2014.18 | iOS8 for retail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2014.16 | 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!

2014.10 | 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.

2013.32 | iOS 7 for retailers

iOS 7 was released on September 19 to a great deal of fanfare.  With so much change in one release it can be easy to miss some of the details.  Hidden among the flat icons, control center and iRadio are some intriguing OS elements that could be leveraged by retailers to enable enhanced shopping experiences.    Check out some of the changes:

ibeaconsiBeacon – All of us in the retail technology world can expect to hear much more about iBeacon in the coming weeks.  Scores of articles are popping up on this little noticed item nestled into the long list of changes in iOS 7.  If you search the Apple corporate site, there is no information published on it, but it may finally unlock the mobile interaction nirvana that other attempts (nfc, shopkick and many more) have struggled to attain.   iBeacon is a technology that allows sensors to identify when consumers are in a very localized site – much more exact than GPS can ever be – and workable indoors.  This makes it possible to provide information to a mobile device in proximity to a beacon.

MLBVisit-360x640MLB has been working on a demo with Apple since early in the year.  In this use case, using a venue specific app on the mobile device will cause different actions to occur on the mobile based on the users location in the stadium driven by proximity to sensors that the app can identify.  When users near a ticket gate, their tickets pop up on the screen.  When they pass the ticket gate, detailed directions to their seat are on the screen.  When they visit a hot dog stand, purchases can drive an on screen loyalty card that with a buy 10 get one free type scheme reminiscent of the old Subway Sub club.   All in all, it’s possible to provide a custom experience for park visitors.

It’s not a real stretch to see where this sort of technology can be a game changer for retailers.  Not only is it possible to provide pinpoint location in a store, the user is known via the app.  The experience can change for every user depending on how the retailer wants to drive the conversation.  If you have a VIP client, perhaps you invite them to ask for their free bottle of San Pellegrino directly on an app to give it that sense of magic.  Perhaps one client gets a 10% off coupon for shoes, but another gets 20% off on leather goods in the same area.  Add to the personal touch the ability to tell who is taking you up on the offers and you’ve got a winning formula for selling in store.

While this technology is an enabler, I see serious complexity and tracking challenges for retailers on these beacons.   This is an incredible opportunity to improve and customize a customer experience, but it’s going to take time to get it right and figure out the rules to win over customers.

frequent locations

Frequent Locations - In iOS 7, Apple has built a tracker to indicate a user’s frequent locations.  The idea being that contextual location data can be provided to anticipate the user’s needs.

With this information it would be easy to identify a user’s regular visitation of a particular branch of a major retailer and leverage that data in apps.  Notifications of upcoming events at those locations could be highlighted to the user if they opt in to messaging.  Perhaps users could be prompted for their favourite stores for Passbook instead of having to identify them on things like their Starbucks card, or even better, it could just add favourite stores automatically based on the invidividual user’s data.

keychainKeychain – Mac Users are accustomed to keeping a mini database of their logins, passwords, and credit card information on their OSX systems.  Google chrome has similar functionality in it’s autofill functionality.

Keychain has been ported to iOS 7 and can store local passwords.  Earlier test versions seemed to indicate that Keychain was going to leverage iCloud to centrally store all of this information, but it was cut in the late stages of release.

While this isn’t fully implemented through iCloud, this move towards central and secure storage of credit cards provides a potential workaround for all of the in store payment scenarios that wreak such havok and drive up time and cost on deployments.

Consider a shopper with an app that allow them to scan items in the store.  Instead of having to go to a self-checkout, a pay station, or a regular POS, what if the app could ask for permission to use a stored card on the mobile for payment based on a PIN?

Photo 9-29-2013, 11 45 24 PM

Passbook  - Using passbook has always been a bit of a disappointment to myself and others.  It’s not intuitive to use, but the update made it a bit less annoying by removing the shredder that kills old tickets.

Uptake from retailers is picking up (there are 17 passbook apps on the Canadian app store as of this writing  Longos, Starbucks, and Sephora are the only non-travel and entertainment type apps).  I’ve used Starbucks, Cineplex, and Air Canada quite often and they’ve all worked well.    I just don’t see people using it much in the wild as you can also use the regular apps to pay for starbucks or to present your ticket barcodes for scanning.

Where the iOS 7 improvement comes in is a small change that incorporates the camera as a scanner.   One of the shortcomings of using coupons with Passbook in iOS 6 is that you had to find an offer that had the add to Passbook button and now add it.

Apple has now made it possible for consumers to cross from the world of paper to the mobile world.  Much more work needs to be done on Passbook.  Retailers and Apple need to find a symbiotic way to get customers comfortable with it, but this is a decent addition.

iOS 7 is an interesting study.  For myself, the interesting part of iOS 7 is watching users grapple with changed features, unforeseen glitches, and losing functionality to which they may be accustomed.  I’ve listened to my share of complaints on iOS 7 from my family and friends and acted as remote support on a few challenges so far.

As mobile devices become fundamentally ingrained into society and into everyone’s lives, these changes become personal and incredibly widespread.  Working in retail technology for many years, I’ve grappled with these challenges with retail clients over the years, and there are many parallels to updates applied across stores.  The important lesson is to embrace the change and look for the opportunities to leverage the potential for improvements that drove the change in the first place.  Retailers and consumers have much to gain from the ideas here, and everyone will have to learn together how to benefit.

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.

2012.40 | eBay Now | Siri | Screens

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 10.57.27 PMeBay Now App – This app takes me back to the days of the early 2000’s with startups like Kozmo.com.  eBay recently released the eBay Now App that allows consumers to order products for delivery ‘in about an hour’ from tier one retailers like Office Depot, Best Buy, Target, and Macy’s.  Initially available in San Francisco and some parts of New York, I’m sure these more traditional retailers welcome another channel in which to compete with rival Amazon – especially given Jeff Bezos’ expressed desire to open stores, and their Local Express Delivery option. (Anyone else notice that the demo you see at left on the US App Store shows a Canadian Carrier? Alrighty, then.)

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.01.20 PM

Siri – It appears that GM won the race to be first to get a deal with Apple to have Siri interfaced to a vehicle.  Apparently their Sonic and Spark models will have integration with Siri.  Frankly, this information is somewhat underwhelming.  I can interface Siri with my 2009 Volvo today by pressing the call button and instead of asking it to call someone, I just say a command to Siri as one always would.    Being able to control my mobile with my voice is useful.   It’s incredible to be able to  send and receive texts and control my music while leaving my mobile safely away from my hands and eyes.   What would be fantastically helpful is if Siri and/or Google Voice Search could integrate more fully with my TomTom app.  As it sits today, with both of these voice controlled programs, users can ask for suggestions on the closest Starbucks or the best burrito place in the area.

While I condone safe driving and don’t want to distract anyone from what should be their main focus, we have to anticipate the future.    Search is only going to get smarter.  Siri and Google Voice Search are only going to get more sophisticated.  In future, when we consult our voice activated personal assistants, we may be asking for the nearest location to find a Tide Pen, or the best route to take if we drop off our dry cleaning and grab some milk and eggs on the way home.  This could be less distracting to driving by letting the internet do the thinking, while improving people’s organization.  This means retailers that share their store data online have an opportunity to drive more traffic to their stores in future.rea, but they can’t transition to giving us directions while we drive without touching the mobile.

Tesco Screens – At their recent internal conference, Tesco highlighted a few technologies they are planning on using in store including virtual mirrors, and an endless aisle solution.  These technologies have been around for some time, but it’s interesting to see them show up in the press. They are formerly known as kiosk solutions, but I just call them screens.

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The virtual mirrors still feel a bit thin to me.  If I’m at the store and I like the outfit, why don’t I just try it on?  If I see it virtually it doesn’t really give me a great concept of how it’s going to look in real life.  The video on the best of them is jumpy.  Take it further, and I expect it’s a lot of work to keep all of the fashion collections updated every season.  I’ve played with this concept at American Eagle’s 77 kids stores (see image at right), and while it was obviously put together with a great deal of care and the app looked wonderful on the screen, it feels gimmicky and not particularly useful.

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The endless aisle kiosk solution is certainly more interesting.  This is a solid revenue generating solution that can be measured directly for performance.  If Tesco don’t have the toy at the store that I want, I can add it to my shopping basket on my mobile for future purchase, or I can order it directly from the kiosk.  The large format screen is really engaging.  If done right, this solution can leverage good work already done for the e-commerce website at Tesco.  A nice looking, useful, and ROI driving solution is always a win.

2012.31 | Store Maps | Gyft | Cars

Store Maps - Google Maps for Android is now expanding indoors in select sites in France.  From their release it appears that they are providing maps of the inside of stores including Carrefour and Galeries Lafayette Montparnasse.    I love this idea, and hope it catches on in North America.  The greatest challenge with mapping places like the insides of stores is the incredible amount of change.  Like Google Streetview which can get dated with businesses changing on the street, there is a certain amount of upkeep required to ensure that sites will not become stagnant and not useful.   Hopefully the Google army keeps up their good work to keep their incredible mapping network at the forefront.

Gyft for Passbook – The release of Passbook on iOS this week has renewed the hopes of the technophile community that the electronic wallet may finally be making its way into the mainstream.  Online giftcard seller Gyft has announced that their solution is now Passbook enabled, so that giftcards you purchase from Gyft can be used directly from iOS devices.  I love the idea of being able to give and recieve a giftcard electronically to a giftcard wallet on a mobile to ensure it isn’t forgotten or lost.  Since Gyft already does mobile phone redemption, I expect all of their merchants are ready to read codes directly from a smartphone screen.  Great solution and the perfect use of Passbook.  I was pondering how Passbook could move us away from the wallet, but I’ve always wondered how we get remove the requirement for ID cards like Drivers Licenses or Health Cards.  Check out Wired Magazine’s Christina Boddington’s articles on living without a wallet for a month.   Turns out a picture of your drivers license on your mobile won’t get you into a club.

Cars – While these items aren’t directly retail based, consider the potential changes to retailing down the road (pun intended).

First, Tesla allowed Elon Musks’ personal Tesla S electric sedan to be extensively test driven and it sounds like it’s pretty amazing.

Second, as part of their plans to deploy electric cars on a massive scale, Tesla also announced they are deploying free to use Solar Powered rapid car charging stations.  The stations can replenish 3 hours of driving time at 60 mph in 30 minutes.  The stations are as shown in the above image – a tall black and white monolith.  You have to admire their vision!

Third, autonomous vehicles are now legal in California thanks to recently passed legislation announced by Sergey Brin of Google and the Governor of California.  Google has already logged over 300,000 miles in cars that drive themselves, and this the beginning of making that an option for everyone.

Put those three things together and ponder the potential repercussions to various retailers.  Cars may not need gas anymore, fuel may be free or supplied at home.  People may need to fuel by sitting in one location for thirty minutes, and people may be able to pay little or no attention while they are driving (that part doesn’t seem different).   These are some extreme changes to society that could influence the petroleum industry, convenience stores, and all retailers.  Should gas stations become electrical fuel stations? Not likely.  Could parking lots and parking spaces be wired to charge everyone’s cars?  Maybe.  If we aren’t driving in a car, could we be shopping or validating our next destination?  Definitely.

None of these things are certain societal changes, and none of them will happen overnight, but they can certainly influence retail businesses, and owners should be watching for an opportunity to change to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers.

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.

2012.11 Mobile Pizza | Produce Scanning | Pay with Square

Mobile Pizza – Love this new bluetooth fridge magnet to order Pizza from Red Tomato in UAE.  On receipt, customers sync the bluetooth magnet to their mobile phone once, and then whenever they want pizza, they press the button on the fridge and their favourite order is automatically placed for delivery to their home.  The customer gets a confirmation text and a pizza for dinner.  Hope the battery on that thing lasts for a while.  Great and novel idea.

Produce Image Scan – Toshiba TEC recently showed off a new scanning solution that enables scanning of produce with images in order to speed checkout.  The imagers can apparently recognize the produce held in front of them instead of the more traditional methods of requiring a barcode, PLU code or the use of a pick list on paper or electronically.

Interestingly while this is touted as a new solution, I have seen versions of this technology for some years now – most often by scale manufacturers.  Imaging is certainly much better than it was even a few years ago, so this technology must have improved since I looked at it last, but I still see some holes.

- Can it tell the difference between organic and traditional produce?  Not sure how that could possibly happen based on colour and texture.  Last I checked, there is a serious price delta between those two items – both in cost and price.   This sort of shortcoming is a real problem for North American supermarkets, as this is a potential revenue and margin loss at checkout in a very small margin business.

- Can it still tell the colour and texture through plastic packaging?  In most North American supermarkets, produce is not purchased without some sort of packaging – particularly if more than 1 item is purchased.  Might work, but I would want to see that.

- The spokesman says it will come with a database, but what does this do to store infrastructure?  Does it have to reside on every POS?  Is it large as it has images to compare on it?  How does it get updated after implementation.  Nobody has a complete database of produce, and if they did, it is bound to be large.  No store actually would have all produce meaning the full database would be larger than necessary.  To include only what is on hand in a store would require database management.  Even if the database was comprehensive, new products are always coming on the scene.  As items like the newly released Sumo come on the market, they will have to be carefully added to the database.  How does that happen?  One can’t just type in Sumo – 49 cents per pound with a PLU.  It would need to be a carefully orchestrated update.

- I hate to pick on their ergonomics, as this is obviously a demonstration, but those poor cashiers would eventually hurt themselves bending to pick up produce from a basket to scan and place in another basket.  It makes more sense to slide, or at least have a table at the right height to lift from.  There is also no scale, so pricing would only be per unit and not by the pound.  If this were to be implemented it would need to be part of a scanner -scale solution.

I think it’s a great idea and I would love to see it work, but there are a lot of kinks to be worked out before this thing hits the public – in North America in any case.

Pay with Square – Square recently rebranded their Card Case solution as Pay with Square.  The payment system allows for payment without removing a wallet or phone from the users pocket.  It’s based on geolocation.  Users are identified by the pictures on the point of sale device.  Beyond the rebranding, the app has been redesigned with a more functional interface, and to allow full functionality on both the Android and iPhone versions.  Still waiting for Canada, but expect EMV makes that unlikely.

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