2016.05 | Paper, Plastic, Neither?

It’s taken decades for us to get this close to the paperless office. Paper will probably never go away completely, but over the years the usage of paper and copies in my work has diminished exponentially. I rarely print anything. I prefer to store and send all information electronically. Electronic information is much quicker to share, easy to search, and easy to carry.

But has this movement to electronic information reached retail consumers visiting stores? It has, but not to the same degree that many of us experience at work and at home.

I recently visited a specialty shop to buy some tea, and encountered a familiar experience. I was offered the opportunity to join a loyalty club and I’m glad to do that for a discount, however, the method of enrollment was to scan and give me two plastic cards. One card for my wallet and one for a key ring. I accepted them and then took both of my paper receipts; one for my transaction and one for the debit/credit transaction. I then promptly threw away the paper receipts and, after registering my cards, dutifully scanned them with Stocard and filed them.

I accept that one plastic card and one (or two) paper receipt(s) aren’t going to fill up a landfill, but consider the millions of transactions that take place every day. We generate and track all of the data electronically, but instead of sharing it electronically, we print it off and hand it to a customer so that the vast majority of them can promptly throw it away or lose it.

thd receiptWhy do we still print receipts? Let’s consider the arguments I’ve heard over the years:

  • Customers like to check their prices and discounts. This is 100% true – particularly in grocery for a certain subset of budget minded customers. These customers want their receipts and they study them carefully.  They should have them. Retail is all about enabling choice, and this may be a group that will always want paper, however, it is arguable that they have never been provided a better alternative. A subset of these people will accept an electronic receipt if we can supply it quickly enough after the transaction and enable capability paper can’t provide.
  • Loss Prevention teams prefer customers to have bags and paper receipts. It’s obvious that this would make policing in challenging shrink environments easier. Consider another angle. Loyalty customers should receive perquisites, and not having to take a paper receipt is one I enjoy. All transactions are recorded electronically, and with the increasing proliferation of mobile devices in the hands of store associates and shoppers, it should be a simple matter to look up the customers receipts on a store or personal device and validate the date, time, and items on a transaction if required.
  • Retailers are required to give a receipt by Interac / Payments Processor / Credit Card Company. I don’t have a definitive answer on this item through the research I’ve done online (message me if you know!), however, it is certain that no paper receipt is required for eCommerce transactions which are a growing segment of retail purchases. I have also personally made a number of transactions at retailers where I opted for an electronic receipt and no paper receipt was printed, so it is possible.
  • Returns require a receipt. In today’s environment, all retailers should have a centralized database of transactions. We’re no longer relying on our cashiers to validate a real receipt versus a counterfeit receipt or whether a customer is potentially returning items dishonestly. Receipts are not required – transaction ids are required, or even better – the customer’s unique identifier to look up their past transactions. Data is what is needed.  Not paper.

The bottom line here is that paper should be optional.  If customers want it, it should be available. If they don’t want it, there is no need to print it. Every retailer and restaurateur is constantly looking for ways to save any costs.  Any budget cut significantly should help a retailers bottom line. If 25% or 50% of a paper budget for a year is removed it’s an improvement. Take the opportunity to enable an shopper opt-in no receipt option on POS or non-integrated pinpad terminals, and if processes are enabled correctly, the retailer’s knowledge of the shopper’s data will make the experience seem simple and seamless, just by scanning an id from a mobile device.  No paper, no card and no wallet needed

So what about the loyalty card? Why are pieces of plastic still distributed?  In the past, it enabled providing a quickly read and convenient MSR card. It enabled quick enrollment and provided the retailer with a desirable place in a customer’s wallet with their cash and credit cards.  Their logo was visible, and if the customer wanted points and discounts they had to carry that card and look at that logo.

simonsWe now live in 2016, in the world of smartphone proliferation. We live in the world of Apple Pay, Apple Wallet, Android Pay and Stocard. We live in a world with hundreds of cards and loyalty programs – more than can fit in a physical wallet.  Scanner-Imagers have replaced MSR readers. Mobile based electronic

It’s important to capture shoppers at the time of purchase, and while like paper receipts, plastic loyalty cards should be available, why give one to all shoppers to throw away? Once again, they cost money; why throw anything away if it’s not necessary. Why not enroll shoppers electronically at the point of purchase? Electronic loyalty cards provide benefits beyond plastic cards:

  • Shoppers sometimes forget to bring their wallet or plastic loyalty card with them.  Shoppers bring their mobile devices everywhere.
  • Apps and Mobile Wallet cards can have geofenced capabilities to allow apps to be brought up on the mobile device with a shortcut at the bottom of the screen on iOS devices – a similar position to that cherished in the wallet in the past.
  • Point totals can be shown directly on the card if enabled in Apple Wallet or Android Wallet or other apps, allowing shoppers to know their balance and potentially increasing their purchases in store before point of purchase.
  • Rebranding can be completed electronically instead of deploying new cards.
  • Pairing apps and electronic store cards allows a single touchpoint on mobile devices for interaction with customers.  A single app can allow opt-in promotions for loyal and dedicated shoppers, and they can identify themselves with that same device.

There are multiple ways to enable electronic enrollment. Some shoppers are likely to enroll online before visiting the store.  I use a password and identity manager that will autofill forms on any device I own to avoid constantly entering the same person details. Simons, for example, allows shoppers to enroll for their program online and even show the barcode on screen from the mobile website.  For those shoppers that enroll in the store, a loyalty id can be generated electronically and connected to an email address for the shopper to add their details later. Other creative solutions like tapping an NFC tag to connect to an enrollment engine are also available from organizations like Mobilpoint.

For the ongoing use of loyalty cards, it’s easiest for shoppers to use Apple Wallet or Android Pay for retailers that support it and Stocard for those that do not.

For those that want it, there is nothing wrong with paper or plastic.  Retail is all about enabling choice; yet there is no reason for paper and plastic to be the default.  There are lots of use cases to justify the electronic path and move the receipt and card options out of wallets and into the electronic world.

2016.04 | department store self service

hbc womens shoes

Just a few years ago, things were bleak for Department Stores to the point where their very existence was threatened. Seven years on and there is a revival in department stores; in Canada in particular. Hudson Bay stores are much improved, and Holt RenfrewSimons and Nordstrom are all expanding in store or adding new locations in Canada. Department Stores have found new relevance through various strategies: obtaining the rights to desirable trendy brands, providing international expansion for international brands via in-store boutiques, enhancing eCommerce footprint to augment and enhance the store experience or by serving the high-end market.

All of these strategies are underpinned by customer experience; department and specialty retailers are all about a unique customer experience or they would be mass merchants. It may be that need to differentiate themselves from mass merchants is what has kept these retailers from considering self service.

Self service has been embraced by grocery and mass merchants for almost 20 years.  More and more specialty retailers are leveraging endless aisle solutions in store and off site but there have been few initiatives for in store purchases at self service. Perhaps it is time to reconsider why it hasn’t been used, and consider whether things have changed.

Definition of Service – Many years of experience with self service has seen a shift in what is considered service.  There is a perception among a percentage of the population that a “machine” does not represent good customer service. Others note that no matter how opulent your surroundings in a store, once you have the item that you want to purchase, waiting in a queue is tiresome. Providing a self service option can reduce that line in the same POS footprint by providing four points of service that can be used simultaneously where one could be used before. In the traditional POS configuration in a Department Store with 4 people in line, 3 people wait. With a self service configuration, 0 of 4 people wait.  Nobody waits, and queues are dispersed more quickly than in the traditional model. Giving time back to shoppers is definitely a service.

Pervasiveness of Technology – The new graduates joining the workforce today have never known a world without the Internet – or self service. They are accustomed to technology and constant change. These people are the growing legions of shoppers in all stores. They want to shop in their stores; not their grandparents. The option of scanning items is a natural option, and not a retailer asking them to do work on their behalf.

Labour –  While tier one department stores that sell $500 keychains are swarming with sales staff, there are still a vast number of stores across a retailer’s estate that are not staffed in that manner. Suburban malls across North American cities appear to have a far lower staffing level. Shoppers who stop at a suburban store on Monday night to buy a pair of socks will hunt for someone to take their money. Walking far afield looking for POS “island” to find it is either closed, or has a line of 4 people. Self service is an excellent tool to combat spikes and troughs in customer traffic. Department Store staff are rarely dedicated cashiers, but have a host of other responsibilities. Why not provide staff with a tool to support multiple customer at one time?

Tendering – Cash is still pervasive across North America, but its use is continues to drop.  The implementation of EMV has reduced fraud in Canada and the UK. Shoppers are all accustomed to the drill of paying with a card at a payment terminal. Chip and Pin, NFC, Apple Wallet, and Android Wallet make it increasingly easier and quicker to transact with debit and credit cards on small footprint machines. The potential success of a cash only self-checkout has never been more likely.

Design – Self-checkouts have traditionally been a rather large footprint affair with an industrial look and feel. Department Stores aspire to be bastions of fashion and design, and any technology in the store must reflect that. The ability to leverage debit/credit only devices enables a much smaller footprint, as well as a device that is much more aesthetically pleasing, and a better fit in the Department and Specialty environment.

Security Tags – Many items in Department and Specialty require hard tag removal. Store staff are really the specialists on these tags, and that’s where most of that knowledge should reside. Newer implementations of self service checkout encourage attendants to be active with shoppers, and not behind an attendant’s podium. Given the right strategies, soft and hard tags can be dealt with in a self service environment, though training of staff will be elemental to success, and a targeted mix of merchandise to be accepted at self service is well advised. Not every item is easily sold via self service.

 IMG_4919
While many of the changes to the technology of self service point to it as a great opportunity for Department and Specialty, implementing self service requires different strategies than other retail segments like hospitality, food, mass merchandise and petro convenience. Every Department and Specialty retailer is different, but if the strengths of self service are considered in implementation, there is opportunity for success.

 Here are a few ideas to ponder:

  • Look for queues to remove
  • Look for broad fluctuations in traffic that are difficult to accommodate with staffing
  • Look for transactions with small items. These are easier for self service – bulky items are difficult
  • Look for transactions with 7 items and less; these are ideal for self service
  • Consider a small footprint option: a set of 4 Self Checkouts can be placed where 1 POS is today
  • Soft tags are easier for self service, but hard tags can be dealt with given the right attendant strategy
  • Debit and credit transactions mean no cash handling, no cash on hand for these devices, and fewer security issues
  • Consider bagging and have the right supplies to accommodate shopper purchases
  • Consider wasted areas near escalators. Those are central to traffic and could potentially support self service
  • Consider replacing POS “islands” with self service around the counter
  • Consider starting in suburban stores with less staff instead of urban stores with lots of staff
  • Consider self service as a branding opportunity on the screens and in the design of the self service pod
  • Consider using self service devices to allow customers to check in to pick up their items ordered online.
  • Consider carefully the staffing model to ensure the units have the support they need
  • Ensure that the units are serviced with helpful staff who ensure self service is an option
  • Service is about choice. What choice to shoppers have in store today?

Department stores have an opportunity to rethink their customer interactions in a way that many other specialty retailers cannot. They have the floor space, they have the opportunity for traffic, and they are trying to differentiate themselves on customer experience. With the expansion of customer interaction options, it only makes sense to consider every channel to maximize business. While self service is definitely not the right answer for all Department and Specialty shoppers and transactions, it provides a great option, and service is all about choice.

2016.02 | mobile wallet strategy

14DD1532-L-Mobile-Payment-CD372_52a_PCR_SPINX_Gas_Pump_Mobile_phoneOne of the most common areas that challenges retailers these days are mobile payments – or as many of them refer to it – leveraging a mobile wallet – which I now interpret from retailers to mean paying without a card or currency versus a specific mobile wallet platform.

I’ve written a number of posts on the subject of mobile wallets over the years, usually lamenting that we will never get away from a physical wallet. The potential for shoppers to not use a physical wallet are certainly more realistic now then when I wrote those posts, but the process continues as an evolution and not a revolution.

The common nirvana that all retailers seek is the ability to seamlessly and simply accept all payment options desired by the majority of regular shoppers while being able to provide a personalized and loyalty building experience. The challenges restricting vendors, payments providers and retailers from that objective are legacy systems, budget, agreements with payment processors, and time to build these payment connections into their systems.

Mobile payments are certainly a part of that over-arching strategy of enabling payment, so what is the best strategy? That will differ by retailer, but there are some universal concepts to consider:

  • To start, target your end state, and attempt to draw the long map back to where things are today. Even if there are gaps, talk to retail solution vendors, payments vendors, card providers, banks and anyone in the industry to access their vision and experience. Keep in mind that all of the technology will change in a few months and it will need to be re-assessed. Basic long term planning as should be targeted for all large scale retail solutions.
  • Don’t get stuck on offering payments within your in house mobile app, UNLESS your app provides a unique value proposition to the shopper that you are trying to leverage and payments is a logical extension of that app.  In my admittedly anecdotal experience, users have lots of apps already, and don’t look for more retailer apps as a rule UNLESS they provide a unique value proposition that fulfills a need to them.  Your most loyal customers may want your app to be able to pre-order their meal, control your fuel dispenser, or buy movie tickets, and it makes sense to enable payments to conclude that shopper interaction.  Make that in app payment as simple as possible with services that can remember the card or retrieve it with a password.
  • Consider the payment options that are already in use or are desirable for your shoppers.  If your shoppers are using credit cards, encouraging them to use a debit driven solution as part of a mobile solution is a challenge.  If you want to drive a particular payment model, be prepared to encourage shoppers with points or deals. Bitcoin sounds cutting edge, but is it worth accepting as a tender for the volume of business and it’s volatility? Having a gift card balance for coffee makes sense, but for groceries it is not logical. If the payment option you need to enable is not available, push the vendors for it.
  • How would a mobile wallet be used at the front end of your store?  If it isn’t dead simple for both shopper and cashier, it’s going to slow the queue and increase wait time.  That is a tough sell for any retail environment, and death for a high velocity retail environment.
  • Consider the full customer interaction with payment integrated. The challenge often encountered is that the majority of retailers have a loyalty program of some type. Shoppers need to identify themselves to obtain their loyalty benefits. With a mobile payment solution, shoppers generally have to show a loyalty card on their mobile, and then use the mobile to pay. Having to scan two different codes or tap more than once seems redundant, but this issue is often not easily solvable today at a traditional point of sale, as loyalty members have to identify themselves PRIOR to tendering to obtain discounts, collect points, etc, and THEN they pay the calculated total at which they pay with their device. (Starbucks manages one scan by using a stored value card tied to a loyalty account. Mobile apps to pre-order food, control a fuel dispenser or buy movie tickets have users registered with details stored and payment can be online by storing a card, so no double tap there either) Consider options to avoid the double tap/scan.
  • apple walletConsider Apple Pay and Android Pay if they make sense for your business.  With Apple Pay, there is some benefit to the security of fingerprint verification for retailers, and it is relatively easy to use with the iPhone and Apple watch, and getting notifications of payments immediately is certainly useful to some shoppers as is the ability to not carry their card.  In Canada the limitation right now is that Apple Pay only works with Amex.  Android Pay is another good option, particularly if you have an Android heavy shopper base.  The downside is that there are additional fees for these solutions.
  • Ensure you support and train users and store staff well on all the payments provided. There is nothing worse than having a customer trying to love your brand and pay with a new option and they cannot.  Payments are getting increasingly complex, but cashiers are catching up.  Many of them have received on the job training from bleeding edge shoppers who attempt every new payment and are willing to risk embarrassment or rejection with new payment types, but it would be better to have a complete map of payment options laid out simply.
  • Leverage your pinpad or contactless reader as much as possible for payments that are not over the air. Whether shoppers have to swipe, dip, tap, or enter a PIN; whether they use a card or a mobile device, the pinpad is currently the interface to which shoppers are accustomed. Keep the transaction and the payment linked physically.  If the transaction is on the mobile, pay on the screen of the mobile.  If the transaction is at a device (POS, Fuel Dispenser, Vending Machine, Ticket Dispensing Kiosk) keep the payment interaction connected to the device and pinpad.  Geo-fenced and over the air on the mobile screen solutions are an awesome concept, but are a challenging jump in logic for most shoppers today.  Unless you are a bleeding edge retailer, that is one for the future.

There has to be a benefit to both the retailer and to the shopper for there to be a reason for mobile payments, and the benefits are slowly tipping the scales towards increasing the usage of mobile.  There are too many things that favour it, and the landslide of devices in the hands of millions means it’s coming sooner or later.  Be sure to stay ahead of it and have a strategy.

2016.01 | retailer api for shoppers

LCBO appThe number of channels through which shoppers can access their retailers has been growing quickly for years now. Those channels are going to be expanded even further, as another set of retail interfaces are being developed by people who are not retailers. Entrepreneurs, hobbyists and even fans of a particular product, brand, segment or retailer are recognizing that data is available online and people are hungry for that data.  These individuals will make that data available in a format to reach a specific audience for fun or profit.

A fascinating example of a non-retailer developed channel is found in Ontario. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) is the one of the largest retailers of alcohol in the world. They have a broad spectrum of products and an even broader spectrum of consumers. The LCBO have attractive and busy stores, and do an excellent job of running their retail business, including the availability of a very useful and functional LCBO branded mobile app that provides timely inventory and pricing information to allow their shoppers to find their favourite products.

elsie appBefore that mobile app was in place, an enterprising individual built a crawler to gather the data hosted on the LCBO.com eCommerce site and made it available to mobile app developers via an API at LCBOAPI.com.   The API had almost 100 keyholders that were accessing the data as of February 2015, and the service has 60,000 to 80,000 requests for data on a daily basis.  The API presents all of the current data of the LCBO’s pricing and inventory by store from the e-commerce site gathered on a daily basis.

While this alone is commendable as an interim step since the LCBO didn’t have an app at that point, the really interesting part is what the 100 different users of the API are doing with that data.  It’s all the same data, but the way it is used and presented can vary widely.

Users who prefer a different look and feel from the LCBO app can leverage the elsie app on their mobile device to check on pricing and availability.   The UI is an elegant and simple affair, and it provides picks at LCBO from kwaf as a side benefit for wine lovers.

searc2h6oGoing in a completely different direction, the website searC2H6O allows users to quickly sort and search through any products at the LCBO in a simple and yet information rich user experience in a web browser on a desktop or mobile to validate pricing and availability before they go out to shop.  The focus here is more based on price, with a per serving cost provided.

wine alignWinealign is another website that leverages the data.  With a focus on wines, including in depth articles, ratingsand reviews, users can peruse all types of wine and then immediately see the availability and pricing before they leave home to shop.

I searched for the same product on all of these services and the images make it easy to see that they all provide a unique experience.  This data could certainly be leveraged further, with apps or sites for whisky lovers, for craft beer aficionados, or whatever other unique subset of products is out there – enabling direct access to inventory and pricing information as a link from their content to the products.

The last few years has really been all about the standard channels in retail – the store, the eCommerce website and the mobile application. While these examples are really just a variation on that theme, they are an indicator of more sophisticated interactions to come as third parties connect to this data and use it in new and unexpected ways that retailers or vendors could may not have the time or budget to justify.   Embracing these channels as an opportunity is the best way forward for retailer and shopper alike.

Retailers like Best Buy have been embracing this for a while. Got any great examples of leveraging retailer APIs that makes something amazing? I’d love to hear about it.  Contact me or leave a comment!

2015.02 | RFID self-checkout

IMG_8720For many years, retailers have heard about the benefits of RFID, and there has been little to no use of item level RFID to check out in a store.  On the weekend, I visited my local library with my family and had an opportunity to utilize the newly installed self-checkouts to check out our books.

Under the old system, all items had a unique barcode and an EAS security tag.  To check out an item, customers presented their books and library card to an attendant at a PC with a scanner.  The attendant scanned the library card to validate the customer’s identification, checked if there were any fines, holds etc, and then scanned all of the items to be checked out.  A receipt was printed and the
Photo 2015-02-09, 7 16 14 PM items were walked around a security gate at the combined entrance/exit, and handed to the library customer.  The security tags set off an alarm when they are near the gates, so the attendant passed them to the holder on the other side of the security gate.

Under the new system, there is no need for customers to interact with an attendant unless they have a fine, a hold, or some other intervention that goes beyond the simple checking out of an item.  The customer uses one of a few self-checkout terminals – which include PC and a scanner, but also a customer facing touchscreen, and an antenna in a pad on the counter.  The Photo 2015-02-09, 7 16 06 PMcustomer scans their library card, and if they have no fines or holds, they can then identify the items to check out.  To identify the items for borrowing, the customer places the items on the pad on the counter, with as many as three at a time piled on top of each other in a stack.  The antenna reads the tags in the books and shows them on the screen for verification.  The customer can validate that the items match, ensure any media inside the item matches the case, and complete the checkout with or without a receipt.

As the items are now considered checked out, the customer can walk past a gate with an RFID reader, and if the item they are carrying is checked out, no alarm will sound.  If an item has not been checked out and allocated to the customer’s card, an alarm will sound.

On the whole, the system worked very smoothly. While only recently installed, customers took to it and had little issue using it.  The library staff were helpful and encouraging for the few customers who did require assistance.

The RFID system was a good fit in the library for a number of reasons:

  • Even if RFID tags are more expensive than barcode labels and EAS tags, items are tagged once and then run through the system many times as they are loaned through their useful life, instead of being purchased once.
  • Most items in a library are flat and lend themselves to easy scanning on a pad like this.  There are rarely very heavy, bulky or oddly shaped items to be checked out.
  • Consumers are accustomed to self service from using it at ATMs, airports and retail self-checkouts so they recognize the paradigm of self service took to it well.
  • All customers are identified with an identity card.  No exceptions.
  • One attendant can now support many customers at a time instead of one, reducing wait times, and ideally enhancing the customer experience. If customers don’t wish to check out their own items, they can assist them easily.
  • Allowing customers to walk out the door with their own items without passing them around a security gate appears to provide better flow and a smoother checkout experience.  It also removes an underlying assumption of distrust implied by the gates and security system as previously configured.

The whole system reminded me of a question I had from a retailer at NRF who asked to see our RFID self-checkouts.  While I would personally like to see RFID checkouts in retail purely from a love of technology, it seems unlikely at present.  There are some differences between this library scenario and many retail environments from a checkout perspective:

  • It will be difficult to convince all the parties involved in manufacturing goods to move to item level RFID tags unless the retailer and consumer are willing to absorb the price.  The prices are getting lower and lower for the sort of passive tags needed for items purchased at retail.  Time will tell if it will be enough!  The big retailers will have to drive this adoption.
  • Implementing readers to read these tags instead of barcodes would require a replacement or at least an upgrade to current reader infrastructure.  An ROI is needed to change/add that infrastructure to include RFID readers.
  • While libraries have basic flat items, other retail environments have all sorts of uniquely sized and shaped items that may not lend themselves well to a standardized rfid reader environment.  For unusual items, a handheld RFID reader could be used, but if it was, what’s the difference between holding that RFID reader to a tag and scanning a barcode as is done today?  Not much.
  • Would there be a throughput advantage?  For smaller transactions, it is very unlikely.  Cashiers and even customers scanning themselves can scan a few items relatively quickly.  For smaller transactions, tendering is generally the longest part of the transaction and not the scanning.  For larger transactions, there may be some throughput advantage, but it would take time for retailers and consumers to develop the trust that the system would capture all of the items accurately.  Also, many customers like to validate their purchases and their prices as they are scanned.  Much of the throughput advantage of an instantaneous cart total could be lost by questions and validation afterward.
  • Weighable items would need to be either pre-packaged or separated for checkout.  Weighables couldn’t just be left in the cart for reading.
  • Unlike a library, the items that a consumer buys can’t be “checked out” as they are not unique in the store.  An antenna at the front of the store placed for security can’t identify items as valid to pass or not.  It’s unclear how security would work with RFID tags.  I’ve heard of more sophisticated and more costly RFID tags that can be de-activated on scan, but then what if a client changes their mind after the transaction or returns an item?  Does it need to be retagged?  How does one “print” a new tag for an item?  If RFID can’t be used for security, then EAS would be needed as well.
  • What about bulk items that are tagged with paper tags today?  What about low value and small items like greeting cards?

As with all solutions in a retail environment, there must be a benefit for both the consumer and the retailer for a solution to be implemented successfully.  It’s possible that the RFID self-checkout could get to that point if retailers can leverage the operational benefits on the back end first and push it to the front end.  Then it will take customers and retailers getting comfortable with wheeling a big basket of groceries up to a reader and taking that price as correct.

A lot of stars have to align for an RFID self-checkout to come our way, and if they do it will probably take some time.  Maybe next NRF.

2014.22 | findbox | robots

findbox – If you’ve ever gone to a big box DIY store with a strange looking screw or bolt in hand, comparing your piece to those in little tiny drawers, findbox is the tool for you.

Findbox is a fixture mounted screen with a camera and image recognition software.  Shoppers place their item on a platform under the camera, and the system completes an image search for the item on the platform.  The system will then display a photo, name and product id of the item if it is in stock at the store.  The system also has the ability to provide shelf tags that can flash a light on the shelf to indicate where the hardware item is located in the aisle.

findboxAs a shopper who has searched for small unusual items countless times, this sounds like a wonderful concept and one I would welcome in my local DIY store.  Finding someone to help you with one screw is a bother for both parties.  If a system can do this quickly and easily, I’m all for it.  If it’s accurate, it will probably also save me trips as ideally it’s better at this than I am.

Findbox also enables retailers to own the search results enabling them to highlight found items based on whatever parameters suit their model – margin, product fit, or whatever they wish.  The retailer could also look at what is most commonly being searched on the device, and if there are commonalities, that information could be used to modify the display for ease of search, or even highlight other potential sales opportunities for related items for nearby placement.

For the right situation, this solution provides benefits to both retailer and shopper.  The retailer can ideally provide a higher level of service for more shoppers with no change in staff, and provide a service at the shoppers convenience to help them find what they need.  There is data to be gathered and potentially used for benefit.

The shopper minimizes search time and frustration and avoids the need to find staff to ask a question unless they wish to do so.  The system could potentially recommend alternative or related items they may require to finish their job and save them a trip as well.

findbox find by lightOne wonders if this solution could be taken another footprint, with an app for devices so that users can take a photo of the item and be provided details on local establishments that can supply the item.

Perhaps the logic of the solution can be provided as an API for DIY retailers to include in their own apps.  While retailers like Amazon have offered this capability for some time for Books, DVD’s, and more, I’ve not seen it for identifying hardware items.

Contractors who regularly visit DIY retailers may find this to be another useful item on their mobile device to save them time.  Virtually no shopper is going to type in a long description full of fractions and measurements to see if it is on hand at a store, but taking a picture to find something unusual would be a great way to narrow the search and save DIY regulars time and effort.

robots – Lowes certainly took the mission of finding that unusual hardware item to heart with a novel twist.  The Lowes innovation team and Fellow Robots have deployed a robot assistant in one of their California based Orchard Supply Hardware on a trial basis. The robot has the ability to capture an image of an item that a customer brings to the store, identify it, and then direct the shopper to the right location to find the item they need.

lowes-robot-1This search model takes the process a step further by having a robot greet shoppers, ask them if they need help and then lead them right to the spot where their item is located.

This is an incredible concept, and like all technology solutions in retail , there are many operational challenges to overcome:

  • Wayfinding is always challenging within the ever changing footprint of a real life retail store.  It will be important to ensure that the data here is 100% accurate on location of products and that any planogram changes are immediately passed to the system that informs the robots.   The first time the robot takes shoppers to the wrong item, they will ignore the robot for future visits.
  • Some shoppers will not want to interact with a robot for whatever reason.  This isn’t a problem, but needs to be understood and accepted.  Retail is all about choice.  Store staff need to acknowledge this solution isn’t for everyone. They should encourage usage to those who wish to use it.  It is important that the staff support the use of the robots in the stores or they will fail.  This is key.
  • Ruggedization is always a challenge in retail and hardware retail is particularly challenging based on the dirt and types of projects supported.  All technology in a retail environment requires some ongoing care and feeding for optimal usage.  Solutions with moving parts are particularly subject to failures and require ongoing maintenance.
  • Ongoing support of the robots for store staff will need to become part of the daily regimen.  Ideally the robots can recharge themselves at a station like a Roomba, but staff will need to regularly ensure that the units find their way to charging stations correctly and validate that they are still in good working order from time to time.

Whether shoppers are ready for robot assistants remains to be seen, it may be a novelty, or it may become common in the future.  Either way, it’s great to see new concepts like this being tested in retail!

All channels for retailers are viable from my perspective as long as they provide benefit to retailer and shopper and have an ROI acceptable to both.  I for one, welcome our robot overlords, and look forward to one day interfacing a point of sale engine to one of these robots so that they can complete the entire transaction and have us out the door to our self driving cars as soon as possible.

2014.21 | poynt

With so much re-invention focus on payment with the likes of Square, Google Wallet and Apple Pay, it’s no surprise that someone in silicon valley decided to take a run at updating the old school point of sale payment terminal. Poynt is the iPhone to the traditional point of sale pinpad’s Blackberry.  It will be interesting to see if it takes off in the same way that the iPhone did. Poynt’s device is certainly different than it’s more traditional competitors in looks and basic utility.  The unit has a sleek contemporary look that utilizes an android tablet and has no physical buttons for pin entry.  Like other newer units, it has all the standard payment interfaces – MSR, EMV, and NFC – but also adds a PoyntQR/barcode imager and a bluetooth antenna.   Poynt also has a basic built in point of sale software solution, and a Software Developers Kit to allow others to build applications that can run on the platform. On the plus side, Poynt certainly has a look that retailers can embrace.  It takes point of sale pinpad terminals away from the spongy buttoned senior citizen’s calculator look to a software based, touch driven, futuristic device.  Every base is covered with payment options with all of the capabilities included on the device.  All of this is positive for the right application. For high volume retailers, this may not be the right device.

  • With two screens, the device appears to be designed for an interaction sitting on top of a counter that starts with the store associate entering data on the device and then passing it to the customer for payment entry.  This is sub-optimal for a high volume retail environment where every motion counts.
  • The device does not appear to have any security mounting options beyond a kensington type lock interface.  Given the need/desire for tier one retailers to mount devices on checkstands, selfcheckouts and more, the device cannot be mounted in stores with certainty that it won’t be stolen for attempted security incursions.
  • Touch screens are still an experiment for payment terminals in North America.  Shoppers are accustomed to buttons for pinpads.  Shoppers at tier one retailers are more than just twenty something hipsters in New York ordering cronuts who want to try the latest thing.  Most shoppers at high volume retailers want to get through the line.  Our moms need to know how to use this thing and get through the line in seconds.  This is certainly less and less of a problem as time passes, but the issue is still worth noting depending on the target market of particular retailers..
  • Pinpads take a lot of abuse in retail.  Mobile phones and tablets are replaced by consumers every 3-4 years.  Tier 1 retailers often target keeping devices for 7-12 years.  Can these devices last this long?  Certainly the software aspects mean that the devices can be updated over time, and looks can even be changed over time.
  • Most of the traditional calculator looking pinpads have some sort of privacy shield.  This device has a screen that is quite large that may be difficult to use without sharing your pin with the entire staff and entire shopper population.

This is not to say that Poynt was even built to deal with these challenges.  Poynt is solely a better looking device that enables every type of payment interface possible.  Selling payment terminals is a messy business.  As articles on this device point out, payment device vendors need to convince payments processors and banks, and to a lesser extent retailers, and not consumers, that their devices are worthy of certification and usage at point of sale. Poynt raises the bar and provides a fresh perspective, and for that alone, it is worthy of consideration.  While other articles seem to focus on the old school nature of pinpads on the market, in Canada, there have certainly been changes in recent times with the move to EMV to newer sorts of pinpads like those provided by organizations like NBSPS that have features like sleek good looks and audio prompts. EMV requirements in the US means that timing is good for new devices, and Poynt should take advantage of that change.  No matter whether Poynt takes off or not, it certainly provides other vendors the opportunity to change the paradigm that embodies the conservative payments industry.  I can’t wait to use a touch screen pinpad.  Expect it to become common sometime soon.

2014.20 | coin vs plastc

The newly hyped Plastc sure looks a lot like Coin – both are electronic replacements for the plastic cards carried in the wallets of consumers.

Let’s revisit that product and see how it stacks up against Coin, especially given all of the recent hype around alternative payment schemes such as Apple Pay.

CaptureC O I N 

Coin raised some serious concerns for me when it was first revealed – from the original post.  Since that post, additional information is available from the Coin site and FAQ.  Here are the concerns I had with updates from Coin:

  • Acceptance – Retailers and their staff may have some qualms about scanning a relatively unknown black electronic device across their pinpads. Education will be needed for store staff to be confident that this is a valid technology to use for payment. If this is not achieved, everyone that spent $100 will be out of luck when they go to pay with their single card.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that card branding and details will be visible on the screen of the card.  This should help with this challenge.  In the intervening year since Coin has been under consideration there have been so many new payment schemes that have popped up in the media that as long as a card scans, store staff will probably not question it too deeply depending on the transaction value and type.]

  • Fraud – What stops a Coin user from stealing cards and putting a number of them onto the Coin card to complete fraudulent transactions? Hopefully there are some measures to verify that the person scanning the card is the rightful owner of the card.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that the card owner must have a card in hand in order to enter it into the database.  A mobile app takes an image of front and back and matches it to an MSR swipe.  The system also requests a temporary authorization on the card in an amount that must be validated by the user by looking at the account online.  That’s a clever move and reduces the potential of this card becoming a tool for fraud.]

  • Dishonest Store Staff – If one can easily flip through all my cards with the touch of a button, there better be a PIN lock on it to do that, otherwise you just gave a cashier in a restaurant ALL of your cards. Hit the button and swipe to capture all of the numbers. If they’re not dishonest, they may accidentally select the wrong card by selecting a button.

[UPDATE: There are no details I could find on the FAQ that indicate that there is a PIN lock to stop someone from sorting through all of the cards on the device, though there is reference to tap code that may serve this purpose.  As the device is swiped as an MSR, this would indicate that if you hand that card to a server in a restaurant and they take it to a POS to scan, they could theoretically scan all of the cards on the Coin device to capture all of the account numbers if they are familiar with it. While the device avoids the concern of being a fraud tool, it doesn’t really protect the user in the restaurant scenario any further than current 40 year old MSR technology.  As a consumer I would want to know if the tap code locks a particular card for use on the device.]

  • User Validation – How do stores validate that the user is who they say they are? Is there a signature on the back of Coin? Does it show the card number and expiry date on the screen? Is a Drivers license needed for verification every time?

[UPDATE: There are no details on the site other than the fact that the Coin will display the card details.  One can only assume that a cashier or server would ask to see your drivers license or alternative ID to see a signature for validation. Probably necessary to carry ID anyway, but it really negates the point of having a cool device for payment when users scratch a line onto paper to prove who they are.]

  • EMV – Consumers in many parts of the world outside of the US no longer use MSR cards, and we can expect the same in the US over coming months and years. I see no chip option available but perhaps that is a future consideration.

[UPDATE: Coin it its current iteration – not released yet by the way – will not support EMV.  This is a serious shortcoming that becomes more crucial over time.  As a consumer I see little benefit to purchasing a tool like this that will only be usable in some places when EMV takes hold.  Also: International markets can’t use this solution – that’s disappointing for us.]

  • Contactless – I like using the contactless feature of my cards to make my purchases quick and simple. No indication that coin has NFC capability

[UPDATE: No indication of NFC or other contactless capability.]

Some other interesting points that came available after the original post about Coin:

  • Coin uses low energy bluetooth connectivity is used to remind users that have left cards behind via their mobile device.
  • The device is supported via an app for both apple and android mobile devices.
  • The device uses a non-rechargeable battery targeted for 2 years of usage.  Mileage will vary.

As a Canadian, Coin in it’s current iteration won’t work for me – it’s not targeted at international markets.  A US consumer may find it useful, though I have concerns about security and the real benefits.  Also in the currently prescribed video of an affable dude with a beard showing us the solution, Coin should really scrap the big wallet.  Do people who want a single card really carry a George Costanza wallet after they get this sleek new device?  I think not, but that’s just one voice.   All kidding aside, the Coin solution is intriguing.  Bringing something new like this to market is very difficult and they deserve full credit for pushing the idea; it’s certainly a credible concept.

P L A S T C

CaptureLet’s consider the same real world concerns for the newly unveiled – and yet also unreleased – Plastc.

  • Acceptance – Plastc has an e-ink screen that covers the bottom third of the front of the card.  This allows for graphics and details to be shown on the card that should lend it credibility when it’s used for payment.  That same e-ink screen is scannable with a barcode to allow the use of loyalty cards with it as well. Another point of consideration is EMV.  With future EMV capability, store staff have no reason to look at cards.  In fact, once consumers and staff are accustomed to staff NOT having to check signatures, the need for the laughable security measure of checking signatures becomes aggravating to staff and shoppers alike.  (Ask Canadians about visiting Gap Brand stores – a rare holdout that checks signatures – it annoys all.)
  • Fraud – Details are less specific, but the Plastc Wallet mentions the requirement of a facial scan and authentication.  Details of how cards are added are not provided at present.  The card shows an image of the cardholder, which should also be useful in minimizing fraudulent transactions.
  • Dishonest Store Staff – There is a PIN on the card, but the site does not provide details on whether the card is locked when cards are passed to staff.  That said, the card supports NFC and ships with a chip that will enable Chip and Pin / EMV in future, so there is less need to leave a card with a server or cashier, reducing the potential for card number capture.
  • User Validation – At release, signatures would be used.  Signatures could theoretically be stored on the e-ink screen, but there is no indication of signatures shown on screen.  Once again, with NFC and EMV options, the necessity of a signature is avoided, and the use of a PIN or just the NFC itself simplifies the validation.
  • EMV – The card has a chip to be activated later via a software update.  This is key for future proofing with EMV coming on the scene in the US in 2015, and opportunity for international usage.
  • Contactless – The card has contactless capability.   This avoids the need for signatures, enables small value purchases and reduces fraud compared to MSR options.

Other points:

  • Like Coin, Plastc uses Low Energy Bluetooth to alert users to cards left behind.   The card automatically locks if left behind.
  • An app is used to manage account information stored on the app.
  • Barcodes can be put on the screen and shown for scanning. This means that the Starbucks app could be enabled to work with it.
  • The NFC function could also be used for access doors to add additional card functionality
  • The Plastc card is rechargeable on a wireless charging pad. Entire lifetime is not indicated.

Both the Plastc and Coin cards aim to eliminate all of the cards we carry in our wallets, and both appear to have created the miraculous with such tiny hardware.  Both certainly represent viable options, but given the need for a chip in particular and contactless to a lesser degree, the edge goes to Plastc.  While some pundits may suggest that mobile programs like Apple Pay would supersede card hardware like this, but the complexity of payments is such that cards will not go away quickly and card solutions definitely fulfill a need for an interim solution to move us all to the mobile wallet.  It’s hard to say if consumers will shell out $100 or $150 for the convenience of cards like these, but one must wonder if the card companies may not eventually decide to fund such things.

2014.19 | shelfie | repack | #retailing

Photo 2014-10-06, 8 55 58 PMShelfie – Looking to reduce the disappointing out of stock experience we’ve all encountered at one time or another, the good people at DataCrowd offer the cleverly named Shelfie app for both iOS and Android to remedy the issue.

Shoppers who see an out of stock at a store take a picture of the items tag and empty shelf, upload it to the app and the GPS details and products in the image are used to notify the retailer.  Apparently DataCrowd will take steps to advise the retailer of their out of stock issue, who will ideally take steps to tweak their replenishment model to avoid the problem in the future. The shopper, for their trouble, gets points for reporting the shortages to use towards gift cards.

This is a great use of crowdsourcing.  Why not put a simple tool in the hands of the masses to collect data to drive useful insights.  It will be interesting to circle back and see how this project works out.

A very brief look at the app indicates that the number of points that are awarded for reporting drive relatively small rewards.  The app store images show 100 points for one scan, and 10,000 points required for a $5 gift card. That’s 100 scans of out of stocks for $5. While a meager reward, it’s reasonable and a fair offer for what  a shopper would get for telling the store staff; which would be nothing.  While it’s not for everyone, there is definitely a coupon cutting crowd at the supermarket that would enjoy this game.

I fully expect that same coupon crowd to hit the supermarket at full tilt on late Saturday afternoon and fight the stockboys to take a photo before they replace the merchandise!  It’s a great idea.  Anything that has a chance to reduce out of stocks is a positive. via Springwise

CaptureRepack – One of the challenges with online shopping is that eco-conscious shoppers miss the opportunity to bring their own bag or eschew packaging all together.  While recycling all of that cardboard and plastic is a good answer, avoiding the waste is even better.

Repack has developed re-usable packaging and a system to use it for eCommerce retailers.  Shoppers pay a small deposit when they purchase an item from an online store.  On receipt of their products, they flatten the package and throw it back in the post for return to the retailer.  On receipt of the packaging, the retailer refunds the deposit.

While this seems a bit overdone, who among us has not received a huge box in the mail for replacement headphone earbuds or some other tiny item?  Given that many retailers also provide free returns, and services like Trunk Club have many boxes going back and forth, the idea seems like one with some merit – one that could protect shipped items and save the retailers some packaging costs if the items are done right. via Trendhunter

Capture#retailing – Always on the lookout for monetization avenues, Twitter has announced a couple initiatives that may be of interest to retailers looking to add twitter to their list of channels where their shoppers can purchase their merchandise.

Buy Button – In September, Twitter announced public access to a Buy button that certain retail and other partner would use in the Twitter mobile app. Twitter wants to make shopping on mobile devices simpler and say they will store your card details to make it easier to shop in Twitter after that first purchase, presumably by not having to enter the details again.  Frankly, there are so many parties trying to do this already – what with Apple Pay and Google and various others trying to do the same thing.  Not sure that they will get a lot of uptake just by saving a credit card  number.  Also – a buy button is just one click away from a mobile website link. Why does twitter need to put a special button?  Why would retailers with perfectly serviceable eCommerce platforms need a button when a link will do?  Especially when the retailer wants to provide their own unique experience and pull client details into the process.  This may work for musical artists to sell t-shirts – which seem to be a lot of the initial partners – but major players seem unlikely to do more than test the waters with this one.

Amazon Wishlist – Amazon never turns their back on an opportunity to sell through another channel.  Amazon has enabled shoppers to save an amazon item in a tweet to their item wishlist by replying to the item with the hashtag #AmazonWishList. While this one is handy, it seems like something only the most die hard twitter fan would want to use twitter as a way of adding items to their amazon wishlists.

While these are really great attempts at thinking differently and putting together interesting pieces, it would be very surprising if these were to take off in any really large volumes.  That said, who can say what will take off next?   Perhaps Snapchat will add buy buttons to Our Live Stories next.  Retailers can never tell where the next channel for business will arise.

2014.18 | iOS8 for retail

CaptureiOS 8 will be released this week.  Among many changes to the operating system for apple mobile devices, there are a number of changes that are worthy of consideration to retailers.

Apple Pay – The moment Apple Pay was released, a flood of POS providers showed their support and ability to enable Apple Pay on their platform (my own employer among them).  Apple are releasing the program in the US with support from a number of well known tier one retailers.  While there is no way of knowing whether showing an apple logo on the retailer’s door will get people to finally jump to a mobile wallet, it’s a good strategy to keep options open in the event it becomes a commonly requested payment method.

apple-pay-retailers-iphone-6-announcementRetailers in Canada that implemented new pinpads for EMV  over the past few years enabled NFC on those pinpads as a matter of course.  With that NFC capability, they should be well placed to enable Apple Pay when it becomes available in Canada.  US based retailers that do not currently have NFC capability and are working through EMV certification would do well to include NFC and Apple Pay integration as part of that process.    The incremental cost of enabling Apple Pay as part of an overall EMV effort is likely to be minimal.  While it would be optimal to deploy quickly to take advantage of consumer interest, EMV takes time and if the devices onsite do not have NFC capability, a deployment of new devices will be necessary.

It will be important for retailers to track where and how Apple Pay gains traction.  The area of focus may vary – hospitality and small transactions could be the sweet spot, but perhaps it will be popular with shoppers at luxury retailers.  Retailers should watch closely and ensure that their shopper’s preferences are fulfilled.

Photo 2014-09-15, 9 09 00 AMScan Credit Card for eCommerce – While much was made of the ability of scanning scan credit cards to add them to Passbook, the ability to scan credit cards into Safari for eComm purchases is also a nice addition.  As someone who makes eComm purchases on my mobile devices for items such as movie tickets, making a purchase is an effort.  Shoppers must TYPE their full name, credit card number, expiration date and card security code.  I have those memorized, and it’s still clunky to do on a mobile.  For some retailers one also must type in a verified by visa password.   If that whole process can be replaced by a scan from my phone, or an autofill from my safari keychain, it saves a whole lot of typing and removes obstacles from mobile purchases.  Retailers who enable this function are likely to drive more sales through their mobile channel with the removal of obstacles.

Capture2Location Based App Shortcuts – On earlier versions of iOS, Passbook provided a lock screen notification for Starbucks if you were in a store.  Passbook also provided a lock screen notification for a plane or movie ticket if the time for the ticket was approaching.  While this was a convenient workaround an unnecessary pin code entry, it also required some setting changes.  For Starbucks, users had to identify “favourite” sites that enabled Passbook to provide the lock screen notification for Starbucks payment.

iOS8 provides a non-Passbook lock screen shortcut in the bottom left of the screen based on your GPS location.  Users have noted that their iPhones with apps from Vons, Tesco, Starbucks and more  show an app icon in the bottom left of the lock screen.  When users swipe up on the icon at bottom left, the app is opened with out a PIN [Update: you still need your PIN to access the full app.  Passbook = no PIN).    While it may appear that beacons are at play, it sounds like it may be driven by GPS as some users had no connectivity at the time.  One user also indicated that a Costco icon showed at the bottom left even though they did not have a Costco app installed.

Retailers stand to benefit from reduced barriers for shoppers to use their mobiles once again.  Making an app easier to access while actually at the retail location is a great idea.  Providing a visual cue right on the lock screen is even better.  This access sets the stage to enable retailers to bring online and stores together with some unique functionality.

CaptureHey Siri! – The latest iteration of Siri allows users to access the personal assistant without having to push a button.  iPhones can now listen for users to ask for help.  Siri is also finally going back to its roots with integration to more services.  Siri is able to listen to songs for you with Shazam to find and purchase the name of the song/tv show/movie you are observing.

While Siri will be a great sales tool for Shazam and iTunes to sell it doesn’t help other retailers much on the surface, but it does indicate a possible door widening to integration with other services.   When Siri was originally launched, it connected to 45 services, but after Apple bought them, it connected to only 12.  The founders of Siri are working on another service – viv – that promises to take the personal assistant to another level – and ideally connect it to a plethora of services that can access it via natural language.

Retailers that can make their transaction engines available to channels like AI personal assistants will be exposing their products and services in a new way.

Privacy – In past iterations, mac addresses were easily harvestable from idevices by pinging them with a wifi signal.  In essence, ‘free’ consumer tracking was possible.  With iOS8, iDevices provide a pseudo MAC address until consumers actually establish a connection with the wifi network.  This means that retailers and other consumer facing organizations will need to track consumers via an iBeacon option or even through accepting a wifi connection with shoppers.

Making the MAC address data private is the right thing for retailers and shoppers alike.  All retail programs should be opt-in and retailers and all consumer facing organizations should be clear on data tracked, for what purpose, and allow shoppers the right to opt out of anything they are not comfortable with.  Selling is a two way street and being as honest and straightforward is possible will have the best returns in the long run.  Shoppers who are willing to provide their data for improved service are not hard to find, and everyone appreciates an honest trading partner.

CaptureIndoor Positioning –  Apples latest offering enables indoor maps and wayfinding to be more easily implemented by shopping centres and department stores.  Apple has made iPhone motion sensors available to their API.  With that API update and a more powerful processor, indoor systems can access phone data to make navigating large venues simpler.

Retailers that leverage any tool possible to provide access to their products and services make themselves more readily available to shoppers.

iOS 8 looks to be a landmark release with lots of new features and functions.

Check out a longer list of deep dive functionality, and please share any retail oriented features discovered at release!

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