2011.39 | Retail Linkdump

Robots at the Mall – Everyone loves robots, and malls in Abu Dhabi may soon be leveraging robots as service ambassadors.  The humanoid robots built by Barcelona based PAL Robotics  have touch screens built into their chests, cameras in their heads to allow them to recognize users, and wheels to allow them to drive around.  Instead of printing a map to a location in a large mall or hospital, the robots can lead you there.  Make sure you watch the video.  Very iRobot.

No Branch Banking 2.0 – While there were a few Internet only banks floating around with the first Internet bubble, one still needed a card to get cash at some point.  With our new mobile reality, Movenbank is offering a cardless banking experience based on the web and Android NFC mobile devices.

Mobile Phone Recycler ATM – While I’ve heard of kiosks to recycle old technology in the past, ecoATM now sports a camera to identify your old mobile device so you can get a quote on the spot.  via PSFK

eBay Mobile Image Search – 2d Barcodes are too unwieldly for many – or so it seems.  How about taking a picture of something you like with your mobile phone camera, and having your mobile look for that item on sale on eBay based on the image?   eBay recently announced that the eBay mobile app will have this capability in the mobile app by the end of the year.

Ikea Happy to Bed Campaign – Ikea’s recent online campaign makes use of a fancy Youtube trick, an interface to Facebook, and some input from the user to provide a very personalized shopping experience.  Make sure you watch the whole video.  You are somehow convinced to build a shopping list without knowing what was happening.

2011.05 | Novel Implementations in Retail

A few implementations in consumer facing situations with some unique properties observed in recent news:

  • Royal Bank debuted their first branch with the new branch concept using solutions like Microsoft Surface – for more details on the solution elements and some video check out my prior post.
  • Couche Tard is piloting a bluetooth mobile coupon solution tied to digital signage solutions for Red Bull.  Here’s hoping it doesn’t become mobile spam!
  • Starbucks Canada has placed interactive screens in the front window of one site in both Toronto and Vancouver as part of their Tazo Loose Leaf Tea campaign.  Visit them prior to February 26 to try them out.
  • London Luton Airport in the UK debuted ‘holographic’ hosts to assist airport travellers in navigating the security process.  They are rear-projections of real people onto full size human shaped screens.
  • Walgreens is now providing the capability for customers to renew their prescriptions via their mobile device by taking an image of the barcode on the bottle.
  • Kraft has a new kiosk that they showed off at NRF’s big show in New York last month that recommends recipes based on users’ appearance.   There’s something of the old carnival weight guesser about this one.  It makes you wonder if vegans look a mite greener, perhaps.  Next up, drive through kiosks that guess your order based on your car.

2010.35 | Self Service User Experience

I visited the Henry Ford Museum this weekend, and can’t recommend it enough.  The museum provides an incredible view into the progression of technology from the industrial revolution to the near present.    The museum houses an incredible collection of cars, bicycles, trains and more.   If you haven’t been, you need to go. 

Some of the most interesting displays to me were those pertaining to retail.  They have an entire 1940s diner called Lamy’s – including an NCR cash register and vending machine, a full neon sign from McDonalds from the 1960s, and even a complete hotel room from an iconic Holiday Inn from the 1970s.  Studying history does a great job of reminding us of our roots, and for providing context for the present, and visiting this museum certainly did that for me.   While on one hand, it reminded me that we have come very far, it also indicated that we may have lost some very engaging and exciting elements of self service solutions and the retail experience.

What brought the experience component to my mind was the Mold-A-Rama machine I encountered near the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile on display.  This retro vending machine made a plastic molded toy of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile before my eyes in about 1 minute.  It was a delight to watch!  It had sixties styling, impressive looking gauges, and a bubbled window to display the inner workings as the machine made the toy by injecting plastic in a mold.  You could even watch the toy pushed by a little metal rod as it fell into the little drawer for pickup.   The toy is delivered still warm into your hands for the low price of 2 $1 bills fed into the machine. 

There was also a cigarette vending machine in Lamy’s Diner (See the National logo at the bottom in the image) that had awesome styling and great kinetic feedback.  Having a mechanical handle directly under the item of choice that you pull gives the experience a tactile and direct feedback that involves the user more than a touchscreen of items or a button that feeds to a circuit into a magic box.  It was a throwback to my youth and the mechanical experience of the gumball machine and the pay telephone.

I was reminded of how commonplace the transactions via self service have become over the years.  Since self-service has become so ingrained in our society, we have become so accustomed to these machines that they have become invisible.  This invisibility is certainly a missed opportunity to connect with our collective customers and bring them a new and pleasurable experience instead of a chore. 

Today’s consumer is certainly more sophisticated than the targeted customers of these machines, and life is more complex (age verification on the cigarette machine, anyone?), but there is still an opportunity to build on today’s self service experience. 

As of late, I am aware that numerous vendors and retailers alike are working on ways to engage our collective customers while providing them the speed of transaction and ease of use that they have come to expect.   One great example I recently highlighted is a vending machine in Japan that utlizes a large screen on their vending machine that replicates the look and feel of an older model machine with product behind the window.

Another excellent example is a new ATM design made through a partnership of organizations, including my employer NCR.   Have a look at the video and watch the animation on the screen of the ATM before the cash is dispensed.  For some reason this small change to the interface puts a little thrill into the transaction that our human nature cannot resist.

Engaging our customers is always the right thing to do.  We always need to be learning, and new ideas come from surprising places.  Let’s hope we can learn from the past to make tomorrow’s self service not only a useful experience, but a pleasurable and exciting one as well.

2009.06 | Linkedin | Consistency | Think Different

Linkedin is Useful – Social networking isn’t just about showing off how many friends you have..well,actually yes it is, but Linkedin also has a very useful Companies feature that shows most popular contacts, new hires and career paths for each organization. Beyond a way of seeing where your friends move, it’s a great tool to obtain up to date information about the best contacts for new ideas, and a way for vendors and buyers to avoid cold calls.

A Consistent Customer Experience – The importance of a consistent experience and brand across channels is becoming increasingly important in Canada. With point of service already well established, the internet and mobile channels continue to grow. For the first time a majority of Canadians bank online – 53% in Q4 2008 – 35% of them use the Internet as their primary channel, followed by ATMs at 28% and in person transactions at 24%.

While retail probably will not go that far, 53% demands attention from retailers, and habit and comfort with these channels is likely to drive consumers towards them for retail as well. As digital natives age, they will demand it. 84% of Canadians now use the internet, and broadband subscribers continue to grow with 27.9 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants; making Canada the leader in the G7.

More surprising is the opportunity around mobile. Only 61.6% of Canadians have a mobile phone – the lowest of any developed country. This represents a market of 20 million people that is only going to grow and become increasingly sophisticated as smart phones permeate the market. NCR is well placed to help our clients serve these customers across all channels with solutions like SelfServ Checkout, Advanced Marketing, and Mobile Refactoring and can provide some insight into the benefits of this multi-channel consistency.

Think Different – New ideas in today’s economy is what is needed to weather the storm. Simple changes always seem obvious after the fact, but are more difficult to pinpoint than you think. A few standouts include: rethinking the cereal box, shelf moving robots, mobile reviews, RFID ad activation, subscribing to consumable products and the $300 million button. Simple.

2009.05 | Interac Chip

Interac Chip – Chip continues to move forward in Canada. After trials in Kitchener-Waterloo in late 2008, and the increasing use of Visa chip cards, Interac is starting to make noise about getting chip cards into the real world. This means changes to pinpads at POS and card readers on ATM units in the coming months and years. Check out the details.

Vending and Media Convergence – With the increasingly lower cost of technology, retail channels are converging ever faster. Look at where vending machines are now, and where they are going. The line between digital signage, POS, vending machines and media in the store is increasingly blurring.

Ralph Lauren Mobile Store – I talk about moving to the “store in the pocket” quite a lot with friends and clients, and Ralph Lauren is trying to move that way with their new mobile site. I don’t know if this is the right type of store for mobile, but may be more likely to fit the demographic than the one Sears put in place. I like the way they have integrated the 2d barcode into the site, and their links to a reader. It’s important to have the consistent customer experience as well as the link between sites, and they are making that effort.

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