points.  As each channel becomes easier to use, customers are likely to try out the new ones.  If a customer considers an interactive screen in a shopping centre to be a window into their brand experience, they are increasingly likely to use it.  It’s no longer a separate thing – using this interactive solution should be part a consistent brand  experience.  Try as much as possible to make that experience consistent and targeted to those consumers as much as possible.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are key elements to making a solution really and truly work for the customers and the retailer.

Where is this going?

There is no way to know where the future takes us, but here are a few of my thoughts on the future of interactive screens – hitherto known as kiosks:

Every screen is interactive – and it should be.  Currently there is lots of digital signage out there, but the communication is only one way.  It is showing you messages and is not open for input.  The millennial cohort and younger generations are growing up with interactive screens.  Not having input doesn’t make sense to them.  Expect walls of digital posters in stores to be enabled for interactivity in the future.  During the slow hours of the day, they show brand and product messaging.  At busy times, they can be used to engage customers on selecting their best mobile plan, finding out their balance, or contacting a service rep.

Every interaction is personal - and it should be.  Future interactions should be filtered to get to the point for specific clients.  Allowing customers to identify themselves via loyalty cards or some other simple format means that the messaging and interactions can be customized.  This can minimize screens and touches and provide a streamlined experience.  It could mean language, recognizing services or products the customer has purchased or identified to provide assistance or upsell on them, offers specific to that customer, or even providing access to profiles so that customers can validate how they want to be dealt with.

Screens can be anywhere on any surface in any place.  Large screens are pervasive, but expect projection and other technologies to start to show up as cost drops and brightness increases.  They can cover large or irregular areas, they can provide big screen surface with a small device, and they provide flexible solution options. Starbucks had a good example of this in Toronto and Vancouver last year.

Screens will interact with each other.  Everyone knows we have screens in our pocket, but some content works better in a larger format.  It is technically possible to leverage both together in a store environment in myriad different ways.  Why not have a pre-ordering menu on a mobile device to stage an order that is passed to an in store device to order?  Why not provide a message that an order is ready to a mobile device while customers wait in the store?  Why not enable selection of items for purchase of out of stock items instore from the website, and then complete the payment transaction on the small mobile screen for privacy and security?  As the general public matures technically and they see benefits, these interactions will catch on.

Once again, I think the time has passed to call these interactive kiosks.  Mobile is huge for reatil. Tablets are huge for retail as well, and some think these persona devices signal the end of kiosks, but interactive screens in stores, shopping centres, or wherever you wish already are and will continue to play a tremendous role in the retail ecosystem.

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