2014.10 | mink | #amazoncart | google shopping express

mink makeup printerMink – 3D printing isn’t just for plastic toys.  Mink is a makeup printer that allows any colour to be printed on to makeup substrate so that home users can prepare their own favourite colours.  Instead of being limited to colours that are pre-made and ready in store, shoppers can build whatever they want on demand.

It’s obviously early days for this technology, but retailers generally have better results when they to recognize disruptive technologies like this early and either get on board or find something that accomplishes something similar.    This is the same story as mp3 and eBooks all over again as immediate gratification will make the status quo of purchasing pre coloured makeup less convenient.

It will be interesting to see the real solution itself and how easy it is to use.  A pretty white box looks nice and simple, but for a solution like this to fly it has to be dead simple.  As is the case with regular printers, they will obviously run out of substrate or colour just when it is needed most.  Having automatic fulfillment would avoid such issues. Retailers should be moving towards open and connected systems to enable automatic replenishment for clients.  Connecting a system like Mink to an ecommerce subscription service or standing order for automatic fulfillment online with the printer ordering its own supplies will be key to its success.    Expect an Amazon plug-in sometime in the near future.

amazoncart#amazoncart – As the retailer of every channel but a store (so far), Amazon recently expanded its ever growing list of channels it makes available for consumers to interface with them.  The newest is #amazoncart, whereby if twitter readers see a product that they like, they can reply to a tweet with a product link with the hashtag #amazoncart, and the item will be automatically added to their Amazon shopping cart online.

While not the right strategy for every retailer it is an interesting attempt by Amazon to strengthen their already extensive hold on default online shopping cart online.  If a shopper has an item in a retailer’s online cart, odds are good they will complete a purchase for that item, or at least have to remove it from the cart.  Allowing this functionality also allows Amazon to quietly capture the twitter account of their clients – which can be mined for more information on how often this strategy results in a sale, or to leverage big data solutions to improve other product recommendations.

This is potentially a great tool for Amazon devotees, but for products that aren’t carried by Amazon (yes, those exist, especially outside of America) and if shopper preferences skew to other retailers, there are many other ways of tracking items that don’t require sticking them into a cart.  Not all great items are found on twitter, but for shoppers using twitter, the web, or even an aggregator like Zite or Flipboard, shoppers can easily add items to services like Evernote, Pinterest and even Pocket to track shopping lists.  No need to remove from a cart.

google-expressGoogle Shopping Express – Google recently opened the gates on an Amazon Prime type offering called Google Shopping Express where shoppers can order items online for immediate same day delivery from retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods and more in Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.    The service is available online or via iPhone and Android apps.

Initial reviews and reviews for the apps indicate that the service works very well and is either free or very very inexpensive.  The service is reminiscent of Kozmo.com, a well known dot.com bubble company established to provide this very same service that expired in 2001.  That service suffered under the high cost of providing this service on low value items, but they obviously did not have the Google machine behind them.

The question that arises is whether Google will provide this service at a loss, charge clients a commensurate amount for the service, or find another way to finance it within other elements of their business.  There are a wide array of options they could investigate moving forward.  What current retailers need to carefully consider and be ready to move on is if Google mines all the data for items shoppers may want delivered in this paradigm and then decides to stock them on their own and fulfill them to shoppers directly.


2012.39 | New Ideas

Robot-Burger-640x360Robot ChefMomentum machines is offering up a fastfood restaurant in a box.  This newly minted organization’s solution is a robotic hamburger assembly line.  Momentum’s vision is to replace a fast food kitchen staff with an automated system to provide high end burgers at fast food prices.  The robot apparently even cuts vegetables for the burger to order. via psfk

A solution like this provides an incredible opportunity for quality control and a smaller footprint restaurant.  On the downside, if the machine has problems, your business would come to a stop.  It would also make the restaurant reliant on some very specialized technical help in the near term.  It’s a risky option to run a business this way without any backup; but it is an intriguing notion all the same.  The only way to know it will work is for someone to try it.  If you open one of these up, give me a call.  I’ll definitely try a robot burger! via mashable

3d printing3D printing @ Staples – Through a partnership between Staples and Mcor Technologies a 3D printing service will soon be available at Staples stores in Belgium and the Netherlands.  Expect this sort of service to find its way over to North America with growing interest in 3D printing.  As mentioned in other other articles on this blog, 3D is the next file sharing “nightmare/opportunity” for retailers.  Hobbyists have been into 3D printing for some time, prices of 3D printers are dropping, and there is a physibles (3D models) section on The Pirate Bay.   Consider this the opening chapter in a longer story where retailers need to change their game on anything consumers can print themselves.

e-ink casee-ink iPhone Case – I was intrigued by this new case design by popSlate.  Filling the empty space on the back of an iPhone, the designers put an e-ink screen on the back of a case.  The case draws power from the port a the bottom of the iPhone.  While the initial design is really to put pictures on the back to personalize the case, the next step is an API that allows for apps to control the back screen.  From a retail perspective this provides all sorts of interesting possibilities.  It could mean that a loyalty card barcode can be shown on the back of the case based on input from the mobile device, so that the user’s screen isn’t taken up a plain old card or barcode.  The main lcd screen could have other more relevant information on the screen for the user, like offers, information on store events, or anything for that matter. via wired

2012.05 | Surface 2.0 | 2D Payment | 3D Printing

Microsoft Surface apparently had a demo of their latest and greatest on a Samsung system at NRF.  I wasn’t able to see it live while I was at the show, and more the shame because it looks really, really great in this demo video.  There is no apparent bezel and a really slick looking fixture like finish on the surface (forgive the pun).  While it looks just tremendous, do we really think anyone will be looking at keyboards and mice on something like this?  I think this looks incredible, but there must be a better use for it than showing catalog items.

I find these solutions so engaging, and their use of tangible objects a great move forward from gesture based interfaces, but someone needs to grab this thing with both hands and apply it to their business in a way that will use it to best advantage.  How about selling mobile devices and full out demos of their interfaces right on the counter so that you can try them out life size?  That is the kind of transaction that can take place standing at a counter.  Add to the demo and review options the ability to fill in forms with preset info from a wallet and I think this would be a great solution in a mobile selling situation.  No more shells of phones connected with silly wire cables.  Just one slick screen used as sharing surface.

3D Printing Redux – I’ve talked about 3D printing on the blog a number of times now, and I’ve discussed it with some retailers, but it seems pretty far off into the future for most of them.  I would suggest that manufacturers and retailers  heed the lessons of their predecessors; the music, film, and publishing industries.    Just because you have a physical object as a product doesn’t mean you won’t have to change your business model.  I recently read that the Pirate Bay has started a section called Physibles.  This is an area of the well known downloading site where anyone can upload and download digital plans for 3D objects and print their own.

Remember that technology has been progressing faster than companies over the last number of years.  If manufacturers and retailers don’t keep an eye on this, and build ways of addressing it into their business plans, they could stand to lose in many ways.  On the other hand, if it is embraced, new business models can emerge.   New and better printers that can print larger and larger items will only make this trend more prevalent.   It’s certainly complicated, but it’s something to watch.

Paying via 2D Barcode – As someone who has been waiting for NFC to break for years now, I’m getting behind the trend of just working with what we have.  Most widely used mobile devices don’t have NFC yet, but more and more have cameras, so they can read 2D barcodes.

MasterCard in Australia has begun a trial run of their Qkr (pronounced Quicker) app that lets clients order food from their seat in a movie theatre.  Customers scan a barcode from the seat in a movie theatre, pick items from a menu and wait staff deliver it.  I’m assuming this is all tied to a MasterCard from within the app at the back end so no payment details are entered at the point of sale.  Wonder how that works with PCI?

It’s not the widely distributed payment system panacea for any retailer, but it’s a step in the right direction.


2011.36 | 3D Printer as Retail Game Changer

It goes without saying that if pure music retailers had seen the rise of MP3 and iTunes a little more clearly, they may have approached things a little differently.

The march of technology affects all retailers in one way or another, and the lesson of the music industry has not been lost on the book industry.  The rise of the Kindle, the Nook, Kobo and more all indicate that retailers and content providers are approaching these radical changes intelligently; by trying to adopt them as their own and make them part of their business model before the wave of consumer demand overcomes them and makes them completely redundant.

Staying ahead of these developments involves quite a lot of guesswork.  For example, who would have anticipated the rapid adoption of smartphones driven by the iPhone less than 5 years ago.  Before that time, few retailers were asking about integrating mobile into their business in earnest – now all of them are doing so.

There is a technology that could have a huge impact on retailers in the future, but I have seen very little discussion on the point and that is 3D Printing.

For the uninitiated, 3D printers are machines that use plastics to ‘print’ small 3d items.  They work along similar lines to the old inkjet printers or plotters from the past, except that instead of using a robotic arm to just draw on a sheet of paper, they lay down layers of plastic to build a 3 dimensional object.  Once one layer is put down, the ‘print head’ is lifted a level, or the layer moves down, and another layer of plastic is put on top of the first.  As the layers build, a 3 dimensional object is formed.  A user opens a file with a 3 dimensional object plotted in it from a CAD application of some point, selects Print, and the printer does the rest.

Solutions of this type have been used for prototyping for some time, and I’ve even used some of these on mockup solutions in our labs.  What is most interesting about the technology is that it is available for purchase to consumers, and there are open source solutions to make this technology available to the masses.

The most well known option available is MakerBot Industries Thing-o-Matic, which retails for just under US$1,300.  This user assembled kit makes it possible for home printing of 3D objects.

Today, these devices just print small plastic pieces, so what is the potential impact on retailers? Let’s consider a future where these 3D printers become increasingly sophisticated.  They become as cheap and simple to obtain as our paper printers, they use stronger materials, they can print larger items, they can use different types of material, they can print very sophisticated objects and they are simple to operate as a paper printer.

If all of this were true at some point in the future,

  • It would be possible to purchase a digital copy of physical object and print it at home.
  • There would be no physical inventory to fulfill orders, no shipping to customers, and very little in the way of  logistics required.
  • No need to visit a physical store for purchase.
  • ‘Instant’ gratification for consumer.
  • There is an increased ability to handle massive swings in consumer demand as long as the server traffic can accommodate hits from consumers.
  • Ability to effectively release new products quickly as no pre-release manufacturing needs to be waited on.
  • There is a potential threat of piracy on the design of physical items – just like there is with mp3 files or eBook files.
The net impact of this type of solution could be very similar to the impact of mp3 and eBooks to brick and mortar retailers.   3D printers would drive different revenues as designs instead of products are sold, new nimble online competitors would arise, and many other retail landscape altering changes could occur.  There are already services that will print items in 3d for customers as a service, as an example.
Will this technology mature quickly or not?  What changes will occur because of it, and when?  It is impossible to say, and guessing is a sure way to look the fool in the future.   What is certain is that retailers should keep an ear to the ground to ensure that rapid progress in technology is something that is used as a potential competitive advantage, as opposed to the technology that puts a retailer out of business.
%d bloggers like this: