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!

2012.04 | eBookstores > eReaders

I read a lot of books and since I got my iPad last June I have spent a great deal of time reading eBooks on my device.  When I bought it a year and a half ago, I only read a few eBooks, but that number has been steadily increasing.  In fact, over the last 6 months I’ve bought more than twice as many eBooks as traditional, and I expect that the number of traditional books I’m buying will only continue to decrease as I become accustomed to using an eReader.

From a retail technology experience, the most interesting part of e-reading is not the device itself.  The interesting part of the e-reader scenario is that retailers have moved a store from the desktop into the customers hands.

One of the unique aspects of using an iPad or an Android tablet device is that there are multiple apps that provide a software version of the e-Reader experience. On my iPad I have Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Goodreader, and Bluefire readers.   Which is the best really depends on your needs and preferences.

Goodreader I find best for reading PDFs and many other file formats. That solution provides a PC like experience where a directory tree can be accessed and manipulated and files can be read, moved and more. It is a basic reader that works well for downloading and reading some of my 50 years of Mad Magazine PDFs, free books from the Internet Archive, or trade publications and studies that I want to read and keep in directories. It allows for notes and annotations that are useful – particularly for work reading.  While a very useful and free application for many purposes, I wouldn’t recommend this one for beginners who just want to read books.

I also have Bluefire for a very specific purpose. Early adopters of eBooks will remember Adobe Digital Editions. I recently decided to pull down an ebook only available on Digital Editions, and Bluefire was the best solution I could find to get that format on my tablet. Bluefire works fine, but I prefer apps with direct access to a bookstore as I expect most users do. I’m not interested in moving files around or changing formats or any of the other bothersome plumbing that Bluefire required.

iBooks is Apple’s eReader app. There were big hopes for iBooks based on the iTunes juggernaut. The app works well and is very polished in the Classic Apple manner. It was first out of the gate with attractive colour images of the book covers and art, but beyond the polish is just a bit lighter on functionality than the Kobo and Kindle apps. It originally lacked night reading functionality (white text on black background) which is important to me (no lamp clicking or bright light to trouble my sleeping spouse as I read at night).   On the whole it is very functional.  Note:  I haven’t played with iBooks 2, but I’m sure that ups the ante.

Amazon’s Kindle App is a very strong entry. It’s very simple and fundamental, but that also means it is intuitive. Changing fonts, navigating tables of contents and taking notes is well done. It is also easy to move books in and out of the archive to the main book shelf.   The app is also available on the iPhone and your place in the book is synched flawlessly (same goes for iBooks and Kobo). I never thought I would read on my phone but it does lend itself well to that should you unexpectedly catch yourself without your reader and time on your hands.

My personal favourite at present is the Kobo eReader app.  The Kobo app looks great, it has great note taking and bookmarking features, and the night reading feature meets my needs very well.  On the down side, Kobo changes the app constantly and seems to think that I want to share my reading habits with all of my Facebook friends and constantly wants me to do so – a flaw I work very hard to ignore.  I will at least give credit to the fact that Kobo is putting the effort into trying new things and staying ahead of the curve.  I have also managed to get library books into Kobo at one point, but it wasn’t easy.

At bottom all of these apps work well, but what makes any of them absolutely stand out?  Their stores.

Goodreader and Bluefire have no bookstore.  This is a non-starter for me.  I’m not going to use them as as my default reading app unless it’s easy to get library books into them.

iBooks have a great app.  They have the only bookstore that you can buy from directly within the app.  Apple decreed late last year that they were going to charge a 30% fee for everything sold within an app – an untenable business model for other booksellers.  Apple doesn’t have to pay a fee to themselves, so they have a monopoly on in app purchases.  While that gives them far and away the best user experience for purchasing, there is a problem.  Most of the books I want to purchase are not available on it.  I’ve only personally purchased one book from them.

Amazon had a great store on the iPad, but with the changes to apple policy that all went away.  Instead of a in app store, Kindle has to tell customers to keep a weblink on the iPad to their ebook store.  From there, the Kindle bookstore available to me is a bit of a debacle. First, it is a true webpage and has none of the simplified look and feel of a tablet app or tablet formatted webpage, making it less intuitive to less experienced users.  It feels like one has been dropped into a giant warehouse built with HTML from 2005 with no rhyme or reason.  It is easy to search but suggestions for purchases are way down past first screen requiring a scroll to see it. If a desired book is not available in Kindle format it just doesn’t show up but lower on the page there is an option to buy the hardcopy. While I understand that, it felt strange for the first number of times I used it. From a user experience and interface perspective it could improve.   Let’s be clear, though, Amazon are far more interested in getting you to buy a Fire or a Kindle, so they have spent their time building an intuitive interface for those devices instead.  [Note: Since I wrote this, they have upgraded the page and it’s actually a bit better.]

Kobo are also hampered by having to provide a weblink for users on their iPads.  The store itself is far superior to the Kindle store on the iPad – web page or no.  It’s easy to navigate, and simple to find things.  It’s formatting fits on the tablet well.  They also have most of the books I’m looking for and – surprise of surprises – their prices have been lower of late.  They also recently updated their app to show some shelves that include recommendations.  A nice touch.

Some thoughts on all of this that are applicable to any shopping experience on a mobile device.

1.  The content is as important as the app.  The app has to look good and be functional, but if there is no content to back up the app, I’m going to lose interest.  The prices also have to be reasonable.

2. Making the user experience very very simple will sell more stuff.  I’m so sick of having to enter my login and passwords to buy books.  I know Apple is to blame for that, but figure out a way that I don’t have to do that.  Having to go back and buy the book on the webstore after reading the first chapter is really quite lame.  I should be able to just hit a button to get the rest of the book at the end of the chapter.  I’m also sick of hunting around for the button to download a sample.  Some of the stores make that hard to find.

3. Give people options on sharing.  I’m sure someone loves sharing all of their reading habits and opinions via social media.  That’s terrific, but don’t keep hitting me over the head with it if I’m not into it.  It gets downright bothersome.  I would appreciate a simple way to tell specific friends I think they should read this or that book – directly – without the world knowing.  Perhaps ask me at the end if I want to recommend it.  Maybe I could even get some points if my recommended friends buy it.

4.  All of the ebookstores could improve.  I like the fact that Kobo now suggests books I might like right on my bookshelf, but their recommendations seem a bit simplistic.  If I buy a book from an author, I don’t want every book on my recommendation shelf to be from that author.  I could figure that out.  Amazon makes some reasonable suggestions but I have to go online to see those.  On the whole, the ebookstores still feel like a web page to me.  Things shouldn’t feel like a web page anymore.  We’ve moved on to apps – or at least an app like interface.

5.  What are you using all of that data for?  Store and selling data is really interesting, but the data about consumption must be a new window that could not be cracked in the past.  As a consumer I could get all freaky about privacy and what the retailers know about me, but I actually hope that the eBook sellers are mining all of this data.  The apps know the time of day we read, they know if we read the book in one sitting or over months, and they know if we actually finish or not.  Seems like they are sitting on a really rich set of data that might be interesting to publishers and authors.  If it means more books I want to read and a strong publishing and book selling industry I’m all for it.

I’ve come to enjoy the convenience of eReaders.  I can bring lots of books with me, read without the lights on, keep notes, search within the books, and buy books wherever and whenever I want.  Kudos to booksellers for not falling into the same trap as the music industry.

eBookstores are really only just getting up to speed and will be a fascinating window into mobile commerce that should be heeded by all of those retailers trying to harvest business in that space.

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