2014.09 | worn on tv | beacon sunglasses | emoji search

As Seen on TV

Worn on TV – Showing that alternate channels and affiliate sales continue to expand as alternative sales opportunities for retailers, Worn on TV lists clothing and accessories that are showcased on television shows.   Visitors to the site can search by show, by episode and even by character.  It is not evident how the site is validating the clothing shown – whether it comes from the network, the service or is crowdsourced; but it’s a novel idea, and you have to expect that they are capturing some revenue by sending traffic to the retailer’s eCommerce sites.

From a retailer perspective, a site like this represents a tremendous opportunity to sell fashions in an understated manner without relying on commercials that are being avoided via DVR by most people anyway.  Retailers would be wise to track how many hits they are getting from the sites, and even by show to understand where their clients are coming from so that they can best showcase their fashions on the shows driving the traffic.  Making this data actionable, sales staff enabled with tablets and access to this site could potentially drive more product by understanding clients taste and leveraging the publicity from the show as shopper profiles are connected.

tzukuriBeacon Sunglasses – While those of us in retail technology are focused on using beacons for unique retail experiences, Tzukuri are putting iBeacons directly into their sunglasses.  Much like many card based bluetooth tools that will tell you when you leave your wallet behind by sending an alert to your mobile, these specs will send a notification from a built-in solar powered beacon to your iPhone via iBeacon when you get more than 16 feet from them.  An app can then later tell you where your iPhone was last in contact with them so you can return and pick them up.

Leveraging beacons in sunglasses is a novel and practical idea; who hasn’t left sunglasses behind at some point.  Stepping beyond the ability to locate lost frames, with beacons built into the glasses and central profiles kept on clients, retailers could now even leverage the beacons on the sunglasses to identify shoppers who come into their store – even if they don’t have their mobile device. To take advantage of these sales and customer service opportunities, retailers will need to be nimble in building out the data fields required in upcoming versions of their client profiles and consider how to interface all of these identifiers to staff working at stores.

yelp emoji searchEmoji Search – Yelp recently updated their mobile app to allow searches by emoji. Instead of having to search for wine, for example, by typing the word wine, users of yelp can now type one character – the wine glass via the emoji keyboard on an iphone – to search on wine.  While searching via emoji seems a silly idea on the surface, it represents an understanding of a certain subset of users that use their app.  Emoji entry avoids the annoyance of typing on touchscreens or waiting for Siri to look.  It’s a fresh, simple idea, and drives users to approach the app with a different perspective.  It’s also another way of providing shoppers choice – a key function in today’s endless sea of options.


2014.08 | vmbeacon | amazon dash

iconemeVMBeacon – Part of the key benefit of visiting a store that sells fashion is to gain a sense of that retailer’s sense of style as opposed to merely rifling through a pile of shirts on a table.  Mannequins have long been a tool for retailers to provide a view of their offerings that reflects how they will look when assembled in real life – very different from how clothing appears while hanging on a rack.   As a shopper, I’ve often been the one in the store taking a photo of the mannequin with my mobile and then hunting through the entire store to assemble the particular items that I like.  If I can’t find any of the items, I drag some poor soul working in the store to the mannequin to show them what I need.

VMBeacon by Iconeme is a solution that adds beacons to mannequins in stores to assist shoppers like myself to avoid the effort of searching through the store for the items I wish to purchase or try on that are shown on mannequins.   The solution connects beacons to the mannequins in store.  Leveraging a yet to be released app, these beacons point shoppers to a page on their mobile that shows all of the items on the mannequin that compose the look.  This allows shoppers quick access to the items, and presumably an easier path to find them.

Beacon powered mannequins seem an inevitable solution, and there are a number of considerations for when that really occurs:

  • Ensuring that the right data is connected to the right mannequin will be crucial.  Checking with the app to ensure that the mannequins settings online match the outfit should be part of the operational store process for changing the mannequin’s ensemble.
  • Providing location for items via a mobile app will be difficult in a specialty store environment.  There are rarely aisle numbers and sections are difficult to identify.  The greater benefit here may just be having the product’s unique identifier and being able to tell if the item is in stock in the correct size.  Knowing that, it would be more productive to drive the shopper to store staff for validation of location.
  • The demo recommends capturing shoppers into a store with the mannequin beacon on the app sending a message.  I’m not certain this is the best use of the technology.  The fashion should be the driver to pull out the mobile to get more information, not to stare at the mobile to see the fashions on a tiny screen when I’m in a shopping area with the fashions in the window.
  • Sharing fashion via Facebook is well and good, but being able to pin it to Pinterest, or add items to a wishlist or evernote or some other service would be more useful to remember favoured items.
  • If the store is not one that I visit often, I’m not likely to have an app.  As beacons only work with apps as far as I am aware at present, there will be some missed opportunity for service.  Signage or video indicating the service exists and a link to the app would be ideal.

Beacon enabled mannequins are a wonderful idea.  Like most solutions, the challenge will be in the details and operations to ensure this concept is implemented to best advantage to retailer, store staff and shoppers.


amazon dashAmazon Dash – Continuing their endless drive in any direction possible for more sales, Amazon recently unveiled the Amazon Dash.  Dash is a purpose built bar scanner and audio recorder that allows Amazon Fresh customers to add items to their online grocery cart as soon as they run out by either verbally prompting Dash or scanning them with Dash.  The idea is to have the small device handy in the home and ensure capture whenever the shopper runs out or thinks of a required item.

A few thoughts on this concept:

  • The Amazon mobile app can work just as well for this function as yet ANOTHER device in the home.  How many people have their mobiles on them constantly – everyone.  How many people can’t find a TV remote? Everyone.  This thing will get lost.
  • It’s not clear how this is unit is synchronized to the website/mobile devices, but there will be issues with synching or setup that negate the simplicity of the item. What seems simple to bleeding edge techie lovers is not obvious to someone who uses a purpose built device to scan stuff in the kitchen.
  • Support.  A support team will have to exist just for this item.  Updates because iOS/Android changed their settings?  Time for a new version.  Does this appliance download new setting automatically?  Important back end work that must be handled carefully.
  • Batteries.  Charging.  Another USB adapter? No thanks.
  • Kids love beeping and laser lights.  It would be fascinating to observe a shopping basket once a toddler gets their hands on an Amazon dash!  One or many of everything please?
  • Water, sink, food, kitchen clutter, powder rooms.  All enemies of the Dash that challenge its ease of use and life as a tool.
  • I’m really going to go downstairs, get this thing and scan a package of toilet paper when it runs out?  Who is that organized?
  • I’m limited to one vendor for my groceries with this tool?  What about price checking?  What about coupons?  What about remembering the quantities of something for a recipe.

On paper this seems like a productive concept, and it may suit a particular audience, but this device seems a bit of an odd option for the sorts of people who might order their groceries from Amazon.  Dash represents a creative concept, and it will be interesting to see how the test period. I would personally stick to evernote for my shopping lists.  Let’s see how the Millenials approach it!

2013.09 | Barclay Center App | Reddit

Barclay Center – I find myself more than slightly jealous of visitors to Brooklyn’s Barclay Center.  The Barclay Center App has all of the nonsense we expect from all apps we download, team schedules, and pictures of the venue, but they also have some really incredible features made available from wifi in the stadium including:

  • play_e_slamcam1_gb1_576access to live in game video
  • access to the live TV feed
  • replays with rewind capability
  • up to four different camera angles
  • ordering food from your seat
  • submit messages for scoreboard display

It appears this is primarily used by the Nets, but is able to work at concerts as well.  What better way to allow fans a better view of the game from the worst seats than by leveraging the screens in their hand?  Not only that, but enabling in seat ordering is a real treat.  I’d be interested to see the operational side of the food ordering.  If it got too popular, it might be challenging to fulfill orders for delivery in a timely manner.  I’m sure the team at the Barclay Center would love to tackle that problem!

Reddit – While it doesn’t have the wide audience of Facebook, the ubiquity of Twitter or the slick visual appeal of Pinterest, Reddit represents a tremendous opportunity for retailers in two ways: to gain information and to influence customer experiences.


While Reddit is not nearly as well known as these other online communities, they still represent a huge swath of humanity with 37 BILLION page views in 2012 alone.    I would encourage retailers to get on Reddit as I have to read through what is being said about their brands and technology and see what can be gleaned from it.  Like any other wide open discussion, you can expect incredible enthusiasm, fantastic negativity, and lots and lots of stories and comments.  Take all of it with a grain of salt, but the information may change your perspective or drive discussion in your organization and is 100% free consumer input.  Visit reddit.com and type in your company name in the search box.  Before you visit, you may want to understand how it works.

I would not recommend retailers or their representatives fake a consumer post outlining the wonders of any item or their brand.  From my many hours on Reddit I have the sense that full on commercialism will get someone downvoted to oblivion, but even worse is the commercial disguised as a post from a Redditor.

Lots of actors complete an AMA (ask-me-anything) post to shill their latest movies, and Reddit welcomes that with the understanding that for a short paragraph asking for consideration of seeing a movie or reading a book (and maybe not even that), Redditors get a once in a lifetime chance to ask a question directly of a famous person.

If a retailer wants to drive their brand in Reddit, they could have someone famous and beloved by the tech/geek/youth community speak on their behalf and not be too forward about it.    A better vehicle for leveraging Reddit is the provided messaging capability between registered users.  If retailers see a negative or positive post or comment and act to remedy the problem as many have via Twitter and Facebook, Reddit represents a vehicle for customer service.  Getting more information from a failed customer experience and resolving it can provide positive feedback from a large audience.  Combining the advice from the recent Customer Service Podcast on CBC’s Under the Influence with solving complaints and problems seen in  Reddit could drive some real customer loyalty and interest as long as the intent is genuine.

2011.47 | Latest Retail Tech Links

New-tritional Labeling – A controversial question, but I really admire this effort at re-thinking how  the nutritional value of foods is presented.  This is a tough area to solve, as everyone has different ideas of nutrition and what is good for you.

Savvy is a mobile tool to track prices after your purchase to ensure you take advantage of price guarantees.  Just take a picture of the receipt from a growing list of retailers, and the app takes care of the rest.

Domino’s is letting build their own pizzas as part of an iPad game called Domino’s Pizza Hero.  This is definitely a clever way to get into the hearts and minds of the kids who use their parent’s iPads to play.

AT&T has a new Concept Store in Chicago.

Hertz has new check-in kiosks that provide a video link to remote staff to provide a live link to the check-in.

Check out this Superhydrophobic Coating It’s touted as a way of protecting electronics from spills but I’m with the guy who wrote it…this could save my clothes.

2011.42 | How Square’s Card Case Works

I was intrigued by the recent release of the Card Case App from Square.  Unlike the other mobile payment apps that involve tapping a mobile device or card on a contactless reader, Card Case attempts to remove the tender process from a transaction as much as possible.  While the mobile device has to be on their person, there is no need to pull out a wallet or a phone to complete a transaction.

Here’s how it works:

  • Users connect a current credit card to a registered account with Square that includes all of their personal information including a photo of themselves.
  • Users install the Card Case App on their iPhone or Android device.
  • Users can search out local businesses where they shop directly on the app on their mobile device.
  • Users can turn on ‘Always Auto Open Tab’ for merchants they frequent to enable purchases ‘over the air’.
  • When users are within a store where they have activated this ‘Always Auto Open Tab’ with their phone, the proximity of their mobile device to the store point of sale device causes their name and image to show on a list on the screen of the point of sale unit.
  • When a user wishes to complete a transaction, the user tells the cashier to put it on their tab, using their own name to identify themselves.
  • The cashier consults the point of sale device and identifies the user by their name and image that shows on the point of sale device.
  • The cashier selects that user, and the transaction is completed.
  • An eReceipt is provided to the customer via Square.

This payment solution is really a very clever way of getting away from the traditional pass of a card or currency from a customer to a retailer.  I would personally love this to become a standard payment.  I would use it in a second if it was available in my area.

Let’s consider some of the potential issues around this particular solution, to understand if it could become mainstream.

  • Integration Effort – Retailers must register with Square to accept payments via the Card Case solution.  Fees are low at 2.75% (3.5% with a card swipe), and make a lot of sense for smaller retailers, as they can replace a potentially more costly ‘traditional’ solution.  However, if we consider tier 1 and tier 2  chain merchants with significant scale, they already leverage current payment processing platforms.  Using Square is an additional payment scheme that has to be accommodated at a store.  Additional schemes mean additional cost and effort to implement and support.  They mean additional training for store staff.  They mean integration to current point of sale software platforms.  While retailers accommodate as many schemes as they can to suit their customer base, there is only so much complexity that can be handled.  Verdict: For the time being, I expect this to be more of a neighbourhood merchant solution, though inevitably someone will give it a try.
  • Connectivity – A mobile payment scheme like this assumes connectivity by default.  If either the user or the merchant loses connectivity for any reason, the mechanism to accept a payment is unavailable.  While connectivity is definitely improving across the board, it is by no means foolproof.  Most top tier retailers require a solution with very high uptime or at least some significant redundancy. Mobile signals can be dicey in some locations, no matter what carrier or device you use, there is a chance that in some locations it just won’t work.  Verdict: Given connectivity today, mileage will vary by location.  Some sites in subways or in the basements of highrises may not be able to use it at all.  This technical challenge will make it challenging for the solution to become common.
  • Errors & Scale –  In large cities or in very busy sites, there may be so many users in proximity to the store that the lists could become unmanageable.  In busy situations, it is also possible for cashiers to accidentally select the wrong user given many more to choose from.  Verdict: While unlikely that there will be so many users using the service at present, given significant population density and the busy nature of some urban businesses, popularity of the solution could render it more difficult to use for the cashiers.  I’m sure that issue could be dealt with.
  • Fraud & Security – While paying by name and image may be simple, streamlined, and civilized, it relies heavily upon a cashier’s personal discretion.  In the case of a small neighbourhood merchant, that may work just fine.  When you are a huge multinational retail organization with tens of thousands of employees across the country, the continent or the world, it’s a different story.  No matter how carefully employees are vetted, there are always bad apples. Based on current information, there is no mechanism beyond a cashier login log to discourage cashiers from assigning a charge without the permission of the user.  To take it a step further, users could be charged without even being in the store.  A user standing near a store could be charged by a cashier without any knowledge whatsoever.  While the user would inevitably be tipped off by an ereceipt, and the user would obviously only activate tabs at sites they trusted, security is still a valid concern.  Verdict: The sort of trust required for this sort of solution means it will have to stay small scale with trusted retailers.  If it expands to larger retailers, either users won’t turn on the automatic tab option, or there will be more fraudulent charges than it is worth.

I doubt that the intent of the automatic open tab functionality was to have it leveraged in a large scale retail implementation at all.  The trust requirement to make this solution work is a fundamental flaw for larger players, but it’s a novel idea all the same, and I hope it is successful enough that I can try it locally.

2011.29 | Mobile Retail Apps

In order to get the attention of today’s consumer, retailers need to provide the best possible experience from any channel where customers wish to interface with them.  Michael’s – home to the crafty types – has put together their own mobile app with a spin towards functionality that they feel that their following would enjoy – things like video examples and mobile versions of datasheets, as well as the usual coupons and offers.  Sounds terrific.

Here are a few thoughts about following in their footsteps with an iPhone app:

1.  Ensure your target market are iPhone users.  I’m sure Michael’s checked that and decided that the development was worthwhile.  Mobile apps are inexpensive compared to many enterprise level retail software development efforts, so it probably wasn’t a difficult decision.  Because Michael’s already had a library of web based resources anyway, the only addition was probably the iPhone interface.

Fundamentally, with web services in place they can all be leveraged to build an app for another platform.  More practically, I recommend a mobile web based interface for the retailer’s website that will work on any platform.  There are platforms that will automatically re-format the screens to fit any size device – Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Windows and more – based on the browser and screen resolution of the device accessing the page.  This is more a function of practicality than design.  Why provide functionality to users on one platform, when for a similar cost, you could provide it to all smartphone users?

Examples of mobile web instead of apps click on theses links with your mobile: LLBean and Sears. For lots of examples of apps, check out my page on Canadian retailers with links to social media and apps.  A recent article indicates that retailers are starting to follow this web format instead of iPhone apps.

2.  Make sure the mobile app has functions that are practical and add to the customer experience you want to provide.  Just because an advertising company will throw in an app for free as part of a contract, or your head of marketing wants to have an app to see your logo in the apple store doesn’t necessarily make it worthwhile to the consumer.  In fact, if the app doesn’t add anything new to the arrangement, the consumer may feel you have been wasting their time.    A standard store finder isn’t enough – I can just do that on the maps application.  However, one that shows via a coloured icon that the store is currently open, as is used on Starbucks Canada or McDonalds Canada, is a pretty good idea.  The Home Depot Canada app has a function to measure screws and various other items.  All of these are examples of trying to do something different that is helpful, and can enhance the customer experience for their specific clientele.  I can’t tell you the idea that will make your app or web based store, but your customers might!  Ask them.

3.  Ensure the app can identify the user in a way that the customer can opt in or opt out.  Most retailers have a loyalty program in place.  What better way to identify the customers than leveraging this same infrastructure?  Be certain that opting in works flawlessly and simply and that nobody is forced to identify themselves.  In fact, if there is an additional benefit to the customer to identifying themselves on the app, all the better.  If there is extra functionality for loyalty users, they are more likely to identify themselves and be happy about it.

Why identify customers?  There are benefits to customers and retailer alike.  First, if the customer is identified, it is possible to provide a unique experience for that customer.  Whether it is default languages or remembering shopping lists, having that identification allows the retailer to provide additional benefits to the consumer, and they in turn may have the opportunity to opt in to the experience that they wish to have across mobile, POS and web interfaces.  A customized experience can drive loyalty, which drives bigger baskets and more sales.

Secondly, having the identification in place allows retailers the ability to identify what channels and functionality are used and by whom.  Considering the myriad opportunities for IT investment, knowing who is using what in what way provides a validation of customer usage against customer sales.  If only 200 customers are using your iPhone app, that may seem like a bad investment, but if 90% of them are in your top segment for sales, that may not be the case.  Just looking at downloads of an app is not good enough anymore.  This also turns around for the customers.  Seeing what customers are using ensures that the best channels and functionality are available to them for their retailer.

2010.50 | Canadian Retail iPhone Apps

Things have come a long way in Canada over the past couple years when it comes to iPhone Apps from retailers.  A recent glance through the iTunes App Store revealed a number of iPhone Apps from retailers that include Canadian content.  All of these look good, are relatively slick, and reflect their retail brands very well.

Amazon – This mobile interface to the Amazon storefront doesn’t hold any wondrous surprises though it does incorporate the capability to scan and get prices for products.  Quite common now on many iPhone apps, the scanning works quite well and allows Amazon to extend their reach into the physical world by allowing comparison shopping and nice reminders next time a user is online

bebe – The most interesting part of this catalogue type app that is so common for fashion/apparel retilers is the button right at the front that says Just In/Final Sale.  This is effectively what most fashionista types are looking for anyway, so it provides users a quick route to what they want and a reason to install the app and keep it on their device in today’s world of thousands of apps.  Strangely no photos of Kim Kardashian.

Best Buy Canada – Piggybacking on the US app, the Best Buy Canada app also directs users quickly to sale items – what most people want to check out.  The checkout process is also quite simple and consistent with the iPhone interface.  Sharing interesting deals is simple with one button access to share the deal via Facebook, Twitter or email.

Black’s Photography – Nice little app that allows users to print photos directly from their iPhone.  Prints can be picked up in an hour by choosing the closest store.  A clever use of the same back end interface used on their kiosks and on home PCs to print photos for pickup, and a great example of a true multi-channel delivery mechanism.

Canadian Tire – The usual flyer, store locator app has a terrific feature.  Users can scan products for pricing like the Amazon app.  The scanning feature not only looks up the item, but indicates if it is in stock in your current store selected.  That is a very nice touch that leverages an interface built for their web page.  Being able to indicate stock is key here, tough you have to hope the data is accurate. 

Cineplex – A very slick app, and it has to be to compete with the likes of Flixster and other movie apps that are available on the iPhone.  The app manages to show off new releases in a simple and attractive manner highlighting all of the incredible content that entertainment can provide.  It is much simpler to buy tickets than Flixster, providing more confidence since tickets are provided directly by the theatre.  The ability to obtain rewards from the Cineplex Scene Loyalty card is a nice touch as well.

Future Shop – See Best Buy Canada.

H&M – The app makes it easy to quickly get to the users’ department of choice.  Wishlists are nice in these sorts of apps, as it allows die hard followers of the brand to recall their favourites when they visit the site.  The usual sharing capabilities provide an opportunity to share favourite fashions.

Holt Renfrew – In line with their high end clientele, this app has a very high end look and feel.  Special events for a users default store are highlighted, and HR always has events of note.   Lots of videos of fashion shows and the like – not surprising given the target market.

The Home Depot Canada – Essentially a mobile interface into the website.  Having the default store set and a very fast navigation through the flyer makes a lot of sense.  Lots of how to videos are a nice touch that are a logical item for someone in a store to use.  Would love to see a scanner or a wayfinder of some sort on this app.

Ikea Canada – Ikea’s app is effectively a mobile version of their catalogue, but it is done very very well.  It retains the look and feel of a physical paper catalog with very obvious little icons on items that the user can touch for more information and pricing.  Ikea also leverages their web assets by allowing users to see if the product is in stock at their closest store.  Wisely, they word things as “Most likely in stock”.  Fair enough, given the turnover in a store.

Joe Fresh – The Loblaw fashion brand has a stylish app with a simplicity that matches their fashion ethos. Primarily a catalogue type app to show off the latest fashions available, the app makes use of a nice interactive feature that encourages users to shake their iPhone when on a piece of attire they like, and the app puts together an outfit for them.  Pricing is provided as well as a locator for nearest store.

L’Occitane – Given the cost of their high quality products, having an informational and review app is a great idea, and this one seems to follow in the shoes of Sephora.

McDonald’s Canada – A relatively simple locator app, it works quickly and well, very simply indicating 24 hour stores, and store hours of those that aren’ts.  Some information on current promotions. 

Staples.ca – Standard app that allows online purchase from staples.ca, with online shopping, store finder and flyers.  Nicely organized for business users in particular.

myStarbucks – Missing the 2d payment component of its US based cousin, this is still a nice useful little app.  The store locator shows at a glance if the store is open or closed with a little green or red sign.  The drink builder is a nice way to explore product without holding up the line.  Lots of details on products are nice too, as the stores aren’t the best place to browse and think deeply about packaged coffee.  The calorie calculator is also very useful.

There are many more retail apps available now than were even available a few months ago.  Looking at these was very encouraging.  Some of them even have enough utility to justify leaving them on one’s iPhone.  Features like scanning and product availability are an amazing feature for users shopping for deals or a specific product.   For users who are tied very closely to the brand, these apps are a great way to stay on top of their favourite brands and new products, and share those things with others.

Expect increasing functionality and tie-ins between stores and electronic interfaces on mobile devices as the need for channels blurs and interfaces into retailers become integrated across channels so fluidly that they no longer noticable.

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