2012.18 | New Interfaces for Retail

Lots of ideas around new interfaces have been showing up this month.  Here are a few notable examples:

UI Concept for Sharing Files between Devices – Check out this User Interface concept.  While this example is to move an article from one device to another, why not consider an interface like this for a digital wallet?  It would be far more intuitive for a virtual cash register to show on a tablet, and a wallet on a mobile.  The cash register ‘sees’ a customer’s mobile wallet and they can ‘slide’ some virtual cash onto the cash register.  It seems over the top, but it’s increasingly achievable.  Using a visual interface that provides a bridge from the physical interaction of today to the virtual transaction of tomorrow can add a cool factor that could drive mobile payments more than what we see today.

Projected Interactive Retail Display – We’ve all seen how Microsoft Surface is able to react to physical objects.  Perch Interactive has put together a projected display to interact with physical objects in a store – translating the experience to one that online shoppers, and one would assume the millennial types, will understand, recognize, and enjoy.  This appears to be an incredible way to provide product information and recommendations to clients.  This should work particularly well in the low light environments of Abercrombie and Fitch type environments.

Connecting Facebook Likes with Real World ObjectsC&A in Brazil have set up a Facebook page for followers to like their favourite ensembles.  Those items are showcased in stores on clothes hangers with a display that indicates the number of Facebook likes directly on the hanger in real time.

2011.39 | Retail Linkdump

Robots at the Mall – Everyone loves robots, and malls in Abu Dhabi may soon be leveraging robots as service ambassadors.  The humanoid robots built by Barcelona based PAL Robotics  have touch screens built into their chests, cameras in their heads to allow them to recognize users, and wheels to allow them to drive around.  Instead of printing a map to a location in a large mall or hospital, the robots can lead you there.  Make sure you watch the video.  Very iRobot.

No Branch Banking 2.0 – While there were a few Internet only banks floating around with the first Internet bubble, one still needed a card to get cash at some point.  With our new mobile reality, Movenbank is offering a cardless banking experience based on the web and Android NFC mobile devices.

Mobile Phone Recycler ATM – While I’ve heard of kiosks to recycle old technology in the past, ecoATM now sports a camera to identify your old mobile device so you can get a quote on the spot.  via PSFK

eBay Mobile Image Search – 2d Barcodes are too unwieldly for many – or so it seems.  How about taking a picture of something you like with your mobile phone camera, and having your mobile look for that item on sale on eBay based on the image?   eBay recently announced that the eBay mobile app will have this capability in the mobile app by the end of the year.

Ikea Happy to Bed Campaign – Ikea’s recent online campaign makes use of a fancy Youtube trick, an interface to Facebook, and some input from the user to provide a very personalized shopping experience.  Make sure you watch the whole video.  You are somehow convinced to build a shopping list without knowing what was happening.

2011.10 | f-commerce

First there was e-commerce; then there was m-commerce, and now there is f-commerce to be added to the mix.  Not only is electronic commerce on the internet, it has moved to mobile platforms, and now it is creeping ever deeper into Facebook – which brings us to f-commerce – the effort to capitalize on the Facebook crowd by placing purchasing opportunities directly within Facebook.

Facebook has over 500 Million Users worldwide, and 50% of them login on any given day.  In Canada, as of March 9, 2011, there are 17,381,700 Facebook users.  Considering a population of  just under 34 million, retailers cannot ignore Facebook, and many of them have a Facebook page.  While some of the initial outlooks  on f-commerce appears to be a bit enthusiastic (1 in 4 have made purchases in Facebook already?), this is an area worthy of consideration.

It’s still early days for f-commerce, even though it’s been possible to order pizza via Facebook since I started this blog at the beginning of 2009, and Best Buy’s Facebook store has been in place for some time.  I’ve not seen any Canadian based Facebook stores (yes there are some that link to their web based stores…let me know if you see any directly integrated!), but the links are evolving and a few more are starting to show up directly in Facebook.    One interesting trend is the movement of CPGs into Facebook stores – PampersDove, Heinz, and Coca-Cola are good examples.  Another is that airlines are also entering the fray with Malaysia Airlines and Delta Airlines offering ticket purchases directly in Facebook.  To top it off, there was an announcement this week that Warner Brothers will rent movies online via Facebook.

This means one more dizzying element to consider in marketing strategy for retailers, but nothing fundamental has changed.  It’s all about selling product where customers want to buy.  It comes down to presence and preference.  Ensuring that wherever the targeted client wants to shop and where they expect to shop, they have the experience they expect from the retailer.   The challenge is integrating the ever increasing number of potential consumer touchpoints into a cohesive strategy and mapping out how to use the budget available for the best result.

2010.51 | Gift Giving Technology

‘Tis the season for gift giving, and gift giving itself is not above a technological upgrade. The ubiquity of gift cards today is easy to overlook.  They have become so mainstream it can be easy to forget how recently gift certificates were reverently pulled from under a desk, signed by the customer and embossed or signed at the store.   Everybody knows about giftcards, and you can’t escape them.   Not only can you buy them for your favourite stores, but gift card malls abound at retailers, more often seen than not.  There are gift card malls online.  It’s possible to buy gift cards for any retailer you can imagine.  It’s even possible to get gift cards for life experiences like driving a race car, or flying an air combat mission.  There are so many of them, that there are gift card exchanges online where cards can be bought and sold in an open market.

What about some new twists on gift cards?  How is technology being leveraged even further than moving a paper certificate to a plastic card?

Emailing gifts is increasingly common.  Papa Johns uses CashStar to allow their customers to send the gift of Pizza via email.  Staples is doing something similar.   Netflix.ca and Zip.ca also have gift options to allow customers to provide gift subscriptions via email.  Email is sent on date requested by customer, and gift recipient can register for the movies they want and watch online (Netflix) or receive DVDs in the mail for rental (Zip.ca).

Facebook as a gifting venue is moving in a few ways.  Traditional gift cards can be purchased from retailers on facebook, but Facebook giftcards with Facebook credit values can now be purchased at major retailers – or even by cashing in your coins at Coinstar.  These Facebook credits can buy a wide variety of electronic goodies like electronic games and items within the games to activate features and levels. 

Amazon is taking this electronic gift giving a step further.  Instead of emailing a giftcard, Amazon allows customers to Give Kindle Books via email.  Customers select the ebook they wish to gift, select ‘give as gift’, make their payment, and an email is sent to the gift recipient.  The recipient clicks on the et your Kindle book gift now and the book goes directly into their library.  No gift card redemption, no shipping, no customes, no wrapping and warp speed delivery.  Who could ask for more?  Merry Christmas, all!

2010.48 | Retail Technology Themes in 2010

As we are approaching the end of 2010, I have noted a number of common themes in retail technology.  While many of the progressions are not mainstream at this point, these are certainly areas that were discussed often and are maturing.

Social Media –  Impossible to ignore, but rather touchy feely in the results department, you can’t escape social media.  Now it’s a part of everything and you can’t escape it.  While it’s been maturing for many years, it really feels as though 2010 was the year that social media went mainstream and became fully commercial, with users being able to ‘like’ things.   The most common question from my customers is around how retailers are using and obtaining results with Social Media.  My best suggestion is to watch what other retailers are doing.    Expect social media to take matters into its own hands in the monetizing department moving forward.  Facebook credits, Facebook based stores, Facebook gift carding, and a strengthening Facebook eCommerce platform means more transactions are likely to take place.  None of this is really new, it’s just gaining traction.

iPad – The iPad is the Social Media of the device market.  We can’t get away from it either.  While still an potentially expensive an unproven long term tool, it has been embraced by retail at the consumer level and as a tool at the store.  Combining social media and iPads is even an option some retailers are using.  Naked Pizza is using Chimpadeedoo as a novel way to gather email addresses for email lists and special offers.  One example of many.

Mobile Scanning – This goes both ways.  There has been increased scanning of codes from mobile phones in 2010 for payments and offers.  With better cameras, more powerful smartphones and better software, consumers are doing their own mobile scanning as well.  Price comparison apps are the primary application, but gaming type apps that bring real life and the internet together have gained popularity as well.  A recent addition called Fooducate uses the technology to allow users to educate themselves on the nutritional value of their potential purposes.

Location Based Apps – The GPS enabled functionality of smartphones makes them a great fit for shopping based on where you are.  Localized searches are a boon to shoppers.  I can’t remember how I lived without that.  One great example – check out Zagat’s Food Trucks site to see if your favourite street meat vendor is nearby.  It’s only NYC for now, but you can see how this could catch on in urban areas.  Augmented reality really started with Yelp’s Monocle in August 2009, has also taken steps forward  in 2010 with more iPhones able to use it and an increasing arsenal of apps.  The GPS capability is only getting better, the technology purveyors claim, saying that we can now search within stores.

Mobile Payments – While we’re still not at mobile wallet nirvana, vendors can accept payments on iPhones, and now Blackberries.  [Except for Canadians and Europeans – anyone see an EMV version yet?] Given so many payment schemes, the electronic wallet is looking more and more possible.  Visa in Europe is even launching a service that will examine mobile location against credit card purchase location to minimize fraud and reduct false postive potential calls to users.

2010.34 | Canadian Retailers and Social Media

Update:  Permanent page with ongoing updates is available.

If you have been wondering what Canadian Retail organizations have been doing with social media, you’re probably not the only one.  Having spent a fair amount of time looking across the board, the use varies widely.  From squatting on a name, to full fledged use of multiple platforms with engaging conversation and offers specific to the audience on a platform, many retailers are feeling their way through the process and validating what the return is on using these platforms.  The common denominator is that everyone is experimenting, and given the low barriers to entry here, we can expect some exciting ideas to come out.   The new announcement regarding Facebook places last week should give the whole situation a new twist as well – adding where to the mix.

I’ve compiled a list of Canadian retailers with links to their respective social media sites.  The brands that seem to be doing the most so far are the ones that have a community of interest already, such as Holt Renfrew, Best Buy, lululemon and Chapters Indigo.  The thing I find so interesting is that consumers essentially have to seek these sites out.  Few of them are staring you in the face when you are on the web or looking at billboards, and yet some of them have incredible numbers of followers or fans.  175,000 people ‘like’ lululemon on Facebook as of August 20, 2010.  132,000 ‘like’ Aldo.  These are people who want to be publicly affiliated with a brand.  What an incredible opportunity for any business!

Have a look at what’s going on and weigh in on your opinion.  Who is doing well?  What’s working?  Let me know if you would like to see other retailers or platforms added to the list.  I plan on posting this chart along with more details on followers as a permanent page, though we can’t really rely on that as a measure of value added.   Let me know your thoughts on what you would like to see on a permanent page!

You can also see a presentation I put together including some recent examples of social media usage by retailers here.

  Facebook Twitter Flickr Youtube
Aldo [] []   []
Ardene []     []
Banana Republic Canada [] []    
Beer Store   []    
Best Buy Canada [] [] [] []
Blockbuster Canada [] []    
Body Shop Canada [] []    
Bouclair   [] [] []
Browns Shoes   []    
Chapters Indigo [] [] [] []
Cineplex [] []    
Empire Theatres [] []    
Fido Mobile   []    
Gamestop Canada [] []    
Gap Canada   []    
H&M Canada [] []    
HMV Canada [] []    
Holt Renfrew [] []   []
Home Depot Canada   []    
Home Hardware   []    
Home Sense [] []    
IGA Quebec   []    
iTunes Canada [] []    
Jean Machine [] []   []
La Senza [] []    
L’Occitane Canada   []    
lululemon [] [] [] []
Mastermind Toys [] []   []
McDonalds [] []   []
Mountain Equipment Coop [] [] [] []
Old Navy Canada [] []    
Planet Organic [] []   []
President’s Choice / Loblaw [] []   []
Rona [] []    
Roots Canada [] [] [] []
RWandCO [] []   []
Sears Canada [] []   []
Sobeys [] [] [] []
Toys R Us Canada [] []    
urban fare [] []    
West 49 [] []   []
Whole Foods Oakville [] [] [] []
Zellers   []    
zip.ca [] []    

Note: For some context on followers, see my list of twitter accounts with followers here.

Update:  Permanent page with ongoing updates is available.

2010.33 | Drive Thru Technology

Given North America’s car based culture drive thru is a crucial and often the largest part of any QSR business. Adding the logistical challenges of the outdoors and queued vehicles to the already challenging job of taking orders, fulfilling orders and accepting payment is no trivial matter.  There are many areas where new technology is being leveraged – sometimes in unexpected ways – to deal with this challenging pursuit for QSR operators.

Digital Menu Boards – With costs for hardware decreasing, incredible consumer acceptance of digital screens everywhere, and the capability to update screens and signage in any way at any time remotely and consistently, moving to digital menu boards is a logical step for QSR operators, assuming they can establish an ROI.  There are some excellent points both for and against using this technology, but assuming a reasonable ROI, expect these to slowly take over.

Ordering Kiosks –  It’s not surprising that the leap would be made from digital menu boards to an actual kiosk that one can order from in line.  A few organizations have built some promising solutions and are piloting.  I’m a self service user and proponent, but I’m torn on the question of kiosks in drive thru environments given the potential complexity of the operation.  My experience with self service is that it generally takes longer to use a kiosk like this to order than just saying what you want.  Mileage may vary depending on your business, but consider the time to speak the order “One large double double, please!” to at least 3-4 screen touches to just buy one coffee.  The touchscreen will be much slower.  Now consider a family carload and their constantly shifting of orders and special requests (Where’s the button for extra ketchup?)  Add that to hundreds of cars streaming through a drive thru, and you’ve got significant reductions in throughput, and a potential traffic problem as cars back out into the parking lot or onto the street.  QSR operators would need to carefully understand the impacts of their menu and their customer base to implement a solution of this sort. 

A potentially more efficient solution would be an integrated solution to a mobile device that would allow customers to pick all of their menu items on their phone.  With all menu items entered, the order can be saved on the phone, and displayed as a 2d barcode.  When the customer arrives at the kiosk in their car, they scan the 2d barcode at a reader on the kiosk, and the entire order is displayed on the screen for customer verification.  This means 2 button pushes, as well as the avoidance of a scratchy speaker discussion that the kiosk was meant to provide in the first place.  It also means the capability of upsell on the screen which could merely slow down the ordering process in the self serve kiosk instance. 

Payments –  Contactless via NFC was supposed to be the wave of the future (forgive the pun), but my experience has been that even if the drive thru is equipped with NFC readers, the cashiers act puzzled when you wish to use them.  Much as people claim to want to use it, NFC has not been embraced, and there are no indications of changes to consumer behaviour.  It’s more likely that new cars with their increasing array of technological wonders will work this out for us as outlined in QSR Magazine.  It would make sense to enable one’s car to leverage payments based on pushing a button for a drive through scenario, and as the article says, the cars may even direct us to our favourite restaurants.  Perhaps the payments will be made via Facebook, with more and more businesses selling directly within Facebook, Facebook credits and mobile ubiquity coming together to simplify the process.

No matter what technology is leveraged, it will be key to consider simplicity, speed, and integration in any solution.  Any technology or process change has to be dead simple so that the process is as easy as today or easier, or it will not be embraced.  Changes have to ensure speed is not sacrificed for technology’s sake.  The bar is high, and customers are used to fast service.  Slow it down, and they will move to a competitor.  Integration will become increasingly important given all the different ways in which consumers can interact with a business.  It is important to bring all of these interfaces together to gain the full understanding of a customer for a business, and to allow them to interact with the business in the way they choose.

2010.28 | Maker Becomes Retailer – DODOcase Study

I’ve found myself buying things directly from the manufacturer from time to time instead of going to a retail store for the purchase.  Having heard this trend highlighted at the Store 2010 conference in Toronto, I reverse engineered my own purchase process to understand how technology has changed the shopping process in favour of smaller players with niche products.

Before I received my pre-ordered iPad, I knew that I needed a case.  After a quick browse online, I had found that there were approximately a kazillion cases.  So how to decide?  I have gone through at least 3 cases on my iPhone, and it took experience to find one that worked in that case, and I’m still not blown away with what I have.

I tried hunting through Twitter – overwhelming amounts of data and nothing I want.  A few days later I came across a potential in one of my favourite blogs – uncrate.   It showed a case that looked like a moleskine notebook – the DODOcase.

I clicked through the link indicating where the trusty uncrate team found it.  On that page was a video review by San Francisco based blogger Kevin Rose who highlighted the benefits of the case (which is handcrafted in San Francisco) and why he liked it.  I searched twitter and googled the DODOcase to see what others were saying, and I didn’t see any red flags.  I checked out the DODOcase website – all looked good there.  They use Paypal – not unusual for a small enterprise like this, and they will ship to Canada.  It indicated a 4-6 week timeline which is a bit long – but it is handcrafted and since it’s precisely what I was looking for, I’m willing to wait.  So I placed an order on May 30.

Over the following weeks, I regularly visited the DODOcase Facebook page, which has all sorts of information, including videos of how they make the product.  They also constantly updated the dates for shipments on the page.  They regularly indicate what days’ orders were being shipped that week.  It’s also possible to peruse the page and see where customers have made complaints.  I’m happy to say that the DODOcase team appear to make every effort to respond and make suggestions on resolutions to customer issues.

On June 27, DODOcase cashed my Paypal payment, and I recieved an email notification of shipment on Thursday July 8.   I expect the shipment in a few days, and am looking forward to having the case I wanted.

So what does this all mean?  It has become possible to build a company from the ground up, have access to an international market who can find you purely through word of mouth, and maintain a relationship with many current and prospective customers via tools that are freely available online at no cost.    If someone has a great idea, the time to market is greatly reduced and intermediaries between the producer and the customers are removed.   You can even get micro-celebrities to give a no cost shout out.

Who knows where this goes in the larger scheme of things, but it certainly means that retailers will need to think out their value to consumers and manufacturers very carefully as there are more and more options for manufacturers to go to market.    DODOcase only started their business on April 1, 2010 and have built a viable business with back orders.  They kept it simple, and seem to be doing well without many bells and whistles.

For more information on this shift towards these social media tools and how they can be used to build a business, be sure to read Six Pixels of Separation by Mitch Joel.

Update – July 28 – Got my DODOcase on my return from vacation and love it.  Martin was kind enough to point out to me that DODOcase has deservedly won the Shopify Build-a-Business award !

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!

2009.51 | Quick Thoughts on Trends

Tis the season for packed schedules.  Given the lack of time for all, here are a few very brief items around retail technology (ok, some of it goes beyond retail) for 2010:

2009 has seen lots of change, expect more in 2010!

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