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.

2013.02 | 2D Codes and Point of Service

barcode2D barcodes are often involved in a question someone will ask me about point of service hardware and software.  The general question: We are updating our POS system and/or scanner.  Can your scanner read 2D barcodes?  I want to be sure I am prepared for whatever solution operations or marketing may request.

This 2D concern is very much tied to another question I first broached it in 2010 when I discussed how to scan from mobile phone screens.  At that point the question of possibility was the biggest one.  Retailers, marketers and technology companies are still sorting out the best way to interact with mobile devices.

In 2013, the short answer is often: “Yes, the scanner will read 2D barcodes”.  Newer scanners have imagers (small cameras) built into them that allow the scanners to reliably scan a traditional 1D code from the reflective surface of a mobile screen.  Those same imagers built into the scanners can also read 2D barcodes – whether they are on paper or on a mobile device screen.  If your organization is going to buy scanners, I wholeheartedly recommend purchasing a unit with either an imager upgrade option, or better yet, the imager already included in the unit.

So – most retail point of service scanners have the ability to read traditional 1D barcodes and 2D barcodes.  In order to scan those codes, the scanners need to be programmed to read the codes chosen by the retailer for reading.  That means we can turn on and off the types of codes we want to read.

Now that we have answered the question of CAN a scanner read a 2D barcode at Point of Service, let’s examine whether a scanner SHOULD be used to read 2D barcodes at point of service.

I generally do NOT recommend activating 2D barcode reading on scanners at the point of service, however, if 2D barcodes are to be activated for scanning, the usage and type needs to be clearly understood and planned upon well in advance.

First, consider the characteristics of the code types used for retail at the very basic level:

1D barcode characteristics:

  • 115879barcodedemoprovide limited information: only a few digits
  • used to identify a product or item in a store by matching the barcode to a product in a database
  • scans very quickly
  • mostly scanned by retailers (though increasingly scanned by consumers; see showrooming)

These codes are about simple and speeding transactions.

2D barcode characteristics:

  • can encode a longer string of informationbarcode
  • used for secure items like ticketing /payment/coupons – used to direct scanners to a URL
  • scan a bit slower
  • mostly scanned by consumers with a mobile device (though sometimes scanned at POS)

These codes are to pass more detailed information and were not originally designed for use at Point of Service.  (Tickets and payment are different – they make some sense with 2D, but let’s set those aside for now).

Second, consider how 2D codes will be used.  Generally, I have seen 2 potential usages for 2D barcodes at a traditional point of service where the idea of scanning a 2D barcode has become interesting to a retailer.

tesco loyalty card mobile device ticketing john davies omniticket 2501. Loyalty Card – Increasingly retailers note that we don’t want to carry more cards in our wallets.  It’s free and simple to carry an app.  Why not provide a way for consumers to carry their loyalty card without a card?   This is a wonderful idea, but a 2D barcode is not necessary.  There are 1D barcodes that can easily pass the data required to the POS to identify the loyalty card holder.  No need for 2D here.

2. Coupons – The concerns around coupon fraud have driven retailers to consider using coupons with more security or one time offer numbers that are represented by 2D barcodes.   This is a valid option, but if coupons are now offered on mobile devices in this form, it can cause some problems.  What if the consumer has 6 coupons?  Does the attendant scan their phone, and then hand it back and then wait for them to scroll to the next coupon?   From a transactional perspective, this is awkward, time consuming, and prone to dropping a mobile device.  Instead, a better option is to move customers to a ‘coupon to card’ strategy that allows them to opt in to offers.  As soon as the customer purchases an item with an outstanding offer and their loyalty card identifies them, they automatically get the offer.  No coupon required.  Fraud potential is reduced.  Transaction is not impeded.  Not simple, but a better solution for many reasons.

There are many many other potential uses for 2D that are more useful and productive at a point of service like payment or tickets, but this discussion is focused on traditional POS usage.

So, with all of this in mind, what are the points of consideration around reading 2D barcodes?

  1. What are the codes being used for?  Ensure the usage fits the code.  There are more out there than you think.  Making sure it fits the use is key.
  2. What type of code is going to be used?  Only activate the ones you wish to use on the scanners.  Turning on others exposes the POS to potential failures as information unrecognized by the POS SW may be scanned – potentially causing a POS freeze at the front end.
  3. What is the transaction flow going to be like?  Avoid passing mobile phones to store staff if possible to avoid dropped devices.  Handheld or customer facing scanners are preferred to minimize these issues.
  4. How will the POS software interpret the string passed from the mobile device?  Does a cashier have to select a particular function BEFORE scanning the device? Make sure this is activated, as simple as possible and clear to the operator.
  5. What potential issues may arise from scanning a 2D barcode at POS?  Operational? Training?  It’s important to consider all aspects.

Here are some general recommendations based on experience with scanning from mobile devices and scanning 2D barcodes in a grocery environment:

If a retailer wants to read traditional 1D barcodes (not 2D barcodes) from the screen of a mobile device:

  1. For self-checkout lanes use an integrated imager in the scanner scale to allows customers to read 1D barcodes from mobile devices.
  2. For assisted service lanes use a handheld or customer facing stationary scanner-imager so that customers DO NOT have to pass their mobiles across the register to cashiers.
  • As mentioned, passing mobile devices could result in dropped and broken devices. It also interrupts the flow and pace of a transaction.

If a retailer wants to read 2D barcodes on either paper or mobile devices:

  1. For self-checkout do NOT enable 2D codes on Scanner-Scales if possible to simplify usage by consumers. Use 1D codes for coupons, offers, and loyalty cards if possible. For 2D codes provide a handheld wireless imager (either attached to self-checkout or from attendant) to read 2D codes if they are necessary. Ensure self-checkout, scanner and POS software are all programmed to read 2D codes correctly.
  2. For assisted service lanes do NOT enable 2D codes on Scanner-Scales.  If 2D barcodes are required, provide wireless handheld or stationary imager to read the 2D codes. Ensure self-checkout, scanner and POS software are all programmed to read 2D codes correctly.
  • Photo 2013-01-03 10 08 27 PMConsider that many suppliers have added 2D barcodes to their labels to allow consumers quick access to their facebook page or webpage.  If 2D barcode reading is enabled on scanner scales, the system does not know which barcode to read – the product 1D code or the 2D code (see image).  Scanner-imagers will pick up whatever is in front of them and customers and cashiers alike should not have to cover a 2D barcode to scan the traditional one to complete a transaction!
  • You could enable 2D barcodes on scanner-scales IF they are not QR codes used on product in the store.  For example, PDF417 are not usually used on product and those may be fine.

2D barcodes are potentially useful in the right environment.  Retailers are right to be ready to use them.  The bigger question is whether they are used for the right thing in the right context.  Retailers should be careful that they enhance the customer and store staff experience, and not make more work for all concerned!

2012.26 | eCommunication with Customers

On a recent visit to my local Esso station, I tried to use my convenient and well used SpeedPass on my keychain to prepay for fuel, and the pump did not respond.  It turned out that the SpeedPass reader on my pump was faulty.  I then did what most customers would do in such a situation.  I drove 10 feet to the next pump, pumped my gas and left.  I wasn’t planning on going into the station as I was in a hurry, and past experience has dictated that using the intercom box is not really very productive in explaining the details of a problem, and as a customer I’m not keen on troubleshooting a gas pump payment module issue.

Unfortunately for the gas station, that SpeedPass reader will probably stay faulty until a customer speaks up, the system captures the problem itself and reports it automatically, or someone notices that nobody is using the pump.  That means potential inconvenience for many clients – even worse, inconvenience for loyal Esso SpeedPass users, until the unit is repaired.

In looking at really innovating retail solutions, it’s often the simple combination of current solutions that allows for a breakthrough.  An electronic suggestion box could be an example of a really simple solution that could drive value for a retailer.

More often than not, customers who are waiting in a queue pull out their mobile device to pass the time.  Why not allow them to help retailers by providing the simplest way possible to do so.  More often than not, people are willing to help, but don’t have the time, or don’t want to talk to an actual person.

Why not identify each pump with a 2D Barcode along with a sign that says “Problem?  Help us out by reporting it!”  When the customer takes an image of the barcode, it can present them with multiple options via a mobile website, one of which could be ” report a problem”.  Customers could walk through a simple decision tree validating the store address, the pump number, and identify the particular issue impacting the pump.   The issue could be reported to store staff electronically and quickly and the pump can get back on line quickly to maximize usage and customer satisfaction.  Combining this functionality with a retailer app could even allow identification of the reporter to allow rewards for helping out.

This idea is easily extendable from a fuel station to any other sort of service business – a restaurant, coffee shop, stores – anything.  Why not update the suggestion box to something more becoming of today’s technology based society?

A recent report by Ofcom indicated that people are texting on their mobiles more than talking. My life experience with friends and colleagues agrees with this study – I find more people are interfacing via text versus via voice – be it SMS, IM, BBM, email or any other e-communication medium.

Retail applications need to take advantage of this change in cultural norms and leverage text and electronic based communications to mutual benefit to retailer and consumer. Nobody wants to go through an IVR or wait on hold anymore unless there is no choice.

There are some examples of using electronic interfaces that have caught on in the internet world – like LL Bean, or bell.ca, but I’m not aware of any text assistance or mobile web interfaces to help out customers that are actually at a physical store.  Closest I have seen is Rogers texting you on crossing to USA to check out roaming packages or perhaps the help buttons in some retail stores like Target (pages someone to see you)

Let me know in the comments if you have encountered any real world examples!

Full Disclosure: I work for NCR Corporation which offers a mobile payment solution for gas pumps.

2011.13 | Mobile 2D Code Scanning

2D barcodes continue to enter the mainstream in North America after a much slower start than Asia and Europe.  Recent improvements in processor speed, camera availability, and software on a wide variety of smartphones means that a great swath of the population now has the capability to very easily read and use these codes.   Home Depot recently announced a wide deployment of QR codes in their stores.

2D barcodes – also known as QR (Quick Response) barcodes – come in various flavours and formats, but appear the same and are used in the same way.  Whereas the linear barcodes from stores we all know so well are composed of a series of vertical bars of black and white, 2D barcodes are generally a square with a series of squares of black and white (there are other options, however).   While traditional barcodes were scanned with a laser based barcode scanner, 2d barcodes are read with an imager – a camera.  While we discussed reading these 2D barcodes from mobile phones with a traditional POS setup in earlier posts, reading 2D barcodes with a mobile device is also an interesting prospect for retailers and other consumer facing organizations.

In order for a consumer to read these barcodes, a mobile device and software are required.  Mobile phone users can download ScanLife, NeoReader, and Microsoft Tag Reader to read these codes.  All three of them come in versions for most major mobile phone platforms including iPhone, Windows Phone, Android, Blackberry, Symbian and more.  Scanlife even offers feature phone users the capability for users to capture a code with a camera, send via MMS and receive the data link without the use of an app.  Microsoft’s app reads their own proprietary tags.

2D barcodes are appearing for consumer reading on billboards, on products, on posters, on magazine ads, in newspapers and on price tags.  They allow companies to share information such as images, demos and more via the web with consumers, and track that information as well.  The tags are also being used for reading from the phone as coupons, tickets, and payments.  Check out many real world implementations at Roger’s Blog of 2D Barcode Strategy.  I’ve seen them more and more – I have recently seen them on a poster at AMC Theatres as a link to Facebook, on a Black Eyed Peas Concert Poster, on the side of a truck advertising a business, at Pearson Airport in Toronto advertising the newly opening iStore Boutique, and many more.

While Google are attempting to usurp their place with NFC tags, it seems likely that both NFC and 2D will exist together, particularly given that NFC phones are not yet mainstream, and 2D barcodes can be shown on screens or printed with any printer, while special NFC tags carry a higher cost and are not as simply or as widely available as of yet.

2011.04 | NFC Mobile Payments

Image Source - Cult of Mac

The previous blog post on Starbucks 2D Barcode Mobile Payments drew questions from readers and colleagues around Near Field Communication (NFC) payments, specifically, why would Starbucks have implemented a 2d Mobile Payment solution when NFC is just around the corner?

The Starbucks solution with 2D payments is a perfect fit for the unique Starbucks situation and does not preclude them from accepting mobile NFC payments.  However, the 2d barcode payment is not one I would recommend for any other retailer unless they were have the same characteristics as Starbucks and their solution outlined in the previous post, and there are few if any retailers or consumer facing organizations in that position.

In order to provide NFC mobile payments, it is necessary to have the following elements: NFC at Point of Service, NFC enabled mobile devices, and most difficult of all, Credit Card Company and Credit Processor cooperation.

Point of Service Interface – Retailers that wish to accept mobile NFC payments require NFC enabled pinpads that already work with NFC credit cards.  The most common units in place so far in Canada are the Verifone vx810 and Ingenico i3070c.  These pinpads would provide the interface in stores for NFC ready mobile devices, and are, in fact, already widely installed by many tier 1 Canadian retailers as part of recent EMV efforts.

NFC Mobile Devices – According to rumour, both RIM (Dakota) and Apple (iPhone 5, iPad 2) have NFC ready devices coming out in 2011.  If that is the case, then we may indeed finally be looking at the long awaited electronic wallet, as we now have an encrypted and relatively secure electronic interface from mobile device to point of service device.   Apple and RIM’s massive base and marketing power, as well as their ongoing competition, certainly has the potential to drive massive traffic.  So the mobile devices might be coming, but this has been the expected for at least 4 years.  We’ll call mobile NFC devices a strong maybe.

Credit Card Company / Processor Cooperation – My thoughts on contactless payments are well documented on the blog under NFC if you want to pick it from the tag cloud. The problem isn’t the technology, it’s how the payments get processed and who gets paid to do it. See my posts here and here, as well as a recent article published on StoreFront Backtalk.  The credit card companies, and the various payment processors already get their slice of the payments pie, while all of the mobile carriers have been trying to figure a way to get theirs for years now. Both Canada (Enstream) and US (Isis) mobile carriers have established collective organizations to deliver on mobile payments.  It isn’t that all of these organizations don’t want mobile payments, it’s just very difficult to sort out, and there is really no extra potential revenue in it for them unless consumers or retailers will pay more for some reason.  Some may point to startups like Square and Twitpay, and they may take a bite out of mobile payment in the future, but it doesn’t look like it will happen in the immediate future.  Getting these organizations on board, extending a very successful and secure closed network to the uncertain security of millions of devices is a long short in the near future.

NFC mobile wallets can and should happen (you can already stick an NFC tag on your phone if you like), but sorting out who gets paid how, and how funds will stream through a secure system will take some time.  Nobody knows when that will be.

Why did Starbucks implement a 2d Barcode Payment System instead of NFC?  Only they can answer that, and much of it may be marketing, but in the end, they can drive an ROI.  With a 2D system implemented TODAY, Starbucks potentially gets more consumer card usage, drive more ‘deposits’ on their stored value card, and a quick tender.  Consumers get the convenience of paying with their phone, and the kind of bleeding edge fun many Starbucks customers enjoy.

Starbucks avoids the complex mess of processors, EMV, PCI, and dealing with the processors and credit card companies altogether by taking no the risk themselves.  They have made a good gamble on the fact that they can attract early adopters with relatively very little investment, and by the time mobile payments are mainstream, their system will have already provided a good ROI.

2011.03 | Why Starbucks’ Mobile Payment System Works

Last week Starbucks announced that the mobile payment scheme it has been piloting for some time will be available for all 6,800 Starbucks stores and Target locations across the US.  The solution is not yet in place in Canada.

For the uninitiated, the solution works as follows.  Consumers download the Starbucks Card Mobile App to their mobile phone; be it iPhone or BlackBerry. Customers with a Starbucks stored value card (effectively a gift card) that is registered on the Starbucks website, enter the card number into their phone when the obtain the app, and that card number is stored.  When consumers visit a store, they place their coffee order as usual, and indicate their desire to tender with their mobile.  Consumers start the Starbucks Card Mobile App on their mobile and navigate to the payment screen so that a 2d barcode representing the consumers’ Starbucks card is displayed.  The Starbucks associate, selects mobile as the tender in the POS, and prompts the consumer to use the customer facing imager (the same as those used in airports to read boarding passes).  The consumer places their mobile device under the imager, the 2d barcode is read, and the POS treats the tender like a gift card, following the usual payment verification procedure.  Once tender is complete, the customer obtains their coffee as usual.

The discussion on electronic wallet is an industry favourite, and this development will certainly encourage more discussion on the subject and provide some much need experience.  I’m fully behind this initiative, but at present, this solution is very much a Starbucks specific solution, and it is not easily translatable to other retailers.  While retailers can learn a great deal from the obvious careful thought that has gone into the solution, and we can look forward to others moving down this road as well.  To clarify for consumers (and non-technical retail executives) who ask why other retailers don’t have mobile payment schemes as yet, consider the following unique characteristics of the Starbucks situation that make a solution like this pay off.

Use of Stored Value Card – Very few retailers have a stored value card with the massive following and ongoing usage that Starbucks have.  Effectively consumers are giving Starbucks their funds in advance in exchange for some very small benefits (free drink on your birthday, free pump of flavouring in your drink).  Starbucks gets loyalty data on customers, and a nice balance of cash on hand.  More relevant to the mobile payment solution, the Starbucks mobile phone application allows consumers to make a payment onto their stored value card, and the application’s 2d barcode payment system is connected to that card.  Connecting the mobile payment system to the stored value card means that Starbucks can take the risk of a payment system internally.  Stored value are not subject to the same roadblocks, legislation, and scrutiny that building a mobile payment system that would access a credit card or a debit card would have.  Using the stored value card simplifies implementation and sidesteps many complexities of payment systems like EMV and PCI.

Cross Platform – While Starbucks are very keen on the iPhone, they have not limited themselves to an iPhone app, but also provided an app for the other key smart phone users via the Blackberry App.  Considering the corporate core of Blackberry users and how often meetings now take place in Starbucks stores, this is a wise move to maximize potential users.  Given the number of Android Users and the recent release and growing use of Windows 7 Phone platforms, it would not be surprising to see the Starbucks Card App ported to those platforms as well, ensuring maximum potential usage.

Valuable App – With over 400,000 apps on iTunes, retailers need to make their app unique and useful.  Ideally it pulls together the mobile and in store experience in some way.  Starbucks has managed both.  Any successful retailer’s mobile app needs something unique to it to encourage download, and having it on a consumers screen on a permanent basis.

Customer Demographic – Based on my experience, and what I have read in the media over the past few years, the average Starbucks consumer is more likely than average to be a tech-savvy iPhone or Blackberry user, and beyond that, the kind of user who would be comfortable with technology and placing a payment with their mobile.  It is important that any solution put in front of a consumer by a retailer fit their target market.  A savvy comfortable customer is more likely to use the app, and use it well, to speed transactions and drive convenience for them, and speed throughput for the retailer.

Infrastructure – Most Starbucks locations have 2 terminals.  In order to leverage 2d barcodes, special imagers are required, and this means hardware investment.  2 lanes means only a $300-$400 investment per store for imaging hardware.  Considering the potential value of transactions per store, this is a very low cost.   The ROI would be far less attractive for a lower margin retailer with dozens of lanes in a store to deploy, as it would be key to have the imagers in every lane to simplify the process for consumers.

Transaction Type – The slowest portion of any retail transaction, and the most difficult to trim time from, is the tendering process.  Given that in Starbucks transactions generally include a small basket size and the ordering time is relatively short, the value of an alternative payment is increased, as it is a greater proportion of the transaction.   This value is increased further by the incredible traffic at Starbucks sites.  Having many small transactions provides a boost to the ROI of the solution.

No Mobile Device Handling – In order for any sort of mobile payment solution to increase throughput and minimize operational complications, it is key to streamline the process of scanning the mobile device.  Starbucks has done this via a customer facing scanner with very simple signage.  This allows the consumer to place their phone in the scanning area with no need to pass the mobile device to a cashier.  This simplifies the process by providing a consistent process, not only increasing the scan speed, but also avoiding the potential of store staff dropping or otherwise damaging a customer’s mobile device.  Consumers are also more likely to use the mobile payment solution if they do not have to pass their mobile phone to a cashier, given how consumers increasingly consider the mobile device as a personal item.

As with all solutions implemented by consumer facing organizations, ROI is key.  Looking at the Starbucks solution, the costs of entry are probably not that high.  A mobile app is relatively inexpensive and standalone compared to other point of sale solution implementations.  Using the stored value card leverages electronic processes and databases already in place.  The crucial part is operationalizing the solution, and that can be put in place for hundreds or low thousands per site.  All in all, this is a relatively low cost solution with the potential for a high ROI in both funds, and in good will from consumers.  Other retailers looking to implement such a solution would do well to observe what Starbucks have done, but note well that this is not a one size fits all solution.  Any future implementers should be sure that the app suits their customer demographic, their transaction model, and has a way of dealing with the complexities of payment.  Other solutions will arise, and it will be fascinating to see what comes next.

2010.46 | 2D Barcodes are for Everybody Now

Seems like 2D Barcodes are picking up steam – at least from the perspective of the media.  Though these codes have been around for some time – originally used for labelling electronic components, they are finally making their way a little deeper into the mainstream.   2D has been discussed on this blog many times over the past 2 years.

Smartphones have made this possible with better faster hardware and software that allows users to scan codes very quickly – making the use of these codes far more practical than in the past. The value of 2D codes are their ability to provide a very simple bridge between mobile and touchpoints (point of sale, atm, payment terminals). While it’s possible to interface via NFC, bluetooth or wifi, all of the other options require setup, passwords or some other hardware. With 2D barcodes – there’s an app for that, and it’s basically point and shoot.

Some interesting uses of 2D barcodes in retail:

Ticketing – Expect to see more of this as consumers become more comfortable.  It already works for airlines, and given the demographic visiting movie theatres, who are more comfortable with mobile technology will move to this ticketing option in the future with movie theatres (Full Disclosure – NCR is my employer and owns Mobiqa) and concert venues leading the way.

Coupons – Coupons are common in today’s value consious consumer.  There are a number of initiatives taking place that use 2d barcodes.

Payment – Starbucks has been connecting a client’s stored value card to a 2D barcode that can be read at the POS for some time.  That’s old hat, though still uncommon.  A newer twist on this is a company called Cimbal, who are attempting to enable the mobile wallet via 2D barcodes.  This system shows a 2D barcode on the screen of the pinpad to be scanned by a mobile phone and then payments are directed.  This is a very interesting angle to avoiding a new device at the point of sale.

Informational – Scanning 2d barcodes from store shelves or posters is increasingly simple with all of these applications and can take the load off store staff for information.  Customers can scan a code from a poster or from a shelf edge to watch a video or a sales pitch of any media that vendors may want to provide to retailers.



Again, 2D barcodes are not new, nor is scanning a barcode to pull information.  It is the new comfort level with mobile technology that is pulling this technology to the fore.

2010.44 | Using the Consumer’s Device

As the dynamic for retailers shifts from a B2C model (where where the business dictates how consumers will interface to a retailer) to a C2B model (where consumers can use any number of platforms do business with a retailer), there are some very interesting technology applications coming to the fore that attempt to take advantage of the changes. 

This video from the shop.org annual summit highlights this vision of the future for retailing with every potential touchpoint as an opportunity to sell.

Some examples of retailers leveraging :

Starbucks Wifi Portal – When you login to the free wifi at Starbucks in the US, the new Starbucks Digital Network is rolling out that provides users access to specially selected content, including six channels around News, Entertainment, Wellness, Business and Careers, My Neighbourhood, and Starbucks.  Understanding that half of their customers are using mobile devices in the store, Starbucks are optimizing this experience for those users.  Starbucks provides another reason to visit their sites, while providing other potential revenue opportunities through media sales/fees/commissions.  This seems like a real win for everyone – consumers, content providers and Starbucks. 

Concierge Service in Apple Stores – Apple appears to be upgrading their Genius bar system whereby customers arriving at Apple Stores can register, be placed in a queue for assistance, and even see the name and a picture of  their Genius.  Given the increasingly crowded and crazy environment at an Apple store, this is a great use of a device the client is likely to own, while providing a valuable service and re-inforcing the Apple brand.

Store Scanning – Unlike my previous post where retailers are scanning mobile devices, there are a wide array of solutions for consumers to use their mobiles to scan items in stores.  Two particular interesting examples are the upgrade to the Tesco iPhone app that allows for barcode reading capability to add to orders, and Aislebuyer, a standalone system that lets customers scan in stores and check out on their own.

iPad Apps – Companies like Gap, Victoria’s Secret, Amazon Windowshop, and more are releasing iPad apps that provide a unique interaction point that is special to their brand, provides an interface that the customer is asking for, and leverages a consumer device as opposed to having to invest in their own networks.

Mobile Payment and Couponing – Starbucks has been accepting mobile payments through their mobile apps and a 2d barcode scanner since late last year, but are now rolling it out in New York – where solutions like this can start to enter the mainstream.  Target has been doing the same with coupons since the spring.  People notice that they lose their wallet after a day – their mobile phone they notice missing in an hour.  What’s more important?  These organizations are leveraging an area of demand, and smartly sidestepping all of the logistical nightmares of mobile phone payments to give themselves an early adopter advantage.

All of these examples are clever efforts to turn the C2B model to a business advantage for these organizations, and a glimpse into how Consumers will interact with retailers in the future – wherever they want – but more so.



2010.42 | Scanning Barcodes From a Mobile Screen

Misconceptions abound about scanning the screens of mobile devices.

There are a number of different ways of passing data from a mobile device to another platform in a store environment – 2D barcodes, Microsoft Tag, NFC, Bluetooth, and via Apps – the possiblities are quite broad and are dependent on the application.

Applications in a store environment most often involve passing loyalty or coupon information from a mobile device to a point of sale (POS).  The method that arises most in conversation is that which would seem most intuitive to the general population.  Can one scan a barcode from the screen of a mobile phone with a scanner at the point of sale?

The answer: it depends.  Consider the following examples:

Example 1: A customer approaches a Point of Sale in a store with an Apple iPhone.  The customer has scanned an image of their loyalty card into their phone complete with a traditional linear barcode from the back of the physical loyalty card.  The cashier has a Handheld Scanner at the POS and attempts to scan the customer’s screen to enter their loyalty information into the system…  It won’t work.   A traditional handheld or even bioptic scanner will not reliably capture a barcode from the screen of a regular mobile device’s screen.   I have personally attempted it many times, in many retail situations with various scanners and mobile devices and screens in stores and in lab environments.  The screen is too reflective or does not pick up the contrast in the bars and spaces, no matter how large or bright the image may be.  (It may give a positive scan once in a while, but not consistently.) I’ve heard that some iPhone apps get around that by showing the images in certain ways, but I’ve never seen it work live or via any online searching.


Example 2: A customer approaches the boarding gate at an airline terminal with a Blackberry Torch.  The customer has downloaded an electronic boarding pass to their phone complete with a 2d barcode.  The boarding agent has a Handheld Scanner with a 2d Imager built into it.  The customer holds out their device, and the agent scans it with the imager.  It will work.   In this instance, though the situation appears exactly the same as the first example, the big difference is the the use of the 2d Imager and 2d barcode.  A 2d Imager is essentially a camera – better suited to identifying the 2d barcode on the mobile device.

The implication of the formulas above is that the great majority of technology in place at current points of sale will not read barcodes from a mobile device.  Most retailers wishing to take advantage of barcode reading from mobile devices will need to invest in new scanning devices.

NOTE:  The imager will also read a 1D traditional barcode from the mobile screen.  The barcode does not have to be a 2D barcode.

2010.14 | Connecting Virtual Stores with Bricks & Mortar

With the three main points of contact for consumers (point of service, web, and mobile) well entrenched, consider some strategies in the news for bringing the three together for a connected and integrated experience.

  • Purchasing with 2d Barcodes through the shop window – A number of companies are making it possible to buy things in the front window even if the store isn’t open – bringing together the virtual with bricks and mortar.  It’s not new, we’ve been reading about it for years, after all, but it’s still not mainstream.    I love it, I’m just not certain how much my non-technical, non-geek peers will embrace it.
  • Paying with Cash Online – The barrier for many consumers who are hold outs for ecommerce is payments.  Some consumers don’t have a credit card, prefer anonymity, or would just rather pay cash.  Kwedit allows customers to use their interface to make a purchase online and pay for it at 7-Elevens across the US.  I don’t know if we have this sort of need in Canada, but if so, it’s a great strategy to tap it!
  • Mobile Payments at Starbucks Expanded – Starbucks released their iphone app a few months back with a pilot 2d barcode payment capability at sites in Seattle and one other city.   It’s now expanded this payment option to Starbucks outlets in Target stores – one of their franchisees in the US.   I look forward to this option in Canada one day.
  • Using Finger Pulse to Dispense Beverages – Moving walletless is a noble pursuit, and this one takes it one step further by removing a mobile device as well.  At Retailtech in Japan, a Coca-Cola machine was rigged up to dispense Cokes based on finger pulse recognition.  While it’s an interesting concept, it doesn’t differ greatly from the now defunct Pay-By-Touch model which was not able to make a go of it.  Registering your finger print (or pulse) is definitely a turnoff for a large segment of the buying public.  Whether it’s concerns over privacy or someone removing others digits for profit, physical validation will be a tough sell when it’s connected to payments.
  • foursquare – I’ve just started experimenting with this social media tool.  The idea is that users can check-in whenever they visit a consumer facing establishment.  Points are given for check-ins as well as badges.  Why would people do this?  It’s a game; a fun competition to get badges and points, and even become the mayor of a given location if you check-in more than anyone else.  It also allows users to provide and read tips on any establishment.  Never underestimate the desire of people to take part in a scavenger hunt like this (listen to this week’s Spark podcast with Jesse Schell if you don’t believe me!).  The exciting part about foursquare should be the ability of retailers to match up with their most loyal clients and make them their best salespeople!
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