2013.30 | wearable technology & retail

fashionable google glass

After years of experimenting with barely wearable technology, society is beginning to accept wearable technology as part of our every day life.  From bluetooth coats to change tracks on your mobile, to heads up displays in ski googles, wearable tech is slowly and innocuously making its way to the mainstream.  As with so many technologies, there are opportunities for retail to provide a customer experience to suit the needs of their constituents.  Consider the following wearables and their impact on retail.

glasses – Yes, google glass look ridiculous, but work is underway to remedy that shortcoming.  if glasses with augmented reality can be made to look less ridiculous, rest assured there is a significant segment of the population that will wear and use them.  Recognizing the potential concerns of arming people with subtle recording devices, some places are doing are banning them.  While this is an understandable reaction, can bans be maintained if google glass and other augmented reality systems become indiscernible from regular eyewear?

There was a time when whipping out a camera in a store would be so noticeable that store staff would react immediately and may ask you to stop or to leave.  Now it’s more common than not to see someone using their mobile in a store.  It now requires effort to tell if someone is taking photos on store, and it’s challenging to address reasonably even if you could tell what they were doing.

crystal shopper

Mobile usage in stores is everywhere, fuelling the concerns of showrooming so common over the past few years.

If glass becomes common enough, controlling client interactions in store becomes a bit more challenging.  With a heads up display and hands free operation, comparison shopping gets a little easier.  In fact, the Crystal Shopper app lets users comparison shop hands free so that when glass ramps up for distribution next year, you can expect other similar apps to find their way into the hands of consumers.

smart watchesPebble made a big splash with support to the tune of over $10 million on Kickstarter last year.  Pebble is a watch that connects to iOS or Android devices via bluetooth.  Out of the box, the unit shows the time, sms notifications and messages, gmail notifications and messages, controls music tracks and are essential geek status symbols.  This sidekick to the mobile allows users to keep their mobile in their pocket instead of constantly pulling out their mobile to communicate, a benefit to which consumers indicated their support with their wallets on kickstarter.  The Pebble vision is to allow developers to make apps to build on this functionality via an SDK, though this has been slow to pick up to date.  Samsung wisely took this show of support to heart by developing their own smartwatch scheduled for release in fall 2013. Samsung has added the ability for developers to build apps for their watch via an SDK.


While they are fun gadgets, retailers may wonder what value they may hold for shopping.  There are a number of usages already possible.

  • Use your smartwatch to pay at Starbucks by scanning it at the register in place of the mobile device  I did it recently with a giftcard barcode substituted for a watchface. Now a customer can pay for coffee even if they forget their wallet AND mobile.  There is no reason a retailer couldn’t build an official app to enable gift card payments with a smartwatch.  One more small step towards not having to pull out anything, as the watch is already on your wrist.
  • As part of their initial release presentation Samsung indicated that they will have a number of apps available at smartwatch release.  One of them was the eBay app.  This app provides realtime updates of auctions so that bidders don’t miss out on their favourite auction items. Interactive notifications for other retail services could be implemented by others.

jewellery – There are a number of technology based jewellery solutions that have an opportunity to find usage in the wider world.

Screen Shot 2013-09-15 at 10.24.19 PMThe Nymi bracelet identifies the user by their unique ECG signature.  This bracelet is designed to assist with password replacement.  Being able to unlock our devices is a unique way to identify ourselves to our devices that could as easily be used for retail situations.  If a standard API is available to work with mobile devices like iPads or Android powered tablets, this bracelet could also replace signatures on deliveries, provide simple customer (loyalty) identification or to open lockers for shipment pickup.

Retailers are best to consider these wearable technology solutions as an opportunity.  Every new situation is an opportunity to differentiate.  LIke building mobile apps for clients to fulfill unrecognized needs or provide unique services that weren’t possible before, all of these devices represent opportunities.  The greater challenge is that the next big thing isn’t the ONLY next big thing.  Entertainment began with live theatre and added endless channels such as recorded music, radio, movies, television and more.  It hasn’t shed any of these channels.  It’s just adding more.

UPDATE 2013-09-17:  belt – Now wearable technology can assist with wayfinding in retail as well.  Mobile Travel Guide provider Triposo are experimenting with a belt that can help users to find their way without staring at a screen.  The gps app communicates with a special belt to direct users.  Four vibrating motors (front, left, right, back) are embedded in the belt.  As users walk, the belt vibrates the correct direction of movement and users move in that direction.  Get in store location working and now kiosks are not needed, and customers can keep their heads up as they walk.

2013.15 | Tables, Glass, Showrooming, Holographic Shoes


Interactive Table MenuInamo in London’s Soho has been providing a menu on the table that enables orders to be placed directly to the kitchen.  The projection system powered by e-table interactive allows the menu, table themes and games to be shown directly on the table.  It’s gimmicky, but the restaurant’s been in business for years, so they are definitely doing something right.

Google Glass Apps – Now that Google Glass is starting to make its way into the real world, we can look forward to some specially developed android powered apps to appear.  Wired has a few interesting ideas for initial apps.  Scanning apps seem a natural fit for a camera enabled solution like glass.  It would be a short jump to enabling Evernote to remember things you want to buy.  Also expect showrooming with products like RedLaser or Amazon to become even easier to use if people start wearing these kooky glasses.

Showrooming – Speaking of showrooming, that term is increasingly being turned on its head as e-tailers move into the real world.  Stylish and innovative online glasses seller Warby Parker recently opened a real world shop in NYC. Given the recent findings from Forrester that indicate visiting stores is what matters most to consumers, is it only a matter of time until we have stores from pureplay e-tailers like Amazon and JackThreads?


Holographic Shoes –  A recent ad campaign for Nike Free 5.0 made use of a holocube that realistically portrays an actual 3 dimensional shoe inside of a box that moves and flexes on its own, showcasing the flexibility of the design of the shoe to advantage.  The ad, installed in some bus shelters in Amsterdam has been effective in capturing the attention of passersby if the video is to be believed.

2013.07 | Wearable Technology

488057_10151438249817871_1163881505_nGoogle Glass – As the masses become increasingly addicted to our mobile devices, it comes as no surprise that the wearable side of technology would be the next prime target for technology companies everywhere.

Google released a new video today highlighting all of the things you can do with Google Glass.  They’ve including taking photos, tweeting, recording videos, video chatting, searching for images, getting weather reports, getting turn by turn directions (on streets and more),  pulling flight information and details, language translation, wikipedia searches and texting.

Apparently there is a contest kicking off to see which laymen get the first sets of Google Glass based on a 50 word application of what you would do with them (18+, US only, and…. you still have to pay the $1,500 and show up to get them in a few select cities.)

The interface looks really great and using them looks simple. It’s anyone’s guess whether this thing takes off.  I think they look a little crazy, and I’m not keen to hear “OK, glass” (the beginning command to activate the device) everywhere I go.  If you think people talking on mobiles or everyone looking at mobiles is aggravating, hearing “OK, glass” again and again is going to top everything.

That said, I didn’t think I’d get an iPad, but here we are all with tablets.  Crazier things have caught on.

Update: Check out this real life review of Google Glass.

8757681_origCynaps – If you’re looking to top off your geek ensemble, you may also want to pick up your Cynaps – the world’s first bone conduction bluetooth headset built into a baseball cap.   This device connects to any bluetooth mobile device so you can listen to music and answer calls without actually wearing any headphones in your ears.  The sound is passed to your inner ear via vibration pads that are flush to the wearer’s head.   The control panel for power and volume is in the bill of the hat.   They sell two models of the cap as well as a DIY version that you can mount into whatever headwear suits your fancy.

If this becomes common, we will no longer be able to tell if people are listening to music or talking on their mobile by looking at their ears.   Quite a change in social norms, and probably another interesting challenge for cashiers at a traditional point of service, who now can’t even tell if someone is being rude or not.

w680Smart Watches – With the success of the Kickstarter darling Pebble, there is lots of talk around the potential that Apple may jump in with a watch device as their next big deal.  While I’ve seen lots of articles on this subject, this article by Tom Chatfield at the BBC provides the best arguments for why it might happen, and provides some interesting perspective on how the solution could be useful.

What do all of these wearable devices mean for retail?  Like mobile, it’s a split scenario.    Consider how it impacts the customers, and consider how it could be used by retailer associates.

Wearable devices like these worn by customers could be used much like mobile is today but much less obtrusively.   It’s another channel, another benefit and another environmental factor for consideration.

Google Glass could be used for:

  • Showrooming – With the right SDK, apps like Amazon, or RedLaser can enable wearers to scan items by pulling them off the shelf and looking them.  The camera can recognize the barcodes (just like redeeming an iTunes giftcard with your facetime camera – try it – it’s very quick and satisfying) and return search details on comparable prices elsewhere.
  • Mobile Self Scanning – Google Glass could be used to port to a mobile app for users to scan their groceries as they go through the store, and then they could checkout with Paypal or some other mobile payment solution.
  • Price Lookup and Product Information – Store staff could use Google Glass to look at an item and get instant heads up on whether a product is in stock – if not, where else can they get it?
  • Loyalty – Based on the client information, information can be shown only to the eyes of the store staff in order to best serve the client without the client seeing the information.
  • Mobile Payment – For mobile payment, Google Glass represents an opportunity for multiple screens that could be beneficial in the case of whether a payment was accepted.  Instead of it showing on the mobile device, it would flash on the glasses where only the wearer could see the information.  Personal information could also be verified with clients without anyone nearby seeing or hearing it.

Cynapse  could be used for:

  • In Store Communication – Worn by store staff these devices could make it possible to have better communication among store staff across a large retail location without hampering their ability to hear customers with their ears being covered or filled with headphones.

Smart Watches could be used for:

  • Mobile Payment – Users could scan their watch instead of a mobile device – simplify the process and avoid mobile devices being dropped.
  • In Store Communication – Store staff could use them as price checkers (camera required) or for a simple paging system.
  • Apps – An iOS or Android watch would presumably either have access to apps on the mobile phone to which they are paired or may have their own apps that could be built by retailers or by third parties to be used by consumers.

As always, retailers need to be aware of these changes, think about how they threaten their business, and how they can be leveraged for gain.   If systems are able to talk to all of these devices, and there is a match between a retailers target market and those that use these devices, there is a real chance to take on the channels as true differentiators.  New twists on technologies like these can also be the tools that drive  retailers into the future by enabling their staff access to more and better information.

2012.29 | LevelUp | Drive Thru | Glass

Paying with LevelUp – The LevelUp payment system recently announced a new payment dock.  This payment system has users link a credit card to a 2D barcode they scan on a special dock at participating retailers. Their new dock now apparently allows for NFC as well.

NFC is an interesting choice given the ongoing non-adoption of NFC on many mobile devices.  It’s been next year for sure since 2005, and the iPhone 5 didn’t have it, but hey, the Nokia 920 looks incredible, as does Windows Phone 8, and they offer NFC, so you never know.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have many options given the ongoing uncertainty around mobile interfaces and payment infrastructures.  Bluetooth is a good option to keep – never know when that might show up.  The new dock sure appears to hide a Genesis Imager under that white case, does it not?

Drive Through Grocery Pickup – Tesco recently announced it is tripling the locations that offer click and collect for orders.  Online grocery shoppers can opt for picking up their orders at the store in a special drive through area instead of having to be at home to accept their order during a specific delivery window.

It’s interesting how demographics, geography and timing play such massive roles.  Publix decided not to pursue this channel at the beginning of 2012 after a 2 year pilot at three sites.  This appears to be  solution that has to have the right fit and it may be difficult to find.  It’s certainly a polarizing subject.  There are many interesting comments for and against on a retailwire article on grocery delivery/pickup.

Google Glass – There was lots of talk back in the spring about Google’s Project Glass.  For the uninitiated, these are a set of glasses that effectively overlay a smart phone experience on glasses so users get the benefits of a smartphone without the smartphone.  The user interface elements are ‘projected’ over real life in front of your eyes.  To date, most of what has been shown to the public has been concept videos and a live demo at Google I/O.  Wall Street Journal’s Spencer E. Ante – a regular human outside of the Google Hive got to try them out.  Sounds like it’s not ready for primetime, but that’s how new tech evolves!  This is still a technology that should be watched one way or the other.

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