2013.26 | long term trends

Lately I’ve been considering a few longer term trends that are taking shape that will definitely change the shape of retail.

Self Driving Cars – Seems like science fiction now, but self driving cars are really coming.  Check out this infographic on how the technology is progressing.  Volvo also provides a very detailed overview of current and upcoming technology including self driving.  Take a completely different commute , add shopping apps and geolocation and retailers will need to capture customers differently tomorrow to be competitive.  Add the increasing influence of electric cars that don’t require gas, and less service, and you understand that purveyors of fuel and convenience will have to adjust their model to suit the needs of tomorrow’s consumers.

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Print Your Own Food – Supermarkets and restaurants can also look forward to technology impacts.  This recent food printer concept probably provides another potential revenue stream for a grocery store – selling food filled ink cartridges perhaps – and could shape the offerings provided in restaurants.  In the spirit jetpacks, how about robots brewing our espresso each morning?

Print Your Own Clothes – While the sales of music, movies and books are increasingly electronic, retailers of clothing have been impacted less, but smart retailers will stay on top of trends that could allow consumers to obtain clothing online with a file, instead of at a physical store or having physical items sent to them.  A popup store in London recently allowed patrons to pick the designs for tshirts and print them directly on demand in the store.  Printing on tshirts is pretty simple, but consider the trend towards knit footwear.  Nike recently released a lightweight knit shoe that looks primed for some sort of 3d printer/ knitting machine .   What if customers can just download styles and print them at home?  While this is definitely not the same as music, movies, or books, it certainly provides some opportunity for some competitive advantages that savvy businesses could leverage. It could also make knock-offs of current fashions much quicker.

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2013.25 | keyme | hyperlocal | nordstrom pinterest

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Keyme – While physical keys are increasingly disappearing, much like cash they are still a part of life that will not go away for some time. All of us have misplaced a key at some time, and startup Keyme looks to help customers out of that jam. The company has kiosks located at select Manhattan 7-Eleven sites that allow users to print their stored key pattern on demand. Customers register their keys at the kiosk at no charge. The machine captures the pattern of the key against a credit card and fingerprint for security. If you lose your key, head over to 7-Eleven, enter in your information, scan your fingerprint, and you can have a copy of your key printed for $20.

It’s a novel idea that solves a real problem. While I’m certain all precautions are taken for security, Keyme puts the pattern for your house key with your home address and your credit card number online. That means security better be solid. The risks are the same as all of the other cloud services that increasingly connect everything – doorlocks, security systems, online thermostats, and more. As cloud services and gadgets make our lives more convenient, they inevitably expose us to new risks that we will all have to weigh against that convenience.

From a retailer perspective, some of these technologies could drive future opportunities. Imagine being able to provide a lockbox to which you can give programmed access one time only for a package or a grocery delivery. What if the security camera at our front door can page us when someone comes to the door and you can let them in remotely and lock the door again when they leave? Maybe the delivery man can even replace your eggs when you run out – or not.

CaptureHyperlocal – This hyperlocal food market concept by Kayleigh Thompson provides a platform for farmers to sell their produce / food products. Think of this concept as the sort of infrastructure that etsy provides for arts and crafts sellers with an extension to price and label food. While it’s a long shot for something like this to take off, this sort of connection between producer and end clients is an increasingly common theme online eCommerce sites like etsy, fab and more. Large grocery chains could leverage a platform like this to bring together the best of a farmer’s market with the infrastructure benefits of a chain.

CaptureNordstrom – The high end chain have been labeling their most tagged items from pinterest in their stores. It’s fascinating to see social media pulled into the real world. Seeing a top ten list of most popular products in a physical store brings an element of involvement to the store that could not exist otherwise. Expect to see more of these connections between the online and physical stores, and expect more of them to pay off as consumers become increasingly comfortable and attuned to connecting the channels.

2013.24 | satellites | car apps | makers

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.28.23 PMSatellitesSkybox is a startup documented in a recent Wired magazine article that plans to get relatively cost effective satellites into space around the planet so that they can sell constantly images of the planet online.  This represents an interesting opportunity for retailers. With updated data and solutions from companies like Remote Sensing Metrics, retailers can do more than just scout out sites for new locations. With constantly updated and date-stamped data it is possible to see how many cars are in the parking lot at your stores and those of competitors at certain times of day. Sales data shows people who bought from you. Door counting solutions count how many people came into the store. Why not see if traffic is translating into results?

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.38.22 PMCar Apps – Omnichannel will become increasingly real and more complex as car makers like GM and others begin to offer apps for cars. What if an app that runs on your car could remind you of your shopping list as you pass your favourite grocer? What if your GPS can suggest a shopping stop to wait out a traffic jam? What if your spouse’s shopping list with exact items and prices, could be transferred to a store on your way home and per-order your basket for pickup?

All of these concepts represent real opportunities made possible with car apps (or smartphone apps that play nice with cars) as well as an Omnichannel infrastructure.  Retailers that can quickly release apps to take advantage of these technological advances could gain some advantage if the solution suits their demographic. The greatest challenge will be bending infrastructure to accommodate these advances in the coming years.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.44.08 PMMakersChris Anderson’s latest book provides an in depth look into the world of makers – a new generation of tinkerers with access to ever cheaper and more sophisticated tools and materials.  The book is definitely worth a read to expose yourself to this culture.

A few of my favourite items touched on in the book:

– 123D is a set of apps from autodesk that have a make menu that has the equivalent of a print button to print out physical objects with a 3d printer.  123D catch allows you to print a physical object from a photo.

– Quirky – A social development website that helps inventors get their ideas out there.

– Experiments with IKEA furniture indicate that when people help build their creations they bid 67% more for their own creations.  Some potential differentation for vendors and retailers. (Chapter 5: The Long Tail of Things)

– Digital fabrication makes it possible to make niche products in small batches in nearly the same quality as big fabricators.  Makes 3D printing and the like seem something worthy of attention.  (Chapter 6: The Tools of Transformation)

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the material covered.  It’s a great book to change the way you think of manufacturing and how things get made.

 

2013.22 | hointer | spade | sustainability

CaptureHointer – Seattle based Hointer sells jeans in a not so old fashioned way.  Their concept is to remove all of the friction from an apparel shopping experience.

Customers download the Hointer App, and visit the showroom.  The showroom has one pair of each type of jeans on display.  When you see jeans you like, you scan the 2d code on the product, and you are provided with realtime inventory information on  your smartphone.  You indicate your size, and you are directed to a dressing room where the items will be waiting for you.

While I was skeptical of the product waiting in the dressing room, in the demonstration video by Geekwire, the jeans appeared down a chute almost immediately after the reporter selected them from his device.  You can then try on the jeans, and if you don’t like them, you put them down the chute in the dressing room, and the jeans come out of your shopping cart.  If you do like them, you swipe your card and pay.  Only the items you kept are on your cart.  The payment process was not shown, but I would anticipate this could even be added to the mobile if the retailer were willing to pay the card not present processing fees.

While this process may not work for every apparel format, it’s very intriguing, and you can imagine at least some elements being implemented at almost any apparel outlet.  Taking the vaguely annoyed teenager who unlocks the dressing rooms out of the equation (or at least hiding them behind a curtain) could be a plus.  Three stores are online right now.  Would love to see more of this in my local mall.

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Kate Spade – In the spirit of instant gratification, Kate Spade has set up interactive ordering screens in front of four vacant storefronts in NYC.   New Yorkers can walk up to the outdoor facing large format screen, and scroll through the new Kate Spade Saturday collection.  If they find items they wish to purchase, they have them delivered at no charge in 1 hour.  The system texts the customer and they pay with credit on delivery.

This is obviously intended to be more of a gimmick to get attention than a permanent fixture, but with a little rent and some paint, this is certainly an advertisement to which you can tie some actual results.  Why not use these storefronts as billboards and measure their effectiveness at capturing the attention of targeted demographics based on the potential for sales.  Media attention to their brand is also provided at no charge.  The article provides no indication if pranksters are sending out Kate Spade delivery men to unsuspecting fashionistas in the dead of night without their permission.

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Sustainability – European grocer Auchun now provides clients the opportunity to read their sustainability report the way such a report should be read;  electronically instead of on dead trees.

Customers can use the Auchan app to scan the barcode on their grocery receipt and an interactive report shows directly on their smartphone.  While not a giant business change, it shows Auchan’s dedication to sustainability and makes it simple to distribute the report information while getting them some free publicity at the same time.

2013.21 | june link dump

CapturePoints Electronic Street Sign – Wayfinding is always a tough solution to provide to customers at the best of times.  Retail outlets are not always simple places to navigate when searching for a particular item that could be in various sections.  These Points Electronic Street Signs are notable for their simplicity and novelty.  Type in what you are looking for and the directional signs swing around to point in the right direction with the relevant text displayed on the sign.  Would something this basic work in a big box store?  In my experience, even going in the general direction is a lot more helpful than wandering from one section to another.  Are lightbulbs near lighting or cleaning products?  If placed correctly and with aisle details maybe something like this could work!

Amazon Fresh – I’ve been watching the Amazon grocery business for some time now, and it looks like they might have their formula worked out from their efforts in the US Northwest as they are starting to roll groceries further afield.  Competing traditional grocers would do well to provide an ecommerce experience tied to their stores to avoid Amazon cutting into their business with effectively no delivery charges (via Prime), Amazon Subscribe and Save, and the ability to leverage other trips to regular clients.

CaptureMobile Gear – The mobilegear ecommerce site does an incredible job of finding a niche and a very simple and effective way to sort through product without resorting to the age-old web strategy of showing categories of lists at the side of the page.   They also have some really thoughtful offerings for their chosen segment.  I don’t need a mobile desk, but this makes me want one!

3D Printing – 3D printing is getting more and more mainstream as Amazon starts a 3D printing section on their site.  Not hard to see where this leads – Amazon providing distribution of files to print new items at home.

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SmartThingsSmartThings is a kickstarter funded solution for home automation.  It includes a wireless hub that can interface to sensors (open, closed, motion, presence, temperature and more) and then to mobile devices via an app.  Ideally this solution can make home automation far more cost effective, but from a retailer perspective it could also represent a cost effective dashboard for store managers.  How about a notification to a manager’s mobile device if a freezer case dropped below a certain temperature, or that the back door that never closes quite right when someone leaves isn’t shut?  Even if the manager isn’t at the store, they could call someone to make sure the freezer is checked and repaired and that the door is secure.

2013.19 | opentable | illumiroom-kinect | concierge

opentableOpentable – If you haven’t stumbled on Opentable yet, you should definitely check it out and get it on your mobile.  Anyone can book a table at a restaurant with a PC or mobile device.  It does one thing very simply and it works.  And it does it for a fee and makes money.   I was reminded of this recently by a Gizmodo article that highlights the benefits very well.  Get it on your device.  The more of us use it, the more restaurants will subscribe to it.

In fact, if the OpenTable team are taking recommendations, how incredible would it be if this appointment making service was extended to hair stylists, mechanics, and even doctors and dentists?  Why am I still phoning for an appointment for anything?  All consumers should be able to pick an appointment and have it added to their mobile calendar  just like OpenTable.  OpenTable has the platform; all that would be needed is some branding to suit the other scheduling scenarios.  Reskin the app, get an iPad out to the sites – or even better, an API into their appointment systems – and we would never have to call again.

Even if that doesn’t happen, retailers and consumer facing organizations of all sorts should take note and make appointments easier.  Whoever can reduce the friction of making an appointment first will get an uptick in business.

Illumiroom-KinectkinectMicrosoft has made some announcements over the past month that indicate that their Illumiroom concept might actually see the light of day.  While Illumiroom is touted as a gaming platform, we all now that the big players in pizza automatically put an ordering solution on every console or device to be used by late night snacking gamers.  Expect the pizza team to have us all in an old school pizzeria within days of release.  That in turn should certainly drive some forward looking retailers to try some new ideas with Illumiroom in a concept store or even with an online store that will work with Xbox One.  It’s just another channel after all.

Even better, there were lots of Kinect hacks for real life shopping solutions, and with the release of Xbox One, the Kinect team indicated that the new Kinect will be released for Windows platforms.  This announcement means that solutions in stores now have access to a very cost effective visual tracking platform.  I would expect this module to be taken advantage of in a number of ways.  While novel attention getters like virtual dressing rooms are part of it, the more practical side of traffic counting and loss prevention could certainly leverage Kinect solutions.

waitroseConcierge @ Waitrose – UK based grocer Waitrose has indicated that they are going to add concierge style desks at the front of 100 their stores.  These desks will provide access to tablets to assist with online ordering, as well as some special services like giftwrapping and dry cleaning.  One would suppose that the services will expand over time.

At first glance, this does not sound like a significant change nor an earth shattering alteration in the lives of stores as we know them.  After all, it seems there have always been catalog counters at stores.  What I believe is different here is the recognition that these sort of desks are more likely to become a crucial hub of a retail store than a dusty catalog desk in the corner.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • With hubs like this retailers have a better chance of capturing sales that might be lost due to out of stock, by making it obvious where to go for help and providing a mechanism where you can order online to buy what you want right now via various options (buy now, ship to home | have item reserved at other store | pick another viable alternative item with input from customer service).
  • Store associates at the desk ensure that guests that are not technologically inclined can obtain assistance and ‘talk to a person’ as a significant percent of the buying population choose to do instead of using a traditional ordering screen on their own.
  • If customers wish to place an order online as they would from a traditional kiosk, the tablet is there for them to use.
  • Store associates at the desk can take the opportunity to show the less technically inclined how simple and useful it is to shop from a tablet exactly as they could at home, making them comfortable enough to do so on their own they don’t even have to visit the desk or even the store in future.
  • Stores provide an advantage over etailers  in that you could go pick up an item NOW.  If it isn’t easy to pick up that item, or the system doesn’t work, then the advantage over etailers is gone.  Making pickups simple and obvious ensures the advantage stays.  Having those desks covered by knowledgeable people will help hold together any bumps or errors with transactions as well.

Fundamentally what excites me about the implementation of these desks is that they involve a combination of operations, technology and forward thinking.  Too often technology is stuck into a store as an afterthought.  It’s important to be certain that there are benefits to the store, to the customers and to the retailer for any solution.  If all of the pieces are working together, the opportunities for success are much greater.

These desks are a recognition that shopping patterns are emerging and instead of giving everyone tablets, or changing a policy at head office, Waitrose have made this into a strategic plan that takes into account the situation, the customers and how best to serve their changing needs and expectations.  Expect to see more of this sort of structure change in stores.  These same thoughts can already be seen at Best Buy Canada.  Smart retailers will emulate them.

2013.18 | slender vender | cc glasses | snipsnap

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Slim Vending Machine – The new Diet Coke Slender Vender finally avoids making vending machines look like a big wide refrigerator. Too often we stick with a standard configuration for a technology just because that’s how things have always been. The streamlined look and the ability to make a vending machine fit in places where traditional units would not fit is a refreshing notion. Perhaps Ogilvie should talk to Proctor and Gamble and my favourite retailers so I don’t have to pick up my razor blades at the front of the store. Why not take the challenge of a high shrink item and turn it into an opportunity to install a sleek display that fulfills a need for security? I believe putting high value high shrink items in vending machines at the front of the store would give the product top billing and keep consumers like myself out of the checkout line; in a good way. Even if I had to use a vending machine at the end, it’s still faster than asking a teenager to get my razor blades out of a cabinet.

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Closed Captioning Glasses – Regal Cinemas and Sony are releasing new glasses for use in theatres. These glasses have technology that project closed captions onto the glasses so that patrons that are not able to hear the audio can better follow the movie with no impact to anyone else in the theatre. While not the sleekest looking glasses you’ve ever seen, they certainly represent a wonderful addition for guests that are hard of hearing. It would be incredible to connect these glasses into Google Translate so that subtitles would appear on the glass as you are talking to a person for real-time real-life subtitles! They could also represent a great tool for retailers to provide real-time details on customers to staff in a Google Glass like wearable interface without users having to look up and to the right.

CaptureSnipSnap – Coupons are a challenge for many retailers. Paper coupons may be of dubious origin. Home printing quality can make it hard to tell if someone is faking a coupon. Chasing down manufacturers for reimbursement is extra work. Putting store staff in the drivers seat on deciding if coupons are valid isn’t ideal.

SnipSnap isn’t going to make it any easier for retailers to deal with coupons. This app allows users to take pictures of their coupons and keep them in the app on their mobile until they get to the store. This assumes of course that the retailer will accept scans of coupons from the mobile devices of users (maybe). It may also assume every lane has a scanner that can read from a mobile device (also maybe).

The point of consideration this sort of app is that coupons represent a wild west for retailers – they can come from everywhere. They are certainly an important part of the business, and retailers are best to stay ahead of the curve of what consumers want. Find a way to provide a legitimate coupon vehicle so that retailers and customers alike can experience the benefits and avoid the potential pitfalls of apps like SnipSnap.

2013.17 | cookies | kiosks | 51 co’s | eBay | purchext

Picture of Product as Tender – Weetabix in the UK recently had an offer where consumers can obtain a free Weetabix On The Go in a retail store by merely showing the cashier an image of the product.  And I thought retailers had fun with regular old coupons.  While it’s kinda fun, it seems somewhat pointless.  Effectively it’s the same as telling clients just to ask for a free sample – and that’s what will happen in stores as we all know.

Google ‘Kiosks’ – Google has announced a managed public sessions feature for chromebooks.  Google envisions this as a simple way to enable chromebooks as public internet kiosks for stores to offer customers a way to purchase things online that may not be in stock at the store or other ‘kiosk-type’ solutions.   As a retail technology professional I find these sorts of announcements interesting because it seems a bit like looking for a reason to have a feature.  It’s been possible to lock down kiosk terminals, notebooks, tablets, and even regular old pcs with kiosk mode on browsers or with special software packages for some time.  While a chromebook is a bit cheaper than a full fledged notebook, this kiosk feature seems a marginal benefit.

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51 Companies – Business Insider has an incredibly exhaustive list of 51 Retail Innovators that is a must read list for retailers. I’ve covered a number of the companies using technology for retail, but this a great list to provide some inspiration.  Some of my favourites: fab (curation), hointer (using your mobile for catalog like shopping in a store), and stylitics (track your wardrobe – think fashion only pinterest with what you have, not just what you want).

eBay Pop-up Store – eBay is apparently moving into real world retail as a part of a partnership with Kate Spade.  Unofficially, a pop-up Kate Spade store in NYC will be outfitted with a large touch screen window, presumably to allow purchases of items in the store.  eBay wish to provide a platform to assist real world retail sites to meld with the online.

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Purchext – A new Canadian app shown at Disrupt NYC 2013 provides parents the chance to remotely validate purchases of their children for release of funds to their bank account.   Interesting idea that I could see grocers considering within their own systems to ensure that family’s keep their purchases in the chain!  So much for the party run to the grocery store on dad’s card.

 

2013.15 | Tables, Glass, Showrooming, Holographic Shoes

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Interactive Table MenuInamo in London’s Soho has been providing a menu on the table that enables orders to be placed directly to the kitchen.  The projection system powered by e-table interactive allows the menu, table themes and games to be shown directly on the table.  It’s gimmicky, but the restaurant’s been in business for years, so they are definitely doing something right.

Google Glass Apps – Now that Google Glass is starting to make its way into the real world, we can look forward to some specially developed android powered apps to appear.  Wired has a few interesting ideas for initial apps.  Scanning apps seem a natural fit for a camera enabled solution like glass.  It would be a short jump to enabling Evernote to remember things you want to buy.  Also expect showrooming with products like RedLaser or Amazon to become even easier to use if people start wearing these kooky glasses.

Showrooming – Speaking of showrooming, that term is increasingly being turned on its head as e-tailers move into the real world.  Stylish and innovative online glasses seller Warby Parker recently opened a real world shop in NYC. Given the recent findings from Forrester that indicate visiting stores is what matters most to consumers, is it only a matter of time until we have stores from pureplay e-tailers like Amazon and JackThreads?

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Holographic Shoes –  A recent ad campaign for Nike Free 5.0 made use of a holocube that realistically portrays an actual 3 dimensional shoe inside of a box that moves and flexes on its own, showcasing the flexibility of the design of the shoe to advantage.  The ad, installed in some bus shelters in Amsterdam has been effective in capturing the attention of passersby if the video is to be believed.

2013.11 | Retail Tech Miscellany

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.17.52 PMWaste Elimination – Check out The Disappearing Package – a Masters Thesis based on eliminating the packaging part of consumer packaged goods altogether.  Not sure how realistic these are, but eliminating packaging is a welcome concept, and there are some interesting options shown.  via Fast Company

Mobile Selling Across Platforms – There has been lots of talk about mobile retailing, but Gucci took it to heart and redesigned their mobile website to provide a unique experience suited to buying on a smartphone or tablet as well as a traditional pc or notebook.  One can’t help but notice that Gucci chose to update their mobile website instead of an app.  Given the increasing pile of mobile os ecosystems and flavours (iOS, Android, Windows) and devices (smartphones and tablets of various shapes and sizes), setting up a great website with mobile optimization seems the way to go.

IBM retail AR appShelf Overlay – Augmented Reality is another concept that has been touted as a game changer for retail.  IBM has a conceptual mobile app that allows users to use their mobile device’s camera to capture items on the shelf with image recognition and then allow shoppers to sort through the assortment based on various parameters as they would on a website.  Customers could find gluten free items, or see what items are on sale.  I love the concept, but I’m not sure if most people today will have the patience to search a store this way.  If they do, everyone will be bumping into each other and trying to stand back from the shelves.  It could get a bit awkward walking down the aisles!

Data elements are likely to be a challenge for this.  If a retailer doesn’t have a fully populated database with all the elements needed to filter, a significant effort will be required to update systems on the back end to support this effort.  Apparently it’s being tested in the UK.  Some fun additions in my mind: highlight items from my shopping list on the shelf in green in case I can’t find them, highlight my usual items as I walk by them, put blinking green on items that may interest me, and finally integrate this into Google Glass to make it less awkward to use.

Loyalty Apps – I’ve always hated those little loyalty cards that you got stamped for a free coffee.  My sushi place has a terrible version of this that you can’t even read.  I also hate carrying paper cards and I’m not alone.  Check out this recent blogto profile of a number of smaller loyalty programs that are trying to take this niche into the smartphone age.

CapturePinterest Analytics – Pinterest is one of the most interesting social media stories to come on the scene for some time, and it got a bit more interesting as their Web Analytics have been released.  Now pinners including retailers, will have a better idea of what people are pinning.  It’s unclear if that changes much for retailers that pin, but at least some gauge of reaction is possible.  Perhaps the ability to tag whether an item was purchased would help.  I’ve always thought Pinterest would be a great social media network for retailers to add to a client profile.  When I visit higher end retailers or am looking for something fashion related, staff always ask about my hobbies and style.  It would be nice to just let them glance through a few Pinterest boards to give them a flavour for what you like. Not only that, but the retailer sees what you like at other retailers.

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