2013.31 | freeosk | oyster | paypal beacon

3015672-slide-s-3-freeosk-the-redbox-of-free-samplesFreeosk – Why not automate the process of providing free samples at grocery stores?  The Freeosk can be installed in a store for automatic dispensing of free samples.  I can take or leave the need to have someone hand me a piece of a granola bar in a cup.

While it looks like a space saver, using the space to give samples AND provide a product display, the most interesting part of this kiosk is that shoppers scan their loyalty card to get their sample.  This provides retailers an opportunity to figure out if the free samples are driving business and to whom.  As an added bonus, maybe it would stop all the scofflaws from drinking more than their fair share of the free apple cider at my market! via Fast Company

oysterOyster – Applying the the strategy that Pandora, Spotify and Songza use for music, Oyster is offering a subscription based service for books.  They have 100,000 ebooks; you have 9.99 a month and you can read all you wish.  It’s great to see subscription based services on offer, but it’s yet another blow to bookstores and paper lovers everywhere.  Now if we can just get a service like Whispersync on a subscription basis.

paypal beaconPayPal Beacon – Paypal recently released their homage to 2001: A Space Oddysey  – the Paypal Beacon – to enable payments via bluetooth.  I look forward to this type of disruption in payments.  As a consumer, I hate carrying cash, and I’m interested in dumping cards as well.  The best transaction is one where I didn’t even notice it happening, and geofenced solutions like these can make it happen.

As someone involved in retail point of service installations, I’ve seen the incredible effort involved in making systems work with payments.  It’s difficult to break away from that complexity, but there are definitely moves afoot that indicate this complexity may be overcome.  It’s wonderful that the likes of Paypal and Google Wallet have new apps that are branching out of their traditional areas to enable payments from the consumer end.  From the retailer end, organizations like my employer (NCR), are providing options with solutions like our connected payments solution to simplify the back end challenges.

While it doesn’t appear that cash is disappearing anytime soon, retail is all about choice.  If you want to pay with cash, you should be able to do so.  If you want to pay with debit or credit, that should be easy for retailers to implement and for customers to use.  We aren’t there yet, but it does look like there is finally some progress to enable the transactions of tomorrow.

2013.24 | satellites | car apps | makers

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.28.23 PMSatellitesSkybox is a startup documented in a recent Wired magazine article that plans to get relatively cost effective satellites into space around the planet so that they can sell constantly images of the planet online.  This represents an interesting opportunity for retailers. With updated data and solutions from companies like Remote Sensing Metrics, retailers can do more than just scout out sites for new locations. With constantly updated and date-stamped data it is possible to see how many cars are in the parking lot at your stores and those of competitors at certain times of day. Sales data shows people who bought from you. Door counting solutions count how many people came into the store. Why not see if traffic is translating into results?

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.38.22 PMCar Apps – Omnichannel will become increasingly real and more complex as car makers like GM and others begin to offer apps for cars. What if an app that runs on your car could remind you of your shopping list as you pass your favourite grocer? What if your GPS can suggest a shopping stop to wait out a traffic jam? What if your spouse’s shopping list with exact items and prices, could be transferred to a store on your way home and per-order your basket for pickup?

All of these concepts represent real opportunities made possible with car apps (or smartphone apps that play nice with cars) as well as an Omnichannel infrastructure.  Retailers that can quickly release apps to take advantage of these technological advances could gain some advantage if the solution suits their demographic. The greatest challenge will be bending infrastructure to accommodate these advances in the coming years.

Screen Shot 2013-07-16 at 10.44.08 PMMakersChris Anderson’s latest book provides an in depth look into the world of makers – a new generation of tinkerers with access to ever cheaper and more sophisticated tools and materials.  The book is definitely worth a read to expose yourself to this culture.

A few of my favourite items touched on in the book:

– 123D is a set of apps from autodesk that have a make menu that has the equivalent of a print button to print out physical objects with a 3d printer.  123D catch allows you to print a physical object from a photo.

– Quirky – A social development website that helps inventors get their ideas out there.

– Experiments with IKEA furniture indicate that when people help build their creations they bid 67% more for their own creations.  Some potential differentation for vendors and retailers. (Chapter 5: The Long Tail of Things)

– Digital fabrication makes it possible to make niche products in small batches in nearly the same quality as big fabricators.  Makes 3D printing and the like seem something worthy of attention.  (Chapter 6: The Tools of Transformation)

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the material covered.  It’s a great book to change the way you think of manufacturing and how things get made.


2013.05 | Facebook Card | Sport Chek Lab | Traffic

facebook-card-balance-mobileFacebook Gift Card – Facebook recently announced a Facebook branded giftcard that can be used in the real world.  If you wish to gift someone at a Jamba Juice, Sephora, Target, or Olive Garden, one only has to select that recipient from your list of Facebook friends, identify them as a gift recipient and pay -much as you would do for any other gift card.  The gift recipient is mailed an actual physical Facebook branded card to use in stores like Target.  What makes this card unique and worthy of interest is the fact that the card can be reloaded with balances from multiple retailers.   Thinking about it this way, Facebook are providing another centralized payment mechanism.  That is, while in a card form now, Facebook is beginning  to act as a centralized clearing house for payments.  The Facebook card could be used as a future payment platform for online purchases, or via a mobile app like Starbucks does, or as a card as it is now.  Based on the card images it appears to be provided by some sort of partnership with Discover.  Looks like there is another potential partnership vying for space in the world’s already crowded wallet – mobile or otherwise. via psfk

skitchSport Chek Retail Lab – Looks like I’ll have to get on down to North Toronto to check out the latest in technology to get us to buy athletic equipment.  It seems that Sport Chek have put together lots of tech in a store deemed the Sport Chek Retail Lab to try it out.  I love the passion for the technology, and will definitely head over to visit.  While it sounds like it’s more of a lab scenario and therefore subject to different rules than a more traditional store, my only caution on projects like this is whether or not there is a need for all of the technology.

Things I would watch for in visiting this store:

  • is the technology really selling more merchandise than if we just put the items on a shelf in an attractive, engaging manner that is a part of the brand experience?
  • is the technology providing a truly unique customer experience?
  • is the technology assisting customers in a way that is not possible without it?
  • is the technology part of an overarching targeted customer experience, or are these just toys?
  • does the technology usage fit the retailers brand and customer demographic?

I love technology for its own sake, but not everyone does.  My experience dictates that if these technologies are to find their way into more than just a flagship or a demo store, they have to bring benefits to the retailer and the consumer.  It certainly appears that no option has been overlooked at this site!  Check out all of the tech!  I look forward to visiting and seeing the place myself!  via Artisan Complete

books_set2-1Book Recommendation: I just finished reading: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt.

I enjoyed this book a great deal.  A few thoughts on why you might as well:

  • It will make you re-think your driving habits.  If you are like me, you’ve taken driving for granted and don’t think about it much.  You will think about it after you read the book.
  • There is so much around us that we don’t notice because we see it so much!
  • It helps to reset your perception of open mindedness.  I found the discussion of some renegade traffic planners in Europe removing street signs altogether and completely re-thinking roads and intersections to be an incredible example of how you can think completely outside of your assumptions.
  • Some fascinating ideas that are covered in the book: the rise of eating in the car – discussions of drive thrus – how we change our personality when we drive and why – how seeing eyes (real or artificial) can change your behaviour – a discussion of the psychology of queueing and how it holds true in traffic and in other areas – how we never get feedback on driving – how traffic design may not seem to be in your best interest but it is for the greater good – there is a ‘starbucks effect’ for traffic – that looking for the best parking spot at the mall is a waste of time – cars are parked 95% of the time – free parking has a high cost – comparing traffic to queuing at Disney – how rules affect behaviour like Pizza Hut in China
  • While he doesn’t cover Google’s self driving cars and their impact (the book was published in 2008), he did write about them for Wired this year.

I was surprised to see that it had so much information of relevance for my work.  I found myself in that first year university scenario where I was highlighting more of the book than not.  If you work in retail or retail technology, I guarantee there is something in this book for you! via 99 percent invisible

2011.12 | WalkIN to a Freezer Door LCD

It used to be that the biggest news on the block was the size of a screen or the power of a processor.  Now there are wild new ideas every time you look in the news.  Here’s are eight items that caught my eye recently.

One of the winners of the of SXSW 2011 Startup Bus Prize this week was WalkIN – a Queueing App for Restaurants on iPhone.  Slightly different spin on something like OpenTable which makes reservations, these guys want to let you know exactly where you are in the queue so that you can walk right into a table.  At the same time, restaurant owners have full visibility to the queue as well.

Translucent Displays mean that customers can potentially access product information and details via a freezer door LCD.  Very interesting, but now I have to get people off the freezer door to get my fishsticks.  Seems like we’re already climbing over each other.  Really cool concept.  I look forward to the creative types who find an ROI for it.

A useful article and video updating us on what the Metro AG team are currently showing in their future store.  Also see more detail in an earlier article and video I posted in 2009 on this store to see previous iterations of new technology in use at the Future Store.   Scanning speed and capability on a mobile has picked up considerably in the almost 3 years since they first tried this.

Google Cars – Check out an excellent article including video of what it is like to ride in a car completely controlled by a computer.  This would certainly solve the problem of texting while driving, but more importantly from a retail perspective, it would allow for a different dynamic on shopping trips.  The integration of technology to cars is certainly accelerating – consider Ford, but also Zipcars and Cars2Go.  Now if they can just get bluetooth to work…

Microsoft Tag shelf talkers for Herbal Essences are in place at 53,000 stores.  This is a great use of mobile scan codes for informational purposes that I’ve always thought would be great.  While on a much smaller scale, this is the same idea.  Some good discussion of 2d barcode for informational purposes.  To be honest, couldn’t they use different colours for Microsoft Tag?  That must be throwing the marketing people off. I prefer the ugly boxes of 2D to the 1980s fuschia and yellows triangles of Microsoft Tag.  No matter which option used, I’ve always thought this would be a great solution for higher end items like washers and dryers, or perhaps DIY advice on kits purchased at Big Box DIY.  In any case, if the retailers don’t get into it, the CPGs and their agencies will do it on their own – organizations like Kokanee beer and their agency grip limited – who recently put 2d barcodes on beer cans with links to interactive maps of trails.

A brief but fascinating article on book pricing strategies that indicates books could go to 99 cents each, as it’s theoretically possible for authors to make more money that way, as the volume will grow as the cost drops. I’m not sure if that will be the case, but it’s a great throwback to business school days in setting prices for maximum return.

For those who think that self-checkout is only for big box environments, this cafeteria in Ohio is returning to the roots of the communal trust based cashbox in the small cafeteria, but with a technological twist (and a security camera).

NEC is discussing new object recognition technology to identify origins of produce – assuming you wanted to know what tree your apple came from.  Have investigated this technology before there are challenges within stores for self-checkout around issues such as identifying organic vs standard produce.  It’s amazing to me that they can use fingerprint like recognition technology to understand the origins of a shipment of apples.   I’d love to see this in action in a lab, but expect the more challenging aspect of a solution of this sort being connecting thousands of stores to a central database so a fruit can be identified.  Most retailers (or suppliers) aren’t signing up for something like that without some sort of ROI.

2011.11 | Mobile Barcode Scanning in Store

It used to be that walking around a store with a camera would result in odd looks at the very least, and potentially an invitation to visit the parking lot.  With the ubiquity of cameras on mobile phones, every person in the store over 12 is probably toting a camera as part of their personal communication apparatus.  With the increased availability of shopping apps, there is a good chance that those people are comparison shopping or gathering information while in stores.

There is an app for that, of course.  In fact, there are a number of apps available that make it possible for consumers to scan items in stores with their mobile phone cameras to get information on products or to check prices elsewhere.  I’ve discussed these apps before, but their increasing use makes them worth another look in a bit more detail.

There are various applications for the iPhone and Android platforms.  These scanning apps have been available for a couple of years now, but with the increased processing power and improved cameras on recent phones, using the apps has become much more practical.  In their early days, the cameras, the software and the processor working together took a few tries and a few seconds to get a good scan.  10 seconds is a short time to wait in line, but starts to get old waving a brick of metal and plastic at a barcode on a book, so the speed of a successful scan makes a huge difference.  With the most recent iterations of these apps, they scan very quickly (and quietly), making the scanning option much more practical to the non-technical user.

What apps are in use?   Here are the ones on my iPhone.

RedLaser – Acquired by eBay, RedLaser is a solid product scanning app.   The app is free.  The camera on the mobile phone is pointed at the barcode of a product, and the app will search the internet via Google for pricing at online stores.  If the camera doesn’t capture for some reason, the barcode can be entered on a numeric keyboard as a backup.  The app also checks eBay for used options.  A list of the options is provided – all linked directly to the websites for online purchase.  I have used this app to scan products with mixed results.  Books, DVDs and toys work well.  Consumer products from large CPGs don’t always work.  These codes may show as Product of Kraft Foods Inc., or as a retailer specific item.  Wine has worked from time to time as well.   The challenge for Canadians is the the pricing results are often US based with no Canadian options.  RedLaser will also keep a list of products scan, usable for a future shopping list.  That list can also be emailed.  One more nifty feature is that for food products, the app will provide nutrition facts via DailyBurn.  For Canadians, this product is still mostly a novelty until Canadian price options show on the list.  Available on iOS and Android.

SnapTell – A part of A9, effectively Amazon, SnapTell uses visual scanning to identify products.  The app is free.  Simply find a CD, DVD or book, and take a photo from within the app, or select from your camera roll on the iPhone.  The picture taken of the cover will be compared with a database of product images, and has a very high match rate to products based on my scans.  Like RedLaser, the app will then provide a listing of where the item can be purchased online.  Barcodes can also be scanned or entered manually – in fact, there is a high-tech barcode scanning animation that hints that James Bond uses this thing. While the image capture has a bit more gee-whiz factor than scanning barcodes, it does require a couple of extra keystrokes to take the photo, and then press the use button, but it’s not a massive pain.  Earlier versions with iPhone 3G were painfully slow, but with iPhone 4 it’s quite snappy.  From a Canadian perspective, there is no Canadian pricing option that showed on my scans.  The app also displays useful information about movies for example, with links to Google, Youtube, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and more.  There is a local pricing option that is set to work in the US and UK – given that these are the only two regions selectable in the app.  Available on iOS and Android.

ShopSavvy – Another barcode scanning app with similar functionality, ShopSavvy takes a slightly different angle, providing a list of deals right on the main screen.  It also has some list functionality for comparison shoppers to track what prices they see for an item at stores as well.  ShopSavvy also has a great deal of sharing functionality including the ability to share details via email, dropbox, facebook, tumblr, and twitter.  There weren’t as many online store options as RedLaser and Snaptell (no Canadian stores again), but it scanned just as well and was as easy to use.  The app is free.  Available on iOS and Android.

Pic2Shop – Another nice little scanning app that bills itself as the original barcode scanner on the app store, Pic2Shop is another nice little scanning app that can be used to shop.  Using the same scanning process as the other apps, Pic2Shop is very quick.  From a Canadian perspective, amazon.ca is the first item that shows on the list, so there is a Canadian pricing option!  Pic2Shop also offers a plethora of sharing options – in fact, you can share via pretty much every social media format I’ve heard about.  Google, Bing and Yahoo search capabilities are also available.  The app is free.  Available on iOS, Android and Windows.

In case the threat of apps outside of Canada isn’t enough, there are other apps that Canadian consumers could be using include both the Amazon, and Canadian Tire apps.   Both of these apps have scanning directly within the app.  Consumers walking through bookstores can scan for pricing from Amazon by grabbing a book from shelves to price compare.  Consumers looking at any product in a store (or at home) can scan it within the Canadian Tire app, and find out pricing and availability at their closest Canadian Tire Store.

All of these apps are amazing work and do a great job of things that were unthinkable just a few years ago.  For retailers, there is a great opportunity to leverage these platforms – whether by getting on the databases that they search, or by integrating them into retailer specific apps.  It’s easy to imagine using these apps as one’s own personal price verifier – in store or otherwise.  Perhaps that  price verifier could be used to indicate interest in a subscription to a product so that one knows when a specific brand of peanut butter is on sale, or when a new shipment of lobsters is coming in.   An even simpler option that has not arisen yet – why not open a Kobo, Kindle or iBooks eReader app, and pull down a book from the shelf and scan the barcode or the cover, so that the book opens in the eReader store, and at the press of a button it downloads to the iPhone app for later reading?   This would be a huge step to pull together the mobile and store worlds.  While it sounds risky and cannabalistic, if a bookstore doesn’t do it, someone else can use these apps to build it, so the option is to approach this on ones’ own terms, or let someone else dictate those terms.

Then again, perhaps these things that I have described already exist.  There are thousands of apps in the App Store and in the Android Market.  I could have missed some.  Let me know which if I’ve missed and your experiences with them.

2011.09 | Futures: Screens, Mobile Payment, and Kiosks

The inflow of data on the changes in the retail environment brought about by technology can certainly be overwhelming.  Here are some of the most interesting retail technology stories I discovered recently:

A Day Made of Glass – A promotional video from Corning shows the potential pervasiveness of screens and technology in the future.  Also see a very similar video from TAT last year.  These future concepts certainly highlight the necessity of keeping a very open mind to new interfaces for all consumer facing businesses – most particularly retailers.  With all of these future interfaces, how can retailers find ways to add value to the consumer?

Mobile Payments – Discover alternative electronic currencies, the increasing use of SMS based currency in Kenya (M-Pesa), and the potential future of the Smartphone Wallet with David Schropfer on CBC Spark Podcast #139.  The move of the developing world towards electronic payment is a relevant case study for those of us considering mobile payments and solutions in North America.  There will be great challenges to overcome in moving past current infrastructures, and keeping the interface of mobile payments as simple and universally accepted as cash.  Let’s not even mention the challenges of PCI – with applications being being de-validated after initial validation.

Common Kiosk Applications – Kiosks have been a mainstay in retail for many years, and even with all of the mobile and web solutions at hand, will continue to play a large role.  Consider some of the most prevalent solutions for which kiosks are being used. (via DigSignageToday)  JC Penney’s new kiosk solution certainly takes endless aisle to a new level.

Mobile Apps For Retailers – There are a lot of apps for consumers to interface with retailers.  How about tools for the retailers to use?  Here is an overview of options. (via RogersBuzz)  Also an interesting mobile check-in module rolling out at Whole Foods.  Please don’t let these things become the spam and junkmail of the future.

Changing Markets – Retail is being constantly re-shaped by technology as well as the times.   Heather Reisman recently discussed selling books and ebooks on Canada AM.  In the US, Dollar Stores are becoming a destination for groceries.

2011.07 | eBooks – Are Bookstores Dead?

eBooks are a topic on everyone’s technology discussion list these as of late.  For a great overview of what is taking place in this industry, listen to the excellent podcast Closing the Book by Sean Prpick from CBC’s Ideas.  A recent post on CBC’s Spark also discussed new creative directions for digital publishers. 

The recent bankruptcy of Borders Books in the US has certainly brought home the weight of the changes taking place.  The Kindle is Amazon’s best selling item of all time, and eBooks seem poised to overtake paperbacks and hardcover books in sales – at least at Amazon.  The New York Time is also going to start publishing a best sellers list for eBooks. 

While I knew it was a big deal when the Kindle came out in 2007, and then the Kobo and iPad in 2010, but it really struck me that the eBook was mainstream when my mother asked whether she should get an iPad, Kindle, Kobo, or Sony eReader.  I used to think eReading was for geeks at the airport reading books on their Palm Pilots.  These gadgets are for your mom now.  (Just don’t try to explain to her how she can access the internet for free on her Kindle without it being connected to anything.  Trust me.)

For eBooks, the store is now a device instead of a brick and mortar structure.  Realizing that it was important to be competitive in this new reality, many of the eReader providers have developed software that easily crosses platforms to avoid customers getting locked into a store with a device as much as possible.  Most of the of main reading solutions are able to be used on multiple devices – providing access to your reading material on the eReaders PCs, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Blackberries, Android phones and ereaders.  For eBooks in Canada, one can use software based reading applications such as Amazon Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, GoodReader, Stanza and more.  Consumers can now hear about a book, comparison shop across various stores and purchase a book in the time it takes to get out of the house and get into a car.   The eReading app even remembers where you were in the book when you open it on a different device.

Exclusivity with one or another bookstore by certain authors can make it more costly to obtain some books, but it seems that the publishing houses (and retailers) have learned from the staggering success of iTunes to ensure that there is availiability of titles via multiple bookstores, so there is a greater opportunity to shop around more quickly than there was with music in the early days.  The process is so simple that my mom can do it without thinking. Bookstores not connected to any reader are also popping up a lot faster than music sites did – sites like: eBooks.com and Google eBookstore.  Most avid readers also know that there are millions of free books available online at the retail bookstores as well as via sites like Project Gutenburg and the Internet Archive that provide material in various electronic formats.   With solutions from Overdrive becoming increasingly common it is also possible to borrow eBooks from many local libraries.  Kindle users in US are able to lend books to each other for two weeks, spawning services like Lendle to allow strangers to loan each other eBooks.

So much for going to the old bookstore for books.  What about magazines?  Many of the magazine publishers have jumped into the iPad publishing craze.  Some magazine specific iPad apps include Wired, Popular Mechanics (you would expect those for the techheads among us), but also Time, People, Oprah’s ‘O’ Magazine and Martha Stewart Living.  These are the mainstays of magazine racks everywhere.  Do these apps deliver a better experience than the magazine?  Maybe for some.  While they are enjoyable, I personally feel it makes reading the magazines feel more like being online.  I’d rather just enjoy the magazine as I always have so far. 

This reality has driven me and many others to Zinio.    Zinio works much like the eReader apps but for magazines.  Subscribe to magazines for around the same price as the paper copy and you can read it on Mac or PC, iPad or iPhone.  One of the biggest annoyances of subscribing to a magazine was seeing the new edition on the newstand for a week or so while you waited for it to arrive at your front door.  Now consumers get the magazine immediately when it is released.  Almost any mainstream (and some non-mainstream) magazine you can imagine is on the service.  No paper to mail or throw out, and even better, no subscription cards stuck in every 3 pages.  One of the best innovations of Zinio is being able to see all of the magazine subscription information and expiry dates in one place.   No more reminders every time you go to the mailbox that it’s your last notice to renew. 

So does all of this ease of purchase and ease of use mean the death of the bookstore?  Perhaps as we know it, yes, but most retailers have learned from the past.  Decades ago railroads missed the fact that they were in the transportation business, and not the train business – losing all of their business to trucks and other formats.  Booksellers and Music Stores realize that they are in the business of selling content – not books or CDs.  You can already see these retailers changing their product mix to meet the new realities. 

Those retailers that know their businesses work as curators.  They provide advice, ideas, and interfaces into experiences.  Today’s time starved consumer is overwhelmed by the massive selection of ways to spend their time, and media to consume.  Physical stores are not going to disappear, just as books will not go away completely.  Stores will continue to act as a hub of communal interest – providing reading, performances and discussion forums. 

Brick and mortar retailers will provide value beyond the book or the CD.  Product, Price, Place, and Promotion as elements of offers don’t change – but the delivery mechanism is, and that needs to be recognized.  Understanding of the consumer, and the ability to provide what that specific consumer wants, when they want it, is absolutely key.  It’s those tools that are really just starting to come into their own.

2010.06 | From Self Service to Make it Yourself

After reading the fascinating and highly recommended Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller by Jeff Rubins, it got me thinking about really big picture environmental and social changes and their impact on retail.   One small outcome of the changes to come according to this very broad and intelligent book is that the increasing cost of oil will drive the cost of transportation so high that a whole lot more manufacturing will take place in North America.  As oil costs rise, the  lower wages for manufacturing in far flung places will be offset by increased transportation costs.  It’s already happened to a certain degree as part of the recent recession.  As chief economist at CIBC for 20 years, Jeff’s ideas have credence.

Another big picture idea that blew me away was in the latest issue of Wired that includes an article about a new generation of affordable technology allowing for incredibly cost effective product development and for crowdsourced projects.  One example is the makerbot open source 3d printer, a kit that anyone can buy for $700 and assemble to “print” 3 dimensional items using ABS plastic from plans that can be made with free tools like Google Sketchup.

The impact of these two items to retail?

  • There will be an increased demand for labour for manufacturing jobs in coming years if Jeff Rubin is correct.  The result are fewer people to keep the service economy going.  The people that work in the hospitality industry, the grocery stores, the boutiques, movie theatres, and more.  This means more demand for technology solutions to deal with labour scarcity and reduce flexibility.  This was a problem during the oil boom in Western Canada in the 2007-2008 timeframe.  Expect it to happen again, and with deeper impact.  With fewer options available, retailers will need to consider every option available to stretch labour dollars to build flexibility into their systems while minimizing costs.  Self service will grow.
  • With capacity for design resources made available affordably to those who did not have it before, expect to see ever more products available in much shorter runs.  With more differentiated products available to serve the Long Tail, this could mean reduced sales for big box stores, as niche players find a place in the market.  It will probably also drive a number of niche players to work via mail order via the web and skip the retailer altogether.   At the very least, the big players will have to be more selective in their product mix for sale, and either way it makes life more complicated, with smaller segments served by individual products, or with many more SKU’s available and having to be tracked and turned in stores.
  • In the even bigger picture, for very simple products, retailers can expect to see the problems that the music industry and the movie industry have experienced for a few years.  Not only can these printers make a prototype, they can make a product.  The makerbot makes the potential of downloading plans for a model car and building it myself quite real.  With this technology in its infancy, it is not a stretch to build your own mobile phone with the right plans, some plastic, and some kits from my favourite electronics store in the near future.  Retailers and manufacturers will have to consider the potential of tomorrow’s Napster not sharing music, but plans for the latest Nike shoes, or a Google Phone Knockoff.

Social Media today, Social Manufacturing tomorrow.  From More reading:  Makers, Makezine.

2009.29 | Attack of the eReader Clones

Learning from mistakes is a basic lesson that publishers, booksellers and gadget manufacturers are not taking lightly.

Amazon is making headway on selling ebooks, claiming that Kindle growth is “very strong”, starting with the success of the original Kindle eReader, and building upon it further with the the release of the improved Kindle DX in the first half of 2009. With the success of the iPod product family and their close alignment with iTunes resulting in blockbuster sales for both – remember that iTunes sells more digital music than anyone by far and more music than most brick and mortar retailers – it seems that publishers, booksellers and electronic gadget makers are not going to ignore the potential of the electronic reading game.

Borders UK is trying Elonix, Shortcovers wants consumers to use thier mobile, Sony has a strong offering, and there are certainly no end of other models and manufacturers vying for a place in a potentially lucrative market. Magazines have also been getting into the mix, with Starwood hotels offering free digital download of popular magazines for hotel guests.

It will be interesting to see if ebooks expand in the same way as music and video. While the ebook model removes the distribution channel required for regular books and provides instant gratification with books downloadable immediately after purchase, it also requires yet another gadget with a cost. That gadget does not necessarily mimic the same experience that many consumers desire in a book. The heft of a book, the ability to fold and hold it as they wish, and even the ability to share it with friends or pass it on give the physical aspect of a book more value than with a CD.

While music is a very different consumer experience from books, it is still worth watching to see how consumers move this business, and these organizations are wise to continue to play a part in the equation.

2009.25 | Mobile Wallet Foundation | Books

Mobile Wallet Foundation – Bell, Rogers and Telus have announced that they will be providing a nationwide payments solution across all their mobile networks – a sort of Interac for mobile devices in Canada via a group they are calling Enstream.

Credit must be given (pun intended) to the mobile companies for putting a slightly different spin on their services, but are they really trying anything new? This Zoompass ‘digital wallet’ solution is only a peer to peer payment solution at present. One has to put money into an account and can then pay it to other subscribers. Both peers need to have subscribed and have the software installed on their phone. There is also an NFC credit card involved – one of many many such cards in Canada.

The benefits Enstream itself touts are somewhat weak, and there are holes in the program.

  1. There are already multiple viable options for potential users of this service already. Sure it might make it simpler for novice users to use this service, but they’re not going to pay a personal debt with their mobile.
  2. Who wants another declining balance account where they can forget their money? People will be like squirrels with nuts hidden everywhere –Giftcards, Starbucks Card, Zoompass account – where does it end? Why not leave it in one place – your bank account?
  3. This solution is too complex. One has to download software to their phone (black magic to the masses), establish an account, set another login and password, keep funds in the account, make sure their bank account/credit account is linked, pay the bill, and get their peers to do the same. THEN they pay 50 cents or $0.65 for the privelege to send $20 to their pal – OR – they wait until they have $20 from their next ATM visit and give it to them. Tough choice.

It’s understandable that the mobile companies want to get in on the mobile wallet revolution, and are trying to lay the foundation for merchant payments, of course, but the only way this sort of solution is going to gain acceptance is if:

  • it can be done with current or easily upgradable and /or obtainable technology (no extra stuff – just the mobile device)
  • it is so simple to do that your mother can do it in a queue in front of 10 other people
  • the cost of completing it are the same as current electronic payments (to the consumer it seems ‘free’)
  • there is no additional billing structure, logins, accounts or other details to remember other than a simple wallet PIN
  • it works 99.5% of the time without a hitch in under 5 seconds

This organization is looking to extend the mobile footprint much like Bell tried to expand their into downloadable movies. It’s logical, but it’s not a fundamental change, a shift which is needed. Establishing a mobile wallet is a heady challenge, and a laudable one at that, but it will probably take a game changing twist to make it happen. A real twist. It’s not about the technology – the CEO of Enstream came from the Esso Paypass, program so he has seen the technology can work.

Books – It’s a great idea to install a kiosk to buy books online, or add digital bookselling. Few take it to a completely new level. It’s pushing the envelope, but if there are real benefits to clients, this may be where the payoffs lie.

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