2012.42 | Tech Trends to Shape 2013

Fast Company recently released an article about the technology trends that will Shape 2013.  These 20 items cover a broad range, but almost all of them are worthy of consideration by retailers.  Check out just a few of these items.

CaptureSmartphone accessories become smarter – As the article indicates, smartphone accessories are already getting smarter. Going beyond the usual accessories like Nike Fuel, Jawbone Up, Fitbit, and Wemo, we can expect to see a whole range of accessories such as the AliveCor ECG referenced by Fast Company article.

From a retail perspective, this trend will drive a market for new devices, but for retailers and shoppers it also provides more shopping channels. Consider prescription pill bottles that can ensure you take your meds and automatically add refills to the mobile app on your smart phone when they are near the end of supply. Consider electric toothbrushes that remind your smart phone that you are due to replace your toothbrush head. These are just two examples of how devices and products in our home can talk to our smart phones.

Retailers need to be certain that they are prepared to take advantage of these sorts of small changes as they occur so that their brands are positioned to take advantage of these technologies to simplify shopping for their targeted consumers and lock them in like the Amazon Kindle Store does for eBooks or iTunes does for music.

Think how easy it would be go connect this to Amazon Subscribe & Save.  Consumers don’t even need to wait.  They could build their own with enabled devices using IFTTT to get different services to talk to each other to do this.

800px-Jurvetson_Google_driverless_car_trimmedWe lose control of our cars – Google and all of the auto manufacturers certainly seem to be pushing towards making self driving cars a reality. Autonomous vehicles are now legal in Nevada, Florida and California and have driven thousands of miles already.  Volvo is looking to have self driving cars in 2014.

This completely changes the shopping perspective when going from one destination to another doesn’t involve being part of the driving process. Imagine a new sort of shopping regimen created by the free time given to people by not having to drive. Imagine how important it will be for retailers to have inventory online by store so that our cars using our smartphones can direct us through the best possible route to get home and get all the things on our shopping lists to get on with our lives.

Once again it’s important for retailers to keep an eye on these sorts of developments and make their systems as open as possible for services to be leveraged so that consumers can interact with them from whatever channel they choose.

We embrace a new kind of patina – This idea says that what makes things ours will not be the scratches and dents on the watch we use our whole life, but the personality we bring to our profile.   That personality will be something that drives our interactions with consumer facing organizations.

Leveraging the information that consumers are willing to share with retailers along with low cost technology means that more and richer experiences can be provided using alternative interfaces within stores.    This means using their data to identify them and to provide them a customized experience based on their preferences, past purchase history and more.  These interactions could be with any sort of screen – large format, projected, or anything.

From a retailer perspective this means that touchpoints and content are more important than ever.  Thinking through the message, the brand, and what the touchpoints are meant to be are a key element of any roadmap.  Operations, marketing and technology need to be inextricably linked for any of this to work at all, let alone achive a differentiated successful solution.

CaptureHuman computer interaction gets more humanistic – Computer interaction from a retail perspective is already becoming more humanistic with tools like Siri (Book a table for 2 at 6) Google Voice Search (Where can I buy a copy of Shawshank redemption) that allow voice interactions to transact. Projected virtual assistance at stores like Duane Reade automate greetings or the sharing of information required at consumer facing place of business with a human like interaction. As the technology gets more sophisticated, we can expect a personal shopper that can discuss our shopping options in a more Siri like interactive conversation.

This provides the opportunity for retailers to provide a more curated customer specific experience in a consistent targeted manner that can be updated centrally.

Data ecology becomes more diverse – The amount of data generated is exploding.  That’s not news.  From a retailer perspective, there  are new sources to consider.  eBook readers can tell us how long it takes people to read a book.  It can tell us if they finished it or not.   It goes way deeper, allowing for a new level of understanding of clients.   New channels mean more data and more complexity.

From a retailer perspective, it will be important that all of these new channels take into account how data will be gathered and analyzed.  If you build a mobile app and only 400 people use it, that may sound like a loser if you have thousands of stores.  However, those may be your most important customers that lead the rest of  your customer base.  Without the data to understand who they are, retailers could mistakenly discontinue their most important customers’ favourite channel.

Interaction choreography goes shopping / Faces become interfaces – These are just new flavours of interactive experiences in malls.  Gesture based catalogs on large format screens is to yesterday’s gift registry kiosk as the 60″ flatscreen is to yesterday’s 23″ tube television.  The facial recognition is interesting, but will certainly bring up some issues around privacy.  Both of these fall under the comments on the patina item above.

The article has many other great items.  Read them all.  Stay open to new ideas, and consider how they will influence your business and your customers.  Most importantly ensure that anything considered brings value to the organization and the customer – however you define value.

2011.44 | Holiday Shopping Tech Tips

Everyone is looking for ways to simplify the Christmas shopping experience.  Here are a few of my personal recommendations.

Sears Wish Book for iPad – The catalog updated for today.  Make wish lists and order from directly within the calendar app.  All the fun of the catalog with the connectivity of the 21st century.  Shop from your couch as you were meant to do.  Available on iTunes.

Gifting Books on kobo – Shop online for an eBook, choose to gift it, and an email is sent to your gift recipient.  The recipient clicks a link on the email and the book is delivered to their kobo account so that the can read it on their ereader, mobile phone, tablet or computer.  You can also send an eGift Card so that they can pick their own.

Toys R Us Gift Cards Value Check – Got a gift card to use at Toys R Us but aren’t sure how much is left on it?  Go to a price verifier in store and scan it and the price verifier will tell you how much is on it.   No need to wait in line or have do that awkward dance of cutting in line to just do one little thing.   Also ensures unscrupulous cashiers are telling you the truth about card values without a receipt.  This works in various retailers.  Give it a shot.

Target Gaming Kiosk – Not sure which game to buy for your young gamer?  Want to be sure a title is appropriate?  For cross border shoppers, you can use the Target Video Game Advisor.

BMO Mobile Paypass – Skim a few seconds off your payment process by using the BMO Mastercard mobile paypass to buy lunch on your shopping trip.  Using the card on the back of your phone can save getting your wallet out.

Mastermind Reviews – Not sure what gift to pick up for your little ones?  Before you go to the Mastermind store to take advantage of their free gift wrapping, be sure to visit their website for gift advice and to minimize your time in store.  Mastermind makes great use of video reviews by their store specialists to show you the latest toys including what you get, what it does, and more.

Find things faster at Chapters Indigo.  Can’t find the books you want at Chapters Indigo?  Use the kiosks to find what you need.  If the store you are in doesn’t have the book, you can see which stores have the item in stock so you can visit them immediately.  Alternatively you can order a book directly from the kiosk for shipment home or to the store.

Use Evernote for your Shopping List – When browsing online I constantly see items that would be perfect for that special someone.  If I don’t make a note, that idea will be gone forever.   Make use of tools like Evernote to keep Christmas lists.  Evernote is a free web based service that lets you make notebooks of clippings, links, audio files, and more.   Using an applet in your web browser you can grab a link or even the entire web page including pictures, product details, pricing..everything.  All of your notebooks are accessible on the web, on a tablet or a mobile device, so you can even take the list with you as you shop with all of the details, pictures and prices.   Make a Christmas Shopping notebook, tag any items you add with the recipients name, add some notes, save it, and you have the most detailed Christmas list ever with almost no effort.

Buy a Movie Ticket on your mobile device – If you decide to go to a movie on a whim this holiday season, you can save time in line by purchasing them on the way to the theatre.  Just purchase tickets directly on your mobile device.  Empire Theatres has offered mobile phone ticket purchases for some time.  Cineplex also offers mobile ticket purchases from their app, and even lets you print those tickets at the theatre from a specially designated kiosk in some sites.

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.

2010.01 | eBooks > Physical Books | Mobile POS Ideas

eBooks > Physical Books – Amazon sold more ebooks than physical books on Christmas day.  While, as the article says, this was obviously driven by the fact that many people who received Kindles as gifts were purchasing books, and few people are likely to shop on Christmas versus many other days of the year, it is still a watershed moment.  This event strongly points to the Kindle as a potential iPod for books, and to a trend that may actually see consumers finally lean more towards electronic devices for reading media.

More importantly to book retailers, the reader itself represents a cheap, simple, direct channel right into the pocketbooks of consumers.  (Convenience, recommendations, 7×24 availability, and immediate satisfaction..what more could one ask for?)

The jury is still out, but this is an encouraging development for the Kindle and e-readers in general.  Add to the eBook discussions all of the incredible scuttlebutt of the continuously rumoured Apple Tablet, and we can expect lots of talk on electronic reading in general across the board.

Mobile POS Ideas – More potential for POS and mobile solutions came to the fore of late.  Of particular interest, more iPhone credit card readers, and movie theatres leveraging a mobile POS platform. While it’s still early days, and functionality and reliability leave a lot to be desired at present, look to this technology to become increasingly common in appropriate consumer facing places of business.

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