2013.26 | long term trends

Lately I’ve been considering a few longer term trends that are taking shape that will definitely change the shape of retail.

Self Driving Cars – Seems like science fiction now, but self driving cars are really coming.  Check out this infographic on how the technology is progressing.  Volvo also provides a very detailed overview of current and upcoming technology including self driving.  Take a completely different commute , add shopping apps and geolocation and retailers will need to capture customers differently tomorrow to be competitive.  Add the increasing influence of electric cars that don’t require gas, and less service, and you understand that purveyors of fuel and convenience will have to adjust their model to suit the needs of tomorrow’s consumers.


Print Your Own Food – Supermarkets and restaurants can also look forward to technology impacts.  This recent food printer concept probably provides another potential revenue stream for a grocery store – selling food filled ink cartridges perhaps – and could shape the offerings provided in restaurants.  In the spirit jetpacks, how about robots brewing our espresso each morning?

Print Your Own Clothes – While the sales of music, movies and books are increasingly electronic, retailers of clothing have been impacted less, but smart retailers will stay on top of trends that could allow consumers to obtain clothing online with a file, instead of at a physical store or having physical items sent to them.  A popup store in London recently allowed patrons to pick the designs for tshirts and print them directly on demand in the store.  Printing on tshirts is pretty simple, but consider the trend towards knit footwear.  Nike recently released a lightweight knit shoe that looks primed for some sort of 3d printer/ knitting machine .   What if customers can just download styles and print them at home?  While this is definitely not the same as music, movies, or books, it certainly provides some opportunity for some competitive advantages that savvy businesses could leverage. It could also make knock-offs of current fashions much quicker.

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.


2012.31 | Store Maps | Gyft | Cars

Store Maps – Google Maps for Android is now expanding indoors in select sites in France.  From their release it appears that they are providing maps of the inside of stores including Carrefour and Galeries Lafayette Montparnasse.    I love this idea, and hope it catches on in North America.  The greatest challenge with mapping places like the insides of stores is the incredible amount of change.  Like Google Streetview which can get dated with businesses changing on the street, there is a certain amount of upkeep required to ensure that sites will not become stagnant and not useful.   Hopefully the Google army keeps up their good work to keep their incredible mapping network at the forefront.

Gyft for Passbook – The release of Passbook on iOS this week has renewed the hopes of the technophile community that the electronic wallet may finally be making its way into the mainstream.  Online giftcard seller Gyft has announced that their solution is now Passbook enabled, so that giftcards you purchase from Gyft can be used directly from iOS devices.  I love the idea of being able to give and recieve a giftcard electronically to a giftcard wallet on a mobile to ensure it isn’t forgotten or lost.  Since Gyft already does mobile phone redemption, I expect all of their merchants are ready to read codes directly from a smartphone screen.  Great solution and the perfect use of Passbook.  I was pondering how Passbook could move us away from the wallet, but I’ve always wondered how we get remove the requirement for ID cards like Drivers Licenses or Health Cards.  Check out Wired Magazine’s Christina Boddington’s articles on living without a wallet for a month.   Turns out a picture of your drivers license on your mobile won’t get you into a club.

Cars – While these items aren’t directly retail based, consider the potential changes to retailing down the road (pun intended).

First, Tesla allowed Elon Musks’ personal Tesla S electric sedan to be extensively test driven and it sounds like it’s pretty amazing.

Second, as part of their plans to deploy electric cars on a massive scale, Tesla also announced they are deploying free to use Solar Powered rapid car charging stations.  The stations can replenish 3 hours of driving time at 60 mph in 30 minutes.  The stations are as shown in the above image – a tall black and white monolith.  You have to admire their vision!

Third, autonomous vehicles are now legal in California thanks to recently passed legislation announced by Sergey Brin of Google and the Governor of California.  Google has already logged over 300,000 miles in cars that drive themselves, and this the beginning of making that an option for everyone.

Put those three things together and ponder the potential repercussions to various retailers.  Cars may not need gas anymore, fuel may be free or supplied at home.  People may need to fuel by sitting in one location for thirty minutes, and people may be able to pay little or no attention while they are driving (that part doesn’t seem different).   These are some extreme changes to society that could influence the petroleum industry, convenience stores, and all retailers.  Should gas stations become electrical fuel stations? Not likely.  Could parking lots and parking spaces be wired to charge everyone’s cars?  Maybe.  If we aren’t driving in a car, could we be shopping or validating our next destination?  Definitely.

None of these things are certain societal changes, and none of them will happen overnight, but they can certainly influence retail businesses, and owners should be watching for an opportunity to change to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers.

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.

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