2012.18 | New Interfaces for Retail

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

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

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

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

2012.05 | Surface 2.0 | 2D Payment | 3D Printing

Microsoft Surface apparently had a demo of their latest and greatest on a Samsung system at NRF.  I wasn’t able to see it live while I was at the show, and more the shame because it looks really, really great in this demo video.  There is no apparent bezel and a really slick looking fixture like finish on the surface (forgive the pun).  While it looks just tremendous, do we really think anyone will be looking at keyboards and mice on something like this?  I think this looks incredible, but there must be a better use for it than showing catalog items.

I find these solutions so engaging, and their use of tangible objects a great move forward from gesture based interfaces, but someone needs to grab this thing with both hands and apply it to their business in a way that will use it to best advantage.  How about selling mobile devices and full out demos of their interfaces right on the counter so that you can try them out life size?  That is the kind of transaction that can take place standing at a counter.  Add to the demo and review options the ability to fill in forms with preset info from a wallet and I think this would be a great solution in a mobile selling situation.  No more shells of phones connected with silly wire cables.  Just one slick screen used as sharing surface.

3D Printing Redux – I’ve talked about 3D printing on the blog a number of times now, and I’ve discussed it with some retailers, but it seems pretty far off into the future for most of them.  I would suggest that manufacturers and retailers  heed the lessons of their predecessors; the music, film, and publishing industries.    Just because you have a physical object as a product doesn’t mean you won’t have to change your business model.  I recently read that the Pirate Bay has started a section called Physibles.  This is an area of the well known downloading site where anyone can upload and download digital plans for 3D objects and print their own.

Remember that technology has been progressing faster than companies over the last number of years.  If manufacturers and retailers don’t keep an eye on this, and build ways of addressing it into their business plans, they could stand to lose in many ways.  On the other hand, if it is embraced, new business models can emerge.   New and better printers that can print larger and larger items will only make this trend more prevalent.   It’s certainly complicated, but it’s something to watch.

Paying via 2D Barcode – As someone who has been waiting for NFC to break for years now, I’m getting behind the trend of just working with what we have.  Most widely used mobile devices don’t have NFC yet, but more and more have cameras, so they can read 2D barcodes.

MasterCard in Australia has begun a trial run of their Qkr (pronounced Quicker) app that lets clients order food from their seat in a movie theatre.  Customers scan a barcode from the seat in a movie theatre, pick items from a menu and wait staff deliver it.  I’m assuming this is all tied to a MasterCard from within the app at the back end so no payment details are entered at the point of sale.  Wonder how that works with PCI?

It’s not the widely distributed payment system panacea for any retailer, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2011.05 | Novel Implementations in Retail

A few implementations in consumer facing situations with some unique properties observed in recent news:

  • Royal Bank debuted their first branch with the new branch concept using solutions like Microsoft Surface – for more details on the solution elements and some video check out my prior post.
  • Couche Tard is piloting a bluetooth mobile coupon solution tied to digital signage solutions for Red Bull.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t become mobile spam!
  • Starbucks Canada has placed interactive screens in the front window of one site in both Toronto and Vancouver as part of their Tazo Loose Leaf Tea campaign.  Visit them prior to February 26 to try them out.
  • London Luton Airport in the UK debuted ‘holographic’ hosts to assist airport travellers in navigating the security process.  They are rear-projections of real people onto full size human shaped screens.
  • Walgreens is now providing the capability for customers to renew their prescriptions via their mobile device by taking an image of the barcode on the bottle.
  • Kraft has a new kiosk that they showed off at NRF’s big show in New York last month that recommends recipes based on users’ appearance.   There’s something of the old carnival weight guesser about this one.  It makes you wonder if vegans look a mite greener, perhaps.  Next up, drive through kiosks that guess your order based on your car.

2011.02 | Retail Technology at CES and NRF

Now that holiday season has passed, we find ourselves in trade show season.  Two of the perennial favourites for retail techies are CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and NRF‘s Big Show (National Retail Federation).  Where CES is generally the showcase of technology retailers may sell (or not), NRF reveals how to sell that technology (and lots and lots more) with technology.

At CES, there was a demonstration of one technology of more than passing interest to consumer facing organizations.  Microsoft demonstrated Surface 2.0.  A slick upgrade to their commercial platform, the new version is built on a 4 inch thick Samsung platform that allows it to be used in its’ current table iteration, as well as mounted on the wall.  Royal Bank of Canada is implementing Surface 2.o, and have already been using Surface with a number of applications as part of a recent branch makeover targeting a retail store feel.  Wind Mobile and Sheraton hotels have also been using Surface in their consumer facing areas.  Expect to see more unique application for this giant iPad coming to a bank or store near you.

At NRF, there are always too many retail technology solutions and ideas to see or cover completely, but a few highlights included:

2009.22 | Traveling

I traveled from Toronto to Vancouver to visit a few clients last week, so the technology around travel was certainly on my mind. So many innovations have hit travel in the past decade that it is incredible to think how much things have changed.
 
Check-in Kiosks, Web Check-in, and Mobile Check-in have all streamlined the queuing experience regular travelers know so well. While much improved the area is still ripe for additional innovation. Think about the number of transactions at an airport. Where else do we compact so many transactions into one place in such a short time as a captive audience? What could we do to improve upon an already much improved experience? I had a few thoughts while on the road.
  
Organization - There are various apps that help streamline the travel experience. There are a few basic options for this today, like Tripit, TravelTracker, or Travelocity. Some tradeoffs are made on these solutions. An online offering means being up to date with changes, it also means $3/MB for Canadians traveling to the US. An offline offering means changes may not be shown on your itinerary. In future releases, it would make life simpler to have a mobile check-in button, or even better, a place to store all of the 2d barcodes so they are not accidentally deleted or lost in email or photo areas of the phone.

air_canada_2d Boarding Pass Generation – On my trip, I used web-checkin and had the boarding pass sent to my iPhone as a 2d barcode. While convenient, there is an opportunity to build on this. For one thing, I  don’t know my credit card number or Air Canada Aeroplan Account from memory, and I certainly don’t know my itinerary number. This dissuades me from using mobile check-in in all but the direst situations, and I’m a bleeding edge mobile user. Typing the last 4 digits or letting the program validate the itinerary number on the device would suffice. Even better, using a program like 1Password to pass the information to the airline check-in could also work, much like Google Toolbar Auto fill. The web is fine at home or at the hotel, but when one is only traveling for the day, or the web is unavailable, using mobile checkin should be a simple option.

Security and Boarding - Nothing seems to make security in an airport more uncomfortable than handling a mobile device with their rubber gloves. A barcode scanner that passengers can scan at Security and Boarding so staff don’t have to handle any devices or boarding passes is a better alternative. This provides consistent processes, improved traveler tracking within the airport, less opportunity for a misread boarding pass, and less effort for staff to interpret the information on the miniscule screen of the latest gadget. An intervention may be necessary and staff can deal with the exceptions, providing better throughput. [Update: 5/27/09 While traveling through Montreal (YUL), there was a scanner to scan my own boarding pass. Progress!]

Flight Services - A truly interactive mobile platform with easy access buttons to get feedback on specific issues and a chat function could provide airlines with an incredible customer management tool including the ability to:

  • allow passengers to notify if they are late or unable to make the flight so that the flight can depart, or a seat can be given for standby
  • send text message notifications of flight changes
  • automatically update itineraries if there are cancellations with all preferences automatically applied, and special messages outlined (free airmiles, lounge access, directions to their gate, etc).
  • report lost luggage
  • provide a platform for customers with problems to voice their concerns and opinions and get immediate feedback

With so many millions of happy travelers passing through airports every year, this provides an opportunity to allay the loud concerns of the few major problems, bringing the attention to those who can make a difference quickly. There are tools to do this today, but they are not well advertised or utilized.moverwallet

Car Rental and Hotel Checkin - Hertz’s kiosks and Hyatt certainly go in the right direction. A 2d barcode reader would be ideal so mobile devices can be used instead of a printout. Even better, an NFC credit card used to book the trip could make the transaction wireless and avoid the 2d barcode. I already have an NFC credit card, even if I don’t have an NFC mobile phone, which would be ideal. Why not scan the card for pickup and payment? For hotel, the NFC credit card can potentially be used as the room key as well, so the room could be opened without even removing the card from one’s wallet.

Further down the road, perhaps wifi could be used as it is used with the recent ‘mover’ iphone application. It looks like a mini version of Microsoft Surface. A wallet would show a number of cards sitting on the screen and a swipe of the finger slides the appropriate card towards the kiosk and a pin or signature could be entered on the kiosk.

With all of these solutions, it comes down to two things that drive every self service solution: utility and simplicity. If a solution is useful and easy to use, it will gain populartity and usage. It will be interesting to see which solutions meet those criteria in travel over the next few years and how much more convenient it will become.

2009.09 | Consumer Interaction Complexity

We’ve discussed the importance of consistency across multiple channels in today’s consumer facing world. The tools and interfaces available to consumers continues to grow at breakneck speed, and very few of the consumer facing organizations have leveraged them fully, though the rate of change certainly makes that difficult for everyone. I’ve beaten Twitter to death, but here are a few other technologies that could provide additional channels for retailers, and new ways for consumers to leverage technologies.

Microsoft Surface – This table based LCD provides another venue for the internet in the home, and at consumer facing businesses. Using sensors in peripherals and in the table, data is flawlessly passed from surface to devices like phones and cameras – allowing sharing payments and endless possibilities. NCR recently demonstrated a financial solution using Microsoft Surface.

Motorola Sparrow – This new concept is billed as solution to assist store staff in building a better relationship with customers. Part Telxon gun, part loyalty tool, this shows some real innovation in what’s really been a bit of a stale area for some time.

Google Latitude – See where your friends are at any given time on your mobile with this newly released location based social networking tool. Loopt and others have done the same thing, but Google jumping on board will give it additional credibility. People have concerns about privacy, but do we really think we have privacy anyway? Will the younger generations care? If they don’t, this tool provides consumer based organizations a way to market via their consumers.

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