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

2013.03 – Hangers | Burgers | 3D Cases

Screenshot_2013-01-19_11_37_AMDigital Hangers – Shoppers at the Vanquish Ikebukuro PARCO store in Tokyo are experiencing a new twist on digital signage.  When the hanger with a clothing item on it is removed from the rack, a video clip of a model wearing that particular item is triggered and plays in large format on one of a number of LCD units that are part of a multiple video display array above the rack area.  This sort of context sensitive digital video solution is certainly a step up from playing standard video ads in a store.  Interactivity is certain to capture more interest from shoppers in store, and also provides for curation opportunities as the video can share combinations of items to wear with the featured apparel item. via Vsauce2 – (thanks Hussain!)

Screenshot_2013-01-19_11_47_AMEdible Packaging – Brazilian burger purveyor Bob’s recently unleashed a new ad campaign indicating that their burgers are so tasty that you can’t wait to eat them.  As part of that campaign, Bob’s are selling the burgers with edible wrappers.  Make sure you check out the video showing customers tucking into still wrapped burgers to get the full effect.  It’s a bit strange watching people chew on paper covered burgers. Bob’s wins the trifecta with an engaging campaign that ties well with selling their burgers, shows innovation and reduces waste to boot.

As a neatness obsessed individual, the idea of keeping burger mess inside paper really appeals to me.  To take it to the next level, perhaps instead of e-receipts we can start to issue receipts on edible paper.  Thermal printers can provide just the right amount of heat to cook them. via Vsauce2

Screenshot_2013-01-19_12_01_PM3D Cases – The 3D printing craze continues to pick up steam.  In case you needed some prodding to get out there and get yourself a Nokia Lumix Windows 8 Phone, Nokia recently released files to allow users to print their own 3D case.  Nokia is the first major corporation I’ve noted to put out a part you can print on your own.  Expect this to be the first of many such offers.

Traditional retailers could look on this as a way to extend their shelf space by offering products with exclusive links to download files to personalize, modify or extend products sold in stores.

Haven’t we all purchased electronics and immediately discarded items we know we will never use?  Manufacturers could use the availability of online 3D printing files to reduce waste and cost on included items that not all purchasers may wish obtain.

Got your own 3D printer yet?  Soon. via Wired.

2012.14 | Technology and Timing

It’s fascinating to me that ideas that are becoming reality now are those that would never even have been considered even a few years ago.  The increasing comfort of the general public with mobile computing and touchscreens as well as increasing reliability, and decreasing costs are removing barriers at an increasing rate of speed.   Consider a few examples.

Scan and Ship – Looks like the HomePlus experiment of scanning virtual shelves to populate a shopping cart on the mobile has started a bit of a trend.  Well.ca did the same thing in Canada, Giant in the US and others have been giving it a try as well.  It’s a simple extension of current technology and has a low barrier to entry, so why not?  Smart phones are increasingly common, there is some novelty to it, and most everyone is now comfortable with online purchases.  Sounds obvious, but this wasn’t always the case.

Phone Booth 2.0 – It seems NYC is experimenting with touchscreen kiosks in former phone booths.  Once again, why not?  It’s a good use of current space.  The phone booths provide some infrastructure needed for a kiosk or digital signage implementation – a metal frame with some weatherproofing, connectivity and proximity to a large base of potential users and viewers.  The offering is at no cost to the city, and presumably would be paid for by advertisements and chargeable services.

Biometric ATMsNCR offered iris scan solutions some years ago but it never caught on; ahead of its time perhaps.  A Japanese bank is experimenting with ATMs that use palm readers to identify users.   In the past, I would have a lot of questions on the potential value and concerns around privacy.

Customers today are increasingly interested lightening their wallet and not having to remember to carry a card.  Millennials are more confident with technology and are willing to try something for the fun factor.  Corporations are always interested in providing the appearance of being forward thinking and tech savvy.  The Japanese are used to using a mobile to interface with an ATM, so perhaps this is a natural progression.

Wayfinding – It’s easy to forget a time we didn’t have google maps and cheap and easy to use GPS units, as they have become so embedded in our lives.  Taking that ease of direction into buildings – like malls or stores has ever been the elusive last mile.  Wayfinding projects in store are challenging because of the constantly shifting nature of retail.  As displays and stores are constantly rearranged, even if someone sets up a kiosk to find items in the store, it is either wrong, or requires constant updating – a challenging effort that rarely seems to reward the work required.  Perhaps the first step towards crossing this mile comes is a tool from Google.  Google is offering Google Maps Floor Plans to start to map out the indoors.  While it doesn’t get products in place, it does begin to provide some help in larger venues.

I’d like to think that at some point Electronic Shelf Label could have a unique id on them that could be shared with a mobile device that would allow the user to find an item based on the location of the ESL.

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.

2011.05 | 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.

2010.41 | Introducing New Technology

Macy's Magic Fitting RoomMacy’s Magic Fitting Room is working to close the gap between the digital and real world experience at the stores.  The limited time installation includes a large scale multi-touch screen that allows customers to “try-on” clothes virtually and send out the resulting images to various social media platforms.

One must applaud the ingenuity in trying something new with this technology, and am curious as to their future intent with it.   I wonder if this could represent a future home installation, somewhat like Virtual Mirror.

The solution is obviously not aimed at my demographic, as I don’t see the point in trying something on ‘virtually’. Why not try on the real thing?  The clients are standing right near all of the product anyway.  With women’s fashions, my understanding is that while the look is important, the fit of the item is a huge issue.  Women’s clothing presents significant variation in fit from garment to garment and the way the clothing hangs from the body can be very different than any virtual image you see on a screen.  The retailer may also be encouraging a customer to try on a product that is not available in the customers’ size, meaning they have invested time and effort to find something that they can’t have.

As far as sharing anything on social media, most women I know (beyond their high school prom) intend to make an entrance with a new ensemble.  They are hardly likely to broadcast how they look in a new outfit to all of their friends before they even buy it; especially considering the fact that many of their social media ‘friends’ will probably be at any event they are purchasing for.  It could take away from the thrill of a new purchase.

Now, I understand that there are demographics that are not mine, and this solution may be just what that demographic have been looking for.  I haven’t attempted use of the solution either, being located away from New York, so all of these points may be well answered by the solution.

This type of implementation is generally more of a novelty than a true long term solution, which brings up the ongoing question in Retail Technology – what is the right balance between new technology and operational benefit?  How does a retailer know if they should proceed with a solution as a part of their default store technology moving forward.  Here are a few hints:

ROI – Unless technology is being used for PR or to suit a government requirement, there are only two ways to improve a business, retail or not – increase revenue or decrease costs.  These potential benefits need to be balanced with the capital and operating costs of any new solution.  Everyone knows that crystal balls are rare, so the revenue win is tough to sell internally without some serious proof. Costs are easier to justify as the logic is generally quite obvious – one can make a store remove a resource or redeploy it, and those costs are known and if reduced can be allocated to the project.  If we look at the Magic Fitting Room, it appears that revenue uptick is the key sell here.  The challenge will be whether what works in New York City will translate across the country and whether the business will sign up for the increase in their revenue objective if the solution is implemented.  The answer could well be yes, but sober second thought must come into the picture to ensure that long term benefits are fully analyzed prior to implementation.

Long Term Viability – iPads, Multitouch Screens, Large Format Widescreens and Social Media are the items I hear about a great deal when I talk to retailers, and it’s not surprising as that’s what interests society at large about technology.  These are all sexy solutions with tangible and visibly appealing assets to show off in stores.  I am personally a huge fan of all of these things, but consider a few questions:  Are these products built to be used in a retail environment for many years?  (Ever dropped an iPad?) Are these platforms proven for use in a retail environment with all of the problems of dust, dirt, thousands of touches, impatient and untrained customers, coffee spills, and more?  If the fundamental functionality of a solution is around sharing pictures on Facebook and Twitter, what about the dependency on those changing platforms moving forward?  Once again, the solution may well be worth it, but retailers must consider the fact that implementing solutions like this is costly and given today’s increasing pace of change, retail customers will now bring technology with them to the store that will outpace what can be put in the store.  Whatever is used, it’s important to invest in commercial grade solutions and to try to leverage whatever devices the consumer brings with them where viable and appropriate to minimize investment.

Ongoing Support – There are two sides to this one.  First, on the traditional break/fix side of the equation, what are the costs going to be?  The cost of an iPad approaches the cost of a regular Point of Sale eBox.  It is unlikely that an iPad will last the 7-12 years a retailer will want from a POS, and depending on the situation, it is either a non-repairable or swappable item on site.  If it is swappable, an inventory of iPads will need to be kept available.  While certainly answerable, these issues need to be considered, and all costs carefully accounted for.  Secondly, these sorts of media rich platforms have a cost to  keep them current. In order to keep consumer interest the media will need to be fresh – new commercials, new products, and updated offers and promotions. This is always the hardest part of media rich solutions and social media – it essentially requires ongoing resources to be successful – something people may not have time for, and for which retailers may not be well organized.  While this may be a terrific outlet for marketing, do they have the people and resources to update the solution?  Most retailers don’t keep this kind of creative talent on staff.  The cost of these creative campaigns needs to be considered in the balance of benefits.

Fit to Demographic – Does the platform suit the targeted market of the retailer?  42% of Canadians are on Facebook, but are they the 42% that buy from your store?  Is your average senior citizen on ‘The Twitter’? Are the platforms user friendly? Most people will give you a puzzled look.  The iPad is easy to use, a 2 year old loves it.  I agree, but how many users beyond a certain age and background show interest or comfort in pinching to zoom or using any multi-touch interface elements?  The Magic Fitting Room is in NYC full of young, moneyed professionals carrying smartphones; it probably fits that situation.  It is important to consider the fit of a solution across an entire chain.

Operational Integration – The most important and often overlooked solution element is how it fits into the ongoing operations of a retailer site.  Does the solution ensure that product offered is on site?  Does it direct customers to the right locations and resources in a store?  Is the solution updated as situations change?  If there are any inconsistencies in the solution that put the on-site staff in an awkward position it doesn’t allow for a consistent and flawless shopping experience and on-site staff will distance themselves from it to avoid the wrath and complaints of customers.  It’s important to be clear to on-site staff as to the functionality – what it does and doesn’t do.  It’s also important to underscore to staff the upper management commitment to a solution to ensure its long term use and life.

Every consumer facing organization has to make challenging decisions on technology.  Each organization has its own needs and requirements – make sure all of the elements are considered.  Technology could well be the answer.

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!

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