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.


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2010.05 | iPad Store

I read a great quote recently about the Apple iPad release on Wednesday.  While Steve Jobs commented that Apple and iPad were placing themselves at the crossroads of Technology and  Liberal Arts, Stephen Fry says: “He might perhaps more accurately have said that Apple “stands at the intersection of technology, the liberal arts and commerce”.”  This is an excellent point and it will be fascinating to see whether the iPad catches on, and what impact this will have on the consumer landscape with respect to the buying and selling of media.  While many will dissect the features of the device itself, the fact of the matter is that this device and others like it are driving us ever further along the road of the new consumerism where customers don’t go to a physical store – the store is always on and always in our bag or our pocket, and the ability for instant gratification and delivery is a reality.

iTunes dwarfs all other sellers with respect to music and media online, and are now making a break towards reading material.  Amazon built internet commerce with their store and their impossibly long shelf of books.    Amazon recognized the potential of the shift to portable electronic media when they came out with the Kindle and Kindle DX.  The implications of a massively popular device that allows for downloadable media like books, newspapers and magazines are massive.  While Kindle has opened that door a crack, iPad has the potential to rip it right off the hinges with the volume of users it can bring to the party.

iTunes and other online stores have the capability to charge a reduced rate for a publication that can be provided instantly.  There is no more incentive to wait in a queue ’til midnight for the new Harry Potter novel, to wait until 5 am for your morning paper, or to wait for you monthly subscription to Wired to arrive.  It just arrives.  While the Kindle does this already, the iPad can take it up a notch by providing a more accurate reflection of the physical experience of reading a magazine and some books by providing a flashy, engaging full colour format in a novel, hip, interactive package – one upping the Kindle. 

From a consumer facing organization perspective, this opens another rich mobile channel.  With the iPad, consumers now have a web enabled (though no flash) 9.7″ 1024 x 768 screen in their hand wherever they go.  They’ve not only got the store in their pocket to buy music, movies, books, newspapers and magazines, but they have a portal to the physical world that does not currently exist. 

The package presented by the iPad transcends the problem with mobile devices – the small screen.  Now consumer facing organizations have a bigger window to show clients.  Instead of trying to order a meal from Swiss Chalet on your mobile device and having to scroll through myriad menus and sections to pick your options – all very well done considering the screen real estate at Swiss Chalet Mobile – consumers can potentially look at a menu exactly as you would see at the store, pick the items off the touchscreen, and finalize the order in a format and interface that is far more like being in the restaurant than either a PC with a mouse or a mobile device.

The GPS and compass in the solution allow that “full screen” device location enablement.  The purchaser of a new dress can look online for a matching pair of shoes online while she is in a cafe by perusing a visual search engine such as Like.com.  That shopper can now see that the pair of shoes that she likes are at Nordstrom.  If Nordstrom has thought it through, she would be able to see on their site that the store has 1 pair left of size 6, and she can have them put on hold for her at the click of a button.

The fullscreen also provides an interface more likely to drive clickthroughs on targeted advertisements as well.  This provides a potentially rich opportunity for the beleagured magazine and newspaper industries who can now provide richer feedback to advertisers on who is clicking on their ads, and allow those advertisers to use the GPS to drive offers to readers with a further level of refinement.

It appears that consumers and retailers alike are in for a richer mobile experience.

2009.45 | Produce Barcodes | Apple POS | Mobile Recipes & Ads

Produce Barcodes – The barcode is so deeply ingrained into our lives in so many ways that it’s invisible to most people.  Produce in grocery stores is one of the last great frontiers in getting barcodes in place consistently on all products.  The effort to get GS1 Databar in place is ongoing and has been for many years to simplify produce purchases.

A recent article indicates that the USDA may approve laser etching on produce as an alternative to today’s stickers. This is probably a step backward from a checkout throughput and scanning accuracy perspective.  The laser etching indicated in the article doesn’t look easily readable by a scanner if a barcode was printed on the produce, particularly if the produce has a dark skin.  It also remains to be seen if the laser etching could show the kind of detail that would be ideal given tracking concerns relative to food recalls that have cropped up in recent years.

It will probably take some time for the laser etching to come into use, if it becomes common at all.  There was a slightly different scheme in 2006 whereby farmers were putting stencils on apples to allow them to grow with barcodes.  There was no word on the results since that time, but one would wonder about the difficulty in scanning red codes with today’s red laser barcode scanners.

Apple Store POS – More word that Apple is changing from their current EasyPay handheld POS solution in the Apple Store to a new iPod Touch based solution.   The handheld solution is a great fit for the Apple Store environment, and if they can use their own platform, it will be a coup for them.  It will be interesting to see what sort of MSR reader they use on the iPod touch for payments, and even more interesting to see if they bother in Canada where EMV will not allow the MSR swipe in October 2010.

IMG_1027Mobile Recipes & Ads Whole Foods recently released an iPhone app that provide users to a selection of recipes and store information.  On the positive side  there are lots of great recipes that allow search by course, ingredients, and even what is on hand.  There is also a good store locator with specifics on each site.  Unfortunately there is no obvious option that provides a complete shopping list other than the long list of ingredients in each individual recipe.  The store information should also leverage the great job that they are doing with Twitter, but doesn’t appear to do so as yet.

This month’s Wired Magazine leveraged a mobile app called kooaba.  By taking a picture of the ads in the magazine with the app, the ads are recognized, and special content related to the ad is provided. For example, taking a photo of the ad for the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, the screen provided options to buy the product online, call T-mobile, follow the solution on Twitter or watch a commercial about the product.  While gimmicky, this sort of application would absolutely be of value for a complex product a customer is very interested in.

2009.43 | Experience Based Retail

500x_Microsoft_Store_topRetail is certainly moving away from the old fashioned stores we knew as children, where one walks in and just buys something off the shelf.  With so much competition, convenience and so much available for purchase online, it seems inevitable that many specialty retailers will work towards experience based retailing to differentiate themselves.

HMV announced this week that they will open a movie theatre above a store in London.  Microsoft opened its first “we’re hip like Apple, too” Store this week in Arizona.

At the suggestion of Steve Jobs, who is on their Board of Directors, Disney is moving in the same direction, and are reputedly looking at a major overhaul of their retail chain which is expected to leverage the same interactive store model and wireless handheld POS as the Apple store.

On the content side, Disney’s Keychain solution promises consumers the opportunity to use media across platforms. This seems like the answer to the age old problem of buying the same media on multiple formats (anyone remember betamax, VHS, DVD, Blu-Ray), but its use will certainly depend on what price they are looking for as well as the requirement for one to be online all the time to consume.  The technology seems solid as long as consumers can get past the need for the tangible item – did I mention price and bandwidth?  Downloaded a 2Gb movie lately?  Yikes.

In the world of experience with self-service, Tesco opened its first all self-checkout store this week in the UK.   Now they have full self-checkout – assisted self service, really – on two continents.

2009.17 | Convenience | DVD Landscape | Mobile POS

Taking the Store to Customers – Convenience has ever been important to consumer facing businesses, and there are many new and different ways that these organizations are trying to make their products and services more convenient for consumers to obtain.

The primary inconvenience of purchasing food from a mobile vendor is the difficulty of knowing where they are. Kogi Korean BBQ, a taco truck in LA, lets their customers keep track of their location via Twitter – taking uncertainty out of the mix.

Starbucks is looking to place coffee vending machines across North America that leverage electronic payment – including contactless – avoiding the necessity for having coins or small bills at the ready.

Coinstar is already doing very well with Redbox DVD rental machines. They add additional convenience by providing a reloadable credit card solution – a gap filler for those who wish to rent and don’t have a credit card. This should sound familiar, as this solution is available on an NCR platform used by Readycredit. These would be well placed next to NCR SelfServ Entertainment units.

The Changing DVD Landscape – The DVD rental industry is becoming increasingly complicated, with ever changing players, formats and scenarios. While the cheap DVD rental is a boon for the consumer, there are complications, as it represents a paradigm change for studios and consumers alike. Whatever the issues, expect them to be resolved, and this business to continue its growth for the next few years at the very least.

Mobile POS – I’ve already expressed my admiration for the handheld POS units used in Apple Stores. Now it looks like they might be taking the expected step of moving from their current Windows Based platform to an iPhone based solution with the soon to be released iPhone 3.0 software which allows improved connectivity and interoperability for hardware add-ons. This is key, as swiping a card is much faster than typing in a number, and EMV will require dip card readers in many countries.

While this platform doesn’t suit every environment, look for mobile based payment systems to act as the small business POS of the future. You can already download some from the iPhone app store today.

2009.15 | Customization | Mobile IP | HD Downloads

Customization – In a time when getting consumer attention is more competitive than ever, what better way to get their attention than by customizing standard offers to meet their specific needs or interests.

Nike has provided the option for custom shoes for some time as an example, but consider how interactive discussions can be taken to the next level with customers with solutions like customized magazines, endless recommendation engines, and customizing product catalogs so that customers see them in ways that suit their needs. This realm is getting increasingly sophisticated, and, if done well, promises some real returns to consumers and retailers alike.

Mobile IP Telephony – Some interesting news this week from the mobile world. Consider the release (US) of the iPhone version of Skype mobile (with Blackberry to follow in May) – which allows access to your VOIP account via wifi. iPhone is only one small portion of the market, and you can already do the same with fring on windows mobile and iphone and with various other solutions and handsets.

The interesting point of this release is that this comes directly from the VOIP provider, hopefully moving mobile VOIP one step closer to the mainstream from the hardcore geeks who use it today. AT&T and the other wireless carriers are wary of allowing solutions like this on the phones as it will negatively impact their wireless revenues in the long run, so its existence in any form is a coup for consumers.

HD Downloads – Apple announced this week the ability to complete HD digital downloads to iTunes. While it’s possible to download movies of all sorts online, the big challenge is doing it legally and moving the media the last few feet to the big screen TV in the home. Apple is the first to offer a relatively simple solution to get that video to your TV. You can use Apple TV to get it directly to your TV in this instance, which is technically feasible for many consumers.

Another option without using Apple TV is to buy a $50 cable to connect your ipod to your TV after syncing your movie rental. For the more initiated, using Boxee on Apple TV hardware is also possible, but HD is less available so far, and don’t forget the bandwidth required to download an HD movie. Movies which are already over 1Gb in SD, will be 3Gb in HD. With a limit on downloads, there may be extra costs from your internet provider, and it will take some time to download these beasts, and some space to store them if you purchase.

2009.08 | Twitter 2 | Kindle 2 | Kill POS

Twitter Revisited – I referenced Twitter back in week 2 as an emerging trend for retailers and it only keeps growing. I finally opened a twitter account myself, just to see what the hype was about. I’m not sure if it will be a big deal in the long run or not, but I certainly see the potential from many articles. Here’s the gist in my mind: the individual tweets don’t mean much; they’re quite often garbage in fact, but searching on the aggregate may just be the next wave of web 2.0. Twitter can provide timely personal product research and reviews, it can tell you what people are talking about at any given time, it can provide a window into world events before the news, it can even be a way to strengthen the brand and enhance the multi-channel experience.

Kindle 2 – Amazon released their new version of the Kindle e-book reader this week. For the unitiated, the kindle is a very compact device that allows for electronic books to be downloaded directly over cellular to the unit in 60 seconds or less. It can hold hundreds of books, and can access newspapers and blogs. It uses e-ink electronic paper display to make it appear more like a book. There are no monthly fees for the access to the network, but you have to buy your books from Amazon (it will read other formats, but for over the air you are stuck with Amazon). Books are available more cheaply than the paper versions. The unit will convert the books to speech and read them to you over headphones, which has copyright people scratching their heads. Basically, Amazon have targeted an iTunes/iPod like setup for books and other media, and have improved on it slightly with their new solution. It remains to be seen if the book people have the same wonderful foresight as the music and movie industries around electronic content distribution. As always, technology is not holding back innovation. Money, fear and the status quo hold back innovation.

Kill POS – The more I go through stores, the more I wonder why we haven’t been able to kill the traditional POS. By that I mean the unfortunately disinterested associate who stands behind the counter and tries to ignore me as I wave my product and payment at them. I see instances of that occuring today – I buy music from iTunes or other online stores, I use selfcheckout when it is available, and these are great steps – but I look forward to it going further.

For example, I go to the Apple Store to buy an Airport Express to hook my pc to my stereo. A ‘Genius’ – I’ll use that loosely, but hey – that’s what Apple calls them – comes over and engages me in a discussion of the product and what I might like to do with it. He answers my question on cable requirements, we discuss iphone apps, technology trends and the like, and I decide to buy the unit. He pulls out his wireless unit, scans the product, swipes my card and asks me how I would like my receipt. I tell him to email it, and he does. No bag required thanks. We exchange pleasantries and I leave. That wasn’t a task – I enjoyed it. I was engaged by a person who had a shared interest, and we completed the transaction like we were buddies on the street. The transaction extends my loyalty of the brand to a personal relationship.  It’s definitely not for every retail environment, but it’s a goal.

2009.04 | Consumerism | Relevance | Coupons | Single Brand

Consumers Fighting Retailer Tactics – Consumers know they are being targeted, and with the pervasiveness of information and access to it, they have an increasingly good idea of how they are targeted. Have a look at this list of items to understand retailer tactics and consider how technology solutions could assist the retailer and the consumer in their shared objectives. There are also many blogs out there to help protect the consumer, and share how to get a fair shake from corporate organizations that are intentionally or unintentionally providing a sub-par experience. The best solution seems to be to embrace this type of increased scrutiny as opposed to fighting it.

Staying Relevant is tough for retailers as it is for everyone. Like any relationship, things can get stale. That’s why retailers always need to do the next thing to stay relevant, current and fun.

Coupons are increasingly popular given the downturn we find ourselves in financially. Be aware of the kinds of solutions that are making their way ever so slowly into the mainstream. Cellfire sends them to your mobile.

Brand Owners as Retailers – given the success of Apple stores, is it any wonder the single brand store is doing well? Even Microsoft is trying to help retailers improve their sales

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