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.

IMG_1659

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.

Screen Shot 2012-12-04 at 11.20.08 PM

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.

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.

2012.07 | Mobile Payments in Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012.03 | NRF – AR – Payments & more

Stories of note from January:

NRF Big Show 2012 – As mentioned, I was at the NRF show this week.  Check out this video covering the underlying themes seen on the floor:  mobile,  consumer experience, convergence of channels, and inventory visibility.

Dominos Augmented Reality  - Dominos is using Augmented Reality to sell pizza in the UK.  Using the blippar app, users point their mobile’s camera at a billboard to see an overlay on their screen that they can touch for offers and ordering.

Microsoft Electronic Mirror – At CES this year, Microsoft was showing their version of a technology enhanced mirror concept.  I’ve seen a few of these so far, and perhaps they are a bit ahead of their time.  The Microsoft Kinect sure has some interesting possibilities for retail – particularly given it now has an official SDK - and eventually someone will work out a use case it in a retail setting that will add value to the customer experience.

Publix Cancels Curbside Pickup - US grocer Publix piloted a program for a year where customers can order groceries online and then have them brought to the car upon arrival to the store.   The program has been cancelled.  It’s an interesting idea, but I expect it is much simpler logistically to have customers come into the store to pick up their order or to have orders delivered to their home directly.

Intuit launching iPhone Payments in Canada – Staying ahead of Square, Intuit is expected to launch their GoPayment solution in Canada in the near future.  I’ve had requests from friends and clients about an equivalent to Square in Canada, so expect they will have some takers.  I will be most interested to see how they deal with EMV.  Both the Intuit and Square solution include card swiping modules that connect to the iPhone or iPad.  Those devices work fine with decades old MSR technology, but what about EMV and the requirement for reading chips from cards, and allowing entry of PINs- a requirement in Canada?

2011.46 | Wired App Guide: Retail Edition

I finally read the Wired App Guide this weekend.  I highly recommend picking it up if you are interested in mobile apps.  It covers many platforms, and appears to try to stay neutral – iPhone, iPad, Android, WP7 are all represented, but it is iOS heavy. Sorry Blackberry lovers – no mention of Blackberry, though I know at least some of the apps are offered on the Blackberry Market from personal experience.

No matter how much you stay up to date with apps, the app guide is a good read, and there are definitely some useful apps in there, no matter what your personal interests.

Of the 400 apps included, only a  few are retail oriented; 15 by my count.  In fairness, defining retail can be daunting, so I’ve had to use my own reckoning (I’ve counted Netflix and rdio for example – they sell movies and music) and very few are from household “retail” brand names – Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks are the only ones.

Here are the most interesting mobile apps of interest to retailers that made the cut into the app guide:

Kindle – I love Amazon, but Kindle is obviously saving their best efforts for their own devices.  The picture in the app guide is from a Kindle Fire, which is miles ahead of what you get on other devices.  While Apple Amazon and other booksellers  by mandating a cut of in-app sales, the Kindle eBook store accessible via iPad is really an unfortunate user experience.  Kobo’s web store is much easier to navigate and use.  I also think Kobo is doing a much better job in Canada as of late.  Their prices are more reasonable, and the ereader program is comparable to Kindle.

Amazon Mobile – Take the mobile app, scan barcode at store, and get the price for an item from Amazon and add to your cart.  Helpful. Not unique to this app.  Tesco has an app that does the same thing, and Canadian Tire can provide pricing from local store with a barcode scan.  There are many more with notable capabilities – like Meijer’s Findit.

Starbucks – They had to be on there as the pioneer in building a mobile payment system.  The Canadian version is causing me and Canadian users headaches as it seems to be forgetting the login and password.  Forces users to *gasp* pull out their plastic card.  Great app otherwise, and I’m sure that will be fixed.

Apple Store -I’m less keen on the buying capability in the app, but the addition of in store pickup is very handy.  Being able to look up what Apple considers a good aftermarket product also is a useful touch.  More helpful is the ability to book a meeting with a Genius at your local store.  It should be this easy to book appointments with anyone.

Barcode Scanner – It’s an android app.  Not sure why they pushed this barcode scanning price comparison engine.  There have been many others available for years.

Seamless Food Delivery – Network of restaurants to order delivery from your phone.  Great concept.  Not available in Canada, but there are Canadian equivalents for online delivery – no mobile app, but should work on the browser of your mobile.

OpenTable – Reserve tables at your favourite restaurant.  My favourite new features is that you can now save your reservation to your calendar.  A must for obsessive-compulsive types.

Rdio Canada – While it appears to have been around a while, Rdio Canada allows users to play and listen to music in the Netflix model – but with way more content.  Mobile apps are available and it works with airplay.  I’m currently trying it out on a 7 day free trial.  $14.99 per month for unlimited. Great idea for those who don’t have a large music collection already.  Tough break if you are trying to still sell CDs.

Zinio – I don’t buy paper magazines anymore, and this app is the reason.  While there are a few magazines with native iPad apps, many don’t have them.  You can get many of the others here for prices as low as $10 per year.  Immediate downloads on availability.  Very useable reader. Can carry all my magazines with me when I travel.

It’s not terribly surprising that only a few retail brands made this list.  There are thousands of apps, and a top 400 list by necessity will have a lot of things unrelated to a retail experience.  The success of a retail mobile app is not necessarily indicated by being on this list either.

Like any other solution, it’s important to have a benefit to the user and the retailer.  Find a unique need for your clients, and fulfill it.  Many times fulfilling that need will streamline a cost for you.  Do you think it’s more expensive in the long run for Apple Stores to have a web based appointment system interfaced to their mobile app for simple scheduling of technical assistance, or for them just to let people pile into stores at random and get angry when they have to wait for hours to get assistance?

This technology provides a real opportunity to make lives better.  Take the opportunity to help your customers.

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