2014.19 | shelfie | repack | #retailing

Photo 2014-10-06, 8 55 58 PMShelfie – Looking to reduce the disappointing out of stock experience we’ve all encountered at one time or another, the good people at DataCrowd offer the cleverly named Shelfie app for both iOS and Android to remedy the issue.

Shoppers who see an out of stock at a store take a picture of the items tag and empty shelf, upload it to the app and the GPS details and products in the image are used to notify the retailer.  Apparently DataCrowd will take steps to advise the retailer of their out of stock issue, who will ideally take steps to tweak their replenishment model to avoid the problem in the future. The shopper, for their trouble, gets points for reporting the shortages to use towards gift cards.

This is a great use of crowdsourcing.  Why not put a simple tool in the hands of the masses to collect data to drive useful insights.  It will be interesting to circle back and see how this project works out.

A very brief look at the app indicates that the number of points that are awarded for reporting drive relatively small rewards.  The app store images show 100 points for one scan, and 10,000 points required for a $5 gift card. That’s 100 scans of out of stocks for $5. While a meager reward, it’s reasonable and a fair offer for what  a shopper would get for telling the store staff; which would be nothing.  While it’s not for everyone, there is definitely a coupon cutting crowd at the supermarket that would enjoy this game.

I fully expect that same coupon crowd to hit the supermarket at full tilt on late Saturday afternoon and fight the stockboys to take a photo before they replace the merchandise!  It’s a great idea.  Anything that has a chance to reduce out of stocks is a positive. via Springwise

CaptureRepack – One of the challenges with online shopping is that eco-conscious shoppers miss the opportunity to bring their own bag or eschew packaging all together.  While recycling all of that cardboard and plastic is a good answer, avoiding the waste is even better.

Repack has developed re-usable packaging and a system to use it for eCommerce retailers.  Shoppers pay a small deposit when they purchase an item from an online store.  On receipt of their products, they flatten the package and throw it back in the post for return to the retailer.  On receipt of the packaging, the retailer refunds the deposit.

While this seems a bit overdone, who among us has not received a huge box in the mail for replacement headphone earbuds or some other tiny item?  Given that many retailers also provide free returns, and services like Trunk Club have many boxes going back and forth, the idea seems like one with some merit – one that could protect shipped items and save the retailers some packaging costs if the items are done right. via Trendhunter

Capture#retailing – Always on the lookout for monetization avenues, Twitter has announced a couple initiatives that may be of interest to retailers looking to add twitter to their list of channels where their shoppers can purchase their merchandise.

Buy Button – In September, Twitter announced public access to a Buy button that certain retail and other partner would use in the Twitter mobile app. Twitter wants to make shopping on mobile devices simpler and say they will store your card details to make it easier to shop in Twitter after that first purchase, presumably by not having to enter the details again.  Frankly, there are so many parties trying to do this already – what with Apple Pay and Google and various others trying to do the same thing.  Not sure that they will get a lot of uptake just by saving a credit card  number.  Also – a buy button is just one click away from a mobile website link. Why does twitter need to put a special button?  Why would retailers with perfectly serviceable eCommerce platforms need a button when a link will do?  Especially when the retailer wants to provide their own unique experience and pull client details into the process.  This may work for musical artists to sell t-shirts – which seem to be a lot of the initial partners – but major players seem unlikely to do more than test the waters with this one.

Amazon Wishlist – Amazon never turns their back on an opportunity to sell through another channel.  Amazon has enabled shoppers to save an amazon item in a tweet to their item wishlist by replying to the item with the hashtag #AmazonWishList. While this one is handy, it seems like something only the most die hard twitter fan would want to use twitter as a way of adding items to their amazon wishlists.

While these are really great attempts at thinking differently and putting together interesting pieces, it would be very surprising if these were to take off in any really large volumes.  That said, who can say what will take off next?   Perhaps Snapchat will add buy buttons to Our Live Stories next.  Retailers can never tell where the next channel for business will arise.

2014.18 | iOS8 for retail

CaptureiOS 8 will be released this week.  Among many changes to the operating system for apple mobile devices, there are a number of changes that are worthy of consideration to retailers.

Apple Pay – The moment Apple Pay was released, a flood of POS providers showed their support and ability to enable Apple Pay on their platform (my own employer among them).  Apple are releasing the program in the US with support from a number of well known tier one retailers.  While there is no way of knowing whether showing an apple logo on the retailer’s door will get people to finally jump to a mobile wallet, it’s a good strategy to keep options open in the event it becomes a commonly requested payment method.

apple-pay-retailers-iphone-6-announcementRetailers in Canada that implemented new pinpads for EMV  over the past few years enabled NFC on those pinpads as a matter of course.  With that NFC capability, they should be well placed to enable Apple Pay when it becomes available in Canada.  US based retailers that do not currently have NFC capability and are working through EMV certification would do well to include NFC and Apple Pay integration as part of that process.    The incremental cost of enabling Apple Pay as part of an overall EMV effort is likely to be minimal.  While it would be optimal to deploy quickly to take advantage of consumer interest, EMV takes time and if the devices onsite do not have NFC capability, a deployment of new devices will be necessary.

It will be important for retailers to track where and how Apple Pay gains traction.  The area of focus may vary – hospitality and small transactions could be the sweet spot, but perhaps it will be popular with shoppers at luxury retailers.  Retailers should watch closely and ensure that their shopper’s preferences are fulfilled.

Photo 2014-09-15, 9 09 00 AMScan Credit Card for eCommerce – While much was made of the ability of scanning scan credit cards to add them to Passbook, the ability to scan credit cards into Safari for eComm purchases is also a nice addition.  As someone who makes eComm purchases on my mobile devices for items such as movie tickets, making a purchase is an effort.  Shoppers must TYPE their full name, credit card number, expiration date and card security code.  I have those memorized, and it’s still clunky to do on a mobile.  For some retailers one also must type in a verified by visa password.   If that whole process can be replaced by a scan from my phone, or an autofill from my safari keychain, it saves a whole lot of typing and removes obstacles from mobile purchases.  Retailers who enable this function are likely to drive more sales through their mobile channel with the removal of obstacles.

Capture2Location Based App Shortcuts – On earlier versions of iOS, Passbook provided a lock screen notification for Starbucks if you were in a store.  Passbook also provided a lock screen notification for a plane or movie ticket if the time for the ticket was approaching.  While this was a convenient workaround an unnecessary pin code entry, it also required some setting changes.  For Starbucks, users had to identify “favourite” sites that enabled Passbook to provide the lock screen notification for Starbucks payment.

iOS8 provides a non-Passbook lock screen shortcut in the bottom left of the screen based on your GPS location.  Users have noted that their iPhones with apps from Vons, Tesco, Starbucks and more  show an app icon in the bottom left of the lock screen.  When users swipe up on the icon at bottom left, the app is opened with out a PIN [Update: you still need your PIN to access the full app.  Passbook = no PIN).    While it may appear that beacons are at play, it sounds like it may be driven by GPS as some users had no connectivity at the time.  One user also indicated that a Costco icon showed at the bottom left even though they did not have a Costco app installed.

Retailers stand to benefit from reduced barriers for shoppers to use their mobiles once again.  Making an app easier to access while actually at the retail location is a great idea.  Providing a visual cue right on the lock screen is even better.  This access sets the stage to enable retailers to bring online and stores together with some unique functionality.

CaptureHey Siri! – The latest iteration of Siri allows users to access the personal assistant without having to push a button.  iPhones can now listen for users to ask for help.  Siri is also finally going back to its roots with integration to more services.  Siri is able to listen to songs for you with Shazam to find and purchase the name of the song/tv show/movie you are observing.

While Siri will be a great sales tool for Shazam and iTunes to sell it doesn’t help other retailers much on the surface, but it does indicate a possible door widening to integration with other services.   When Siri was originally launched, it connected to 45 services, but after Apple bought them, it connected to only 12.  The founders of Siri are working on another service – viv – that promises to take the personal assistant to another level – and ideally connect it to a plethora of services that can access it via natural language.

Retailers that can make their transaction engines available to channels like AI personal assistants will be exposing their products and services in a new way.

Privacy – In past iterations, mac addresses were easily harvestable from idevices by pinging them with a wifi signal.  In essence, ‘free’ consumer tracking was possible.  With iOS8, iDevices provide a pseudo MAC address until consumers actually establish a connection with the wifi network.  This means that retailers and other consumer facing organizations will need to track consumers via an iBeacon option or even through accepting a wifi connection with shoppers.

Making the MAC address data private is the right thing for retailers and shoppers alike.  All retail programs should be opt-in and retailers and all consumer facing organizations should be clear on data tracked, for what purpose, and allow shoppers the right to opt out of anything they are not comfortable with.  Selling is a two way street and being as honest and straightforward is possible will have the best returns in the long run.  Shoppers who are willing to provide their data for improved service are not hard to find, and everyone appreciates an honest trading partner.

CaptureIndoor Positioning –  Apples latest offering enables indoor maps and wayfinding to be more easily implemented by shopping centres and department stores.  Apple has made iPhone motion sensors available to their API.  With that API update and a more powerful processor, indoor systems can access phone data to make navigating large venues simpler.

Retailers that leverage any tool possible to provide access to their products and services make themselves more readily available to shoppers.

iOS 8 looks to be a landmark release with lots of new features and functions.

Check out a longer list of deep dive functionality, and please share any retail oriented features discovered at release!

2014.16 | google indoor maps

CaptureOn a recent trip to Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto, I noticed that Google Maps indicates the stores within the building directly within the online version of maps as well as within the iPhone mobile app. The functionality is enabled by the Google Indoor Maps Program.

I prefer not to install retailer or mall specific apps solely for location finding. They clutter mobile home screens with rarely used apps. It makes more sense for shoppers to get this data where it belongs and where users look – in maps – online or within a map app on their mobile.  Providing maps this way removes the barriers to getting what shoppers want – the location of the store they wish to visit.

Picture2The indoor maps work pretty well, though on the mobile it can be a bit finicky to zoom correctly to get the store name to reveal itself. Users can touch a pin to show current location in the building. For multi-level shopping centres you can also select the level via a handy popup. Check this out at The Eaton Centre in Toronto in Google Maps as an example.

This is a tremendous offering from Google for retailers. As part of the Google Indoor Map Program, the facility owners control the indoor map, which makes the most sense as it puts the ability to update the information in the hands of those who have control of what is in the building and have a vested interest in ensuring the data is accurate.

All shopping centres should upload store details as a service to their tenants. All retailers should demand this service and ensure that their stores are represented correctly.  Shoppers should demand this service from retailers and shopping centre landlords.

The biggest challenge to wayfinding solutions is keeping the data current. Wrong location data represents lost sales and shopper frustration and retailer’s real estate teams should keep a close eye on their store sites in shopping centres to ensure the data is current. Oversight is bound to vary by facility.  Google Streetview can become dated depending on the location as stores change, which they do frequently.  Updating floor plans is more easily completed and where shoppers are likely to look.

Google also ups the ante with Google Business View – the ability to show the inside of the stores, like Google Streetview for the insides of buildings.  This seems more oriented at unique individual shops versus retail chains, but may be a way for retailers to bring some traffic in to unique flagship stores or new banners or concepts.

If Google wants to take these maps to the next level as I expect they will, expect Google Now to give shoppers a list of chain stores in the mall to visit based on their email messages and receipts in Gmail. No need to download store site or mall apps. A deeper step would be to enable a Google Card to show emails from the Gmail account divided into offers and transactions so that users can consider deals or have transaction details available for returns from their most visited retail establishments, and allow users to pull up info quickly and easily and have it ready before they know they need it.

Associate facing devices in stores could also leverage the indoor maps so that store staff can assist shoppers with directions. Department stores may even wish to have various departments mapped within the store to fully direct shoppers.  Google Indoor Maps represents ‘free’ IT infrastructure for retailers that should not be overlooked.

Accurate location data makes life easier for a segment of the population who are often high value clients and this data will soon be expected by the general population.  Get those stores on the maps and share the news with shoppers!

2014.05 | bring eComm cool into the store

CaptureAmazon recently released Amazon Flow with some fanfare.  Instead of having to scan barcodes, users of the Amazon app can now use the camera on their mobile to recognize products visually.  While this image recognition capability has been around for some time in apps like SnapTell or Pic2Shop to scan books and CDs (which we all just download now anyway, right?), Amazon appears to have established a larger database of images for products that go beyond books and audio recordings.    Now it’s possible to add items to an Amazon eCommerce cart without even scanning a barcode.

How can a traditional retailer compete with the ongoing headline grabbing and constant additions to the Amazon technology arsenal?  There are certainly many excellent technological and operational answers that retailers are implementing, but why not bring some of the unique new tools being built to improve retailer eCommerce business into the store to enhance the customer experience?

One key strength of retail stores that is coming to the fore in 2014 is the unique experiences provided in stores. One of the challenges in providing a tremendous customer experience is the incredible amount of information available to everyone.  With online resources, an unprecedented amount of product information is available to consumers, and they use it.  It’s increasingly difficult for store associates to provide value and a great experience to clients who enter the store with access to the Internet in their pocket.  It only makes sense to provide tools to store associates to level the playing field.

There are some unique services available to eCommerce retailers that could be used to advantage by store staff when a customer comes to visit a store.  Consider just two examples:

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Furniture – Everyone has gone furniture shopping at some time or another, and has made the trek to the store with measuring tape in hand, trying to pick the perfect bookshelf, chair, or table for their home.  Most of us now take a photo of the room we are looking to decorate for a point of reference as part of the shopping excursion.  What if the consumer could pick a product and then drop a realistic looking three dimensionally rendered version of that product into their own picture of their home?  Move it around the room?  Change the colour?   Cimagine provides just such a solution to retailers.  Why not put that same functionality on tablets in store? Clients could share their home photos with talented decorators for a consultative discussion on which products would suit their home.  The decorators could then share the photos with their best furniture options in them for the client to review at their leisure or for them to share with friends for input.  The same tool could well be used for home consultations.

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Fashion – One of the biggest challenges around shopping for shoes and clothing online is sizing.  Everyone knows that standard sizing is tough enough in a single store let alone across all banners and manufacturers, there are a number of online add-ons competing to make it an easier task for retailers to give consumers the right fit and the best style.

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True Fit is a sizing plugin that allows users to enter in their sizes of their favourite shirts, pants, and shoes.  Using that information against a cross reference of many brands and products allows True Fit to highlight products that are a good fit given your size and body type.  The plugin will even suggest the right size for the consumer given their profile information.

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Dressipi provides a slightly different service.  Dressipi allows women to develop their own Fashion Fingerprint that highlights the right sizes and styles for them to wear across a range of brands.  The site then provides a range of products on the Dressipi site pulled from retailer sites that suit them to help narrow the purchasing effort.

Both of these services provide capabilities that could be easily leveraged within a store environment by savvy store associates.  What if store associates could pull up a shopper’s profile and have a better idea of their sizes from True Fit?  Less time in the dressing room, less looking for sizes for the customer. What if store associates could see the styles that Dressipi recommends?  Less time trying to figure out what styles may flatter the customer; and the potential to get them more items they like more quickly.

Both the furniture and fashion examples highlight the new sorts of tools to which consumers are just beginning to get exposed.  Why not take advantage of those tools to give associates the opportunity to provide real value?   It’s an achievable goal, and with a few other enablers, these associates can make these transactions seem magical by pushing items from these tools right into a POS transaction on the tablet without scanning a single item, take payment and send the clients on their way.   Sounds like more fun than shopping online!

2013.35 | subscription retail

closet-sciSubscriptions represent both a valuable service to consumers as well as a valuable retail sales opportunity.

Instead of selling a single item with a single sale, subscriptions allow for an ongoing revenue stream from that same sales effort.  Amazon has offered Subscribe and Save for regularly consumed items like toothpaste, cereal, razor blades, and diapers for some time.  Combined with Amazon Prime with its unlimited free shipping, Amazon presents a formidable offering of ease of purchase and the convenience of not having to buy staples on an ongoing basis.

While these subscription offers were primarily a concern for food and drug retailers in the past, subscription services for specialty and apparel items are becoming increasingly common. Here are just a few representative offerings:

Bonobos recently released Closet Science.  Prospective clients receive an email with a link to an entertaining questionnaire about their lifestyles that drive a style profile.  Based on the established profile and opting in to price range options, customers are AUTOMATICALLY sent a new outfit of shirt and pants each month.

Manpacks exists to allow men to avoid the oft ignored ritual of purchasing new socks and underwear on a regular basis.  Users register online with their preferences and receive regularly scheduled shipments of socks, underwear and other personal sundries.

hunt-club

Birchbox is a product discovery service that provides a monthly subscription service of cosmetic and other samples to registered users.    The service costs $10 for women and $20 for men.  Users can opt in to purchase items based on their favourite discoveries from the subscription service. (thanks Greg!)

Frank & Oak offers the Hunt Club.  Join and you get a “crate” every month of three items try.  Clients select their items by a certain date each month and the items that are sent to them in their crate.  Clients can buy them or send them back if they don’t work out.

This business structure is both a threat and an opportunity for retailers with actual stores. With the right infrastructure in place, competitive challenges like this can be addressed swiftly and advantages that online retailers do not have can be leveraged. Some strategies to address subscriptions include:

  • In low velocity and interactive retail sales areas of stores, enable simple subscriptions for items such as cosmetics. These offers can be enabled with currently available Offer Management solutions by enabling either a recurring offer or associate message for specific types of items once they have been purchased once. Ensure that the customer can opt out, and cashiers can note the client preference if they do not want an ongoing reminder or purchase. Retailers with both online and store presence could enable an automatic online shipping order
  • Let store staff provide the human touch to transactions by leveraging a clienteling solution to make recommendations to suit customer taste. Leverage current web based implementations of wish lists, social media, and web based recommendation engines on associate tablets. Web sites have to guess what consumers want, but your people can suggest and verify with them in real time.
  • Sizing is so important and a tremendous challenge for apparel. A great deal of profit in online retailing is lost to free returns as consumers uncertain of the right size for their frame enter online orders with multiple sizes of the same items and return non-fitting items at no charge. Leverage store staff knowledge of product to help clients get the right fit in store and help them translate fit to other lines or seasons of products. Clients could visit the store to try on their monthly outfit to ensure it fits and adjust their order in stores as needed if the fit or drape is not right. Capture information on sizes for clients and on product types and update the clients’ profile for future notice.
  • Enable simple checkouts on tablets – allow untethering from checkstands to talk to clients on the store floor. No scanning is necessary with the right solution, and a credit card on file from the website could be used to process charges. It’s important to emulate the simple transactions enacted on websites with the press of a button as much as possible to remove any friction from transactions.
  • Establish subscription services that provide the best of both online and store environments. Department stores are not limited by brands or products and could offer an array of subscription services by segments with clubs for each. Specialty retailers could offer in-store pickup of a monthly package or in store return for items that don’t suit.
  • Ensure that customer data is gathered centrally and made available for use by all stores, departments and organizations. That data is not just about marketing. It’s not just for eCommerce. The data needs to be accessible by operational store systems at every client and associate touchpoint so that it can be used to sell. With a central repository of information, all parts of the organization can be responsive to clients and corporate marketing initiatives by changing operational touchpoints, sales efforts and more for this challenge, but for all future competitive challenges. Consider a very simple example. With subscription based services in place with thousands of customers opted in, buyers could get a new perspective on how much of certain sizes to purchase based on the subscription base.

While subscriptions are certainly a threat to traditional retailers, with the right tools, and some well thought out strategy, it is possible to enable the same features that make those services so great and augment them with the best of personal interactions.  Take advantage of new trends and consumers and retailers alike reap the benefits.

2013.20 | design my outfit

When I want to buy clothes, I like to buy an entire outfit.  I’m not one for matching things.  I’d like to buy a shirt, pants, maybe a jacket – maybe even shoes and a belt.  I know for a fact that there are people at retailers much better than I at putting together an entire look, and not sell me a shirt.  When I used to visit menswear stores for suits, store staff  used to do that for me.  Most of my clothing shopping now is online and I’m noticing an unfulfilled need.

There are lots of ways to shop for clothing online.

  • Pinterest is helpful for checking out new things under Men’s Fashion and adding anything that catches your eye to your account.
  • My usual retailers constantly (really – constantly) send me email messages with different looks.  Many of them are for women and children (really – in the days of omnichannel ?!?)
  • Many retailers provide you with lookbooks, or blogs that can provide some direction for the fashion minded.

While all of this is entertaining, there is a serious shortcoming in the world of specialty retail.  Other than high end retailers, I’ve not seen any retailer do a terrific job of assisting customers to assemble an outfit or a wardrobe.  Everyone is still selling articles of clothing.  They are not selling a look – though they are showing them to us. Consequently they are missing sales and overlooking an opportunity to provide a valuable add-on service to their clients.

When you visit the ecommerce sites of  a Banana Republic as an example, they both have collections, looks and full outfits they show, but they make you work at trying to put together the ensemble.   BR recently sent me an email with their summer collection.  It shows a number of outfits for summer 2013.  Sounds good.  Say you like one of the outfits.  You click on it.  You get a list of shirts.  What?  Why can’t you just click on the outfit, and you show me all of the pieces so I can just buy the outfit?

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JCrew seem to be going in the right direction.   In their lookbook, when you click on a look, you get a list of the items in the picture.

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This is better.  Many of the pieces are populated on the resulting page – but not all of them.  The optimal scenario would be to see all of the elements together on one page, where we can swap out the blue shirt for a white shirt, change the belt, and see the look.  Even better than that, have various options pre-set to show the shopper.

Another pet peeve on the web sites.  These guys know my sizes.  I login when I’m on their ecommerce sites.  Why am I picking from lists all the time?  Why not default to my sizes I usually buy and let me adjust from there?

Stores that I visit seem to be worse.  When I visit a store, they’ll have a mannequin that is sporting a shirt and pants that seem a good option.  The shirts are right next to the mannequin, but the pants are AWOL.  Mixed in with fifty others types of pants that aren’t quite the same ones.   Why not label what the items are and put them near the mannequin?  If that’s not possible, find a simple way to tag the ones that are on the mannequin to make it easier for me to find them?  Some stores have staff that are good at this and some don’t.  Why not remove the guesswork for those people and set an operational program to do it for them via numbering, coloured tags or some logical scheme?

I’ve also always wondered why clothing retailers don’t partner with other retailers to let me buy all at once?  As an example, why not have Aldo put some shoes in here that suit the look. Then after I close my order direct me to the Aldo site?  Perhaps Aldo can give BR or JCrew a little kickback for the sale and everyone wins.

I don’t mean to pick on these particular retailers.  I mention them because I frequent their sites and buy their products and I like them.  I’m aware that the ideas I’m suggesting require some sophisticated coding, and significant thought and effort.  Partnerships with other companies are difficult – fitting fashion lines together would be fantastically challenging.  That said, showing me a whole outfit and letting me buy it with one click is going to get more dollars from me and probably some others as well.  If someone can solve it, there is real opportunity.

If the retailers don’t fulfill it, perhaps third parties can make it happen.  Pinterest may figure out a way to have users build outfits and set links to clients to get a sales commissions.  Perhaps services like Trunk Club can go downscale and fill the need.

Has anyone seen this done better?  An online valet service?  A retailer’s ecommerce site that does it well? Let me know what you’ve seen!  I think this can be improved upon for the benefit of all.

2013.19 | opentable | illumiroom-kinect | concierge

opentableOpentable – If you haven’t stumbled on Opentable yet, you should definitely check it out and get it on your mobile.  Anyone can book a table at a restaurant with a PC or mobile device.  It does one thing very simply and it works.  And it does it for a fee and makes money.   I was reminded of this recently by a Gizmodo article that highlights the benefits very well.  Get it on your device.  The more of us use it, the more restaurants will subscribe to it.

In fact, if the OpenTable team are taking recommendations, how incredible would it be if this appointment making service was extended to hair stylists, mechanics, and even doctors and dentists?  Why am I still phoning for an appointment for anything?  All consumers should be able to pick an appointment and have it added to their mobile calendar  just like OpenTable.  OpenTable has the platform; all that would be needed is some branding to suit the other scheduling scenarios.  Reskin the app, get an iPad out to the sites – or even better, an API into their appointment systems – and we would never have to call again.

Even if that doesn’t happen, retailers and consumer facing organizations of all sorts should take note and make appointments easier.  Whoever can reduce the friction of making an appointment first will get an uptick in business.

Illumiroom-KinectkinectMicrosoft has made some announcements over the past month that indicate that their Illumiroom concept might actually see the light of day.  While Illumiroom is touted as a gaming platform, we all now that the big players in pizza automatically put an ordering solution on every console or device to be used by late night snacking gamers.  Expect the pizza team to have us all in an old school pizzeria within days of release.  That in turn should certainly drive some forward looking retailers to try some new ideas with Illumiroom in a concept store or even with an online store that will work with Xbox One.  It’s just another channel after all.

Even better, there were lots of Kinect hacks for real life shopping solutions, and with the release of Xbox One, the Kinect team indicated that the new Kinect will be released for Windows platforms.  This announcement means that solutions in stores now have access to a very cost effective visual tracking platform.  I would expect this module to be taken advantage of in a number of ways.  While novel attention getters like virtual dressing rooms are part of it, the more practical side of traffic counting and loss prevention could certainly leverage Kinect solutions.

waitroseConcierge @ Waitrose – UK based grocer Waitrose has indicated that they are going to add concierge style desks at the front of 100 their stores.  These desks will provide access to tablets to assist with online ordering, as well as some special services like giftwrapping and dry cleaning.  One would suppose that the services will expand over time.

At first glance, this does not sound like a significant change nor an earth shattering alteration in the lives of stores as we know them.  After all, it seems there have always been catalog counters at stores.  What I believe is different here is the recognition that these sort of desks are more likely to become a crucial hub of a retail store than a dusty catalog desk in the corner.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • With hubs like this retailers have a better chance of capturing sales that might be lost due to out of stock, by making it obvious where to go for help and providing a mechanism where you can order online to buy what you want right now via various options (buy now, ship to home | have item reserved at other store | pick another viable alternative item with input from customer service).
  • Store associates at the desk ensure that guests that are not technologically inclined can obtain assistance and ‘talk to a person’ as a significant percent of the buying population choose to do instead of using a traditional ordering screen on their own.
  • If customers wish to place an order online as they would from a traditional kiosk, the tablet is there for them to use.
  • Store associates at the desk can take the opportunity to show the less technically inclined how simple and useful it is to shop from a tablet exactly as they could at home, making them comfortable enough to do so on their own they don’t even have to visit the desk or even the store in future.
  • Stores provide an advantage over etailers  in that you could go pick up an item NOW.  If it isn’t easy to pick up that item, or the system doesn’t work, then the advantage over etailers is gone.  Making pickups simple and obvious ensures the advantage stays.  Having those desks covered by knowledgeable people will help hold together any bumps or errors with transactions as well.

Fundamentally what excites me about the implementation of these desks is that they involve a combination of operations, technology and forward thinking.  Too often technology is stuck into a store as an afterthought.  It’s important to be certain that there are benefits to the store, to the customers and to the retailer for any solution.  If all of the pieces are working together, the opportunities for success are much greater.

These desks are a recognition that shopping patterns are emerging and instead of giving everyone tablets, or changing a policy at head office, Waitrose have made this into a strategic plan that takes into account the situation, the customers and how best to serve their changing needs and expectations.  Expect to see more of this sort of structure change in stores.  These same thoughts can already be seen at Best Buy Canada.  Smart retailers will emulate them.

2012.04 | eBookstores > eReaders

I read a lot of books and since I got my iPad last June I have spent a great deal of time reading eBooks on my device.  When I bought it a year and a half ago, I only read a few eBooks, but that number has been steadily increasing.  In fact, over the last 6 months I’ve bought more than twice as many eBooks as traditional, and I expect that the number of traditional books I’m buying will only continue to decrease as I become accustomed to using an eReader.

From a retail technology experience, the most interesting part of e-reading is not the device itself.  The interesting part of the e-reader scenario is that retailers have moved a store from the desktop into the customers hands.

One of the unique aspects of using an iPad or an Android tablet device is that there are multiple apps that provide a software version of the e-Reader experience. On my iPad I have Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Goodreader, and Bluefire readers.   Which is the best really depends on your needs and preferences.

Goodreader I find best for reading PDFs and many other file formats. That solution provides a PC like experience where a directory tree can be accessed and manipulated and files can be read, moved and more. It is a basic reader that works well for downloading and reading some of my 50 years of Mad Magazine PDFs, free books from the Internet Archive, or trade publications and studies that I want to read and keep in directories. It allows for notes and annotations that are useful – particularly for work reading.  While a very useful and free application for many purposes, I wouldn’t recommend this one for beginners who just want to read books.

I also have Bluefire for a very specific purpose. Early adopters of eBooks will remember Adobe Digital Editions. I recently decided to pull down an ebook only available on Digital Editions, and Bluefire was the best solution I could find to get that format on my tablet. Bluefire works fine, but I prefer apps with direct access to a bookstore as I expect most users do. I’m not interested in moving files around or changing formats or any of the other bothersome plumbing that Bluefire required.

iBooks is Apple’s eReader app. There were big hopes for iBooks based on the iTunes juggernaut. The app works well and is very polished in the Classic Apple manner. It was first out of the gate with attractive colour images of the book covers and art, but beyond the polish is just a bit lighter on functionality than the Kobo and Kindle apps. It originally lacked night reading functionality (white text on black background) which is important to me (no lamp clicking or bright light to trouble my sleeping spouse as I read at night).   On the whole it is very functional.  Note:  I haven’t played with iBooks 2, but I’m sure that ups the ante.

Amazon’s Kindle App is a very strong entry. It’s very simple and fundamental, but that also means it is intuitive. Changing fonts, navigating tables of contents and taking notes is well done. It is also easy to move books in and out of the archive to the main book shelf.   The app is also available on the iPhone and your place in the book is synched flawlessly (same goes for iBooks and Kobo). I never thought I would read on my phone but it does lend itself well to that should you unexpectedly catch yourself without your reader and time on your hands.

My personal favourite at present is the Kobo eReader app.  The Kobo app looks great, it has great note taking and bookmarking features, and the night reading feature meets my needs very well.  On the down side, Kobo changes the app constantly and seems to think that I want to share my reading habits with all of my Facebook friends and constantly wants me to do so – a flaw I work very hard to ignore.  I will at least give credit to the fact that Kobo is putting the effort into trying new things and staying ahead of the curve.  I have also managed to get library books into Kobo at one point, but it wasn’t easy.

At bottom all of these apps work well, but what makes any of them absolutely stand out?  Their stores.

Goodreader and Bluefire have no bookstore.  This is a non-starter for me.  I’m not going to use them as as my default reading app unless it’s easy to get library books into them.

iBooks have a great app.  They have the only bookstore that you can buy from directly within the app.  Apple decreed late last year that they were going to charge a 30% fee for everything sold within an app – an untenable business model for other booksellers.  Apple doesn’t have to pay a fee to themselves, so they have a monopoly on in app purchases.  While that gives them far and away the best user experience for purchasing, there is a problem.  Most of the books I want to purchase are not available on it.  I’ve only personally purchased one book from them.

Amazon had a great store on the iPad, but with the changes to apple policy that all went away.  Instead of a in app store, Kindle has to tell customers to keep a weblink on the iPad to their ebook store.  From there, the Kindle bookstore available to me is a bit of a debacle. First, it is a true webpage and has none of the simplified look and feel of a tablet app or tablet formatted webpage, making it less intuitive to less experienced users.  It feels like one has been dropped into a giant warehouse built with HTML from 2005 with no rhyme or reason.  It is easy to search but suggestions for purchases are way down past first screen requiring a scroll to see it. If a desired book is not available in Kindle format it just doesn’t show up but lower on the page there is an option to buy the hardcopy. While I understand that, it felt strange for the first number of times I used it. From a user experience and interface perspective it could improve.   Let’s be clear, though, Amazon are far more interested in getting you to buy a Fire or a Kindle, so they have spent their time building an intuitive interface for those devices instead.  [Note: Since I wrote this, they have upgraded the page and it’s actually a bit better.]

Kobo are also hampered by having to provide a weblink for users on their iPads.  The store itself is far superior to the Kindle store on the iPad – web page or no.  It’s easy to navigate, and simple to find things.  It’s formatting fits on the tablet well.  They also have most of the books I’m looking for and – surprise of surprises – their prices have been lower of late.  They also recently updated their app to show some shelves that include recommendations.  A nice touch.

Some thoughts on all of this that are applicable to any shopping experience on a mobile device.

1.  The content is as important as the app.  The app has to look good and be functional, but if there is no content to back up the app, I’m going to lose interest.  The prices also have to be reasonable.

2. Making the user experience very very simple will sell more stuff.  I’m so sick of having to enter my login and passwords to buy books.  I know Apple is to blame for that, but figure out a way that I don’t have to do that.  Having to go back and buy the book on the webstore after reading the first chapter is really quite lame.  I should be able to just hit a button to get the rest of the book at the end of the chapter.  I’m also sick of hunting around for the button to download a sample.  Some of the stores make that hard to find.

3. Give people options on sharing.  I’m sure someone loves sharing all of their reading habits and opinions via social media.  That’s terrific, but don’t keep hitting me over the head with it if I’m not into it.  It gets downright bothersome.  I would appreciate a simple way to tell specific friends I think they should read this or that book – directly – without the world knowing.  Perhaps ask me at the end if I want to recommend it.  Maybe I could even get some points if my recommended friends buy it.

4.  All of the ebookstores could improve.  I like the fact that Kobo now suggests books I might like right on my bookshelf, but their recommendations seem a bit simplistic.  If I buy a book from an author, I don’t want every book on my recommendation shelf to be from that author.  I could figure that out.  Amazon makes some reasonable suggestions but I have to go online to see those.  On the whole, the ebookstores still feel like a web page to me.  Things shouldn’t feel like a web page anymore.  We’ve moved on to apps – or at least an app like interface.

5.  What are you using all of that data for?  Store and selling data is really interesting, but the data about consumption must be a new window that could not be cracked in the past.  As a consumer I could get all freaky about privacy and what the retailers know about me, but I actually hope that the eBook sellers are mining all of this data.  The apps know the time of day we read, they know if we read the book in one sitting or over months, and they know if we actually finish or not.  Seems like they are sitting on a really rich set of data that might be interesting to publishers and authors.  If it means more books I want to read and a strong publishing and book selling industry I’m all for it.

I’ve come to enjoy the convenience of eReaders.  I can bring lots of books with me, read without the lights on, keep notes, search within the books, and buy books wherever and whenever I want.  Kudos to booksellers for not falling into the same trap as the music industry.

eBookstores are really only just getting up to speed and will be a fascinating window into mobile commerce that should be heeded by all of those retailers trying to harvest business in that space.

2011.49 | December Retail Tech Links

Queuing  – This is always topical in discussions with retail clients, and something on which everyone has an opinion.  Check out this WSJ article on queuing and the various strategies retailers are using during the 2011 Christmas season to make the consumers’ wait more entertaining, faster, and productive – or at least enhance that perception.   I prefer a single to multiple queue myself.

Google Store – I was slow catching this one, but apparently Google opened up a Chromezone store in the UK; confusing the masses who thought their apps were free.  Apparently they are using it to push Chromebooks.   I guess they didn’t want to leave Apple and Microsoft to go it alone.  Can’t wait until Facebook starts opening stores – it’s the only natural progression.

Wantful – If you’re having a hard time picking Christmas gifts this year, here’s a tool to help you out.  Visit Wantful, answer a few questions about your giftee, and the site will provide 16 curated options.  They will deliver a custom printed book to deliver to your gift target.   They can then pick their favourite from the list and it will be shipped to them.

Boo.ly – While you’re finishing up your Christmas shopping, or searching for New Year’s deals, you can price check by using an add-on from Boo.ly with your browser. Boo.ly will provide information on competitive pricing, coupons and deals based on only your searches; whatever engine you may prefer.  One more challenge for retailers to navigate in the time of increasing price transparency.

Window Shopping Online – People like to window shop.  Amazon’s longtime Windowshop beta provides a slightly different online shopping experience, but TurnHills.com provides a more literal online window shopping experience, with actual photos of storefront windows of major brands.  In the same vein, Google has been talking about their Business Photos and integrating them with Google Streetview for some time.

2009.06 | Linkedin | Consistency | Think Different

Linkedin is Useful – Social networking isn’t just about showing off how many friends you have..well,actually yes it is, but Linkedin also has a very useful Companies feature that shows most popular contacts, new hires and career paths for each organization. Beyond a way of seeing where your friends move, it’s a great tool to obtain up to date information about the best contacts for new ideas, and a way for vendors and buyers to avoid cold calls.

A Consistent Customer Experience – The importance of a consistent experience and brand across channels is becoming increasingly important in Canada. With point of service already well established, the internet and mobile channels continue to grow. For the first time a majority of Canadians bank online – 53% in Q4 2008 – 35% of them use the Internet as their primary channel, followed by ATMs at 28% and in person transactions at 24%.

While retail probably will not go that far, 53% demands attention from retailers, and habit and comfort with these channels is likely to drive consumers towards them for retail as well. As digital natives age, they will demand it. 84% of Canadians now use the internet, and broadband subscribers continue to grow with 27.9 broadband subscribers per 100 inhabitants; making Canada the leader in the G7.

More surprising is the opportunity around mobile. Only 61.6% of Canadians have a mobile phone – the lowest of any developed country. This represents a market of 20 million people that is only going to grow and become increasingly sophisticated as smart phones permeate the market. NCR is well placed to help our clients serve these customers across all channels with solutions like SelfServ Checkout, Advanced Marketing, and Mobile Refactoring and can provide some insight into the benefits of this multi-channel consistency.

Think Different – New ideas in today’s economy is what is needed to weather the storm. Simple changes always seem obvious after the fact, but are more difficult to pinpoint than you think. A few standouts include: rethinking the cereal box, shelf moving robots, mobile reviews, RFID ad activation, subscribing to consumable products and the $300 million button. Simple.

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