2011.30 | Retail Innovation Linkdump

July and August have completely overwhelmed me with new ideas for retail technology!  Here are some fascinating links and where I found them:

via PSFK:

As always, PSFK has lots of useful information coming in their Future of Retail Report – be sure to check it out.

via Boingboing:

  • Check out the recyclable pizza box from well documented NY store Eataly that is recyclable even though it has had pizza grease on it.  The intrepid pizza box collector gets to the Eataly box at about 2.30 of the video if you can’t wait.

via The Splendid Table:

  • NYC is recruiting customer snitches to identify retailers that might be overcharging at the POS versus posted prices.  Snitches can identify wrongdoers via twitter or Facebook.
via @Wired:
  • Digital Signage is everywhere, but have you seen the massive American Eagle digital sign in Times Square?  Check out some interesting uses of that sign.

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.

2011.05 | 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.

2010.18 | Canadian Retailers Using Social Media

I’ve been on the lookout for how retailers in Canada are using social media and mobile solutions to interact with their customers.   I was pleasantly surprised at the creativity and innovation of some of the organizations.    My observations are purely observational at this point, and based on what goes on in the Greater Toronto Area, but here are a number of uses of social media that have caught my eye recently:

Integrating Social Media and Digital Signage – Holt Renfrew has a limited time ability to tweet your #holtsbeauty tip on to their in-store digital signage in Toronto.   A free way to share information among HR customers, and get ones’ name in lights as it were.

Highlighting Social Media On-Site and Following their Customers Online  – Jack Astor’s are encouraging their customers to join their Facebook page when they bring the check.  They also started following me on Twitter when I became mayor of one of their locations on Foursquare, so they are paying attention.   That’s the kind of two way interaction that is novel to people and shoes a dedication to customers who are loyal enough to visit their restaurants and publish it online.

SMS Coupons – Payless Shoe Source Canada is offering a limited time SMS coupon for 20% off next purchase (text 77777 with Payless).  There is a very quick response with the coupon.  Kudos to Payless for highlighting that you have given them your number for messages and providing a very quick opt out, which worked flawlessly.  It’s a novel opportunity to use a coupon without paper, and the instant gratification of the text is satisfying as well.

Youtube Channels – Mastermind Toys has great coverage across many social media sites; particularly their Youtube channel where they show videos of their staff discussing products for sale in stores. This is a great way to bring the store experience into the online world.

Beyond these individual businesses and their ideas, I’m impressed at the increase in Twitter Feeds in Canada over the past couple of years.  Many consumer facing brands working in Canada have active Twitter feeds.   Here are the more active accounts that are either Canadian Based or have a Canada specific Twitter Feed along with their Follower counts as of May 3, 2010:

Canadian Retailer Twitter Feeds – May 3, 2010

Retailer Followers Retailer Followers
Addition Elle 175 Nutrition House 301
Aldo Shoes 1,810 Pet Valu 816
Bath & Body Works Canada 164 PizzaPizza 757
Best Buy Canada Deals 5,398 Planet Organic 1,343
Birks Jewellers 840 President’s Choice (Loblaw) 343
Browns Shoes 753 Purdy’s Chocolates 426
ChaptersIndigo 3,064 Roots Canada 2,716
Cineplex 224 RW & Co 443
Dairy Queen 77 Sears Canada 2,901
Empire Theatres 3,284 Shoppers Drug Mart 923
Fido Mobile 726 Subway Ontario 216
Future Shop 6,753 Sunrise Records 60
GameStop Canada 4,217 Suzy Shier 176
HMV 2,832 Taco Bell Canada 1,547
Holt Renfrew 3,011 Teaopia 205
Home Depot Canada 768 The Body Shop Canada 664
IGA Québec 717 Tim Hortons 2,250
Jack Astor’s 255 ToysRUs Canada 42
Jean Machine 398 West 49 293
Koodo 52 Whole Foods 1,159
La Senza 1,782 (My local store – find yours here)
Mastermind Toys 861 Wireless Wave 222
McDonald’s Canada 1,620

While the numbers are not massive, they are interesting to analyze.  Not surprisingly, technology leads the way: Future Shop, Best Buy and GameStop show very high numbers, for example.  Niche grocers Whole Foods and Planet Organic also have very high follower numbers considering that Planet Organic is a relatively small chain, and Whole Foods number represents one store.  Remember that this list is mostly composed of people who have chased down a retailer and added it to a list.  Not many of them highlight their Twitter accounts beyond an email or link on a webpage.   This may very well represent a very dedicated demographic – or at the very least, one that is interested in the stores, the bands and what they are about.

Social media is certainly a growing opportunity for retailers and has grown leaps and bounds over the past couple of years.  It will be interesting to see how it matures in Canada over the coming months and years and what we learn from it.  So far it affords retailers an essentially unheard of opportunity – a virtually free marketing experiment.

Update – July 28 – I’m maintaining a list of Canadian Retailers on and Canadian Restaurants Twitter.  Let me know if I’m missing any!

2010.08 | Change at the Till

While change is constant, it seems things are really picking up at the point of sale.  Here’s where it’s happening:

Coupons:  There has been a great deal of excitement and change around electronic coupons over the past year.  The combination of a tough economic climate and cheap technology has driven many to look for a better way.  Various couponing platforms are now available online or on mobile devices.  Retailers, suppliers, and third parties are all part of the trend which is now growing faster than the traditional paper format.   The challenge is to rein this in to the consumer’s benefit and to align it with a retailer’s strategy.  The best bet is for retailers to embrace social media to track usage as much as possible, and ensure that their target markets are best served.

Payments: With all of the changes to payments in Canada over the past few years – PCI, NFC, and Chip and Pin along with the entry of other players to challenge Interac with Visa Debit, Maestro and even Enstream – it’s easy to overlook changes in other parts of the world that are even more groundbreaking.   A colleague sent me an article over the weekend (thanks Douglas!) that discusses how mobile payments are surpassing credit cards in Africa.   It seems that much in the way that they skipped over landline telephony with mobile phones they’ve skipped from cash over plastic to mobile.  Payments still aren’t making their way to mobile yet in Canada, but Enstream is claiming NFC phones are coming to Canada, and perhaps Square can get things rolling in this area as well. 

Mobile:  The most important challenge facing retailers is how to connect the mobile experience with the store experience.  This article covers the opportunity well.

Still to come is the killer app that manages to bring the offers, the electronic world as well as the bricks and morter experience completely together – a way of linking how consumers wish to interact with the retailer to get the most out of those interactions for the retailer by making it seamless to the consumer.  There are applications to make this happen, but I’ve not yet seen any consumer facing organization that has established an ongoing conversation with consumers that makes the channel of interaction invisible.  [For full disclosure, I work as part of a team to sell a solution with this capability at NCR.]  Given the increasing interest in electronic offers, it is a perfect time to implement.  The technical issues are surmountable.  The greater issue is being the first retailer with the will end effort to fit these technologies to their business.

2010.02 | Scan those Coupons!

Given the Great Recession, one hears a great deal about coupons to encourage shoppers to buy.  Coupons have been around for quite some time, but are still surprisingly low tech in Canada.  While grocer specific coupons and offers are scanned, manufacturer driven coupons are generally accepted as part of a manual process in Canada.   This is an area ripe for automation to the benefit of retailer and consumer alike for the following reasons:

  • Cost Savings – Given that 84% of households in Canada used coupons in 2008 one would expect significant manual effort in gathering the coupons, validating the manufacturer, and tracking down the reimbursements.  With the constant attempt to reduce cost and employee effort, this represents real potential savings to a retailer.  If this effort is not completed, the retailer is providing customers discounts for certain brands out of their own pockets.
  • Throughput – While clerks still need to check expiry dates and validate the product purchased (why isn’t that automated via a central database?) scanning removes the need for at least 5-6 keystrokes per coupon – saving valuable minutes to the checkout process.  More people get through the checkout faster, and fewer people are embarassed by pulling out their coupons or frustrated by those who do so in front of them in the queue.
  • Customer Convenience – Self service solutions like kiosks or self-checkout are rendered less beneficial if coupons require manual entry.  Keying in coupon amounts represents an operation too complex for self service, (not to mention a fraud risk) reducing the amount of customers that will use it.  For those that attempt it without knowing coupons are manual, the transaction will be slowed by attendant intervention and will discourage the use of self service.  This all adds up to customer frustration which can reduce sales.
  • Fraud Reduction – While it is not possible to completely eliminate fraud, the increasing use of GS1 Databar codes may help, and if the codes don’t work on the scanner, it is easier for a clerk to refuse the coupon – minimizing potential losses.
  • Redemption Tracking – Knowing one’s customers becomes increasingly important in competitive times.  Understanding coupon redemption will enhance market basket analysis.  Enabling vendors to get an accurate, timely view of how consumers respond to an offer is extremely valuable, and can also allow for quicker response to coupon problems as data will be available to understand behaviour electronically.

While marketers, vendors and retailers are certainly on top of providing coupons via electronic means – email, web, mobile – there are few to date that are leveraging around electronic coupons: via 2d barcodes, NFC, or redemeed automatically at the checkout via a loyalty card.  While the individual values are small, coupons are important to a value conscious shopper, and the collective impact of coupon automation could be significant, so breaking the code is key.

2009.39 | Link Mania – Mobile Solutions II

flixsterAs a follow up to the first Link Mania of Mobile Solutions, there are lots of interesting mobile solutions making the rounds these days in retail and other corporate to consumer areas.  Consider the following:

Financial / Payment – While transferring data from phone to point of service continues to be a challenge, there are players making efforts:

Mobile Banking – Mobile Cheque Deposit

Mobile Wallet – Vivowallet, Enstream

Coupons – Cellfire, Coupon Sherpa, Yowza

Location Based Services – This is the next great opportunity for consumer facing organizations.  Getting on to consumer GPS is a great way to make it easy to do business with your organization.

Movie Times and Tickets – Flixster

Non-fixed Retail Location Awareness – Kogi Korean BBQtweets their location

Mapping – TimmysFinder, GrandeGetter, Yelp!wwdc2009-706

Individual Based Location Awareness – Google Latitude, Loopt

Rental Car – Zipcars – Find a rental car, and even unlock it with your mobile device.

Table Availability Notification – ReadyPing

These are just a few examples of what’s already out there, laying the foundation for future opportunities to connect more deeply and directly with consumers.


2009.38 | Hold the Receipt | Donuts & Furniture

tale_of_the_tapeHold the Receipt – A September 1 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the growing trend of very long receipts, given the addition of contract terms, transaction barcodes, product details, loyalty information, coupons and more.  While much of the information on the receipt is useful for retailers and consumers alike – enabling interactions and conversations via offers, ensuring transaction clarity, and simplifying returns, it also means an incredible amount of waste.  

The ultimate objective will be to eliminate receipts entirely, removing paper, labour, waste, cost and complexity from the equation completely, but it’s easier said than done for many reasons

What can be done today?  Electronic coupons are one way to trim the paper use that many retailers and businesses are experimenting with.  Two sided thermal receipt printing is another great measure to address the issue, reducing costs and waste substantially while maintaining the benefits that the information on the receipt provides.

Donuts & Furniture – Consider two very different organizations and two different approaches to multichannel communications:

Dunkin Donuts has implemented the Dunkin Run program utilizing a twist on a social networking to allow an individual to invite friends to place their orders online for one lucky runner to pick up for the group.    Status of the pickup can be displayed on Facebook.  What a great idea to drive up sales, the dollar value of each purchase, and increase consumer loyalty.   It should also be an easy migration to a mobile footprint given the type of solution and interface provided.

Ikea is making moves down the path to multichannel communications as well.  The IKEA FAMILY loyalty program in use in Europe leverages registration kiosks in store.  In the US, Ikea is leveraging a mobile application for store finding and specials.  Expect IKEA to move those channels together.

2009.27 | Strategies for Tough Consumers

Tough times drive tough consumers. Retailers are adjusting their strategy to the new reality around consumer behaviour in varying ways.

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.

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