2011.47 | Latest Retail Tech Links

New-tritional Labeling – A controversial question, but I really admire this effort at re-thinking how  the nutritional value of foods is presented.  This is a tough area to solve, as everyone has different ideas of nutrition and what is good for you.

Savvy is a mobile tool to track prices after your purchase to ensure you take advantage of price guarantees.  Just take a picture of the receipt from a growing list of retailers, and the app takes care of the rest.

Domino’s is letting build their own pizzas as part of an iPad game called Domino’s Pizza Hero.  This is definitely a clever way to get into the hearts and minds of the kids who use their parent’s iPads to play.

AT&T has a new Concept Store in Chicago.

Hertz has new check-in kiosks that provide a video link to remote staff to provide a live link to the check-in.

Check out this Superhydrophobic Coating It’s touted as a way of protecting electronics from spills but I’m with the guy who wrote it…this could save my clothes.


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.

2011.45 | Canada’s New $100 Bill

Today, the Bank of Canada releases the first of a completely new suite of Canadian Bank Notes.  We first heard about this item publicly back in March 2010.

The new set of notes are composed of Polymer instead of the traditional paper currency.   They feature a number of new innovative security features, including clear windows in two places on the note, as well as some foil holograms.  From a layman’s perspective, the notes seem thinner, and feel slippery compared to the notes we used to have.  Older notes had a texture to them from the cotton/paper combination they were printed on.    In general, the notes seem very space age, and I fully expect cashiers to be surprised and confused by them for a while.

Canadian retailers should be sure to review the resources for retailers put in place by the Bank of Canada to be prepared for the release of the $100 notes today, the $50 in March 2012, and the $20,$10, and $5 in 2013.

Retailers should ensure that all cash handling technology is able to accommodate the new $100 notes as soon as possible.  Impacted solutions include: note acceptors, note dispensers, and note recyclers on self-checkouts, kiosks and vending machines.  It also includes consideration of note counting and fraudulent note detection solutions.   At the very least, because of the new security features, software updates will probably be required for any solution that has to detect the note electronically.  As notes are not changing in size or shape, there will not be any changes required to traditional cash drawers or cash drawer inserts at present.

Let us know your experiences with the notes.  Once you are comfortable with that, stay tuned for the Royal Canadian mint to update the our coins.

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.

2011.43 | Starbucks Mobile Payment in Canada

While our friends to the south have been able to pay with their mobile phones at Starbucks for some months now, that functionality was just activated in Canada last night. I was finally able to use the app to pay on my trip to Starbucks this morning.

For those who need a refresher on how this mobile payment solution works, Starbucks connects your stored value card to a barcode within their mobile apps.  While at the store, the user opens the mobile app on their device and pulls up their virtual Starbucks card on the mobile device’s screen.  When they tender at the point of sale, the cashier scans a barcode from the mobile device with an imager at point of sale instead of swiping a physical card through the MSR.

This solution does not make use of NFC.   This solution does not require your mobile device to be online or connected from a data perspective in any way.  All you need is this barcode on your screen.  Effectively, you could print this same barcode and scan it at the point of sale to pay in the same manner as you would with the phone.

Setting up the app is simplified by the fact that users just enter a login and password for starbucks,ca and the system automatically uploads their card number, card image and balance.  This is exactly what technology is for – to make life simpler – not to make users enter in meaningless numbers.

This simple solution is a terrific fit for Starbucks specifically for reasons I explained when the app was originally released in the US.

Like many excellent solutions, it leverages proven technologies in a combination that fits the users, the retail environment and the business.   For the user, all they need to do is install or update a mobile app, open it, and log-in.  For the store, a new scanner/imager was required at the point of sale terminal, and a new tender option in the point of sale software was required.  Some training to know how to read a barcode from a phone and you are good to go.

Now you have an application with a reason for users to open it.  Well done.  Of course, this now opens suggestions for future capabilities to highlight and increase that usage.

  • Keep standard orders on the mobile device.  Customer scans customer facing scanner at point of sale, and the order is populated on the cashier’s screen.  Speeds order entry and minimized screen touches for cashiers.  Order comes up on screen for validation.  This would be amazing at the drive thru.  No more crackling voices.
  • Upselling on screen based on usual customer orders.  It would have to be opt in, but if the customer is standing in line and they pull up the app to pay it can highlight a good add-on to their order that is specific to them, right when they are ordering.  Provides consistent upsell.
  • In the US it is possible to add funds to the cards of other users as a gift.  Great option.

Whatever retailers do, they should ensure that their app has a reason for existing.  This one has that.  Would this work everywhere?  Certainly not.  Every business is different, and that is the fundamental challenge – building an app that solves a problem and improves something  for customers and stores.

2011.42 | How Square’s Card Case Works

I was intrigued by the recent release of the Card Case App from Square.  Unlike the other mobile payment apps that involve tapping a mobile device or card on a contactless reader, Card Case attempts to remove the tender process from a transaction as much as possible.  While the mobile device has to be on their person, there is no need to pull out a wallet or a phone to complete a transaction.

Here’s how it works:

  • Users connect a current credit card to a registered account with Square that includes all of their personal information including a photo of themselves.
  • Users install the Card Case App on their iPhone or Android device.
  • Users can search out local businesses where they shop directly on the app on their mobile device.
  • Users can turn on ‘Always Auto Open Tab’ for merchants they frequent to enable purchases ‘over the air’.
  • When users are within a store where they have activated this ‘Always Auto Open Tab’ with their phone, the proximity of their mobile device to the store point of sale device causes their name and image to show on a list on the screen of the point of sale unit.
  • When a user wishes to complete a transaction, the user tells the cashier to put it on their tab, using their own name to identify themselves.
  • The cashier consults the point of sale device and identifies the user by their name and image that shows on the point of sale device.
  • The cashier selects that user, and the transaction is completed.
  • An eReceipt is provided to the customer via Square.

This payment solution is really a very clever way of getting away from the traditional pass of a card or currency from a customer to a retailer.  I would personally love this to become a standard payment.  I would use it in a second if it was available in my area.

Let’s consider some of the potential issues around this particular solution, to understand if it could become mainstream.

  • Integration Effort – Retailers must register with Square to accept payments via the Card Case solution.  Fees are low at 2.75% (3.5% with a card swipe), and make a lot of sense for smaller retailers, as they can replace a potentially more costly ‘traditional’ solution.  However, if we consider tier 1 and tier 2  chain merchants with significant scale, they already leverage current payment processing platforms.  Using Square is an additional payment scheme that has to be accommodated at a store.  Additional schemes mean additional cost and effort to implement and support.  They mean additional training for store staff.  They mean integration to current point of sale software platforms.  While retailers accommodate as many schemes as they can to suit their customer base, there is only so much complexity that can be handled.  Verdict: For the time being, I expect this to be more of a neighbourhood merchant solution, though inevitably someone will give it a try.
  • Connectivity – A mobile payment scheme like this assumes connectivity by default.  If either the user or the merchant loses connectivity for any reason, the mechanism to accept a payment is unavailable.  While connectivity is definitely improving across the board, it is by no means foolproof.  Most top tier retailers require a solution with very high uptime or at least some significant redundancy. Mobile signals can be dicey in some locations, no matter what carrier or device you use, there is a chance that in some locations it just won’t work.  Verdict: Given connectivity today, mileage will vary by location.  Some sites in subways or in the basements of highrises may not be able to use it at all.  This technical challenge will make it challenging for the solution to become common.
  • Errors & Scale –  In large cities or in very busy sites, there may be so many users in proximity to the store that the lists could become unmanageable.  In busy situations, it is also possible for cashiers to accidentally select the wrong user given many more to choose from.  Verdict: While unlikely that there will be so many users using the service at present, given significant population density and the busy nature of some urban businesses, popularity of the solution could render it more difficult to use for the cashiers.  I’m sure that issue could be dealt with.
  • Fraud & Security – While paying by name and image may be simple, streamlined, and civilized, it relies heavily upon a cashier’s personal discretion.  In the case of a small neighbourhood merchant, that may work just fine.  When you are a huge multinational retail organization with tens of thousands of employees across the country, the continent or the world, it’s a different story.  No matter how carefully employees are vetted, there are always bad apples. Based on current information, there is no mechanism beyond a cashier login log to discourage cashiers from assigning a charge without the permission of the user.  To take it a step further, users could be charged without even being in the store.  A user standing near a store could be charged by a cashier without any knowledge whatsoever.  While the user would inevitably be tipped off by an ereceipt, and the user would obviously only activate tabs at sites they trusted, security is still a valid concern.  Verdict: The sort of trust required for this sort of solution means it will have to stay small scale with trusted retailers.  If it expands to larger retailers, either users won’t turn on the automatic tab option, or there will be more fraudulent charges than it is worth.

I doubt that the intent of the automatic open tab functionality was to have it leveraged in a large scale retail implementation at all.  The trust requirement to make this solution work is a fundamental flaw for larger players, but it’s a novel idea all the same, and I hope it is successful enough that I can try it locally.

2011.41 | Views of the Future

Microsoft’s Vision – I love this future looking view of productivity from Microsoft Office.  Everything is squeaky clean, everything works together, and somehow the wifi at the hotel doesn’t require a code and is faster than dial-up.  All joking aside, it’s a really well made video, and provides some great vision into how things could pan out in the future.  The hard part from a retail technology perspective is making all of this work together seamlessly. That, and people are going to have to learn a lot of new touch gestures! (via Gizmodo)

BMW – BMW’s 300 series are going to have a full colour Heads up Display in 2012.  Consider this an alpha release of the cool computer screens on the car windows on the Microsoft offering.   If you think about it, it also fits the vision of having shopping available in cars as you have seen in future posts.  While voice commands are making great leaps through technologies like Siri, the visual plays a role as well.  The challenge here is not overwhelming safety tools with sales messages.

inPulse smartwatch – There are a few smartwatches out there that are starting to make the rounds.  These wearable displays like the inPulse smartwatch give you access to your phone, providing details on your messages, calls, emails, and more.   I’m really not all that interested in the watch itself.  Having a secondary display is clunky and unnecessary for me.  I would just as likely just pull out my phone as have one more screen with me.  What is interesting is that these devices represent the baby steps of moving a mobile device into one that can interact with screens around them.  While AirPlay does this relatively well between Apple devices, if we are going to see that future with all the devices interacting together some serious work needs to be done to get that in place so that iOS, Blackberry, Android and Windows Phone will speak to other Windows, Linux and OSX devices.  Devices like these watches are transitional technologies that will lead the charge in making that happen.


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