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.

2014.08 | vmbeacon | amazon dash

iconemeVMBeacon – Part of the key benefit of visiting a store that sells fashion is to gain a sense of that retailer’s sense of style as opposed to merely rifling through a pile of shirts on a table.  Mannequins have long been a tool for retailers to provide a view of their offerings that reflects how they will look when assembled in real life – very different from how clothing appears while hanging on a rack.   As a shopper, I’ve often been the one in the store taking a photo of the mannequin with my mobile and then hunting through the entire store to assemble the particular items that I like.  If I can’t find any of the items, I drag some poor soul working in the store to the mannequin to show them what I need.

VMBeacon by Iconeme is a solution that adds beacons to mannequins in stores to assist shoppers like myself to avoid the effort of searching through the store for the items I wish to purchase or try on that are shown on mannequins.   The solution connects beacons to the mannequins in store.  Leveraging a yet to be released app, these beacons point shoppers to a page on their mobile that shows all of the items on the mannequin that compose the look.  This allows shoppers quick access to the items, and presumably an easier path to find them.

Beacon powered mannequins seem an inevitable solution, and there are a number of considerations for when that really occurs:

  • Ensuring that the right data is connected to the right mannequin will be crucial.  Checking with the app to ensure that the mannequins settings online match the outfit should be part of the operational store process for changing the mannequin’s ensemble.
  • Providing location for items via a mobile app will be difficult in a specialty store environment.  There are rarely aisle numbers and sections are difficult to identify.  The greater benefit here may just be having the product’s unique identifier and being able to tell if the item is in stock in the correct size.  Knowing that, it would be more productive to drive the shopper to store staff for validation of location.
  • The demo recommends capturing shoppers into a store with the mannequin beacon on the app sending a message.  I’m not certain this is the best use of the technology.  The fashion should be the driver to pull out the mobile to get more information, not to stare at the mobile to see the fashions on a tiny screen when I’m in a shopping area with the fashions in the window.
  • Sharing fashion via Facebook is well and good, but being able to pin it to Pinterest, or add items to a wishlist or evernote or some other service would be more useful to remember favoured items.
  • If the store is not one that I visit often, I’m not likely to have an app.  As beacons only work with apps as far as I am aware at present, there will be some missed opportunity for service.  Signage or video indicating the service exists and a link to the app would be ideal.

Beacon enabled mannequins are a wonderful idea.  Like most solutions, the challenge will be in the details and operations to ensure this concept is implemented to best advantage to retailer, store staff and shoppers.


amazon dashAmazon Dash – Continuing their endless drive in any direction possible for more sales, Amazon recently unveiled the Amazon Dash.  Dash is a purpose built bar scanner and audio recorder that allows Amazon Fresh customers to add items to their online grocery cart as soon as they run out by either verbally prompting Dash or scanning them with Dash.  The idea is to have the small device handy in the home and ensure capture whenever the shopper runs out or thinks of a required item.

A few thoughts on this concept:

  • The Amazon mobile app can work just as well for this function as yet ANOTHER device in the home.  How many people have their mobiles on them constantly – everyone.  How many people can’t find a TV remote? Everyone.  This thing will get lost.
  • It’s not clear how this is unit is synchronized to the website/mobile devices, but there will be issues with synching or setup that negate the simplicity of the item. What seems simple to bleeding edge techie lovers is not obvious to someone who uses a purpose built device to scan stuff in the kitchen.
  • Support.  A support team will have to exist just for this item.  Updates because iOS/Android changed their settings?  Time for a new version.  Does this appliance download new setting automatically?  Important back end work that must be handled carefully.
  • Batteries.  Charging.  Another USB adapter? No thanks.
  • Kids love beeping and laser lights.  It would be fascinating to observe a shopping basket once a toddler gets their hands on an Amazon dash!  One or many of everything please?
  • Water, sink, food, kitchen clutter, powder rooms.  All enemies of the Dash that challenge its ease of use and life as a tool.
  • I’m really going to go downstairs, get this thing and scan a package of toilet paper when it runs out?  Who is that organized?
  • I’m limited to one vendor for my groceries with this tool?  What about price checking?  What about coupons?  What about remembering the quantities of something for a recipe.

On paper this seems like a productive concept, and it may suit a particular audience, but this device seems a bit of an odd option for the sorts of people who might order their groceries from Amazon.  Dash represents a creative concept, and it will be interesting to see how the test period. I would personally stick to evernote for my shopping lists.  Let’s see how the Millenials approach it!

2014.06 | internet of things for retail

doorbotCheaper computing power and the ubiquity of technology are making home technology previously considered mundane surprisingly fresh.  Consider the following and how they can make life easier for consumers and open a door for retailers to adapt and use them for selling tools.

Smart Doorbell – Everyone has had to make the drive to the sketchy warehouse to pick up the package they missed after 3 missed drop-offs.  Doorbot is a doorbell that rings your mobile device when the doorbell button is pushed.  The mobile device uses the camera to show a live video feed of the bell ringer at your home.  Used  in coordination with a compatible wifi enabled door lock, users can actually allow entry to the delivery man in to drop off a package inside the home.  Useful for both avoiding that trip and finding a 3 x 4 foot box carefully hidden under your doormat.


Auto Delivery – Volvo is testing a program in Europe to help with the missed delivery problem as well.  While you sit in your office, your vehicle lies unused in a parking lot.  With the roam delivery service, the shipping location is the location for your Volvo vehicle during certain hours.  On request, a single use digital key is provided to the delivery service by Volvo.  The delivery service visits the vehicle, uses the one time code to unlock the door and place the item in the car. After delivery the car is relocked, and the code is disabled.

automatic-iftttCar WalletAutomatic provides an adapter that interfaces into a car’s service port (almost any car back to 1996!) and connects to a smartphone app via bluetooth.  That connection to the vehicle allows users to leverage automotive data to improve gas mileage, obtain details on trouble lights, and even find a car in a parking lot.  A recent update to the platform leverages Apples new Bluetooth 4.0 location based platform.  With your vehicle part of that ecosystem, and with partners that develop on it, it’s possible to leverage a car with the automatic platform as a wallet.  Your car could be identified and you could pay for car washes, parking or other car oriented transactions.  Add in the recent availability of the Automatic channel on IFTTT, and vehicles are becoming a great deal more than transportation. 

Acloudwashppliance Ordering – I mentioned in an earlier post that it’s now theoretically possible to have our washing machines order detergent for us.   A designer in the UK has developed the Cloudwash – a washing machine that can order detergent through a smartphone, or even directly from Amazon.  Anticipate some single technological clearinghouse for all of our appliance ordering to rule the day.  If we don’t have some central tool to keep track of what all these things are doing, there will be a tremendous surplus of laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent on hand in most households – and that’s without the refrigerator getting into the game. 

These are only a very few examples of the Internet of Things that are coming into play.  It’s still early days for these sorts of technologies, but it is important for retailers to be aware of all of these ideas. There may be a jewel that particularly suits your retail segment, customer base or some other element that could push your business over the top, and it would be a shame to miss a unique differentiator.



2014.04 | january linkdump

CaptureGet me there – eCommerce could really meet stores if Google follows through on their latest concept.   The idea is that advertisers may find a transaction valuable enough to foot the bill to pay for a potential client to come to their store.  If an advertiser signs up for this service, a “take me there” button appears on the ad that can be clicked and a taxi can pick up the user to take them to the store.  Their patent even considers a self-driving car being used to pick up potential clients.   Great idea in theory, but there’s lots of room here for people to try for free rides. 

Anticipatory Shipping – Amazon apparently filed a patent for shipping product before clients order it. The idea is that items that are likely to drive demand in an area are shipped to that area and redirected to a person who orders it to minimize shipping time.  I haven’t decided if this is genius or lunacy.

Miserable Men – If you happen to visit instagram, check out Miserable Men – an account full of images of unfortunate gentlemen who appear to be experiencing a sub optimal shopping experience as a shopping partner. While it’s comedy, and we’ve all been there, there has to be some opportunity here for cross-selling, or at least retailers could attempt to entertain or otherwise reduce the pain inflicted on these poor souls.  The account would be better named Missed Opportunities.  IF we are so hyped about the customer experience, here is an area ripe for improvement.


Apple Payments –  There have been ripples again recently that Apple is making moves to attempt to enable mobile payments in the real world.  With the base of devices they have, they could certainly make an impact.  However, changing payments to mobile devices is rife with challenges.  Google failed at it.  Square was expected to be a big deal at Starbucks and so far hasn’t made any noise beyond the small business level so far.

There are so many opportunities for failure with mobile POS payments between two parties in a store.  To succeed, there are changes to retailer software, changes to retailer devices, training cashiers, training consumers, data connectivity, user interfaces, security, and much much more.  Those are only the initial technical challenges.  You also need to establish consumer confidence in your payment system and make it as universally available as possible.  You also need to get credit card companies on board in some way, and find a way to make money on transactions that are already laden with fees from various players and find a way to do it without charging consumers.

As an early adopter, I would be excited to see an Apple payments system, but it’s a challenging initiative.  As a retailer, it’s best to keep your payments options as flexible as possible to ensure that if something does come along, that your solutions are in a position to enable new tendering options as easily and quickly as possible.

2014.01 | email offers have become flyers

email-hellDear Valued Retailer,

It isn’t me.  It’s you.  Until you can understand the basic rules of relationship, we need to take a break.

It all started pleasantly enough.  I had admired you from afar.  When I tentatively visited your place, the people there were just like me, and even offered me some useful advice on picking out an outfit that I quite liked.  I truly appreciated the sweet one time deal you offered me to get my email address.  I was a little hesitant, but your brand seems reflective of my personal style, and I didn’t mind having you in my inbox.  The people there said it would not be given to anyone else.  You even said you could send my receipt in email and that’s neat, right? I decided to go for it.

Then it began.

I didn’t notice it at first.  I’ve been getting  so much email lately because, let’s face it, I got overexuberant with all the offers everyone gave me in exchange for my email address.  What could it hurt?  A few extra emails is no big change.   They started to pile up, and I figured I’d just read them when I had a bit of time.  But my personal inbox started to look like my work inbox.

One Saturday morning I had a chance to review my personal email and started scrolling through the pile.  I read your first message updating me on the latest fashions for women this season.  I started wondering what on earth would drive you to send me such a thing.  I’m not a woman.  I don’t buy clothes for women.  Must be a mistake.  I’ll just delete it.  No big deal.  You’re my friend, right?

I opened the next one and it asked me if I had said yes – to getting married – and that if I had, you could help me build the party of my life.  Hmmm.  What is going on here?  Let’s scan through the history.  You sent me – let’s see – emails for 12 days in a row. Hmmm.  Discounts and free shipping are in the title of all of them.  Wow.  Pretty much the same as my entire inbox because of my personal email sharing indiscretions.  Sort by sender, aaaaand Delete.

The next day I got another, and then another.  I’m going to have to end this.  It feels like work.  It’s making me not like you.  I decided to hit the unsubscribe button.  THEN you want to know if I want to just hear from you every week instead of every day.  Hmmm.  We’ve moved on to bargaining.  Give you one more chance?  Well… I didn’t know that was an option, but you’re not offering me anything I want, when I want it, or how I want it, so let’s just end it.

Let’s face it.  You don’t know how to have a relationship.  We just met and you acted too familiarly.  You called every day.  You offered help, but because it was SO much it felt like you wanted something; not like you were offering me something.   You acted like you were the only thing in my life.  I like you but I don’t need new clothing every day.  You said the offer was just for me, but all of my friends asked me if I got it too.  I felt betrayed.

Now I come to you and you say you could just call on me weekly as long as we agree to it?  Why is the onus on me to gear down on the familiarity?  Seems to me that you have more to gain from this relationship at the outset.  Nope.  We’re done.  I don’t feel the love.  When I need something, I’ll just check the website.  Maybe I’ll just stick something in my online cart and wait for you to notice and offer me a discount.

I thought you cared, but it turns out you just want my money.  I know you are going to ask me to join some other club or scheme or something, but you can forget it.  The trust is gone.

Thanks for the laughs.

Your Not So Faithful Shopper.


I jest of course, but this holiday season really brought the current state of email marketing and having an ongoing dialogue with clients.  Let’s be clear.  This is not easy.  In fact, I would argue that for me personally, email offers have basically become the annoying paper flyers that fill your mailbox.  They have become noise instead of a conduit for a personalized ongoing conversation.

Nobody has the magic formula on ongoing communication, however, there are some things I have noticed from my own experience:

  • Frequency – Like a regular relationship, you can’t just assume I love you so much that I want to hear from you every. single. day.  That’s just making it weird.  I don’t need to think about shopping for anything every single day. Don’t fill my inbox.  Start slowly, maybe monthly, and we can move forward from there.  The necessity of your marketing department to look busy does not justify filling my inbox.  Also – think about your target market and your products.  Just because I buy a wallet from a leather goods company doesn’t mean I need to hear from them constantly via email.  The product should stand on its own.  Be intelligent, thoughtful and respectful about how often you contact me.
  • Personalization – If you are saying the deal is just for me, it better be just for me.  This isn’t the first time I’ve shopped.  I have friends online AND in the real world with the same taste.  I know if they get the same deals or not.   99% of the time, the deals are not personalized, or at least – they don’t feel personalized.  Want to blow my mind?  Send me an offer for the pants that go with my new jacket – or the coloured shoelaces that go with my new shoes AND my new shirt.  Let me know that lots of stuff is on sale that is MY SIZE.  Send me an offer on the razor blades I always buy if I buy the shaving cream.  That is a personalized offer.  20% off jackets is NOT a personalized offer.  20 cents off Premium Plus because I bought them in the past is a personalized deal, but it’s not enough to be worth my time.   Use my data well and I’ll welcome you to it.
  • Transparency – I know you you’re selling  stuff, you know you’re selling stuff. Let’s all be up front about it.   If you offer me something, give me the chance to say I don’t want it.  You can be funny about it, but be respectful of my time by letting me get out of this thing easily. If you send me 2 emails and I don’t respond, how about a message that says – seems like you don’t want to hear about this stuff.  If we’re bothering you, we can lay off.  Just hit this button and hit send and we’ll fix it for you.
  • Offer Targeting – Everyone wants the holy grail – if you bought this, you will certainly want that, but it’s difficult.  You will inevitably get it wrong.  First, I’m not a girl.  Don’t forget that.  Basic stuff needs to be sorted NOW.  Once you get past that, you can offer me things I might not want by making offers.  That’s okay, but do me a favour – only show me a few things – not 20 things.  If I see 20 things, I’m not reading it.  If I don’t like your suggestions, let me tell you if I don’t like what you suggested.  Make it easy and fast and I’ll do it.  You’ll learn from it, and I’ll not be bothered any longer.
  • Messaging – There better be something in this message for me if I’m going to even read it – let alone have a dialog with you.  Do you really think I’m going to read a 2 page message about suit jackets- or god forbid, skirts? I’m surprised you’ve read this far – many will not.  ALWAYS have the topic and message be about something I might care about.  Keep it short and to the point.  In business school almost 20 years ago, they gave me half a page.  I’ll give you a couple of sentences.
  • Evernote Camera Roll 20140103 133425Medium Look, I’m sure you have lots of great ideas that add value that aren’t just about discounts.  That’s great and I might like to hear about it, but not in my email.  If you have lots of cool stuff to share on your brand, put it on social media – be it Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest – wherever your people are.  Put the ideas in blog posts.  Lookbooks are coming around in many new and novel ways.  Make all of it accessible within your mobile app if you have one.  If I like your brand and what you’re showing me, I’ll follow you and remember you when the time comes. Remind me of that when I leave your email list.  
  • Control – I have a feeling that people at companies of all types constantly have meetings and measure how many subscribers they have and how many people are constantly contacted through these email lists. They are loathe to drop any as it’s seen as a negative.  Here’s the thing.  Hiding that unsubscribe button at the bottom is disingenuous.  Make it obvious.  Make it a big button.  Do you really want me to get messages I don’t want?  No you do not.  It will make me resent you.  Not the feeling you are looking for.
  • Timing – I know everyone thinks that by timing I mean Christmas or Black Thursday, but I don’t.  If you want me to buy something, get the information to me when I’m planning on buying.  I’m not planning on scanning my inbox for goodies.  That’s basically the flyer method moved to an electronic format.  That’s not how my kids are going to shop either.  If you want to get me to buy, get me when I’m shopping.  Hard to do that with email.  In fact, that’s why I suggest the content I get in many emails would be better placed on a blog, twitter feed, or lookbook accessible in an app or online in all manner of ways when I’m at your store or at your website.

The bottom line is that as always, selling is relationships.  Be intelligent about relationships.  Treat people like you would like to be treated.  Be respectful, be up front, and treat them as you would your friends – because they are your friends.  That’s how I’d like to be treated and so would you.  The tools and the media are available, and most of what we need to guide us we use every day with our personal relationships.

Remember your clients and targets are your friends when trying to have a conversation and they will treat you as a friend – oh, and buy more stuff.

2013.32 | iOS 7 for retailers

iOS 7 was released on September 19 to a great deal of fanfare.  With so much change in one release it can be easy to miss some of the details.  Hidden among the flat icons, control center and iRadio are some intriguing OS elements that could be leveraged by retailers to enable enhanced shopping experiences.    Check out some of the changes:

ibeaconsiBeacon – All of us in the retail technology world can expect to hear much more about iBeacon in the coming weeks.  Scores of articles are popping up on this little noticed item nestled into the long list of changes in iOS 7.  If you search the Apple corporate site, there is no information published on it, but it may finally unlock the mobile interaction nirvana that other attempts (nfc, shopkick and many more) have struggled to attain.   iBeacon is a technology that allows sensors to identify when consumers are in a very localized site – much more exact than GPS can ever be – and workable indoors.  This makes it possible to provide information to a mobile device in proximity to a beacon.

MLBVisit-360x640MLB has been working on a demo with Apple since early in the year.  In this use case, using a venue specific app on the mobile device will cause different actions to occur on the mobile based on the users location in the stadium driven by proximity to sensors that the app can identify.  When users near a ticket gate, their tickets pop up on the screen.  When they pass the ticket gate, detailed directions to their seat are on the screen.  When they visit a hot dog stand, purchases can drive an on screen loyalty card that with a buy 10 get one free type scheme reminiscent of the old Subway Sub club.   All in all, it’s possible to provide a custom experience for park visitors.

It’s not a real stretch to see where this sort of technology can be a game changer for retailers.  Not only is it possible to provide pinpoint location in a store, the user is known via the app.  The experience can change for every user depending on how the retailer wants to drive the conversation.  If you have a VIP client, perhaps you invite them to ask for their free bottle of San Pellegrino directly on an app to give it that sense of magic.  Perhaps one client gets a 10% off coupon for shoes, but another gets 20% off on leather goods in the same area.  Add to the personal touch the ability to tell who is taking you up on the offers and you’ve got a winning formula for selling in store.

While this technology is an enabler, I see serious complexity and tracking challenges for retailers on these beacons.   This is an incredible opportunity to improve and customize a customer experience, but it’s going to take time to get it right and figure out the rules to win over customers.

frequent locations

Frequent Locations – In iOS 7, Apple has built a tracker to indicate a user’s frequent locations.  The idea being that contextual location data can be provided to anticipate the user’s needs.

With this information it would be easy to identify a user’s regular visitation of a particular branch of a major retailer and leverage that data in apps.  Notifications of upcoming events at those locations could be highlighted to the user if they opt in to messaging.  Perhaps users could be prompted for their favourite stores for Passbook instead of having to identify them on things like their Starbucks card, or even better, it could just add favourite stores automatically based on the invidividual user’s data.

keychainKeychain – Mac Users are accustomed to keeping a mini database of their logins, passwords, and credit card information on their OSX systems.  Google chrome has similar functionality in it’s autofill functionality.

Keychain has been ported to iOS 7 and can store local passwords.  Earlier test versions seemed to indicate that Keychain was going to leverage iCloud to centrally store all of this information, but it was cut in the late stages of release.

While this isn’t fully implemented through iCloud, this move towards central and secure storage of credit cards provides a potential workaround for all of the in store payment scenarios that wreak such havok and drive up time and cost on deployments.

Consider a shopper with an app that allow them to scan items in the store.  Instead of having to go to a self-checkout, a pay station, or a regular POS, what if the app could ask for permission to use a stored card on the mobile for payment based on a PIN?

Photo 9-29-2013, 11 45 24 PM

Passbook  – Using passbook has always been a bit of a disappointment to myself and others.  It’s not intuitive to use, but the update made it a bit less annoying by removing the shredder that kills old tickets.

Uptake from retailers is picking up (there are 17 passbook apps on the Canadian app store as of this writing  Longos, Starbucks, and Sephora are the only non-travel and entertainment type apps).  I’ve used Starbucks, Cineplex, and Air Canada quite often and they’ve all worked well.    I just don’t see people using it much in the wild as you can also use the regular apps to pay for starbucks or to present your ticket barcodes for scanning.

Where the iOS 7 improvement comes in is a small change that incorporates the camera as a scanner.   One of the shortcomings of using coupons with Passbook in iOS 6 is that you had to find an offer that had the add to Passbook button and now add it.

Apple has now made it possible for consumers to cross from the world of paper to the mobile world.  Much more work needs to be done on Passbook.  Retailers and Apple need to find a symbiotic way to get customers comfortable with it, but this is a decent addition.

iOS 7 is an interesting study.  For myself, the interesting part of iOS 7 is watching users grapple with changed features, unforeseen glitches, and losing functionality to which they may be accustomed.  I’ve listened to my share of complaints on iOS 7 from my family and friends and acted as remote support on a few challenges so far.

As mobile devices become fundamentally ingrained into society and into everyone’s lives, these changes become personal and incredibly widespread.  Working in retail technology for many years, I’ve grappled with these challenges with retail clients over the years, and there are many parallels to updates applied across stores.  The important lesson is to embrace the change and look for the opportunities to leverage the potential for improvements that drove the change in the first place.  Retailers and consumers have much to gain from the ideas here, and everyone will have to learn together how to benefit.

2013.31 | freeosk | oyster | paypal beacon

3015672-slide-s-3-freeosk-the-redbox-of-free-samplesFreeosk – Why not automate the process of providing free samples at grocery stores?  The Freeosk can be installed in a store for automatic dispensing of free samples.  I can take or leave the need to have someone hand me a piece of a granola bar in a cup.

While it looks like a space saver, using the space to give samples AND provide a product display, the most interesting part of this kiosk is that shoppers scan their loyalty card to get their sample.  This provides retailers an opportunity to figure out if the free samples are driving business and to whom.  As an added bonus, maybe it would stop all the scofflaws from drinking more than their fair share of the free apple cider at my market! via Fast Company

oysterOyster – Applying the the strategy that Pandora, Spotify and Songza use for music, Oyster is offering a subscription based service for books.  They have 100,000 ebooks; you have 9.99 a month and you can read all you wish.  It’s great to see subscription based services on offer, but it’s yet another blow to bookstores and paper lovers everywhere.  Now if we can just get a service like Whispersync on a subscription basis.

paypal beaconPayPal Beacon – Paypal recently released their homage to 2001: A Space Oddysey  – the Paypal Beacon – to enable payments via bluetooth.  I look forward to this type of disruption in payments.  As a consumer, I hate carrying cash, and I’m interested in dumping cards as well.  The best transaction is one where I didn’t even notice it happening, and geofenced solutions like these can make it happen.

As someone involved in retail point of service installations, I’ve seen the incredible effort involved in making systems work with payments.  It’s difficult to break away from that complexity, but there are definitely moves afoot that indicate this complexity may be overcome.  It’s wonderful that the likes of Paypal and Google Wallet have new apps that are branching out of their traditional areas to enable payments from the consumer end.  From the retailer end, organizations like my employer (NCR), are providing options with solutions like our connected payments solution to simplify the back end challenges.

While it doesn’t appear that cash is disappearing anytime soon, retail is all about choice.  If you want to pay with cash, you should be able to do so.  If you want to pay with debit or credit, that should be easy for retailers to implement and for customers to use.  We aren’t there yet, but it does look like there is finally some progress to enable the transactions of tomorrow.

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.


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.

2013.29 | self-checkout redux

I read this Time magazine article on self-checkout at the beginning of the summer and found it again in my pocket reading list, and it made me stop and think about self-checkout all over again.   I’ve been involved with self-checkout on and off for over a decade now.  There have been all kinds of arguments for and against self-checkout over those years, and frankly, all arguments are conjecture and opinion.

Retailers and consumers vote with their wallets.  That’s the measure that should get the most attention.   Self-checkout has grown tremendously in usage in North America and around the world through all the time I’ve been involved, and it will continue to grow into the future.


There were a few small arguments against self-checkout in the Time article, and those should be in the article to provide a balanced view.  I respect that need for balanced perspective, but the arguments are some I’ve heard many times before selling and implementing self-checkouts.

  • The article indicates that some retailers are removing self-checkout. The names in the article are few and a little dated, frankly, and many more retailers are adding self-checkout than are removing them in my experience.  The list of retailers offering self-checkout is getting longer, and not shorter.  If any retailer is removing self-checkout, it’s generally not a failure of the self-checkout technology, it’s more likely one of a couple of things.  Either the self-checkout has not been implemented in such a manner as to drive value to clients and the retailer, or self-checkout is just not a fit for a particular business model.   Both of these issues are very much addressable.    Every retailer and every environment is different and must be addressed as such.  In fact, while the Time article indicated that self-checkout was removed from IKEA in the US, if you walk into an IKEA stores in Canada as I do, you will generally see more self-checkout than assisted service lanes.   Unlike the early days, self-checkout now comes in many flavours and can be adjusted to suit most needs.
  • The article indicates that theft is a problem. Theft is a problem in every retail environment.  I’ve been involved in many self-checkout implementations at various retailers across Canada and in the US.  I have colleagues who implement self-checkout all over the world.  I’ve worked with people who previously worked with competitive self-checkout solutions.  We all find the same thing when we discuss this issue among ourselves.  There are a plethora of tools available from all self-checkout vendors and others to enable store staff to minimize theft.  These tools must be embraced by the store staff to ensure shrink is not an issue.  More importantly, self-checkouts require caring, well trained, customer focused staff to provide assistance to clients and provide the same sort of diligent oversight for theft and dishonesty that the regular front end of any store requires.  Why would self-checkout be any different than any other part of the store in that regard?  It isn’t.
  • The article indicates that 52% of consumers prefer to use self-checkout and that 48% “pretty much hate it”.  I didn’t see anything in the cited Cisco study summary that indicated that polled consumers “hated it”, only that 52% prefer to use self-service if given a choice.  In fact, 61% of those polled were even willing to visit a fully automated self service store.   I like those numbers.  If there was a vote in the western world, 52% would win the day for most anything.  In fact, anything we can get clients to agree to over half the time is incredible.  Why not consider how many retailers are building smartphone apps to drive business to their stores and even allow for mobile checkout.  Does anyone consider that crazy in today’s mobile obsessed society?  Only 56% of Canadians and Americans own smartphones.  Does that mean retailers are wasting their time on something only half the population can even use?  Definitely not.

If that reasoning isn’t enough, and really, these concerns are not particularly convincing for those with experience with self service, there are a few things you might not consider about self-checkout that I’ve come to understand:

  • Self-checkout takes people away from the assisted service lanes, making the line shorter for those that really prefer a checkout experience with a cashier.  If you hate self-checkout, you can’t hate the fact that the line for a cashier just got shorter.
  • Self-checkout doesn’t have to remove the personal touch.  In great implementations it can leverage it fully. Self-checkout attendants are not always the best cashiers or most ‘technical’ of the store staff.  Well trained attendants who are willing to engage with customers are generally better choices and provide a better experience for customers in the store.   They can read whether customers need help and either back away or step forward to assist as the situation requires it.  If a personal touch is a key element of the retailer’s ethos, they have every opportunity to be friendly to clients and interact with them appropriately.
  • When self-checkouts are used primarily for smaller transactions, it increases the productivity of the assisted service lanes as cashiers only scan larger orders.  Tendering is the slowest part of the transaction, so the dollars per hour in transactions handled by the assisted lane cashiers tend to increase.
  • An attendant can handle 4-6 lanes at the same time very easily.  That means that 4-6 people can start their transaction without waiting in line instead of only 1 person who doesn’t have to wait.  At a single lane, 60 second transactions would drive 90 second average wait time for 4 customers in line.  With 4 self-checkouts there is an average wait time of 0 seconds.  Does anyone really like waiting in line?
  • New smaller, space saving self-checkouts are finding a place in smaller footprint urban stores.  I’ve seen 3 checkouts easily replaced with 6 self-checkouts, and leaving the space feeling more open, as there is no space needed for a cashier to stand.  Cashier and client stand on the same side of the unit.
  • With new footprints and convertible self-checkouts, it is now possible to keep every lane in a store open for the entire time the store is open.  Why waste lanes and space that cannot be used without an attendant?  Every square foot counts.

Frankly, I don’t find a great deal of argument against self-checkout any more.  I was even surprised to come across this article stating that it was even a question.  Self-checkout is a mainstay.  It’s an assumed option by retailers and consumers alike.  In today’s omnichannel world, we can consider it the third channel after assisted service POS and eCommerce.   It was a channel in the omnichannel retail universe well before it was called that.

The Time article is correct in that self-checkout does appear to be the on-ramp for mobile self service.  Self-checkout taught all of us a different paradigm for shopping in a store. Mobile will do that again.   Just as self-checkout evolved into different modes, in store mobile apps will vary in function to suit the situation.  Contrary to the article, you may not even need to scan anything with mobile shopping.  Stay tuned.

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.

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