2013.30 | wearable technology & retail

fashionable google glass

After years of experimenting with barely wearable technology, society is beginning to accept wearable technology as part of our every day life.  From bluetooth coats to change tracks on your mobile, to heads up displays in ski googles, wearable tech is slowly and innocuously making its way to the mainstream.  As with so many technologies, there are opportunities for retail to provide a customer experience to suit the needs of their constituents.  Consider the following wearables and their impact on retail.

glasses – Yes, google glass look ridiculous, but work is underway to remedy that shortcoming.  if glasses with augmented reality can be made to look less ridiculous, rest assured there is a significant segment of the population that will wear and use them.  Recognizing the potential concerns of arming people with subtle recording devices, some places are doing are banning them.  While this is an understandable reaction, can bans be maintained if google glass and other augmented reality systems become indiscernible from regular eyewear?

There was a time when whipping out a camera in a store would be so noticeable that store staff would react immediately and may ask you to stop or to leave.  Now it’s more common than not to see someone using their mobile in a store.  It now requires effort to tell if someone is taking photos on store, and it’s challenging to address reasonably even if you could tell what they were doing.

crystal shopper

Mobile usage in stores is everywhere, fuelling the concerns of showrooming so common over the past few years.

If glass becomes common enough, controlling client interactions in store becomes a bit more challenging.  With a heads up display and hands free operation, comparison shopping gets a little easier.  In fact, the Crystal Shopper app lets users comparison shop hands free so that when glass ramps up for distribution next year, you can expect other similar apps to find their way into the hands of consumers.

smart watchesPebble made a big splash with support to the tune of over $10 million on Kickstarter last year.  Pebble is a watch that connects to iOS or Android devices via bluetooth.  Out of the box, the unit shows the time, sms notifications and messages, gmail notifications and messages, controls music tracks and are essential geek status symbols.  This sidekick to the mobile allows users to keep their mobile in their pocket instead of constantly pulling out their mobile to communicate, a benefit to which consumers indicated their support with their wallets on kickstarter.  The Pebble vision is to allow developers to make apps to build on this functionality via an SDK, though this has been slow to pick up to date.  Samsung wisely took this show of support to heart by developing their own smartwatch scheduled for release in fall 2013. Samsung has added the ability for developers to build apps for their watch via an SDK.

eBay-app

While they are fun gadgets, retailers may wonder what value they may hold for shopping.  There are a number of usages already possible.

  • Use your smartwatch to pay at Starbucks by scanning it at the register in place of the mobile device  I did it recently with a giftcard barcode substituted for a watchface. Now a customer can pay for coffee even if they forget their wallet AND mobile.  There is no reason a retailer couldn’t build an official app to enable gift card payments with a smartwatch.  One more small step towards not having to pull out anything, as the watch is already on your wrist.
  • As part of their initial release presentation Samsung indicated that they will have a number of apps available at smartwatch release.  One of them was the eBay app.  This app provides realtime updates of auctions so that bidders don’t miss out on their favourite auction items. Interactive notifications for other retail services could be implemented by others.

jewellery – There are a number of technology based jewellery solutions that have an opportunity to find usage in the wider world.

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.24.19 PMThe Nymi bracelet identifies the user by their unique ECG signature.  This bracelet is designed to assist with password replacement.  Being able to unlock our devices is a unique way to identify ourselves to our devices that could as easily be used for retail situations.  If a standard API is available to work with mobile devices like iPads or Android powered tablets, this bracelet could also replace signatures on deliveries, provide simple customer (loyalty) identification or to open lockers for shipment pickup.

Retailers are best to consider these wearable technology solutions as an opportunity.  Every new situation is an opportunity to differentiate.  LIke building mobile apps for clients to fulfill unrecognized needs or provide unique services that weren’t possible before, all of these devices represent opportunities.  The greater challenge is that the next big thing isn’t the ONLY next big thing.  Entertainment began with live theatre and added endless channels such as recorded music, radio, movies, television and more.  It hasn’t shed any of these channels.  It’s just adding more.

UPDATE 2013-09-17:  belt – Now wearable technology can assist with wayfinding in retail as well.  Mobile Travel Guide provider Triposo are experimenting with a belt that can help users to find their way without staring at a screen.  The gps app communicates with a special belt to direct users.  Four vibrating motors (front, left, right, back) are embedded in the belt.  As users walk, the belt vibrates the correct direction of movement and users move in that direction.  Get in store location working and now kiosks are not needed, and customers can keep their heads up as they walk.

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