Search Results for: 3d

2013.27 | uniqul | aireal | 3dfit

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.22.11 PM

Uniqul – A Finnish company recently released an identification scheme based on facial recognition.  The Uniqul concept video imagines the use of a camera to compare the faces of individuals against a database of images in order to identify them.  Such a system could be used for airport identification, payments, or any other application where cards or photo identification are currently used, including retail payments.  The system checks the image of the customer against a database, and returns the identified customer photo with a name to be verified by the customer.  The only customer action is to select an ok button to approve payment.

While the pluck of a company willing to chase such a challenging technological initiative is admirable, this is a challenging solution to implement.  Consider:

  • What if the returned name and image isn’t the customer’s picture and they say ok to the payment?  Free lunch.
  • What are the parameters of the image?  What if hair colour is changed? What if glasses are different? What if weight is gained or lost?   How often will photos have to be re-taken to be effective?  Any of these could result in customer and/or retailer inconvenience.
  • What about backgrounds and lighting for image capture?  Given the wide variety of retail locations with signage, people, windows and lighting, will faces be easily picked out by the solution?  Imagine having to look into a camera and sit still for a few moments to make your payment go through.  Awkward.
  • If such a solution was used at gas pumps, self service or even online, and users hold up a photo in front of the camera instead of using their own face?  It’s happened before with android lock screens.
  • It’s one thing to be a number.  Most acknowledge we have little privacy already, but payments connected to our actual faces might be a bit much for people to accept.  Pay by touch tried something similar with thumbprints from 2005-2007 but that didn’t work out.

I’m sure the designers have considered all of these concerns and a great deal more, they will have to be extremely convincing about security when discussing such a solution with payments processors and retailers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.49.37 PMAireal – Many retailers look to achieve an incredible consumer experience in their stores.  It takes a great deal to impress the jaded consumer with access to so much technology.  As a leader in entertainment, Disney continuously looks for new experiences.  One such experience is Disney Research’s Aireal – a combination of projection, motion sensors and fans.

One demonstration shows an animated butterfly that recognizes that a person’s hand is in the area, and ‘lands’ on it.  Puffs of air from fans controlled by the system blow on your hand to complete the illusion of a real butterfly landing on your hand.  Another concept would be interacting with a virtual soccer ball.  While not part of a transactional solution, it’s easy to see how a solution like this could find its way into a high end concept store.

3Dfit – One of the universal challenges for online retailers of apparel is fit.  In order to encourage sales, online retailers have to offer free returns.   In order to ensure a good fit, customers often resort to ordering multiple sizes and returning what they don’t want.  All of that means higher costs for retailers, and inconvenience for customers who have to return items.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 11.21.39 PMGetting the right pair of glasses for one’s face is just as difficult as finding clothing that fits – perhaps even more so.  Glasses.com are attempting to remedy that challenge with a recently released virtual try-on app for iPad to get potential customers a great view of how they will look in a new pair of glasses.  Users download the app, open it, and place it against a mirror.  The users capture a picture with the iPad camera looking straight at the iPad, and then turn their head to the left and then the right.  The app captures a 3D model of the users’s face from the photo.  With that 3D model, the full inventory of glasses.com can be shown on the user’s face.  The user can scan through images of their face with the glasses on, and even move the glasses up and down the bridge of their nose with a swipe of a finger on the screen.

While this isn’t the same as being at a store and trying them on, it can certainly help narrow the choices – a challenge with glasses, and adds a unique consumer experience to a brand.

2013.03 – Hangers | Burgers | 3D Cases

Screenshot_2013-01-19_11_37_AMDigital Hangers – Shoppers at the Vanquish Ikebukuro PARCO store in Tokyo are experiencing a new twist on digital signage.  When the hanger with a clothing item on it is removed from the rack, a video clip of a model wearing that particular item is triggered and plays in large format on one of a number of LCD units that are part of a multiple video display array above the rack area.  This sort of context sensitive digital video solution is certainly a step up from playing standard video ads in a store.  Interactivity is certain to capture more interest from shoppers in store, and also provides for curation opportunities as the video can share combinations of items to wear with the featured apparel item. via Vsauce2 – (thanks Hussain!)

Screenshot_2013-01-19_11_47_AMEdible Packaging – Brazilian burger purveyor Bob’s recently unleashed a new ad campaign indicating that their burgers are so tasty that you can’t wait to eat them.  As part of that campaign, Bob’s are selling the burgers with edible wrappers.  Make sure you check out the video showing customers tucking into still wrapped burgers to get the full effect.  It’s a bit strange watching people chew on paper covered burgers. Bob’s wins the trifecta with an engaging campaign that ties well with selling their burgers, shows innovation and reduces waste to boot.

As a neatness obsessed individual, the idea of keeping burger mess inside paper really appeals to me.  To take it to the next level, perhaps instead of e-receipts we can start to issue receipts on edible paper.  Thermal printers can provide just the right amount of heat to cook them. via Vsauce2

Screenshot_2013-01-19_12_01_PM3D Cases – The 3D printing craze continues to pick up steam.  In case you needed some prodding to get out there and get yourself a Nokia Lumix Windows 8 Phone, Nokia recently released files to allow users to print their own 3D case.  Nokia is the first major corporation I’ve noted to put out a part you can print on your own.  Expect this to be the first of many such offers.

Traditional retailers could look on this as a way to extend their shelf space by offering products with exclusive links to download files to personalize, modify or extend products sold in stores.

Haven’t we all purchased electronics and immediately discarded items we know we will never use?  Manufacturers could use the availability of online 3D printing files to reduce waste and cost on included items that not all purchasers may wish obtain.

Got your own 3D printer yet?  Soon. via Wired.

2013.01 | 3D Parts, Sail, SilverCar

teenage engineering3D Parts Printing – As 3D printing becomes increasingly mainstream, we can expect to see more companies taking advantage of that to differentiate themselves.  Swedish Synth Company Teenage Engineering allows customers to print their own parts from CAD files on their website.  This is a wonderful use of the technology and while keeping clients happy, allows TE to spend their time on their next product instead of fulfilling low profit, manual, but very important requests for small replacement bits for currently installed product.  I would love to see more of this!

Capture2Sail is Done – Verifone Sail is discontinued already.  Released last year as a dongle for smartphones to be used as part of a service to accept payments aimed at smaller retailers, Verifone are apparently backing away from Verifone Sail as they say the segment is not viable in the long term, though the website is still up at present.  Curious challenge since this segment is the entire business model for Square, though their partnership with Starbucks provides an out for them to other business models.

unnamedSilverCar – SilverCar is a car rental service offering one kind of car – Silver Audi A4s.  That’s it.  Clients use the website or mobile app to book their reservation.  Clients build a profile that includes not only the usual information like dates and times for rental, but addresses that they plan to visit, and even their favourite radio stations.  When clients get to the airport, they enter in their information on their mobile and their car unlocks with all of their information uploaded to the vehicle.  On return, instead of dealing with a mobile wielding attendant, the app automatically charts out all of the costs and passes the receipt electronically.  Looks like they are only operating in Dallas at present, but will be very interesting to see how they make this work.  It could change car rentals everywhere.

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.

2011.36 | 3D Printer as Retail Game Changer

It goes without saying that if pure music retailers had seen the rise of MP3 and iTunes a little more clearly, they may have approached things a little differently.

The march of technology affects all retailers in one way or another, and the lesson of the music industry has not been lost on the book industry.  The rise of the Kindle, the Nook, Kobo and more all indicate that retailers and content providers are approaching these radical changes intelligently; by trying to adopt them as their own and make them part of their business model before the wave of consumer demand overcomes them and makes them completely redundant.

Staying ahead of these developments involves quite a lot of guesswork.  For example, who would have anticipated the rapid adoption of smartphones driven by the iPhone less than 5 years ago.  Before that time, few retailers were asking about integrating mobile into their business in earnest – now all of them are doing so.

There is a technology that could have a huge impact on retailers in the future, but I have seen very little discussion on the point and that is 3D Printing.

For the uninitiated, 3D printers are machines that use plastics to ‘print’ small 3d items.  They work along similar lines to the old inkjet printers or plotters from the past, except that instead of using a robotic arm to just draw on a sheet of paper, they lay down layers of plastic to build a 3 dimensional object.  Once one layer is put down, the ‘print head’ is lifted a level, or the layer moves down, and another layer of plastic is put on top of the first.  As the layers build, a 3 dimensional object is formed.  A user opens a file with a 3 dimensional object plotted in it from a CAD application of some point, selects Print, and the printer does the rest.

Solutions of this type have been used for prototyping for some time, and I’ve even used some of these on mockup solutions in our labs.  What is most interesting about the technology is that it is available for purchase to consumers, and there are open source solutions to make this technology available to the masses.

The most well known option available is MakerBot Industries Thing-o-Matic, which retails for just under US$1,300.  This user assembled kit makes it possible for home printing of 3D objects.

Today, these devices just print small plastic pieces, so what is the potential impact on retailers? Let’s consider a future where these 3D printers become increasingly sophisticated.  They become as cheap and simple to obtain as our paper printers, they use stronger materials, they can print larger items, they can use different types of material, they can print very sophisticated objects and they are simple to operate as a paper printer.

If all of this were true at some point in the future,

  • It would be possible to purchase a digital copy of physical object and print it at home.
  • There would be no physical inventory to fulfill orders, no shipping to customers, and very little in the way of  logistics required.
  • No need to visit a physical store for purchase.
  • ‘Instant’ gratification for consumer.
  • There is an increased ability to handle massive swings in consumer demand as long as the server traffic can accommodate hits from consumers.
  • Ability to effectively release new products quickly as no pre-release manufacturing needs to be waited on.
  • There is a potential threat of piracy on the design of physical items – just like there is with mp3 files or eBook files.
The net impact of this type of solution could be very similar to the impact of mp3 and eBooks to brick and mortar retailers.   3D printers would drive different revenues as designs instead of products are sold, new nimble online competitors would arise, and many other retail landscape altering changes could occur.  There are already services that will print items in 3d for customers as a service, as an example.
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Will this technology mature quickly or not?  What changes will occur because of it, and when?  It is impossible to say, and guessing is a sure way to look the fool in the future.   What is certain is that retailers should keep an ear to the ground to ensure that rapid progress in technology is something that is used as a potential competitive advantage, as opposed to the technology that puts a retailer out of business.

2018-05-28 – Scan & Pay – BYOP – Video – Dual Speed Store

cart mount for mc18Mobile Scan and PayProgressive Grocer recently ran a solid article on how grocers that enable scanning with mobile phones or devices can benefit.  Lots of good points in here – particularly on how audits and shopper identification ensure a good balance of shopper experience and shrink avoidance. After years of anticipation, this solution is starting to find its place.

BYOP – Bring your own packaging is getting a boost from Morrisons. Progressive ideas like allowing shoppers to bring their own containers are a unique and interesting prospect at a major retailer – as long as hygiene is well addressed. Given the ongoing plans to remove plastic bags and drinking straws, this is not a surprising development, and certainly an admirable idea! Tares will need to be addressed on self-service systems, but that is entirely addressable with current solutions.

atm-card-skimmer-safety-pin-number-shielded-by-hand-shutterstock-510pxVideo – Security in stores continues to evolve, with an increased focus on video. Sainsbury recently encountered some challenges with new video technology on self-checkout. While video on self-checkout is really nothing new, the concerns about HD cameras mounted above shoppers that can inadvertently show shoppers entering a PIN are a new phenomenon.

Kinks will need to be worked out of these new solutions, but the answer can be as low tech as covering your hand when you enter a PIN. This is my recommendation to all shoppers to avoid anyone seeing your pin. A better option is to use contactless with your credit card (face down so nobody can steal your number). For the best possible security for smaller transactions use Apple Pay or Google Pay that don’t show the number or a PIN to any camera and require your thumbprint!

Dual Speed Store – I’ve been talking to retailers for years about the same shoppers visiting stores for different journeys, and thinking about how we support different experiences with different technologies and store processes.

Buying shoes is a great example. Sometimes shoppers walk right up to the pair they want and then walk out. Some shoppers will try on many pairs. Both are different experiences. I wholeheartedly encourage new ideas to best address all shopping journeys. I found this recent article on just such a store design. This is an idea all retailers can consider to suit their various businesses, and ideally none of us wait!

2015.03 | self-service: everybody benefits

cbc-nrfWith newspapers struggling as they are in Canada, with newsrooms merging and paper editions being shelved, it isn’t surprising that the level of journalism from a recent CBC article left me shaking my head. The recent article titled: “Self-checkouts: Who really benefits from the technology?” seems slanted to provoke the ire of hard working, time starved Canadians who find themselves hit with increasing food prices, a dropping dollar and a challenging job market and economy.  As the title of this post indicates, everyone can benefit from self-service.

Let’s consider the article and its assertions, which seem to be designed to provoke those that don’t like retail technology to read (or watch) it and complain.

“And it’s not just in-store shopping: Canadians are selecting their own movie seats, printing their own event tickets and checking themselves into flights. But not everyone is buying it.  

“I’m starting to resent doing unpaid work,” says Bonnie Banks, who lives in Whitby, Ont. “And it seems to be escalating.”

Self service technologies are not for everyone.  I recommend retailers provide choices for their shoppers so that we can interface with retailers in any way that we wish.  Shoppers can feel free NOT to print their own movie tickets or NOT check themselves in to a flight on their mobile, but should remember that the shorter line they are enjoying is the result of others not having to join the line, so EVERYONE benefits from self-service, whether they use it or not.

Where does one draw the line at “unpaid work”?  At the beginning of the twentieth century, clerks gathered shopper requested items from behind the counter and bundled them all up. Shoppers generally have to walk through the store and select their own items today.  Is that “unpaid work”?

Not a relevant enough reference? Shoppers now have the option of purchasing groceries online and picking them up at the store.  Should they feel slighted that they must drive to the store to pick it up?  Nobody thinks that.  The assertion that shoppers and consumers are being harnessed for work is ridiculous. Shoppers have choices and they are free to make them, whether it’s which retailer to visit, or which type of transaction they wish to engage in.

The newer machines don’t just scan and take your cash. Self-checkout kiosks can also be programmed to upsell, and may succeed in getting you to buy more where humans fail.

In a 2004 experiment, McDonald’s found that customers using self-service kiosks supersized their meals, spending 30 per cent more on average. One reason? We’re more willing to increase the order when we’re not worrying about the person behind the cash judging our choices.

Self-service machines can ask the exact same questions as people about upselling on meals – which every single restaurant worker does – and this is a heretofore unknown evil plan of self-service?  The units were more successful at upselling 11 years ago than humans.  This says more about humans than it does about technology.

mcdonalds-self-order-kiosks-canadaInterestingly enough, McDonald’s Canada have been deploying self-service order taking systems in Canada over the past few months, and I think they work very well.  Based on my own experience, I would say it enables them to take more orders at once, and split the fulfillment of orders from payment to the benefit of both McDonald’s and their shoppers.  If shoppers prefer to order from a cashier, that option stands, and there are fewer people in the line.  More options; more convenience. Perhaps the article could have considered a current deployment and the potential benefits to users and retailer alike instead of referencing an 11 year old study from the same company.

Advocates say that self-service kiosks give customers convenience, privacy and control.

“Some people like to be in control of what’s going on. Some people like to have a very private experience. So if I’m going in and buying something that’s maybe a personal item, I might prefer to buy it on my own without help,” says Christina Forest, a senior project manager for Fujitsu, which makes self-checkout machines.

This is absolutely accurate, and one would suppose, the CBC’s attempt at showing the positive side of self-service. Once again, retail is all about choice.  I’ve not yet seen a store force anyone to use a self-checkout, and as the interviewee mentions above, it provides a level of privacy for purchases that might be uncomfortable for some, and even provides shoppers the opportunity to bag items in their own way.

I don’t always choose self-service (if I have a large cart of items for example, I will choose an assisted lane) but it is ideal to have the option.  Control and convenience are key to retailers getting my shopping dollar, and I’m certain other shoppers agree.

“Aside from the obvious technology costs, having customers do some work themselves can mean less overhead costs for companies.

For example, the cost of checking in a passenger at the airport is about $3 with a staffed desk, according to a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation entitled Embracing the Self-Service Economy.

But when customers use electronic terminals? That cost drops to 14 cents.

In total, moving to a fully automated check-in and boarding process could save the airline industry $1.6 billion a year, the International Air Transport Association says.

Are those savings being passed on to the consumer? Marketplace spoke to leading retailers and industry experts and found no clear evidence that is always the case.

CBC MarketPlace expected a massive drop in costs to be correlated with increased use of self-service?  This seems an unlikely outcome for a business as sophisticated and complex as a retailer or an airline, both subject to thousands of external market forces and consumer influences.  While there are savings from self-service, that does not mean that staff are ignominiously dumped in favour of machines with a massive reduction in cost, or that this change in service can occur overnight.  That cost can now be transferred to other parts of the business to better effect. Retailers can allocate knowledgeable staff to assist customers or provide other value added services.

If these costs were NOT shared with consumers in some way, should CBC MarketPlace not have noted a massive increase in airline profits as soon as boarding pass kiosks were implemented given reduced costs and no change to what is charged to the client?  Any business that wants to survive has to change with the times requires an ROI for new technology.  There had to be an ROI for these items, and now they have become a part of the fabric of how business is done because they are convenient and avoid needless queues; not because they are a cash grab for retailers and airlines.

“And do self-checkouts get you out of the store faster? Marketplace timed shoppers with identical grocery lists to see how cashiers compare to self-checkouts.

The cashier was able to get through the transaction faster and with fewer problems. And in one case, an incorrectly punched code at a self-checkout meant one shopper was charged $70 for 10 brussels sprouts.”

This bit of “science” will rankle any of my colleagues in retail technology. Ask any retailer or any retail technology vendor. Absolutely nobody in retail would suggest that a shopper will outpace a cashier for an individual transaction. How could a shopper be better at a cashier’s job than a cashier? That thinking misses the point completely. If you consider your own time shopping, it’s never the time that the cashier is scanning or waiting for you to tender that takes the time. The time that rankles is queuing; waiting in line is the part that frustrates universally.

Consider that a single transaction for a small basket could take 90 seconds from start to finish.  There is one cashier and one lane open and four shoppers.  The first shopper waits 0 seconds, the second waits 90 seconds, the third shopper waits 180 seconds, the fourth shopper waits 240 seconds.

If there is a self-service option one attendant with 4 lanes, NONE of the shoppers wait.  Even if they take perhaps 1.5 times as long, which is a reasonable estimate, all of the shoppers are out of the store in ~135 seconds.  All of the shoppers get out of the store quickly and get one with their lives.  I would rather finish and leave, but others are free to use the queue of which I am not a part.

New self-checkout units are also getting smaller, so that more and more self-service terminals can take the place of traditional assisted lanes. This means that small footprint stores that are fantastically busy can have more selling space and increased capacity to complete transactions. It seems like bad business NOT to use self service in sites with lines. Not only will it reduce the lines; it will reduce the number of shoppers who decide to leave as the queue is too long; increasing revenue opportunity with no other change to the store.

Now, for those that want a traditional assisted service, attendants should be trained to kindly and helpfully assist those people as they wish or direct them to the lanes where they can be helped – with lines reduced by those using self-service terminals I would add.

“Beyond money, Lambert says there are other ways doing “shadow work” costs us.

“It often takes the human being out of the equation,” he says. “Those small relationships are part of how you build a community, frankly.

“Robots don’t interchange banter. There’s no pleasantries going back and forth between you and the kiosk. And as a result, it somewhat dehumanizes daily life.”

Jenni Murray, a columnist for the U.K newspaper Daily Mail, wrote she finds the increasing dependence on self-checkouts “a frustrating, depressing experience.”

“There’s nothing like some human contact for making a dull chore a better experience,” she wrote in a column last year.”

The human touch makes all of the difference; one can’t disagree with that.

Self-service does not necessarily mean we are dealing with a “robot”. When I visit the airport, there are always a great number of airline staff on hand to direct customers with less experience. The touch is no less personal when one uses a screen after one talks to them for assistance on where to print a baggage tag.

Retailers I work with are keen to provide a wonderful customer experience and that does not differ with self-service. Why would retailers encourage friendly, thoughtful cashiers and interactions at assisted service and not at self service?  Attendants trained by our teams teach them to encourage shoppers to use self-service if they are in a queue to be helpful. They are encouraged to be engaging, and watch for cues from self-service shoppers and assist them quickly and thoughtfully if they require help.

If self-checkouts are a “frustrating, depressing experience” for a shopper, there are a two potential issues: 1. The self-checkouts are not being managed correctly; with assistance to be sure that shoppers understand any issues and they can be corrected quickly and helpfully. 2.  The shopper just doesn’t like self-service and should go to an assisted lane, or have their order processed at the self-checkout by an attendant.

No one solution pleases everyone. Staff should be sure to read the cues and deal appropriately with customers. Customer satisfaction is a never ending job for an entire retailer ecosystem.  To blame a bad customer experience on a machine is shortsighted.

“According to research by the retail-technology company Tensator, one out of every three British shoppers polled had walked out of a store without the goods they intended to buy, simply because of a bad experience with a self-service checkout.”

While this certainly could be true, that study polled 400 people out of 64.1 million in the United Kingdom, which is not terribly sweeping.  Even so, the study offers a great opportunity for re-assessment of the implementation of self-service versus damning self-service itself.  From the details shown, technical issues do need to be resolved, and it appears that queuing and mix of self and assisted lanes could be improved. Retail is a messy business, and self-service is a part of that. There is always room for improvement.

This brings forth a key point.  Self-checkout has evolved to the point where it needs be assessed as part of the greater store ecosystem.  No longer can self-service be thrown into a store to augment traditional POS.  Channels are expanding with click and collect, mobile, loyalty, and self service screens of all kinds. If self-service is to be effective, it needs to be considered as part of that store ecosystem and retailers need to understand and own how all of these gears mesh together.

While there is always room for improvement, self-service definitely has much more upside than this article leads the public to believe.  In fact, retailers haven’t remotely leveraged the full potential to get shoppers in and out of stores in the way that best suits them with self-service and other technologies.

While the article and many of the reader comments wish to lay the blame for various issues at feet of self-service, these systems are merely tools leveraged by people in a genuine attempt to provide great service. Self-service isn’t about machines, it’s about getting people what they want in the quickest way possible.  Like they say, if you hate an advertisement, perhaps it’s not aimed at you. It’s all about choice, and you should select what works for you.

I now await scathing articles on the evils of self-service fuel pumps, ATMs and eCommerce – or maybe not.

2014.10 | mink | #amazoncart | google shopping express

mink makeup printerMink – 3D printing isn’t just for plastic toys.  Mink is a makeup printer that allows any colour to be printed on to makeup substrate so that home users can prepare their own favourite colours.  Instead of being limited to colours that are pre-made and ready in store, shoppers can build whatever they want on demand.

It’s obviously early days for this technology, but retailers generally have better results when they to recognize disruptive technologies like this early and either get on board or find something that accomplishes something similar.    This is the same story as mp3 and eBooks all over again as immediate gratification will make the status quo of purchasing pre coloured makeup less convenient.

It will be interesting to see the real solution itself and how easy it is to use.  A pretty white box looks nice and simple, but for a solution like this to fly it has to be dead simple.  As is the case with regular printers, they will obviously run out of substrate or colour just when it is needed most.  Having automatic fulfillment would avoid such issues. Retailers should be moving towards open and connected systems to enable automatic replenishment for clients.  Connecting a system like Mink to an ecommerce subscription service or standing order for automatic fulfillment online with the printer ordering its own supplies will be key to its success.    Expect an Amazon plug-in sometime in the near future.

amazoncart#amazoncart – As the retailer of every channel but a store (so far), Amazon recently expanded its ever growing list of channels it makes available for consumers to interface with them.  The newest is #amazoncart, whereby if twitter readers see a product that they like, they can reply to a tweet with a product link with the hashtag #amazoncart, and the item will be automatically added to their Amazon shopping cart online.

While not the right strategy for every retailer it is an interesting attempt by Amazon to strengthen their already extensive hold on default online shopping cart online.  If a shopper has an item in a retailer’s online cart, odds are good they will complete a purchase for that item, or at least have to remove it from the cart.  Allowing this functionality also allows Amazon to quietly capture the twitter account of their clients – which can be mined for more information on how often this strategy results in a sale, or to leverage big data solutions to improve other product recommendations.

This is potentially a great tool for Amazon devotees, but for products that aren’t carried by Amazon (yes, those exist, especially outside of America) and if shopper preferences skew to other retailers, there are many other ways of tracking items that don’t require sticking them into a cart.  Not all great items are found on twitter, but for shoppers using twitter, the web, or even an aggregator like Zite or Flipboard, shoppers can easily add items to services like Evernote, Pinterest and even Pocket to track shopping lists.  No need to remove from a cart.

google-expressGoogle Shopping Express – Google recently opened the gates on an Amazon Prime type offering called Google Shopping Express where shoppers can order items online for immediate same day delivery from retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods and more in Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.    The service is available online or via iPhone and Android apps.

Initial reviews and reviews for the apps indicate that the service works very well and is either free or very very inexpensive.  The service is reminiscent of Kozmo.com, a well known dot.com bubble company established to provide this very same service that expired in 2001.  That service suffered under the high cost of providing this service on low value items, but they obviously did not have the Google machine behind them.

The question that arises is whether Google will provide this service at a loss, charge clients a commensurate amount for the service, or find another way to finance it within other elements of their business.  There are a wide array of options they could investigate moving forward.  What current retailers need to carefully consider and be ready to move on is if Google mines all the data for items shoppers may want delivered in this paradigm and then decides to stock them on their own and fulfill them to shoppers directly.

2014.03 | lovelist | electroloom | homechat

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Lovelist – Pinterest is a great tool and quite simple to use.  I use it to remember products or looks that catch my eye and can turn to it for inspiration when I actually look to purchase a new item.  The new app Lovelist takes this to another level by allowing users of the app to scan items and add them to a Pinterest board.  That effectively provides a rudimentary bespoke gift registry as a Pinterest board.  The app allows you not just to take images and describe items you see – as Pinterest’s own mobile app already does – but to scan barcodes on products and have data populate onto a pin that could be added to a board. Scanning minimizes effort for the user and ensures that you are capturing exactly what you see.

This app brings to the fore a potential use for Pinterest as a central gift registry clearing house across all retailers that I think would be relatively simple for Pinterest to implement that could provide them with increased usage as well as some interesting traffic and data. Why not allow users to make a gift registry on Pinterest, and allow other users the ability to anonymously indicate that an item has been purchased.  In fact, Simple Registry already provides this very solution – including the ability to split the cost of larger items.

Where a Pinterest solution could excel is that it can provide cross retailer (even Amazon) registries and the ability to use the app to register and add items.   Pinterest could do this at no charge, and provide retailers the ability to see these registries to allow them to push relevant and timely offers through the life of the registry, understand product affinities and more.

Like every other element of retail, expect the gift registry segment to splinter more and more as there are increasing options for consumers to register on systems outside of retailers. Retailers would be wise to build flexibility into systems and operations to accommodate outside or affiliate solutions like Simple Registry, a Pinterest Registry, or whatever provides the consumer with the experience that suits their needs.    Assist purchasers to search online registries for items that could be purchased in your store, assist them in removing items from the list they have purchased and more.  This means implementing a program with store associates to ensure that they are aware of registry programs beyond the retailer to ensure consumers can shop as they wish in your stores.

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Electroloom – 3D printing is increasingly mainstream.  If you don’t believe it, head down to one of the Makerbot stores.  If you visit, you will see many little printers and scanners happily printing out bracelets and other little trinkets.  Don’t want to leave home?  You can still get the 3D printer experience by using your Xbox One to scan yourself and have the team at Shapify send you a 3D printed action figure of yourself.  While this all seems like silly fun, remember that availability for 3D printables online is growing.  You can find items already on the Pirate Bay, for example, and there many more.

With that in mind, Electroloom is a concept that is getting off the ground with an eye towards enabling the ability to custom print clothing designs on demand at home.  The group are targeting the end of 2014 to have a concept product.  Whether Electroloom is successful or not, this technology is definitely coming and apparel designers and retailers are well advised to stay abreast of developments in this area. Whether enabling printing at a retail store and cutting distribution and unused inventory costs, or allowing printing at home to become a seller of design instead of product, printing apparel has the potential of being a game changer to fashion in the same manner that mp3 and ebooks were to their respective areas.

lg-homechat-ces-2014Homechat – Having recently replaced some appliances in my home, I wondered why I couldn’t connect them to my mobile device to provide notifications.  Seems that the team at LG were thinking along the same lines.   LG’s HomeChat allows for regular language discussions with LG appliances to drive instructions and provide status updates.  While their notion of asking if there is beer in the refrigerator seems somewhat enthusiastic, (how are items going in and out of a fridge getting scanned, what database is it checking to see if something is ‘beer’), the idea is certainly worthy of consideration.   I’m sure I won’t want to program my roomba from the road to change its cleaning schedule, but it would be nice to know if I need to empty its dust receptacle or if my laundry is done.

My experience with the best use of new systems like this is to start with a basic function, get it working in a way that is useful to users and then build out on it.  First, establish basic notifications from appliances, then you can get more sophisticated as the user and solution evolve together.  For instance, start with dishwasher cycle complete notifications, over time move on to notifications that the rinse aid is empty and provide a capability to add it to a grocery list on Evernote or in a grocery app.  As always, the issue is not the technology, it’s how people interact with it and if they gain utility.  Much like email marketing becomes noise, too many messages from anything will quickly become overwhelming.

However this technology progresses, retailers should ensure that they are able to take advantage of feeds from services to make relevant offers or provide help to clients – being able to accept input from a service to an app to add that rinse agent to a grocery list is a good example.  There is no way to be ready for everything, but being open to the idea is a good start.

2013.38 | no cash| subscriptions | stantt

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Cash Use Waning – I don’t carry cash at all, and it seems I’m not alone.  A recent report from Visa indicates that the average American carries less than $20 in their wallet.  While we have to take that report with a grain of salt given the sponsor,  my anecdotal experience of late is that cash use is decreasing.  Here in Canada, we recently released new $10 and $5 notes.  Other than in my work with retailers, I’ve yet to spend or receive either as change as of yet.  Increasingly in fast service food lines I see usage of NFC via PayPass and Paywave.  At Starbucks the mobile payment system is incredibly common with over 4 million transactions per week back in April.  Tim Hortons recently released updates to their app to allow barcode scanning and NFC payment depending on the device.

From my perspective, electronic payments are looking increasingly convenient over cash for retailers and consumers alike.  Less handling of bits of paper and metal and more convenience for both sides.  It’s easier for transacting anywhere at any time, and it saves retailers time having to balance and move bits of paper around after hours.  Not to mention the fact that it’s harder to skim electronic payments out of a register than a few bits of paper.

While cash seems doomed to decreasing (though not zero) usage, this does not mean that the credit card companies and current payments processors are the only path forward into the future.  While Bitcoin is a shaky proposition with its fluctuations, more and more places of business accept it, developers are trying to figure out how to leverage it, and it represents a different way of considering non-cash tendering.   Whether it’s a path forward or not, retailers should ensure they keep their systems open to capture any new payment interaction possible and not limit themselves to traditional payment infrastructure.

target-diaper-subscribeTarget Subscriptions – Target is pushing back on the Amazon juggernaut with Target Subscriptions for new parents to subscribe to constantly replaced consumable items like diapers.  This is a great example of a retailer trying something new in a targeted area to test the waters.  I think subscriptions represent a real convenience to time starved consumers and a consistent measurable cash flow for retailers.  An incredible array of items in various segments are bought on an ongoing basis – razor blades, toothpaste, diapers, yard waste bags, cosmetics, food staples and more.  It retailers aren’t considering ways of integrating a subscription service into their businesses, they are missing a sought after commodity – stable revenues through the year.  Getting this right by product and mix, and working out delivery could be difficult, but if the combination can be unlocked, the results could be worth it. 

stantt sizesStantt – Stantt is an outfit that is looking to change the status quo on sizing in the men’s shirt business.  Instead of providing 4 different sizes of shirts (S, M, L, XL) , Stantt has compiled 3D scanned dataset from a set of men to establish data driven sizing to enable a better fit for a mens shirt.  Based on providing 3 data elements, one of 50 sizes will be recommended automatically to ensure correct taper, shoulder, sleeves, and waist.   Stantt recently received funding on kickstarter, and hopefully will begin churning out shirts sometime soon.

Whether Stantt succeeds or not, this could be a way of working out the ongoing problems that retailers encounter with online sales and fit.   A huge part of the success of online sales is fit – the cost of returns and shipping is enough to kill the profitability of a sale.  Any edge to reduce those returns could be a big benefit.  The solution also ensures that men avoid the fitting room so many of us avoid.  Build to order could also help in the cost of inventory if the process can be made to scale and work quickly enough.  It’s a fascinating concept, and worth watching to validate its success.

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