2016.02 | mobile wallet strategy

14DD1532-L-Mobile-Payment-CD372_52a_PCR_SPINX_Gas_Pump_Mobile_phoneOne of the most common areas that challenges retailers these days are mobile payments – or as many of them refer to it – leveraging a mobile wallet – which I now interpret from retailers to mean paying without a card or currency versus a specific mobile wallet platform.

I’ve written a number of posts on the subject of mobile wallets over the years, usually lamenting that we will never get away from a physical wallet. The potential for shoppers to not use a physical wallet are certainly more realistic now then when I wrote those posts, but the process continues as an evolution and not a revolution.

The common nirvana that all retailers seek is the ability to seamlessly and simply accept all payment options desired by the majority of regular shoppers while being able to provide a personalized and loyalty building experience. The challenges restricting vendors, payments providers and retailers from that objective are legacy systems, budget, agreements with payment processors, and time to build these payment connections into their systems.

Mobile payments are certainly a part of that over-arching strategy of enabling payment, so what is the best strategy? That will differ by retailer, but there are some universal concepts to consider:

  • To start, target your end state, and attempt to draw the long map back to where things are today. Even if there are gaps, talk to retail solution vendors, payments vendors, card providers, banks and anyone in the industry to access their vision and experience. Keep in mind that all of the technology will change in a few months and it will need to be re-assessed. Basic long term planning as should be targeted for all large scale retail solutions.
  • Don’t get stuck on offering payments within your in house mobile app, UNLESS your app provides a unique value proposition to the shopper that you are trying to leverage and payments is a logical extension of that app.  In my admittedly anecdotal experience, users have lots of apps already, and don’t look for more retailer apps as a rule UNLESS they provide a unique value proposition that fulfills a need to them.  Your most loyal customers may want your app to be able to pre-order their meal, control your fuel dispenser, or buy movie tickets, and it makes sense to enable payments to conclude that shopper interaction.  Make that in app payment as simple as possible with services that can remember the card or retrieve it with a password.
  • Consider the payment options that are already in use or are desirable for your shoppers.  If your shoppers are using credit cards, encouraging them to use a debit driven solution as part of a mobile solution is a challenge.  If you want to drive a particular payment model, be prepared to encourage shoppers with points or deals. Bitcoin sounds cutting edge, but is it worth accepting as a tender for the volume of business and it’s volatility? Having a gift card balance for coffee makes sense, but for groceries it is not logical. If the payment option you need to enable is not available, push the vendors for it.
  • How would a mobile wallet be used at the front end of your store?  If it isn’t dead simple for both shopper and cashier, it’s going to slow the queue and increase wait time.  That is a tough sell for any retail environment, and death for a high velocity retail environment.
  • Consider the full customer interaction with payment integrated. The challenge often encountered is that the majority of retailers have a loyalty program of some type. Shoppers need to identify themselves to obtain their loyalty benefits. With a mobile payment solution, shoppers generally have to show a loyalty card on their mobile, and then use the mobile to pay. Having to scan two different codes or tap more than once seems redundant, but this issue is often not easily solvable today at a traditional point of sale, as loyalty members have to identify themselves PRIOR to tendering to obtain discounts, collect points, etc, and THEN they pay the calculated total at which they pay with their device. (Starbucks manages one scan by using a stored value card tied to a loyalty account. Mobile apps to pre-order food, control a fuel dispenser or buy movie tickets have users registered with details stored and payment can be online by storing a card, so no double tap there either) Consider options to avoid the double tap/scan.
  • apple walletConsider Apple Pay and Android Pay if they make sense for your business.  With Apple Pay, there is some benefit to the security of fingerprint verification for retailers, and it is relatively easy to use with the iPhone and Apple watch, and getting notifications of payments immediately is certainly useful to some shoppers as is the ability to not carry their card.  In Canada the limitation right now is that Apple Pay only works with Amex.  Android Pay is another good option, particularly if you have an Android heavy shopper base.  The downside is that there are additional fees for these solutions.
  • Ensure you support and train users and store staff well on all the payments provided. There is nothing worse than having a customer trying to love your brand and pay with a new option and they cannot.  Payments are getting increasingly complex, but cashiers are catching up.  Many of them have received on the job training from bleeding edge shoppers who attempt every new payment and are willing to risk embarrassment or rejection with new payment types, but it would be better to have a complete map of payment options laid out simply.
  • Leverage your pinpad or contactless reader as much as possible for payments that are not over the air. Whether shoppers have to swipe, dip, tap, or enter a PIN; whether they use a card or a mobile device, the pinpad is currently the interface to which shoppers are accustomed. Keep the transaction and the payment linked physically.  If the transaction is on the mobile, pay on the screen of the mobile.  If the transaction is at a device (POS, Fuel Dispenser, Vending Machine, Ticket Dispensing Kiosk) keep the payment interaction connected to the device and pinpad.  Geo-fenced and over the air on the mobile screen solutions are an awesome concept, but are a challenging jump in logic for most shoppers today.  Unless you are a bleeding edge retailer, that is one for the future.

There has to be a benefit to both the retailer and to the shopper for there to be a reason for mobile payments, and the benefits are slowly tipping the scales towards increasing the usage of mobile.  There are too many things that favour it, and the landslide of devices in the hands of millions means it’s coming sooner or later.  Be sure to stay ahead of it and have a strategy.

2015.03 | retail mobile apps in canada

This recent online article provided an interesting quotation.  “Canadians are not all that engaged in getting mobile apps from retailers” according to Indigo’s VP of Marketing and Customer Intelligence.  Do Canadians avoid downloading apps or using mobile options to shop because we don’t see value?  Not everyone would agree with that opinion, and if apps provide value that aligns with their brand, retailers’ most dedicated brand followers are likely to be among their users.

There is no magic formula to mobile apps. Retail is all about choice. Every shopper is different and has their own unique journey. Every retailer provides different services and experiences. I have a number of Canadian retailer apps on my mobile device, and the ones that stay on have different traits that I find engaging:

Transaction Capability

I have purchased movie tickets using the Cineplex app for years now. It works well and interfaces to Passbook to simplify scanning for ticket pickup. One opportunity to make the app even better is to simplify payment. Mobile doesn’t lend itself well to entering credit card numbers. While I understand the challenges of storing credit card numbers, online retailers already do it, and I would be willing to store mine as it would easily cut the transaction time in half.

From my perspective, using the app allows me to buy my tickets on the way to the theater while someone else drives and skip the purchasing line at POS or kiosk at the theater. It may not be a value to all users, but skipping lines is a popular past time for most people. Retailer Bonus: lines are shorter for those that choose to buy tickets onsite!

Pre-Ordering


Picture1While I remain uncertain about the value of pre-ordering in an environment like Starbucks that is often high traffic with a lot of queuing, the pizza ordering process has a process to it that lends itself well to mobile ordering. There are a number of options available in Canada, but the one that works for me isn’t an app at all. Panago pizza has a mobile enabled website. Their ordering options are very simple, and best of all, my most recent orders are front and centre when I login. Many apps are focused on jazzy animations of pizzas with the toppings on them.

Animations are fun for first use, but not when I want to just order the same order I had last time for pickup on the way home from the airport after a long day. No need to pay on the app. I pay when I get there, so no need to enter card numbers. If they ever put this simple interface on an app and stored my login it would certainly have a place on my mobile. For now it’s one of few bookmarks on my mobile desktop – and they even remembered to provide the icon on the site so it’s easy to see on the mobile.

Simple User Identification

Picture2One of the main challenges with websites over mobile apps is having to enter passwords. Using password managers like SplashID and 1Password simplifies this, but the majority of the people I speak with glaze over when I mention these tools, and most users forget their endless passwords, adding unwanted multiple steps to a mobile transaction that will dissuade them from using the app. Google and Apple are doing their part to enable browsers to automagically remember all of these passwords, but if credit cards are stored, security starts to suffer.

iTunes makes buying music and video simple by approving purchases with the fingerprint reader on the home button. Lululemon’s shopping app also identifies users by their fingerprint. This is a seemingly overlooked way to login to apps and bring up all of my info – shipping addresses, shopping cart, credit cards and more to apply to a transaction while providing some security. Retailers are constantly looking to remove friction from the purchasing process and both of these apps do that very well.

Fun and Rewards

Going to see a movie in a theater is a shared experience. I find that the Timeplay app for use at Cineplex theaters enhances that shared experience while providing rewards that are valuable to me – scene points towards free movies. The app allows everyone in the theater to compete in a movie trivia game where the mobile devices are used to submit answers to trivia games on the screen – like bar games of old. The top winners get Scene points and snack bar prizes. My children like to compete with me, we all have fun, and I eventually get a free movie entry.

An opportunity to improve the biggest issue with the app was recently addressed by enabling the user’s scene number to be stored in the app and prizes more easily applied. Once again, data entry of long numbers is not ideal. Removing those barriers makes everyone’s experience better, and will increase app usage.

Memory Extension

Picture3Retailers that have extensive inventories of products that lend themselves to repeat purchases provide utility with a favourites tracking capability. LCBO carries a lot of different kinds of wine, and everyone has gone there with instructions to pick up a bottle of wine that a loved one liked that they thought was from Australia and had a blue label; no red….or was it yellow. What year was it?

The LCBO app allows shoppers to scan barcodes on bottles and add them to a favourites list. For the next visit to the store, it’s easy to find that bottle that is impossible to remember without some help. It’s much easier to show your mobile screen to a store associate than describe its physical attributes. As an added bonus, the app will provide details on inventory as of 24 hours at your closest store or at any store in the chain too ensure you make the most of your trip.

This is a great example of truly connecting the mobile and store experience – it’s simple, it suits the needs of shoppers in this environment and provides value.

The Indigo app mentioned in the original article that prompted this post is on my mobile as well.  It has the ability to hold favourites lists as well, and you can name them, so I keep ongoing lists of books my family mentions to remember as gifts.  The app also leverages Passbook for loyalty card use.

Payments

For small transactions with regular customers, enabling payment via a barcode and stored value card is the best way to enable payment without using the pinpad at point of sale. Starbucks has done this well for years, and I have personally trained numerous Tim Horton associates over the past few months on how to accept the Tim Card on my mobile with their imager at POS and drive thru.  Wendy’s Canada are new to the game, and their solution works in much the same way – though with unique constantly changing six digit codes instead of a barcode.

While this payment capability is very useful, I still see shoppers re-loading their stored value card at the POS. That is a value of both of these stored value apps – the cards can be reloaded on the app. No need to hold up the line or enter a PIN at the POS. I think most people aren’t comfortable setting it up, and there is some need for culture shift there. Both of these apps do well at this, though once again, in my opinion, passwords and initial setup reduce the full contingent of potential users who are scared off by the effort. My initial setup for the Tim’s app took three attempts to match 2 passwords with capitals, symbols, etc.

Passbook Enablement

Picture4As someone who aspires to minimize my wallet, I use Passbook every day. I’ve seen very few others using it when I am at a POS, and it should be more widely used. Apps like Air Miles, Tim’s, Starbucks, and Cineplex all enable loyalty or payment cards to be stored in Passbook.

Passbook negates the need to carry another piece of plastic. There is no need to look through your phone to find and open the specific app for the card you want. I always have my mobile with me to show my card. While not every retailer can scan the card as they are not in the right cycle for replacement of their scanners, they can still give their number for entry – kudos to Rexall staff for always doing this when I show my card.

There is not an ideal mobile wallet yet, but changes like this are cultural, take time and are achieved by taking small steps – I start with loyalty cards and coffee payment. Drivers license and other ID could be next. I’m doing my part to encourage shoppers and retail associates to become comfortable with these options by using them and talking about them with others. Passbook is far from perfect, but it’s the best option to date.

There are lots of value in mobile apps already available and there is lots of opportunity for more.  Consider just a few other opportunities I’ve not seen realized in Canada as of yet:

Mobile Apps for Gas Pumps – It’s been very cold in most of Canada this winter.  Why not control the fuel pump from inside the relative warmth of our cars?  The technology exists to do this and even order food from outside the store.  You could even scan codes from windshield washer fluid, ice or firewood in the summer and pay without having to enter the store.  Oh, and it’s time to get rid of those stickers that say not to use your mobile at the pump.  The gas station operators are less concerned than in the past. The myth of danger is busted.  That said, we should always pay attention to what we are doing when we fuel.

Coupons – I’m not sure why we can’t open our mobile and select coupons to apply to our loyalty card for usage when we buy those items in Canada.  The technology exists and is available and in extensive use in the US.

Enable the app as Information Hub – All retailers are enabling buy online and ship to store.  Why not build this information into my account page so I can look it up?  A red notification icon on the app here would be more likely to catch my attention than an email.  Receipts should go here too.  I hate wasting paper.  Let me tell you that on the app, and don’t make me take a paper receipt automatically.  All account details should be available to me here and online and on my tablet.  Dominos does a great job of showing the status of your order and lets you track your order through the process. It would be fantastic to do this with orders for bigger items.

I think that there is a great deal of opportunity to improve on the mobile interactions retailers can provide, but as indicated, there are already lots of great options.  It’s impossible to walk around in public without seeing people staring at a mobile device.  There is no reason that they won’t adopt retailer apps, but they have to be educated, and it has to be more than signage.

For all of the signage I’ve seen at stores, I’ve never seen any evangelists in stores to help people understand all of the value that shoppers can get from the apps.  I’ve never seen cashiers or associates answering customers problems show them how it’s very easy to get what they need from the mobile app.  While the benefits of apps discussed above aren’t of value to everyone, there is definitely a population of people that are completely unaware of the benefits.  In a strange twist, the best vehicle to convince everyone to leverage this technology completely may be human interaction.  In the interim, I’m happy to use these tools and continue to share with others who are interested.

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.

2014.05 | bring eComm cool into the store

CaptureAmazon recently released Amazon Flow with some fanfare.  Instead of having to scan barcodes, users of the Amazon app can now use the camera on their mobile to recognize products visually.  While this image recognition capability has been around for some time in apps like SnapTell or Pic2Shop to scan books and CDs (which we all just download now anyway, right?), Amazon appears to have established a larger database of images for products that go beyond books and audio recordings.    Now it’s possible to add items to an Amazon eCommerce cart without even scanning a barcode.

How can a traditional retailer compete with the ongoing headline grabbing and constant additions to the Amazon technology arsenal?  There are certainly many excellent technological and operational answers that retailers are implementing, but why not bring some of the unique new tools being built to improve retailer eCommerce business into the store to enhance the customer experience?

One key strength of retail stores that is coming to the fore in 2014 is the unique experiences provided in stores. One of the challenges in providing a tremendous customer experience is the incredible amount of information available to everyone.  With online resources, an unprecedented amount of product information is available to consumers, and they use it.  It’s increasingly difficult for store associates to provide value and a great experience to clients who enter the store with access to the Internet in their pocket.  It only makes sense to provide tools to store associates to level the playing field.

There are some unique services available to eCommerce retailers that could be used to advantage by store staff when a customer comes to visit a store.  Consider just two examples:

Capture

Furniture – Everyone has gone furniture shopping at some time or another, and has made the trek to the store with measuring tape in hand, trying to pick the perfect bookshelf, chair, or table for their home.  Most of us now take a photo of the room we are looking to decorate for a point of reference as part of the shopping excursion.  What if the consumer could pick a product and then drop a realistic looking three dimensionally rendered version of that product into their own picture of their home?  Move it around the room?  Change the colour?   Cimagine provides just such a solution to retailers.  Why not put that same functionality on tablets in store? Clients could share their home photos with talented decorators for a consultative discussion on which products would suit their home.  The decorators could then share the photos with their best furniture options in them for the client to review at their leisure or for them to share with friends for input.  The same tool could well be used for home consultations.

Capturedd

Fashion – One of the biggest challenges around shopping for shoes and clothing online is sizing.  Everyone knows that standard sizing is tough enough in a single store let alone across all banners and manufacturers, there are a number of online add-ons competing to make it an easier task for retailers to give consumers the right fit and the best style.

Captured

True Fit is a sizing plugin that allows users to enter in their sizes of their favourite shirts, pants, and shoes.  Using that information against a cross reference of many brands and products allows True Fit to highlight products that are a good fit given your size and body type.  The plugin will even suggest the right size for the consumer given their profile information.

Capture3

Dressipi provides a slightly different service.  Dressipi allows women to develop their own Fashion Fingerprint that highlights the right sizes and styles for them to wear across a range of brands.  The site then provides a range of products on the Dressipi site pulled from retailer sites that suit them to help narrow the purchasing effort.

Both of these services provide capabilities that could be easily leveraged within a store environment by savvy store associates.  What if store associates could pull up a shopper’s profile and have a better idea of their sizes from True Fit?  Less time in the dressing room, less looking for sizes for the customer. What if store associates could see the styles that Dressipi recommends?  Less time trying to figure out what styles may flatter the customer; and the potential to get them more items they like more quickly.

Both the furniture and fashion examples highlight the new sorts of tools to which consumers are just beginning to get exposed.  Why not take advantage of those tools to give associates the opportunity to provide real value?   It’s an achievable goal, and with a few other enablers, these associates can make these transactions seem magical by pushing items from these tools right into a POS transaction on the tablet without scanning a single item, take payment and send the clients on their way.   Sounds like more fun than shopping online!

2013.30 | wearable technology & retail

fashionable google glass

After years of experimenting with barely wearable technology, society is beginning to accept wearable technology as part of our every day life.  From bluetooth coats to change tracks on your mobile, to heads up displays in ski googles, wearable tech is slowly and innocuously making its way to the mainstream.  As with so many technologies, there are opportunities for retail to provide a customer experience to suit the needs of their constituents.  Consider the following wearables and their impact on retail.

glasses – Yes, google glass look ridiculous, but work is underway to remedy that shortcoming.  if glasses with augmented reality can be made to look less ridiculous, rest assured there is a significant segment of the population that will wear and use them.  Recognizing the potential concerns of arming people with subtle recording devices, some places are doing are banning them.  While this is an understandable reaction, can bans be maintained if google glass and other augmented reality systems become indiscernible from regular eyewear?

There was a time when whipping out a camera in a store would be so noticeable that store staff would react immediately and may ask you to stop or to leave.  Now it’s more common than not to see someone using their mobile in a store.  It now requires effort to tell if someone is taking photos on store, and it’s challenging to address reasonably even if you could tell what they were doing.

crystal shopper

Mobile usage in stores is everywhere, fuelling the concerns of showrooming so common over the past few years.

If glass becomes common enough, controlling client interactions in store becomes a bit more challenging.  With a heads up display and hands free operation, comparison shopping gets a little easier.  In fact, the Crystal Shopper app lets users comparison shop hands free so that when glass ramps up for distribution next year, you can expect other similar apps to find their way into the hands of consumers.

smart watchesPebble made a big splash with support to the tune of over $10 million on Kickstarter last year.  Pebble is a watch that connects to iOS or Android devices via bluetooth.  Out of the box, the unit shows the time, sms notifications and messages, gmail notifications and messages, controls music tracks and are essential geek status symbols.  This sidekick to the mobile allows users to keep their mobile in their pocket instead of constantly pulling out their mobile to communicate, a benefit to which consumers indicated their support with their wallets on kickstarter.  The Pebble vision is to allow developers to make apps to build on this functionality via an SDK, though this has been slow to pick up to date.  Samsung wisely took this show of support to heart by developing their own smartwatch scheduled for release in fall 2013. Samsung has added the ability for developers to build apps for their watch via an SDK.

eBay-app

While they are fun gadgets, retailers may wonder what value they may hold for shopping.  There are a number of usages already possible.

  • Use your smartwatch to pay at Starbucks by scanning it at the register in place of the mobile device  I did it recently with a giftcard barcode substituted for a watchface. Now a customer can pay for coffee even if they forget their wallet AND mobile.  There is no reason a retailer couldn’t build an official app to enable gift card payments with a smartwatch.  One more small step towards not having to pull out anything, as the watch is already on your wrist.
  • As part of their initial release presentation Samsung indicated that they will have a number of apps available at smartwatch release.  One of them was the eBay app.  This app provides realtime updates of auctions so that bidders don’t miss out on their favourite auction items. Interactive notifications for other retail services could be implemented by others.

jewellery – There are a number of technology based jewellery solutions that have an opportunity to find usage in the wider world.

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.24.19 PMThe Nymi bracelet identifies the user by their unique ECG signature.  This bracelet is designed to assist with password replacement.  Being able to unlock our devices is a unique way to identify ourselves to our devices that could as easily be used for retail situations.  If a standard API is available to work with mobile devices like iPads or Android powered tablets, this bracelet could also replace signatures on deliveries, provide simple customer (loyalty) identification or to open lockers for shipment pickup.

Retailers are best to consider these wearable technology solutions as an opportunity.  Every new situation is an opportunity to differentiate.  LIke building mobile apps for clients to fulfill unrecognized needs or provide unique services that weren’t possible before, all of these devices represent opportunities.  The greater challenge is that the next big thing isn’t the ONLY next big thing.  Entertainment began with live theatre and added endless channels such as recorded music, radio, movies, television and more.  It hasn’t shed any of these channels.  It’s just adding more.

UPDATE 2013-09-17:  belt – Now wearable technology can assist with wayfinding in retail as well.  Mobile Travel Guide provider Triposo are experimenting with a belt that can help users to find their way without staring at a screen.  The gps app communicates with a special belt to direct users.  Four vibrating motors (front, left, right, back) are embedded in the belt.  As users walk, the belt vibrates the correct direction of movement and users move in that direction.  Get in store location working and now kiosks are not needed, and customers can keep their heads up as they walk.

2013.17 | cookies | kiosks | 51 co’s | eBay | purchext

Picture of Product as Tender – Weetabix in the UK recently had an offer where consumers can obtain a free Weetabix On The Go in a retail store by merely showing the cashier an image of the product.  And I thought retailers had fun with regular old coupons.  While it’s kinda fun, it seems somewhat pointless.  Effectively it’s the same as telling clients just to ask for a free sample – and that’s what will happen in stores as we all know.

Google ‘Kiosks’ – Google has announced a managed public sessions feature for chromebooks.  Google envisions this as a simple way to enable chromebooks as public internet kiosks for stores to offer customers a way to purchase things online that may not be in stock at the store or other ‘kiosk-type’ solutions.   As a retail technology professional I find these sorts of announcements interesting because it seems a bit like looking for a reason to have a feature.  It’s been possible to lock down kiosk terminals, notebooks, tablets, and even regular old pcs with kiosk mode on browsers or with special software packages for some time.  While a chromebook is a bit cheaper than a full fledged notebook, this kiosk feature seems a marginal benefit.

stylitics-pan_11088

51 Companies – Business Insider has an incredibly exhaustive list of 51 Retail Innovators that is a must read list for retailers. I’ve covered a number of the companies using technology for retail, but this a great list to provide some inspiration.  Some of my favourites: fab (curation), hointer (using your mobile for catalog like shopping in a store), and stylitics (track your wardrobe – think fashion only pinterest with what you have, not just what you want).

eBay Pop-up Store – eBay is apparently moving into real world retail as a part of a partnership with Kate Spade.  Unofficially, a pop-up Kate Spade store in NYC will be outfitted with a large touch screen window, presumably to allow purchases of items in the store.  eBay wish to provide a platform to assist real world retail sites to meld with the online.

purchext2

Purchext – A new Canadian app shown at Disrupt NYC 2013 provides parents the chance to remotely validate purchases of their children for release of funds to their bank account.   Interesting idea that I could see grocers considering within their own systems to ensure that family’s keep their purchases in the chain!  So much for the party run to the grocery store on dad’s card.

 

2012.17 | New Canadian Ikea & Lowe’s Apps

Check out the new apps available for Canadian consumers to use at local retailers.

Ikea Canada recently released a new shopping app for iOS to complement their current catalog app.  The app has the quirky and fun look and feel that Ikea always uses to great effect on the mobile app.

The start screen shows a number of offers.  Touch them for more details, and then be directed to applicable product.

There is also a great product lookup sorted by area that is simple to navigate and very responsive.  Products can be added to a shopping list that keeps individual prices and a cumulative total to plan your shopping trip.

My favourite aspect of the app is that when you touch an item you can see the availability of the item by location by selecting the store and even better, it tells you exactly where the item is located in store by aisle and location.

Given the size of the average Canadian Ikea store, this is a wonderful service to save time and walking!  The app wisely reminds you of the time that you checked the inventory and has a refresh button right on the page.  What a thoughtful idea.

The app provides all details on all sites, including a direct link to maps to allow users to enter their home address and get driving directions.  The app also has some direct links to useful and important information such as catalogs and product recalls.  All of the images and text are laid out in a manner very easy on the eyes in what one assumes to be a bid to make it easy to use while navigating the friendly Ikea maze.

While there is nothing here that is earth shattering, this is a well thought out and simple to use app that is appears easy to use in store.

Lowe’s Canada put out something a bit more creative last week.  In partnership with LG and Red Piston, Lowe’s Canada released an iOS and Apple App to provide an augmented reality experience with a recently released advertisement.

Users who download the Lowes Virtual Experience app to their iOS or Android device can see and interact with a a 3 dimensional virtual refrigerator, washing machine, or dryer in real time on the display of their screen as an overlay of the camera view in their current environment.

Users place the ad (you can download a copy of the ad here) on a counter top with good lighting – preferably at waist height.  With the app open, the greater part of the window displays the view from the camera.  When the User points the camera at the flyer on the counter a 3 dimensional rendering of the product associated with the ad will be shown above the ad on the screen as an overlay to the camera view.

Users can tap on small blue icons to open the doors of  the appliances.  The doors are animated to open as though the unit is really sitting on the counter in your environment.   Small green icons provide useful commentary on the benefits of the product.   If users walk around the ad, or rotate it without blocking the image on the ad, all sides of the product can examined in excellent detail.

While the app only has a couple of products to examine for the present, it’s a very clever use of augmented reality.  The app provides a big wow factor for those to whom I have shown it, and almost all feedback has been positive, saying what an interesting, novel and useful solution it is.

For those of you in Canada, be sure to download the app and the ad and give it a try. Let me know your thoughts on it!

 

2011.46 | Wired App Guide: Retail Edition

I finally read the Wired App Guide this weekend.  I highly recommend picking it up if you are interested in mobile apps.  It covers many platforms, and appears to try to stay neutral – iPhone, iPad, Android, WP7 are all represented, but it is iOS heavy. Sorry Blackberry lovers – no mention of Blackberry, though I know at least some of the apps are offered on the Blackberry Market from personal experience.

No matter how much you stay up to date with apps, the app guide is a good read, and there are definitely some useful apps in there, no matter what your personal interests.

Of the 400 apps included, only a  few are retail oriented; 15 by my count.  In fairness, defining retail can be daunting, so I’ve had to use my own reckoning (I’ve counted Netflix and rdio for example – they sell movies and music) and very few are from household “retail” brand names – Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks are the only ones.

Here are the most interesting mobile apps of interest to retailers that made the cut into the app guide:

Kindle – I love Amazon, but Kindle is obviously saving their best efforts for their own devices.  The picture in the app guide is from a Kindle Fire, which is miles ahead of what you get on other devices.  While Apple Amazon and other booksellers  by mandating a cut of in-app sales, the Kindle eBook store accessible via iPad is really an unfortunate user experience.  Kobo’s web store is much easier to navigate and use.  I also think Kobo is doing a much better job in Canada as of late.  Their prices are more reasonable, and the ereader program is comparable to Kindle.

Amazon Mobile – Take the mobile app, scan barcode at store, and get the price for an item from Amazon and add to your cart.  Helpful. Not unique to this app.  Tesco has an app that does the same thing, and Canadian Tire can provide pricing from local store with a barcode scan.  There are many more with notable capabilities – like Meijer’s Findit.

Starbucks – They had to be on there as the pioneer in building a mobile payment system.  The Canadian version is causing me and Canadian users headaches as it seems to be forgetting the login and password.  Forces users to *gasp* pull out their plastic card.  Great app otherwise, and I’m sure that will be fixed.

Apple Store -I’m less keen on the buying capability in the app, but the addition of in store pickup is very handy.  Being able to look up what Apple considers a good aftermarket product also is a useful touch.  More helpful is the ability to book a meeting with a Genius at your local store.  It should be this easy to book appointments with anyone.

Barcode Scanner – It’s an android app.  Not sure why they pushed this barcode scanning price comparison engine.  There have been many others available for years.

Seamless Food Delivery – Network of restaurants to order delivery from your phone.  Great concept.  Not available in Canada, but there are Canadian equivalents for online delivery – no mobile app, but should work on the browser of your mobile.

OpenTable – Reserve tables at your favourite restaurant.  My favourite new features is that you can now save your reservation to your calendar.  A must for obsessive-compulsive types.

Rdio Canada – While it appears to have been around a while, Rdio Canada allows users to play and listen to music in the Netflix model – but with way more content.  Mobile apps are available and it works with airplay.  I’m currently trying it out on a 7 day free trial.  $14.99 per month for unlimited. Great idea for those who don’t have a large music collection already.  Tough break if you are trying to still sell CDs.

Zinio – I don’t buy paper magazines anymore, and this app is the reason.  While there are a few magazines with native iPad apps, many don’t have them.  You can get many of the others here for prices as low as $10 per year.  Immediate downloads on availability.  Very useable reader. Can carry all my magazines with me when I travel.

It’s not terribly surprising that only a few retail brands made this list.  There are thousands of apps, and a top 400 list by necessity will have a lot of things unrelated to a retail experience.  The success of a retail mobile app is not necessarily indicated by being on this list either.

Like any other solution, it’s important to have a benefit to the user and the retailer.  Find a unique need for your clients, and fulfill it.  Many times fulfilling that need will streamline a cost for you.  Do you think it’s more expensive in the long run for Apple Stores to have a web based appointment system interfaced to their mobile app for simple scheduling of technical assistance, or for them just to let people pile into stores at random and get angry when they have to wait for hours to get assistance?

This technology provides a real opportunity to make lives better.  Take the opportunity to help your customers.

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.

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