2010.29 | Small Town Retail Technology

I just returned from a family vacation to Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, which explains the dearth of posts over the past couple of weeks. The trip was relaxing as any vacation should be, and provided me with some new insights into how retail is conducted in less populous areas of Canada. While there were the big box stores you would expect anywhere else in the country in the larger centres, and even in many of the smaller ones there was a lot of smaller retail enterprises, and quite a number of seasonal ones.  I enjoyed seeing the small roadside stands with piles of bags of potatoes or firewood with a pricing sign, and a little can in which to put your payment or make change.  This sort of honour system was a big part of my youth, used quite often to sell sweet corn or for selling candy or drinks at the office.  I haven’t seen this system anywhere in many years.  It made me realize that self service has actually been with us for longer than I had considered – it just moved to a more sophisticated platform.

While I expected to see very little in the way of technology around retail, I was interested in the pervasiveness of retail technology.  It’s not that it was fancy or more sophisticated than what you would see elsewhere, but it was there and it just worked.  Three things in particular were interesting from my trip.

1.  Debit and credit was available from the smallest vendor imaginable, and almost all of them were EMV.  In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense.  Many of these vendors are smaller, and do not provide integrated debit, so EMV is essentially as easy as changing out their pinpad.  However, in past years when I’ve gone to vacation spots like these, I’ve required lots of cash on hand for all the little expenses; lunch at small roadside mom and pop operations or parking at an attraction, for example.  Even if debit or credit was available, the operators always seemed a bit nervous to use the units.  Not so any longer.  Every single place I visited had debit and credit, and the transactions were quick and easy – from the ice cream store to the parking lots.  I’m starting to wonder why we need cash at all.

2.  There are a lot of screens everywhere today, and I’ve become used to not seeing them when I go on vacations to cottage country.  I was surprised at the number of screens I encountered in small restaurants and hotels.  Even the smallest restaurants in Edmundston, Fredericton, and Charlottetown, were using digital signage to share their message with customers, identifying services, and I expect, driving a little more revenue.  While some of these were as simple as a digital picture frame, it’s indicative of the increasing availability and simplicity of obtaining and leveraging these technologies.

3.  Self Service saved me from a line – even in a place where I rarely encountered any lines.  I took the Confederation Bridge on the way home.  In other years, I’ve taken the ferry back and driven through Nova Scotia, but this year our plans took us back across the bridge.   I knew they had self service, but I hadn’t used it.  I can’t tell you how happy it made me to pass two lines of cars, pull up to the kiosk, put my card in and drive right through, given the hours I would be facing in the car.  The kiosk was simple straightforward and worked, and it got me on my way just a little more quickly.

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