2014.21 | poynt

With so much re-invention focus on payment with the likes of Square, Google Wallet and Apple Pay, it’s no surprise that someone in silicon valley decided to take a run at updating the old school point of sale payment terminal. Poynt is the iPhone to the traditional point of sale pinpad’s Blackberry.  It will be interesting to see if it takes off in the same way that the iPhone did. Poynt’s device is certainly different than it’s more traditional competitors in looks and basic utility.  The unit has a sleek contemporary look that utilizes an android tablet and has no physical buttons for pin entry.  Like other newer units, it has all the standard payment interfaces – MSR, EMV, and NFC – but also adds a PoyntQR/barcode imager and a bluetooth antenna.   Poynt also has a basic built in point of sale software solution, and a Software Developers Kit to allow others to build applications that can run on the platform. On the plus side, Poynt certainly has a look that retailers can embrace.  It takes point of sale pinpad terminals away from the spongy buttoned senior citizen’s calculator look to a software based, touch driven, futuristic device.  Every base is covered with payment options with all of the capabilities included on the device.  All of this is positive for the right application. For high volume retailers, this may not be the right device.

  • With two screens, the device appears to be designed for an interaction sitting on top of a counter that starts with the store associate entering data on the device and then passing it to the customer for payment entry.  This is sub-optimal for a high volume retail environment where every motion counts.
  • The device does not appear to have any security mounting options beyond a kensington type lock interface.  Given the need/desire for tier one retailers to mount devices on checkstands, selfcheckouts and more, the device cannot be mounted in stores with certainty that it won’t be stolen for attempted security incursions.
  • Touch screens are still an experiment for payment terminals in North America.  Shoppers are accustomed to buttons for pinpads.  Shoppers at tier one retailers are more than just twenty something hipsters in New York ordering cronuts who want to try the latest thing.  Most shoppers at high volume retailers want to get through the line.  Our moms need to know how to use this thing and get through the line in seconds.  This is certainly less and less of a problem as time passes, but the issue is still worth noting depending on the target market of particular retailers..
  • Pinpads take a lot of abuse in retail.  Mobile phones and tablets are replaced by consumers every 3-4 years.  Tier 1 retailers often target keeping devices for 7-12 years.  Can these devices last this long?  Certainly the software aspects mean that the devices can be updated over time, and looks can even be changed over time.
  • Most of the traditional calculator looking pinpads have some sort of privacy shield.  This device has a screen that is quite large that may be difficult to use without sharing your pin with the entire staff and entire shopper population.

This is not to say that Poynt was even built to deal with these challenges.  Poynt is solely a better looking device that enables every type of payment interface possible.  Selling payment terminals is a messy business.  As articles on this device point out, payment device vendors need to convince payments processors and banks, and to a lesser extent retailers, and not consumers, that their devices are worthy of certification and usage at point of sale. Poynt raises the bar and provides a fresh perspective, and for that alone, it is worthy of consideration.  While other articles seem to focus on the old school nature of pinpads on the market, in Canada, there have certainly been changes in recent times with the move to EMV to newer sorts of pinpads like those provided by organizations like NBSPS that have features like sleek good looks and audio prompts. EMV requirements in the US means that timing is good for new devices, and Poynt should take advantage of that change.  No matter whether Poynt takes off or not, it certainly provides other vendors the opportunity to change the paradigm that embodies the conservative payments industry.  I can’t wait to use a touch screen pinpad.  Expect it to become common sometime soon.

2013.12 | Retail Tech Miscellany Too

w680 (1)Unusual SXSW Tech – SXSW had some crazy technology on display at their 2013 event.  The best thing about events like SXSW is they let imaginations run wild.  My favourite idea was a solution at the portable toilets.  When someone entered the facility, a projector showed a life size traditional washroom stick person either standing or sitting directly on the door along with a timer indicating how long they had been in there.  While this installation is completely crazy, it may actually help with equitable distribution of temporary washroom facilities like this one by helping people queue in the right places.  A similar installation in a change room environment could be a great way to jazz up the experience of trying on new outfits.

Grocery Crowdsourcing – I’ve found that if you are willing to track down the manager at a grocery store and tell them you want a product they don’t have, they will try to get it or you.  Danish Supermarket Superbrugsen makes that even easier by putting a form on their website, where customers can request new local products and suppliers.  This eases the process for consumers to ask for what they want, and it provides free scouting to the buyers.

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No Barcodes Needed – Tokyo bakery Donq has been testing a point of sale system that identifies products without barcodes.  Customers put their items on a white tray, and the tray is placed under a camera that can recognize the shape of the products and quickly and automatically tally the total cost of the items. As imagers get smaller and cheaper and the image recognition improves, we can expect to see more of these sorts of systems. via Wired Magazine – April 2013

Fake Fingers – There is a report that some doctors in Brazil have been beating their time clock by using silicon fingers moulded from colleagues fingers.  Many retailers use biometrics for workforce management and logging into systems, and while it seems unlikely that employees would go to such lengths, it doesn’t hurt to know that these sorts of scams exist.  It also  highlights a reason why fingerprint payment systems like Paytango may have had a hard time getting off the ground if their solution doesn’t address these issues.

2011.03 | Why Starbucks’ Mobile Payment System Works

Last week Starbucks announced that the mobile payment scheme it has been piloting for some time will be available for all 6,800 Starbucks stores and Target locations across the US.  The solution is not yet in place in Canada.

For the uninitiated, the solution works as follows.  Consumers download the Starbucks Card Mobile App to their mobile phone; be it iPhone or BlackBerry. Customers with a Starbucks stored value card (effectively a gift card) that is registered on the Starbucks website, enter the card number into their phone when the obtain the app, and that card number is stored.  When consumers visit a store, they place their coffee order as usual, and indicate their desire to tender with their mobile.  Consumers start the Starbucks Card Mobile App on their mobile and navigate to the payment screen so that a 2d barcode representing the consumers’ Starbucks card is displayed.  The Starbucks associate, selects mobile as the tender in the POS, and prompts the consumer to use the customer facing imager (the same as those used in airports to read boarding passes).  The consumer places their mobile device under the imager, the 2d barcode is read, and the POS treats the tender like a gift card, following the usual payment verification procedure.  Once tender is complete, the customer obtains their coffee as usual.

The discussion on electronic wallet is an industry favourite, and this development will certainly encourage more discussion on the subject and provide some much need experience.  I’m fully behind this initiative, but at present, this solution is very much a Starbucks specific solution, and it is not easily translatable to other retailers.  While retailers can learn a great deal from the obvious careful thought that has gone into the solution, and we can look forward to others moving down this road as well.  To clarify for consumers (and non-technical retail executives) who ask why other retailers don’t have mobile payment schemes as yet, consider the following unique characteristics of the Starbucks situation that make a solution like this pay off.

Use of Stored Value Card – Very few retailers have a stored value card with the massive following and ongoing usage that Starbucks have.  Effectively consumers are giving Starbucks their funds in advance in exchange for some very small benefits (free drink on your birthday, free pump of flavouring in your drink).  Starbucks gets loyalty data on customers, and a nice balance of cash on hand.  More relevant to the mobile payment solution, the Starbucks mobile phone application allows consumers to make a payment onto their stored value card, and the application’s 2d barcode payment system is connected to that card.  Connecting the mobile payment system to the stored value card means that Starbucks can take the risk of a payment system internally.  Stored value are not subject to the same roadblocks, legislation, and scrutiny that building a mobile payment system that would access a credit card or a debit card would have.  Using the stored value card simplifies implementation and sidesteps many complexities of payment systems like EMV and PCI.

Cross Platform – While Starbucks are very keen on the iPhone, they have not limited themselves to an iPhone app, but also provided an app for the other key smart phone users via the Blackberry App.  Considering the corporate core of Blackberry users and how often meetings now take place in Starbucks stores, this is a wise move to maximize potential users.  Given the number of Android Users and the recent release and growing use of Windows 7 Phone platforms, it would not be surprising to see the Starbucks Card App ported to those platforms as well, ensuring maximum potential usage.

Valuable App – With over 400,000 apps on iTunes, retailers need to make their app unique and useful.  Ideally it pulls together the mobile and in store experience in some way.  Starbucks has managed both.  Any successful retailer’s mobile app needs something unique to it to encourage download, and having it on a consumers screen on a permanent basis.

Customer Demographic – Based on my experience, and what I have read in the media over the past few years, the average Starbucks consumer is more likely than average to be a tech-savvy iPhone or Blackberry user, and beyond that, the kind of user who would be comfortable with technology and placing a payment with their mobile.  It is important that any solution put in front of a consumer by a retailer fit their target market.  A savvy comfortable customer is more likely to use the app, and use it well, to speed transactions and drive convenience for them, and speed throughput for the retailer.

Infrastructure – Most Starbucks locations have 2 terminals.  In order to leverage 2d barcodes, special imagers are required, and this means hardware investment.  2 lanes means only a $300-$400 investment per store for imaging hardware.  Considering the potential value of transactions per store, this is a very low cost.   The ROI would be far less attractive for a lower margin retailer with dozens of lanes in a store to deploy, as it would be key to have the imagers in every lane to simplify the process for consumers.

Transaction Type – The slowest portion of any retail transaction, and the most difficult to trim time from, is the tendering process.  Given that in Starbucks transactions generally include a small basket size and the ordering time is relatively short, the value of an alternative payment is increased, as it is a greater proportion of the transaction.   This value is increased further by the incredible traffic at Starbucks sites.  Having many small transactions provides a boost to the ROI of the solution.

No Mobile Device Handling – In order for any sort of mobile payment solution to increase throughput and minimize operational complications, it is key to streamline the process of scanning the mobile device.  Starbucks has done this via a customer facing scanner with very simple signage.  This allows the consumer to place their phone in the scanning area with no need to pass the mobile device to a cashier.  This simplifies the process by providing a consistent process, not only increasing the scan speed, but also avoiding the potential of store staff dropping or otherwise damaging a customer’s mobile device.  Consumers are also more likely to use the mobile payment solution if they do not have to pass their mobile phone to a cashier, given how consumers increasingly consider the mobile device as a personal item.

As with all solutions implemented by consumer facing organizations, ROI is key.  Looking at the Starbucks solution, the costs of entry are probably not that high.  A mobile app is relatively inexpensive and standalone compared to other point of sale solution implementations.  Using the stored value card leverages electronic processes and databases already in place.  The crucial part is operationalizing the solution, and that can be put in place for hundreds or low thousands per site.  All in all, this is a relatively low cost solution with the potential for a high ROI in both funds, and in good will from consumers.  Other retailers looking to implement such a solution would do well to observe what Starbucks have done, but note well that this is not a one size fits all solution.  Any future implementers should be sure that the app suits their customer demographic, their transaction model, and has a way of dealing with the complexities of payment.  Other solutions will arise, and it will be fascinating to see what comes next.

2010.49 | Mobile POS at the Gap

Reports last week indicate that following in the shoes of the Apple Store, The Gap is piloting the use of Apple iPod Touch units for mobile checkout within the store

This concept has fascinated me for some time.  It takes away the counter between store associate and customer.  It also allows customers to buy where they are shopping, and can allow for more flexibility in a store, allowing potentially every associate to be a cashier, and provide at least the potential for improved service. 

I’ve always thought it worked well in the Apple store, and I hope it does well here, but some hurdles will need to be cleared in order for this to work in a traditional apparel retailer environment like Gap.

Security – One of the biggest logistical hurdles in an apparel store like the Gap is EAS.  How will they deactivate the security tags?  All clothing at Gap has tags that will set off the gate at the front of the store.  Deactivation could still work.  The main concern would be that many of the deactivators now are either behind a counter where only store staff can access them, or they only deactivate on a valid barcode scan.  Both of these are tricky to manage without losing the benefit of having the mobile POS in the first place.  I expect that associates will need to have kiosks around the store with deactivators and tag removal systems unless they wear one of these on their belt too, but this gets a bit awkward, and what if someone steals it? They don’t have EAS at the Apple Store, so it isn’t an issue there.

Operationalization – Let’s assume the application itself is quite simple.  Apple apps are made for the masses, and your average cashier is a step above that.  The issue that may arise is how do you accept a customer’s purchase, give it back to them in a presentable format and accept payment.  Consider the following: You go to the apple store, you pick up an iPhone case, you hand it to your nearest Genius, they scan it and give it back to you.  You give them your credit card, the scan it and give back to you and you are effectively finished.  That’s in an Apple Store.  Go to the Gap.  You already have 2 bags from other stores.  You pick up 1 pair of jeans and find a Gap associate on the floor.  You had them the jeans, they scan them, and then hand them back to you, but you have 2 bags.  This is workable, but a bit more awkward depending on the situation.  Can they fold them first?  They do that at the counter, but what do we do standing in the middle of the store?  This will definitely only work for small basket sizes.  What about bags?   I don’t need it for an iPhone case, but generally only a small portion of the population will have their own bag, and if they do, what else were they putting in that bag?  This can work, but it will require changes to the processes in stores.  I expect mini kiosks will have to be placed in the store to accommodate the EAS situation, and may provide a small station to quickly fold an item and present it to the customer.

EMV – While swiping a card will work in the US, there is a sizable portion of the Western world that requires EMV verification on a purchase, which means a pinpad is required.  Looks like Canada and the UK would be on the outs for this without a hardware upgrade.  I’m sure there is one out there or in the works, but I’ve not seen it yet.

Receipts – While I fully believe paper receipts should be on the way out, the situation needs to be dealt with.  The Apple Store will email you a receipt based on your email address and if you use the same credit card, will know you based on iTunes.   The issue I see here is that the Apple Store attracts a certain demographic that is fully comfortable with this.   There will be a demographic at the Gap (decreasing, of course) that will either want a paper receipt, will balk at an email address, or will be spooked by the fact that the Gap has your credit card number in a database with your e-mail attached to it.   The Gap will also need to look at returns for this system as well.  A transaction number can probably be used from an emailed receipt, but this will be a change from the Gap’s usual mode of operation.  Once again, the Gap is very different from an Apple Store.  I expect returns are far more common at the Gap, due to sizes or changes of mind.

I fully expect mobile POS to become more common, and it’s encouraging to see Gap getting behind it.  That said, I expect that like any other paradigm shift for processing transactions in a store (self-checkout, kiosks, point of sale layout) mobile POS will requires some serious thought and changes to operations to integrate it correctly into the processes of a reatailer as well as the store experience.  At present, it appears to suit a small basket transaction without EAS and an email based receipt.  There are definitely ways of working around the challenges, and they are likely to be as varied as the retailers that attempt them.

2010.42 | Scanning Barcodes From a Mobile Screen

Misconceptions abound about scanning the screens of mobile devices.

There are a number of different ways of passing data from a mobile device to another platform in a store environment – 2D barcodes, Microsoft Tag, NFC, Bluetooth, and via Apps – the possiblities are quite broad and are dependent on the application.

Applications in a store environment most often involve passing loyalty or coupon information from a mobile device to a point of sale (POS).  The method that arises most in conversation is that which would seem most intuitive to the general population.  Can one scan a barcode from the screen of a mobile phone with a scanner at the point of sale?

The answer: it depends.  Consider the following examples:

Example 1: A customer approaches a Point of Sale in a store with an Apple iPhone.  The customer has scanned an image of their loyalty card into their phone complete with a traditional linear barcode from the back of the physical loyalty card.  The cashier has a Handheld Scanner at the POS and attempts to scan the customer’s screen to enter their loyalty information into the system…  It won’t work.   A traditional handheld or even bioptic scanner will not reliably capture a barcode from the screen of a regular mobile device’s screen.   I have personally attempted it many times, in many retail situations with various scanners and mobile devices and screens in stores and in lab environments.  The screen is too reflective or does not pick up the contrast in the bars and spaces, no matter how large or bright the image may be.  (It may give a positive scan once in a while, but not consistently.) I’ve heard that some iPhone apps get around that by showing the images in certain ways, but I’ve never seen it work live or via any online searching.

Example 2: A customer approaches the boarding gate at an airline terminal with a Blackberry Torch.  The customer has downloaded an electronic boarding pass to their phone complete with a 2d barcode.  The boarding agent has a Handheld Scanner with a 2d Imager built into it.  The customer holds out their device, and the agent scans it with the imager.  It will work.   In this instance, though the situation appears exactly the same as the first example, the big difference is the the use of the 2d Imager and 2d barcode.  A 2d Imager is essentially a camera – better suited to identifying the 2d barcode on the mobile device.

The implication of the formulas above is that the great majority of technology in place at current points of sale will not read barcodes from a mobile device.  Most retailers wishing to take advantage of barcode reading from mobile devices will need to invest in new scanning devices.

NOTE:  The imager will also read a 1D traditional barcode from the mobile screen.  The barcode does not have to be a 2D barcode.

2010.30 | Barcodes for Consumers

Barcodes started off as a tool for retailers to use to avoid tagging product with prices, improving throughput at the checkout, fine tuning inventory control, and reducing shrink.   How times have changed.

Consider the following examples:

  • While mobile solutions like foursquare allow for check-ins at establishments including retailers, Booyah‘s MyTown is now providing product check-ins.  Consumers can scan products with their mobiles using the app and make a game of it to see what comes up.  Users can unlock items in a virtual world, or potentially a coupon for what they have scanned.
  • As reported by PSFK, Food52, a recipe blog, is using stickybits to allow users of their site to scan products at grocery stores to bring up recipes for those ingredients on their mobiles.    Essentially stickybits is a mobile application for iPhone or android that ties barcodes to whatever you want – a website, a video – whatever you like – even a recipe database as Food52 has done.

What this comes down to with retailers is a change of control.  Retailers traditionally controlled information and all aspects of how the interaction occurred between the business and the consumer.  Now the consumer is gaining a great deal of control over the interaction using tools like those discussed above.

It’s similar to the beginning of file sharing systems like napster which turned the music industry on its head. While physical items like t-shirts are not able to be shared as data files (yet) like music and video can be, electronic devices and gaming are finding ways to spread into the physical world and have an impact on how products can be sold that is beyond the control of retailers and manufacturers.  Luckily retailers are attempting to take advantage of these new interfaces.

2009.46 | RedLaser for iPhone

IMG_1035There are a number of tools that attempt to take comparison shopping and price checking to a mobile platform.  SnapTell for iPhone and ShopSavvy on Android, for example.  I’ve not had the chance to use ShopSavvy, but have used SnapTell. 

SnapTell makes use of image recognition like LaneHawk does for a checkout scenario, recognizing the image of the product, and then connecting results to a database to look up the product, generally with a price lookup online.   

ShopSavvy, and the relatively new RedLaser for iPhone use image recognition on barcodes, but there are 2 small game changers here compared to SnapTell and other image recognition apps:

1.  Users don’t have to hit a button to take a photo and then submit it.  The solution shows a square to align the barcode within.  When the unit has something it wants to capture, the square turns green.  When it can capture, it just does so, vibrating briefly and showing the results.  This saves users at least 2 button presses used on other image capture solutions.  Doesn’t sound like much, but any removal of complexity is a win on the retail floor.

2.  It’s much faster than the other solutions I’ve used to do the same thing.  Images of barcodes are probably simpler to compare than a vast database of images of DVDs, CDs and books, but whatever the reason, it’s more responsive, meaning less standing in an aisle wondering what the solution is doing. 

The database has had challenges with some products, but that’s not surprising, considering the number of products with barcodes in the world.  It also does not appear to read GS 1 Databar codes – at least not coupons.    There were also problems in lower light conditions, and shaky hands (too much caffeine) but in all fairness, in 90% of cases, a retail environment has adequate lighting and steadiness to allow RedLaser to work very, very well.  As an optical scanner, RedLaser is very impressive.  

What’s the real game changer here?  The potential of using cameras to capture barcodes is not new, and certainly not nearly as fast or accurate as purpose built barcode scanners.  Where potential exists is on how it barcode scanning can be leveraged on mobile. 

All of the apps are understandably focused on price checking at this point, but how much can one save on a bottle of Purel, and how convenient is it to have to scan every item one picks up in a store to price check.   The pennies may or may not be worth it.  Given the incredibly small footprint of cameras these days, there could be real potential in using cameras for barcode scanning on mobile POS in a specialty low volume environment.  The tiny readers on current handheld units are just as bad at reading the codes, so why not use low cost cameras on handheld mobile devices that could be used for other purposes in store, like documenting the condition of damaged goods at a site, or validating that corporately mandated displays and planagrams are in place?  Using cameras may also one day allow retailers to leverage the personal phones staff or even their own customers to complete transactions, though that will take some improvements in the solution, and a significant culture shift.

2009.24 | Mobile Checkout with GS1 Databar

GS1 Databar has been looking for common acceptance for years, and a recent article in the NYT discussed how ‘The Bar Code is Taking a Leap Forward and GS1 Databar may yet reach a Plateau of Productivity with its usage for coupons on mobile.

Hopefully mobile can be one impetus to drive the usage of GS1 Databar, and it will see the kind of acceptance that has driven other symbologies like 2D barcodes or to a much lesser extent, Microsoft Tag. There are a number of significant potential benefits to be reaped by consumer facing organizations that can leverage these codes, including: increased throughput, reduced shrink, improved food safety, and the potential for increased sales from consumers’ demand for data.

The greater challenge is passing this data from the real world to the pocket of the consumer – a mobile platform today. While Metro AG has some great ideas (thanks, Michael) on how to do this using their mobile assistant and on customers’ own mobile devices, the challenges of a successful implementation are very real and very difficult.

Ideally, enlightened consumers could scan their own purchases as they shop, but there are some incompatabilities between consumer behaviour and the technology that can drive issues of shrink – intentional or not. The inherent slowness of using a camera for barcodes versus a laser or LED scanner, the complex multiple step shopping processes (scan with phone, place on atm reader, pay with phone), and the essential lack of any security limit this excellent effort as a stepping stone towards a more complete future solution.

2009.22 | Traveling

I traveled from Toronto to Vancouver to visit a few clients last week, so the technology around travel was certainly on my mind. So many innovations have hit travel in the past decade that it is incredible to think how much things have changed.
Check-in Kiosks, Web Check-in, and Mobile Check-in have all streamlined the queuing experience regular travelers know so well. While much improved the area is still ripe for additional innovation. Think about the number of transactions at an airport. Where else do we compact so many transactions into one place in such a short time as a captive audience? What could we do to improve upon an already much improved experience? I had a few thoughts while on the road.
Organization – There are various apps that help streamline the travel experience. There are a few basic options for this today, like Tripit, TravelTracker, or Travelocity. Some tradeoffs are made on these solutions. An online offering means being up to date with changes, it also means $3/MB for Canadians traveling to the US. An offline offering means changes may not be shown on your itinerary. In future releases, it would make life simpler to have a mobile check-in button, or even better, a place to store all of the 2d barcodes so they are not accidentally deleted or lost in email or photo areas of the phone.

air_canada_2d Boarding Pass Generation – On my trip, I used web-checkin and had the boarding pass sent to my iPhone as a 2d barcode. While convenient, there is an opportunity to build on this. For one thing, I  don’t know my credit card number or Air Canada Aeroplan Account from memory, and I certainly don’t know my itinerary number. This dissuades me from using mobile check-in in all but the direst situations, and I’m a bleeding edge mobile user. Typing the last 4 digits or letting the program validate the itinerary number on the device would suffice. Even better, using a program like 1Password to pass the information to the airline check-in could also work, much like Google Toolbar Auto fill. The web is fine at home or at the hotel, but when one is only traveling for the day, or the web is unavailable, using mobile checkin should be a simple option.

Security and Boarding – Nothing seems to make security in an airport more uncomfortable than handling a mobile device with their rubber gloves. A barcode scanner that passengers can scan at Security and Boarding so staff don’t have to handle any devices or boarding passes is a better alternative. This provides consistent processes, improved traveler tracking within the airport, less opportunity for a misread boarding pass, and less effort for staff to interpret the information on the miniscule screen of the latest gadget. An intervention may be necessary and staff can deal with the exceptions, providing better throughput. [Update: 5/27/09 While traveling through Montreal (YUL), there was a scanner to scan my own boarding pass. Progress!]

Flight Services – A truly interactive mobile platform with easy access buttons to get feedback on specific issues and a chat function could provide airlines with an incredible customer management tool including the ability to:

  • allow passengers to notify if they are late or unable to make the flight so that the flight can depart, or a seat can be given for standby
  • send text message notifications of flight changes
  • automatically update itineraries if there are cancellations with all preferences automatically applied, and special messages outlined (free airmiles, lounge access, directions to their gate, etc).
  • report lost luggage
  • provide a platform for customers with problems to voice their concerns and opinions and get immediate feedback

With so many millions of happy travelers passing through airports every year, this provides an opportunity to allay the loud concerns of the few major problems, bringing the attention to those who can make a difference quickly. There are tools to do this today, but they are not well advertised or utilized.moverwallet

Car Rental and Hotel Checkin Hertz’s kiosks and Hyatt certainly go in the right direction. A 2d barcode reader would be ideal so mobile devices can be used instead of a printout. Even better, an NFC credit card used to book the trip could make the transaction wireless and avoid the 2d barcode. I already have an NFC credit card, even if I don’t have an NFC mobile phone, which would be ideal. Why not scan the card for pickup and payment? For hotel, the NFC credit card can potentially be used as the room key as well, so the room could be opened without even removing the card from one’s wallet.

Further down the road, perhaps wifi could be used as it is used with the recent ‘mover’ iphone application. It looks like a mini version of Microsoft Surface. A wallet would show a number of cards sitting on the screen and a swipe of the finger slides the appropriate card towards the kiosk and a pin or signature could be entered on the kiosk.

With all of these solutions, it comes down to two things that drive every self service solution: utility and simplicity. If a solution is useful and easy to use, it will gain populartity and usage. It will be interesting to see which solutions meet those criteria in travel over the next few years and how much more convenient it will become.

2009.21 | Handheld Payment | Geek Coupons

Handheld Payment – The CEO of Twitter Jack Dorsey recently announced via Twitter his next project, code-named Squirrel. While few details are available as of yet, the rumour is that it will enable credit card payments to be processed on the iPhone.

This brings some interesting questions into play around EMV and PCI and how it would be handled. Perhaps the certification and security issues can be accommodated via the increased capability of handling peripherals supposedly enabled by the new “to-be-released-in-Summer-2009” iPhone 3.0 OS.

Squirrel could take the mobile payments impetus away from the mobile carriers, who own the infrastructure and are experimenting with how to charge for this service. Instead, it could be a regular data transaction on an iTunes App Store application – taking the carrier out of the equation. This assumes, of course, that the massive issues of security and fraud are covered to the satisfaction of the credit card companies and banks – no simple feat even without PCI and EMV requirements, though there is at least one company who is trying it.

Payments on mobile also bring us closer to the expectation that for the right retail environment a truly mobile based POS is a potentially realistic solution. Tomorrow’s retailer’s POS area could be limited only by the space in and around the store, the number of handheld devices available, and how many people they want at work that day.

Geek Coupons – Coupons and Loyalty programs really are all the rage given the Great Recession we all find ourselves in.

I was recently reading a copy of Canadian Retailer and came across the horribly named (and lets face it – an awful looking ipod ripoff) GreenThingE, a keychain based electronic device that allows for electronic distribution and acceptance of coupons and loyalty cards.

The unit uses Mobeam technology from Ecrio. This technology flashes an LED at a frequency that today’s currently installed barcode scanners interpret the same as paper based barcodes.

While I find the technology intriguing, getting consumers to find coupons online and pass them to the unit via USB is an unlikely proposition. The demo on the Mobeam website says that 71% of consumers 18-24 use coupons. Do you see them sticking an ugly 2001 dollar store gadget on their keyring? Do people even still have keyrings? They scratch your mobile in your pocket.

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