2014.02 | displair | louis vuitton pass| rough trade nyc

displairDisplair – All sorts of new user interfaces are being developed and that novelty often finds its way into retail – even if just as a way of garnering people’s attention for the short term.  Displair is a good example.  Some enterprising souls have built a solution that makes a touchscreen out of thin air.  Video is projected on mist shot into the air.  Sensors catch where the mist is broken to enable touchscreen capability.   While a novelty for now these sort of projected touch interfaces are a prime solution for changerooms or other areas where technology could help but there is limited or constantly changing space.

pounce-louis-vuittonLouis Vuitton Pass – 2D barcodes have always seemed like a jury-rigged solution.  Originally invented to track inventory, they can hold a lot more data than the traditional barcode, but retain an ugliness that fashion (and really everyone) disdains.  Expect to see more solutions like the one leveraged by the likes of the Louis Vuitton Pass App.  Instead of scanning unseemly 2D barcodes, pointing your mobile’s camera at an ad can open a link with product information.  This technology is not that new, but consider the potential of it being built into mobile apps the same way that shazam is used to recognize music, tv and movies.  If it becomes more common, image searches for the right products become that much easier.

roughtrade

Rough Trade NYC – Much has been made of the death of retail and of the record store (music for the youngsters) in particular.  Showing that retail is about the experience, and that music stores can survive in the world of iTunes, Rough Trade recently opened an outlet in NYC .   Rough Trade has been around in the UK for decades, so they are doing something right.  The new store in Brooklyn is broken into boutiques: a traditional CD and Vinyl Record sales floor, a curated instrument showroom, an audio equipment area, and a bookstore.  They offer a unique curation of music that seems a bit different from the iTunes crowd and have digital downloads subscriptions as well.  The piece that really pulls it together is a a 250 seat venue with a full bar that appears to be fully booked for shows.  It will be interesting to see if providing unique offerings, concerts, and providing a venue for a community will be enough to make a go of it.  Considering that digital downloads declined for the first time since iTunes opened, this subset of retail is really up in the air yet again, and this is as good an idea as any to pull in the music crowd.

2011.44 | Holiday Shopping Tech Tips

Everyone is looking for ways to simplify the Christmas shopping experience.  Here are a few of my personal recommendations.

Sears Wish Book for iPad – The catalog updated for today.  Make wish lists and order from directly within the calendar app.  All the fun of the catalog with the connectivity of the 21st century.  Shop from your couch as you were meant to do.  Available on iTunes.

Gifting Books on kobo – Shop online for an eBook, choose to gift it, and an email is sent to your gift recipient.  The recipient clicks a link on the email and the book is delivered to their kobo account so that the can read it on their ereader, mobile phone, tablet or computer.  You can also send an eGift Card so that they can pick their own.

Toys R Us Gift Cards Value Check – Got a gift card to use at Toys R Us but aren’t sure how much is left on it?  Go to a price verifier in store and scan it and the price verifier will tell you how much is on it.   No need to wait in line or have do that awkward dance of cutting in line to just do one little thing.   Also ensures unscrupulous cashiers are telling you the truth about card values without a receipt.  This works in various retailers.  Give it a shot.

Target Gaming Kiosk – Not sure which game to buy for your young gamer?  Want to be sure a title is appropriate?  For cross border shoppers, you can use the Target Video Game Advisor.

BMO Mobile Paypass – Skim a few seconds off your payment process by using the BMO Mastercard mobile paypass to buy lunch on your shopping trip.  Using the card on the back of your phone can save getting your wallet out.

Mastermind Reviews – Not sure what gift to pick up for your little ones?  Before you go to the Mastermind store to take advantage of their free gift wrapping, be sure to visit their website for gift advice and to minimize your time in store.  Mastermind makes great use of video reviews by their store specialists to show you the latest toys including what you get, what it does, and more.

Find things faster at Chapters Indigo.  Can’t find the books you want at Chapters Indigo?  Use the kiosks to find what you need.  If the store you are in doesn’t have the book, you can see which stores have the item in stock so you can visit them immediately.  Alternatively you can order a book directly from the kiosk for shipment home or to the store.

Use Evernote for your Shopping List – When browsing online I constantly see items that would be perfect for that special someone.  If I don’t make a note, that idea will be gone forever.   Make use of tools like Evernote to keep Christmas lists.  Evernote is a free web based service that lets you make notebooks of clippings, links, audio files, and more.   Using an applet in your web browser you can grab a link or even the entire web page including pictures, product details, pricing..everything.  All of your notebooks are accessible on the web, on a tablet or a mobile device, so you can even take the list with you as you shop with all of the details, pictures and prices.   Make a Christmas Shopping notebook, tag any items you add with the recipients name, add some notes, save it, and you have the most detailed Christmas list ever with almost no effort.

Buy a Movie Ticket on your mobile device – If you decide to go to a movie on a whim this holiday season, you can save time in line by purchasing them on the way to the theatre.  Just purchase tickets directly on your mobile device.  Empire Theatres has offered mobile phone ticket purchases for some time.  Cineplex also offers mobile ticket purchases from their app, and even lets you print those tickets at the theatre from a specially designated kiosk in some sites.

2010.49 | Mobile POS at the Gap

Reports last week indicate that following in the shoes of the Apple Store, The Gap is piloting the use of Apple iPod Touch units for mobile checkout within the store

This concept has fascinated me for some time.  It takes away the counter between store associate and customer.  It also allows customers to buy where they are shopping, and can allow for more flexibility in a store, allowing potentially every associate to be a cashier, and provide at least the potential for improved service. 

I’ve always thought it worked well in the Apple store, and I hope it does well here, but some hurdles will need to be cleared in order for this to work in a traditional apparel retailer environment like Gap.

Security - One of the biggest logistical hurdles in an apparel store like the Gap is EAS.  How will they deactivate the security tags?  All clothing at Gap has tags that will set off the gate at the front of the store.  Deactivation could still work.  The main concern would be that many of the deactivators now are either behind a counter where only store staff can access them, or they only deactivate on a valid barcode scan.  Both of these are tricky to manage without losing the benefit of having the mobile POS in the first place.  I expect that associates will need to have kiosks around the store with deactivators and tag removal systems unless they wear one of these on their belt too, but this gets a bit awkward, and what if someone steals it? They don’t have EAS at the Apple Store, so it isn’t an issue there.

Operationalization - Let’s assume the application itself is quite simple.  Apple apps are made for the masses, and your average cashier is a step above that.  The issue that may arise is how do you accept a customer’s purchase, give it back to them in a presentable format and accept payment.  Consider the following: You go to the apple store, you pick up an iPhone case, you hand it to your nearest Genius, they scan it and give it back to you.  You give them your credit card, the scan it and give back to you and you are effectively finished.  That’s in an Apple Store.  Go to the Gap.  You already have 2 bags from other stores.  You pick up 1 pair of jeans and find a Gap associate on the floor.  You had them the jeans, they scan them, and then hand them back to you, but you have 2 bags.  This is workable, but a bit more awkward depending on the situation.  Can they fold them first?  They do that at the counter, but what do we do standing in the middle of the store?  This will definitely only work for small basket sizes.  What about bags?   I don’t need it for an iPhone case, but generally only a small portion of the population will have their own bag, and if they do, what else were they putting in that bag?  This can work, but it will require changes to the processes in stores.  I expect mini kiosks will have to be placed in the store to accommodate the EAS situation, and may provide a small station to quickly fold an item and present it to the customer.

EMV - While swiping a card will work in the US, there is a sizable portion of the Western world that requires EMV verification on a purchase, which means a pinpad is required.  Looks like Canada and the UK would be on the outs for this without a hardware upgrade.  I’m sure there is one out there or in the works, but I’ve not seen it yet.

Receipts – While I fully believe paper receipts should be on the way out, the situation needs to be dealt with.  The Apple Store will email you a receipt based on your email address and if you use the same credit card, will know you based on iTunes.   The issue I see here is that the Apple Store attracts a certain demographic that is fully comfortable with this.   There will be a demographic at the Gap (decreasing, of course) that will either want a paper receipt, will balk at an email address, or will be spooked by the fact that the Gap has your credit card number in a database with your e-mail attached to it.   The Gap will also need to look at returns for this system as well.  A transaction number can probably be used from an emailed receipt, but this will be a change from the Gap’s usual mode of operation.  Once again, the Gap is very different from an Apple Store.  I expect returns are far more common at the Gap, due to sizes or changes of mind.

I fully expect mobile POS to become more common, and it’s encouraging to see Gap getting behind it.  That said, I expect that like any other paradigm shift for processing transactions in a store (self-checkout, kiosks, point of sale layout) mobile POS will requires some serious thought and changes to operations to integrate it correctly into the processes of a reatailer as well as the store experience.  At present, it appears to suit a small basket transaction without EAS and an email based receipt.  There are definitely ways of working around the challenges, and they are likely to be as varied as the retailers that attempt them.

2010.39 | Netflix Canada – Moving to Digital Media?

Selling video entertainment in today’s digital world is a complex business.  The entertainment business in Canada has have moved from a physical product available in stores to an incredible array of options.  While we don’t have all of the options available to our neighbhours to the south, Canadian options were extended with Netflix opening its doors to Canada last week.  Their model is likely to shake up the local entertainment sales and rental industry.   Consider the options currently available for video entertainment.

DVD Rental - Blockbuster Canada, Videotron and Rogers Plus are the larger players in Canada.  These stores are far more robust than their equivalents in the US and the are plenty of bricks and mortar sites from which to rent. 

DVD kiosks - There are different options in Canada for DVD rentals from kiosks, though most networks don’t have more than a handful of locations at present. 

DVD Subscription - Zip.ca is the main player for DVD subscription rentals in Canada, with subscribers in the tens of thousands.

Digital Download and Rental - Digital downloads have been available on Pay Per View boxes in homes across Canada for some time from Digital Cable/ Satellite providers.  iTunes is the primary player in Canada for digital downloads of Movies and TV shows to own and rent, though some studios include digital copies for download with the physical copy.  With Netflix on the scene in Canada, iTunes is no longer the lone digital player in Canada.  More technologically sophisticated users can use solutions like Boxee to watch online video on their PCs and TVs.

There are a number of factors driving the usage adoption of the different platforms:

  • Bandwidth - Music was easily moved from CD to download with files in the 2Mb size range.  Movies and even TV shows of any sort of quality require files from 200Mb to 2Gb in size.  Internet usage is expansive in Canada with more than three quarters of Canadians online.  With large files, varying download speeds, and no unlimited bandwidth options at present, it may take some time for the digital downloads of video to reach the ubiquity of DVDs, but it appears that the number of people watching video online is growing
  • Portability – DVDs were the original portable option for entertainment.  Netflix has done a great job of moving this sort of portability to a digital format, allowing users to view content on their PC, iPhone, iPad or on their TV via a game console like the Wii.  The service keeps track of the last known viewing point allowing users to resume their place as they travel, commute, or are in any other place.  Allowing consumption of entertainment where and when they wish is key to the success digital media.
  • Licensing  – Every country has a patchwork of licensing rules and every studio and local rightsholder can make their own decisions.  This means that the media available over digital networks can vary by jurisdiction.  The media available will have an impact on the users of a digital service.  Limiting selection will drive the demographics of digital users in various ways.
  • User Experience – Digital media doesn’t currently have the extras available on DVDs like making of the film documentaries, and there are segments of the population who are interested in those extras. Digital options also may not provide the High Definition Surround Sound experience that technophiles may wish to experience. 
  • Cost – While piracy is rife on the internet and there are many fears about that issue, there is always a trade-off on digital media between time and effort.  If digital providers make it simpler to obtain their services, and they are of better quality or different in some way than what can be obtained for free, chargable digital solutions will find a place in people’s homes and wallets.  Nick Bilton’s recent book highlights and explains this point well. 
  • Technology - The ubiquity of technology is making it simpler for consumers to consume media through digital means.   Viewing digital media used to require extra equipment, knowledge of various technologies and either expensive software or open source software.  Services like Netflix make it possible to consume digital video with the simple knowledge of how to browse the internet.

So is digital media going to move the DVD the way of the 8 track?  For those of us with high speed internet, it certainly appears to be going in that direction.  I am an early adopter, always willing to try the newest thing, and I invest in new technology, high bandwidth internet and consume my media in such a way that digital is practical.  For those who are less interested in making technology such a central part of their lives, it will take some time – perhaps years – before digital is the default option.   I believe it will be a situation similar to eBooks.  While they are certainly overtaking books, books aren’t going away.  While DVDs are going away, they are not all going to disappear tomorrow.  It is most likely that all of these options will continue to co-exist for some time and they will probably be joined by other hybrids as well.

[Full disclosure - my employer NCR Corporation, owns and operates Blockbuster Express DVD Rental Kiosks]

2010.16 | Record Stores & Technology

With this weekend’s celebration of record store day, I became nostalgic and thought of how buying music worked in days gone by.  I thought of my first album purchased from the local record store, the whole asthetic pleasure of buying music in those days.  The spurious decoration in the store.  The sketchy characters that worked in record stores.  Taking home the physical object.  The art on the cover, the smell of the new CD, the booklet with the words.  It was an experience. 

Over time, the pleasure of that experience was chipped away by massive piracy.  The rise of Napster and Limewire and then iTunes and the iPod chipped away at the record stores.  The pleasure of the music purchasing experience was overcome by the convenience and simplicity of obtaining music from these places for a younger generation.  The stores where I used to browse as a youngster slowly disappeared – A&A, Sam the Record Man, Tower Records and many others.  Those that survive are re-inventing themselves for a very new situation. 

I obtain all of my music online.  I frequent places like the iTunes, the sixty-one, and last.fm to listen to, hear about new music and get suggestions for new material.  I can look at endless blogs like quickbeforeitmelts, cavacool, or Cover Lay Down as well.    I sometimes buy music directly from the bands themselves.  In fact, I was listening to an NPR technology podcast last night that was talking to a band who has never released a physical CD and yet make a living from their music. 

If there has ever been a retail segment fundamentally impacted by technology it has been record, er, music stores.  What lessons can be learned from the demise of the record store as we knew it, and what could the music stores do to ?

  • There is no way to control the sorts of technologies that overcame the music industry and its’ retailers.  The Internet and social media have such a huge hold on society today – and particularly the young monied demographic that they serve, that it would be more productive to embrace it and use it to advantage than to fight it with old strategies.   For example, if you are a used music store, use Twitter to tweet about recent additions to stock.  You can develop a following.  The internet is all about niches and leveraging them.
  • Consider selling things that can’t be downloaded electronically.  Many music stores are jumping on this very well – selling vinyl is picking up again for audiophiles – and video games for Xbox and Wii still require physical media.
  • Find a way to drive traffic using the technology – foursquare is gaining a foothold with retailers as a way to drive traffic with special deals for the mayor or those who check-in at their stores
  • Provide an experience that can’t be had online – Starbucks provides a sensory experience.  It’s certainly possible to do something similar in a music store to cater to a specific demographic.  Build a physical community that can then leverage the one online.  Why don’t have digital downloads for customers in the stores?
  • Go local – Align with local bands who haven’t been discovered yet that are playing venues in the neighbourhood of the store – whether on Myspace or by a label.  Building a relationship with them brings their fans along, and shows those that love the medium that the store is part of the local fabric.  Make the store a gathering place for like minded people.

All of these things are much easier said than done, and I don’t have the answers – merely the benefit of hindsight.  In fact, I think physical music stores are doing many of these things, and probably more.  One thing is certain – as a retailer – or owner of any consumer facing organization, it is now important to understand the business impacts of technology – it goes beyond ROI and a CIO.  It is important to consider how any new consumer technology trend could fundamentally undercut your business.  If you don’t, there will be someone to take the business from you with their unique business model – directly or indirectly.

2010.12 | New Payment Options

I read a fascinating article today in this month’s Wired.  The Future of Money discusses a myriad of electronic payments systems and formulas including Square , Twitpay, and provides an flowchart comparison of how payments are processed using Credit Cards, iTunes and Paypal.

While the difficulties of security, transaction volume and the necessary usability of a point of sale to maintain transaction speed are huge hurdles to overcome, it is worth watching the latest ideas around electronic payment to see if there is an opportunity for usage in a point of sale environment.  Based on the fact that the first article I wrote on e-payments was in 1995 on Mondex and its ilk, this may never amount to much.  That said, things have changed enormously in 15 years with the rise of the Internet, Social Media and consumers’ generally increased exposure to technology.  Social acceptance can drive a great deal of inertia, so there is no telling what tomorrow’s payment system will look like.

2010.05 | iPad Store

I read a great quote recently about the Apple iPad release on Wednesday.  While Steve Jobs commented that Apple and iPad were placing themselves at the crossroads of Technology and  Liberal Arts, Stephen Fry says: “He might perhaps more accurately have said that Apple “stands at the intersection of technology, the liberal arts and commerce”.”  This is an excellent point and it will be fascinating to see whether the iPad catches on, and what impact this will have on the consumer landscape with respect to the buying and selling of media.  While many will dissect the features of the device itself, the fact of the matter is that this device and others like it are driving us ever further along the road of the new consumerism where customers don’t go to a physical store – the store is always on and always in our bag or our pocket, and the ability for instant gratification and delivery is a reality.

iTunes dwarfs all other sellers with respect to music and media online, and are now making a break towards reading material.  Amazon built internet commerce with their store and their impossibly long shelf of books.    Amazon recognized the potential of the shift to portable electronic media when they came out with the Kindle and Kindle DX.  The implications of a massively popular device that allows for downloadable media like books, newspapers and magazines are massive.  While Kindle has opened that door a crack, iPad has the potential to rip it right off the hinges with the volume of users it can bring to the party.

iTunes and other online stores have the capability to charge a reduced rate for a publication that can be provided instantly.  There is no more incentive to wait in a queue ’til midnight for the new Harry Potter novel, to wait until 5 am for your morning paper, or to wait for you monthly subscription to Wired to arrive.  It just arrives.  While the Kindle does this already, the iPad can take it up a notch by providing a more accurate reflection of the physical experience of reading a magazine and some books by providing a flashy, engaging full colour format in a novel, hip, interactive package – one upping the Kindle. 

From a consumer facing organization perspective, this opens another rich mobile channel.  With the iPad, consumers now have a web enabled (though no flash) 9.7″ 1024 x 768 screen in their hand wherever they go.  They’ve not only got the store in their pocket to buy music, movies, books, newspapers and magazines, but they have a portal to the physical world that does not currently exist. 

The package presented by the iPad transcends the problem with mobile devices – the small screen.  Now consumer facing organizations have a bigger window to show clients.  Instead of trying to order a meal from Swiss Chalet on your mobile device and having to scroll through myriad menus and sections to pick your options – all very well done considering the screen real estate at Swiss Chalet Mobile – consumers can potentially look at a menu exactly as you would see at the store, pick the items off the touchscreen, and finalize the order in a format and interface that is far more like being in the restaurant than either a PC with a mouse or a mobile device.

The GPS and compass in the solution allow that “full screen” device location enablement.  The purchaser of a new dress can look online for a matching pair of shoes online while she is in a cafe by perusing a visual search engine such as Like.com.  That shopper can now see that the pair of shoes that she likes are at Nordstrom.  If Nordstrom has thought it through, she would be able to see on their site that the store has 1 pair left of size 6, and she can have them put on hold for her at the click of a button.

The fullscreen also provides an interface more likely to drive clickthroughs on targeted advertisements as well.  This provides a potentially rich opportunity for the beleagured magazine and newspaper industries who can now provide richer feedback to advertisers on who is clicking on their ads, and allow those advertisers to use the GPS to drive offers to readers with a further level of refinement.

It appears that consumers and retailers alike are in for a richer mobile experience.

2009.29 | Attack of the eReader Clones

Learning from mistakes is a basic lesson that publishers, booksellers and gadget manufacturers are not taking lightly.

Amazon is making headway on selling ebooks, claiming that Kindle growth is “very strong”, starting with the success of the original Kindle eReader, and building upon it further with the the release of the improved Kindle DX in the first half of 2009. With the success of the iPod product family and their close alignment with iTunes resulting in blockbuster sales for both – remember that iTunes sells more digital music than anyone by far and more music than most brick and mortar retailers – it seems that publishers, booksellers and electronic gadget makers are not going to ignore the potential of the electronic reading game.

Borders UK is trying Elonix, Shortcovers wants consumers to use thier mobile, Sony has a strong offering, and there are certainly no end of other models and manufacturers vying for a place in a potentially lucrative market. Magazines have also been getting into the mix, with Starwood hotels offering free digital download of popular magazines for hotel guests.

It will be interesting to see if ebooks expand in the same way as music and video. While the ebook model removes the distribution channel required for regular books and provides instant gratification with books downloadable immediately after purchase, it also requires yet another gadget with a cost. That gadget does not necessarily mimic the same experience that many consumers desire in a book. The heft of a book, the ability to fold and hold it as they wish, and even the ability to share it with friends or pass it on give the physical aspect of a book more value than with a CD.

While music is a very different consumer experience from books, it is still worth watching to see how consumers move this business, and these organizations are wise to continue to play a part in the equation.

2009.12 | Mobile Marketing | Google Voice | Going Digital

Mobile Marketing – I was thinking about this even more than usual this week; being involved in a number of meetings that warranted discussion on the subject. While being able to pass messages to customers on their mobile isn’t particularly new, giving it relevancy by location is still novel.

Acuity Mobile’s Aislecaster allows retailers to target customers with messages within 3 feet. I’m not sure that everyone will be comfortable with this right out of the gate. Businesses need to be careful that they establish rules of engagement with customers, or you wouldn’t be able to walk three feet without being bombarded with messages, which will not fly with consumers. The messages also need to be targeted, relevant, and different from what is on the shelf in front of you.

If this technology goes in the right direction it could be a terrific tool for retailers, and benefit for consumers. Both Omnifocus and GPSToDo are iphone apps that will remind you of tasks when you are near a location. Think about not forgetting the milk when you are driving home from work because when you go by the grocery store, as your phone reminds you based on location. The important issue here is that the solution needs to be voluntary and it needs to add value. If it doesn’t do that, it won’t do much.

Google Voice – I tried to sign up for Grand Central a while back, and it’s been in closed beta for some time. I’ve been looking for a tool where I can have ONE number – whether I’m on the road, on my mobile, on a landline phone or on an IP phone on the internet. Why shouldn’t this exist? Why do we need all of these numbers? Google bought Grand Central a couple of years ago, and are finally starting to push it into general use under the Google Voice name. What an awesome tool. One number for life.

Going Digital Continues – Don’t think all of this digital download hype affects you? Think again. The Itunes Store didn’t exist until 2003, and as of 2009 it sells 70% of all digital music online, as well as videos, applications and more. It became the largest seller of music in the USbigger than Wal-Mart last April (2008). From 0 to largest retailer in 5 years? Bigger than Wal-Mart? Nobody does that. It is unbelievable. “Record Stores” as we knew them are disappearing or re-inventing themselves to sell other media and products. Now look at Amazon with their Kindle Bookstore. They are looking to do the same as apple with e-books, and they have almost 250,000 titles to back it up. Traditional retailers should take notice, but I’ve not seen any of them cornering the market in the same way. These guys have captured the change in medium/format of their product, and have solved the cost of delivery problem by making it effectively 0. Watch for more.

2009.11 | “New” New Media | Mobile Stores | Changing Gaming

Not everyone is cutting and slashing when it comes to new ideas in this challenging retail environment.

New new media – with the release of Kindle 2 people seem to be taking e-books seriously. Trying to place Amazon as the iTunes of e-books doesn’t seem like a bad plan given their success. While music stores were slow to adopt digital delivery channels, it doesn’t look like books will make the same mistake. Indigo started their shortcovers.com store. Not to be outdone in the US, Barnes and Noble is buying Fictionwise to stay in the race.

Mobile Store Market – Given the incredible growth of the mobile market it’s no surprise that there are plenty of players looking to capitalize. Specialization is coming into it – Best Buy has Best Buy Mobile stores in Canada for example. Now word comes this week that Bell Canada has purchased The Source stores in Canada. While Bell already has a sizable store footprint mainly in Ontario and Quebec with Bell World and Espace Bell, expect them to build on that strength geographically and by obtaining revenue and control over gadgets that can access their core service offerings. With increasing saturation in wireless, you have to wonder if owning all your own outlets and not having to pay dealers could help the bottom line. It’s a bold move in a downturn to increase your stake as a retailer, but it’s always better to buy when prices are low.

Changing GamingGamefly’s first kiosk went in this week. As the first entry by a company that offers a subscription service, this offers a potentially interesting twist, providing them a middle ground between an online and bricks and mortar presence, and a platform with the potential to mix subscription and on-demand services – a new angle in this business.

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