2011.33 | Lockers & iPad Shopping Carts

Amazon Lockers @ 7-Eleven – I was interested to see from various sources that Amazon is installing lockers in 7-Elevens – evidently for customers to pick up shipped orders.

Consumers today face challenges around receiving packages from Internet Shopping at home.  The packages often include items of substantial value, one is not home when they are delivered, and there is little in the way of security options for home delivery.  This provides a very intelligent option – ideally at a reasonable rate.

This service is also a practical addition to the PayNearMe service 7-Eleven already offers in the US, where clients without credit cards can pay for online purchases with cash.   It seems that 7-Eleven in the US has chosen an interesting solution to drive traffic to their sites – traffic that I expect is already part of their clientele base – a terrific chance to expand wallet share.

iPad Shopping Carts – I’ve been involved in various discussions around integrating a screen and processor to a shopping cart over the years.  I recently read an article indicating that a newer more sophisticated model is being tested in South Korea that can interface with your mobile phone and provide offers and other useful information directly on the LCD on the cart.  Going in a slightly different direction, Sainsbury’s are testing a design that allows customers to place their own iPad in a dock on the cart in order to watch sports events on live television provided by Sky.

While I am certain that the sophistication makes these sorts of solutions more tenable today than when they were first analyzed, there are definitely some challenges around implementing a solution like this.  Let’s consider those challenges:

1. Cost – Installing shopping carts with LCDs and low end processors on the push handle has a higher purchase cost than a standard shopping cart.  The costs have certainly come down for technology over time, but having technology installed into what is essentially a metal cage with wheels will inevitably be a more costly solution.  Maintaining and supporting these carts would be an additional cost that doesn’t exist at all today.  The Sainsbury situation with Sky provides a potential way around this by having sponsors pay for the carts.

2. Charging – No matter what technology is used, batteries are required, and charging the units by plugging them in is a necessity for operation.  Battery technology has certainly improved to the point where the charging time is probably reduced and charging is required less often.  The greater problem is that carts will need to be charged one way or the other at some point.  Responsibility will inevitably fall to store staff to charge them.  My experience is that minimizing effort for staff is key.  Having staff charge units will either distract staff, or units will eventually not work as the batteries are dead.  While the Sky idea of using solar to charge the iPad is an interesting option, there is a question of how long solar power could drive the iPad or a processor.  While there are great leaps taking place in solar power, my experience has been that solar is not enough to drive a real processor for any significant timeframe.  Adding extra solar panels to drive more power could either change the structure of the cart or could be subject to breakage in the rough and tumble world of shopping carts.  The way around this challenge is to have the carts automatically charge when they are put away in nested lines for storage.

3. Solution Longevity – Shopping carts can last for 20 years.  Technology is changing much more quickly than that.  Placing a processor and screen on a shopping cart is a bit like the factory installed GPS devices sold in new cars.  If the units on the carts are not upgradable, the carts will look dated very quickly, and yet the carts are entirely usable.  The way to get around this is to build a standard mount for the push handles that can have different processor modules installed as time changes.

More importantly than the technical issues, it is important to consider if the cart solution provides benefits to the customer and the retailer, and whether these benefits offset all of the additional costs incurred.    Some clients may consider watching sports while shopping a real benefit, but it’s tough to make the connection between that and driving more traffic to the store or a bigger basket.  In fact, distracted shoppers are more likely to slow down the process for other shoppers not watching the show.

While coupons and recommendations and recipes are nice, these can be supplied via the mobile phone. There may be a killer app for the cart processor, but I’ve yet to see it.

While carts with a screen look good in a show room, it would seem a more cost effective, simple and elegant solution is to leverage the screen already in the customer’s hand – the mobile device.

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