2014.10 | mink | #amazoncart | google shopping express

mink makeup printerMink – 3D printing isn’t just for plastic toys.  Mink is a makeup printer that allows any colour to be printed on to makeup substrate so that home users can prepare their own favourite colours.  Instead of being limited to colours that are pre-made and ready in store, shoppers can build whatever they want on demand.

It’s obviously early days for this technology, but retailers generally have better results when they to recognize disruptive technologies like this early and either get on board or find something that accomplishes something similar.    This is the same story as mp3 and eBooks all over again as immediate gratification will make the status quo of purchasing pre coloured makeup less convenient.

It will be interesting to see the real solution itself and how easy it is to use.  A pretty white box looks nice and simple, but for a solution like this to fly it has to be dead simple.  As is the case with regular printers, they will obviously run out of substrate or colour just when it is needed most.  Having automatic fulfillment would avoid such issues. Retailers should be moving towards open and connected systems to enable automatic replenishment for clients.  Connecting a system like Mink to an ecommerce subscription service or standing order for automatic fulfillment online with the printer ordering its own supplies will be key to its success.    Expect an Amazon plug-in sometime in the near future.

amazoncart#amazoncart – As the retailer of every channel but a store (so far), Amazon recently expanded its ever growing list of channels it makes available for consumers to interface with them.  The newest is #amazoncart, whereby if twitter readers see a product that they like, they can reply to a tweet with a product link with the hashtag #amazoncart, and the item will be automatically added to their Amazon shopping cart online.

While not the right strategy for every retailer it is an interesting attempt by Amazon to strengthen their already extensive hold on default online shopping cart online.  If a shopper has an item in a retailer’s online cart, odds are good they will complete a purchase for that item, or at least have to remove it from the cart.  Allowing this functionality also allows Amazon to quietly capture the twitter account of their clients – which can be mined for more information on how often this strategy results in a sale, or to leverage big data solutions to improve other product recommendations.

This is potentially a great tool for Amazon devotees, but for products that aren’t carried by Amazon (yes, those exist, especially outside of America) and if shopper preferences skew to other retailers, there are many other ways of tracking items that don’t require sticking them into a cart.  Not all great items are found on twitter, but for shoppers using twitter, the web, or even an aggregator like Zite or Flipboard, shoppers can easily add items to services like Evernote, Pinterest and even Pocket to track shopping lists.  No need to remove from a cart.

google-expressGoogle Shopping Express – Google recently opened the gates on an Amazon Prime type offering called Google Shopping Express where shoppers can order items online for immediate same day delivery from retailers including Costco, Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods and more in Manhattan, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose.    The service is available online or via iPhone and Android apps.

Initial reviews and reviews for the apps indicate that the service works very well and is either free or very very inexpensive.  The service is reminiscent of Kozmo.com, a well known dot.com bubble company established to provide this very same service that expired in 2001.  That service suffered under the high cost of providing this service on low value items, but they obviously did not have the Google machine behind them.

The question that arises is whether Google will provide this service at a loss, charge clients a commensurate amount for the service, or find another way to finance it within other elements of their business.  There are a wide array of options they could investigate moving forward.  What current retailers need to carefully consider and be ready to move on is if Google mines all the data for items shoppers may want delivered in this paradigm and then decides to stock them on their own and fulfill them to shoppers directly.

2014.04 | january linkdump

CaptureGet me there – eCommerce could really meet stores if Google follows through on their latest concept.   The idea is that advertisers may find a transaction valuable enough to foot the bill to pay for a potential client to come to their store.  If an advertiser signs up for this service, a “take me there” button appears on the ad that can be clicked and a taxi can pick up the user to take them to the store.  Their patent even considers a self-driving car being used to pick up potential clients.   Great idea in theory, but there’s lots of room here for people to try for free rides. 

Anticipatory Shipping – Amazon apparently filed a patent for shipping product before clients order it. The idea is that items that are likely to drive demand in an area are shipped to that area and redirected to a person who orders it to minimize shipping time.  I haven’t decided if this is genius or lunacy.

Miserable Men – If you happen to visit instagram, check out Miserable Men – an account full of images of unfortunate gentlemen who appear to be experiencing a sub optimal shopping experience as a shopping partner. While it’s comedy, and we’ve all been there, there has to be some opportunity here for cross-selling, or at least retailers could attempt to entertain or otherwise reduce the pain inflicted on these poor souls.  The account would be better named Missed Opportunities.  IF we are so hyped about the customer experience, here is an area ripe for improvement.


Apple Payments –  There have been ripples again recently that Apple is making moves to attempt to enable mobile payments in the real world.  With the base of devices they have, they could certainly make an impact.  However, changing payments to mobile devices is rife with challenges.  Google failed at it.  Square was expected to be a big deal at Starbucks and so far hasn’t made any noise beyond the small business level so far.

There are so many opportunities for failure with mobile POS payments between two parties in a store.  To succeed, there are changes to retailer software, changes to retailer devices, training cashiers, training consumers, data connectivity, user interfaces, security, and much much more.  Those are only the initial technical challenges.  You also need to establish consumer confidence in your payment system and make it as universally available as possible.  You also need to get credit card companies on board in some way, and find a way to make money on transactions that are already laden with fees from various players and find a way to do it without charging consumers.

As an early adopter, I would be excited to see an Apple payments system, but it’s a challenging initiative.  As a retailer, it’s best to keep your payments options as flexible as possible to ensure that if something does come along, that your solutions are in a position to enable new tendering options as easily and quickly as possible.

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.

2012.41 | New Ways of Retailing with Tech

googleshoppingGoogle Shopping –  It seems almost everyone is expanding their retail presence, making it possible to buy anything, anywhere, and anytime.  In addition to Google Play –  Google’s online store for android apps, ebooks, movies and music, consumers can also visit Google Shopping – a shopping portal apparently on the rise.

Consumers have another shopping channel and retailers have another confusing choice to make around partnering with Goliaths like Google.  Do retailers rely on Google to point clients to them for free, pay with adwords, or leverage a sponsorship with Google Shopping?  Do they post an enhanced catalog on Google Catalogs?  Increasingly retailers lean towards curation of goods and services to provide differentiation.  Does Google take away some of that differentiation with top 10 lists and 360 degree views?  Perhaps, but it could potentially drive more traffic in the near term.

PepsPassbook Promo – While still underwhelming and in need of expansion, Apple’s Passbook is probably the best mobile offer/ticket/giftcard platform out there by potential user count and likelihood of uptake by consumers.  Consmr recently offered a reasonable bribe to new users.  Download Consmr, and receive a Passbook ‘coupon’ for a free Pepsi Max redeemable at Kum & Go stores.

This is the first notable campaign to use Passbook to meet my notice.  Getting that large base of users to try a coupon via Passbook can only help expand the footprint.  There will certainly be lessons to learn, as this is not nearly as simple as it appears from the perspective of those offering the free Pepsi Max

Hopefully this Passbook offer only provides a one time only coupon code that is a unique code.  If it doesn’t, all the user has to do is take a screen capture of the coupon (It’s as simple as pressing the power button and then home button and then waitning for the flash on iOS.  Swipe your hand across the screen on newer Samsung Android for the same result.) and then use it again…and again…and again.  Just because coupons are electronic doesn’t make them less subject to fraud.  In fact, a user could send out that coupon to all of their friends in seconds – negating the intent of the offer as only one person had to download the Consmr app to get the coupon.  Beyond a unique coupon code for each user, retailers can also tie coupons to unique identifiers as part of a loyalty program to ensure redemption matches the expectations of those making the offer.  Retailers and marketers have to be sure the target audience AND the technology are all considered or losses and campaign failures can result.


Square GiftcardsSquare is now offering electronic gifts as part of their service.  Square Wallet Users can give and receive credits for businesses that use their payment systems.  This is an intelligent and logical progression of the payments system and provides another potential expansion point as everyone’s mom joins Square to try to give their grown techie offspring a free coffee or book.

The article says they are waiting on Square giftcards for Canada.  Seeing as we don’t have Square Wallet here today and won’t until 2013, that seems a valid point.

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.

2012.12 | The End of Money?

Having finished The End of Money last week, I can recommend it as a useful overview of all of the issues concerning a move to a cashless (or cash “less”) society.   I was particularly taken with the concept that all of us perceive and hold true the “value” of paper money, though effectively it is our faith in monetary instruments like cash that gives us that perception of value and nothing more.

We are so close to our money and monetary system, that we rarely stop to think about it.  The book underscored that point for me more than any other.  Money and gold are really just proxies of value that we perceive as instruments that can ‘hold’ value for us over time and make value transferable.  Taking the time to think about it, it’s quite incredible that we have somehow all agreed to this arrangement as a society; but we have.

I was also deeply affected by reading ‘Digital wallet’ will transform smartphone and how we spend in the Globe and Mail last week.  While the article revealed nothing new and was sketchy on details, the vitriole in the 335 comments was somewhat disconcerting.  Many of the comments from unsurprisingly anonymous accounts expressed outright hostility towards the idea.

While I have been enthusiastically anticipating and already using digital alternatives to cash, there are many individuals who are vehemently against a digital wallet.  As described in “The End of Money”, there are massive and pervasive concerns around this technology in the general public.

Some concerns outlined in the 335 Globe and Mail comments included:

  • being forced to use a particular payment network
  • transactions being tracked by banks, government, network owners and others
  • no privacy for transactions
  • account numbers and value being stolen
  • being forced to have and use a mobile device
  • being forced to use a mobile network like Rogers, Bell or Telus and paying them a cut of transactions
  • providing no additional value to citizens
  • ‘hackers’ taking over the system (by the way, the terms hackers and cyber anything have to be removed from the common lexicon – this is not the age of the information superhighway)
  • criminals stealing account information just from proximity the owner (NFC)
  • what to do when there is no electricity or your mobile device has no power
  • corporate organizations usurping or becoming a crucial transport to the sovereign responsibility of government for currency
There are many rational arguments in this list.  Almost all of them are issues today based on debit and credit payments.  Replace mobile device with card or mobile carrier with bank or processor, and the concerns are almost identical, be it a mobile wallet or a debit or credit card.
And yet, as I also found in The Future of Money, cash is not a panacea.  While cash can potentially provide anonymous, electricity free portability and ease of transaction in a way that no current widely used electronic format can, there are many issues around the complexity of cash – though they are more apparent to retailers to consumers.
In Canada we have had numerous reminders of the complexity of cash, but most consumers don’t think about them as complexities.
  • On March 26, a new $50 note was released to reduce counterfeiting of large denominations and increase acceptance of these notes.
  • Last week it was announced that pennies will be no longer be minted, and will be removed from circulation in Canada to save the cost of producing them – which has exceeded their value for some time.
  • The Royal Canadian Mint is in the midst of releasing new versions of the $1 and $2 coin (okay, loonies and toonies) which replace nickel composition with steel – once again, to reduce the cost of minting.

For most, these are news items for discussion with friends and colleagues.   For retailers and other consumer facing organizations, these are logistical issues that have to be carefully considered and dealt with.  Vending machines, self-checkouts, self service kiosks, cash drawers, cash counting equipment, counterfeiting measures, store associate training, taxes on purchases, rounding to five cents on cash purchases, end of day balancing procedures, and more all have to be considered.  All of them require time, effort, and more cost.

While the average consumer may consider these issues irrelevant to them, these are costs that are passed on to them one way or another.  If a retailer can find a way to deal with transacting more cheaply in a way that suits a target market, they should do so, tradition or no, and use that competitive advantage to win business.

So, what is the answer?  The answer is choice.

The issue I had with the comments on the Globe and Mail article was that people were basically responding as though they are being told cash is being eliminated and they have to use an electronic wallet.  That is not the case.  There will be cash, there will be debit and there will be credit for the foreseeable future.  There will also be electronic wallets.  These digital modes of transaction are currently options; not requirements.

There are all sorts of people and transactions in the world, and they should all be able to transact in the manner that they wish.  Cash, Debit, Credit and eWallets can all play a role.  [Don’t believe the eWallet hype? – check out mPesa.]

Electronic wallets are imperfect for many reasons.  It’s absolutely true.  So are debit and credit cards.   There is fraud, there is theft, there are many inconveniences associated with using cards.  And yet 65-70% and more of many Canadian retailers’ transactions are made via debit and credit.

Somewhere, somehow, somebody is going to evaluate the list of bullets in this post and see opportunity; see a missed chance to do things better.  With emerging technologies, and changing consumer attitudes to mobile and electronic transactions, it’s only a matter of time until mobile digital wallet options become a bigger proportion of the payments people make.

As retail technology professionals, we should ensure that all of the infrastructure we put into place provides the flexibility to accommodate future payment modalities – whatever they may be.  Reading “The End of Money” provides a great background on why we should be ready for these new payment models.  Understanding the history helps to drive us into the future.

From my perspective, the Government of Canada is responsible for the money supply including the Bank of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint.   They should be considering how Canada can move from a cash based society to a cashless society.  They should remember that they are not printers or minters – they represent monetary value in Canada and should continue to play that role electronically if it suits their constinuents.   They have already made a jump moving to polymer from paper.  Perhaps their next move should be silicon.

All of the national banks around the world should be considering this or find a way to harness private enterprises in this effort – before AppleSquareGooglePaypalStarbucksBumpPayGeodeWallet or others do it for them.

Update:  The Royal Canadian Mint has obviously been thinking the same way.

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.

2011.35 | MasterCard Mobile Paypass: Not Mobile Payment

BMO Mastercard announced yesterday that they are offering the BMO Mastercard Mobile Paypass –  a mobile payment solution using NFC and specifically the Mastercard Paypass solution.

I find it perplexing, though not particularly surprising that Mobile Paypass  is receiving a relatively loud fanfare in the press here in Canada – 27 articles as of the writing of this post on Sep 13.  The headline “First Big Bank to Launch Mobile Payment” is somewhat misleading.   The solution that BMO are offering is not remotely new, and it is not what I would consider a true mobile payment solution.

This solution is a sticker with an NFC tag that can be used to pay at NFC payment terminals at the POS in the same way that MasterCard Paypass Cards are currently used.  Customers tap the Paypass Tag on the back of the mobile device on the payment terminal and the card details are passed to the terminal for payment.

The MasterCard Mobile Paypass can adhere to the back of a mobile device, but it can be just as easily stuck to your iPod, your leather wallet or your keychain if you so wish.  Effectively one can also do the same thing today with a BMO MasterCard plastic card.  It fits in the cover on the back of an iPhone, and nothing stops anyone from doing that and leveraging a ‘mobile payment solution’.

If MasterCard Mobile Paypass is considered a mobile payment solution, Esso Canada SpeedPass and Shell Canada’s EasyPay should be as well.  These solutions are wireless key fobs connected to an account with a credit card number that effectively do the same thing, and have been on the market and available for consumers for many years. While not ‘offered’ by a big bank and only usable at a specific retailer, they have certainly been in the mainstream for many years.

All of the hype around mobile payments should be around a true mobile wallet versus using a sticker or a key chain to make credit card payments instead of a physical credit card.  While these are wonderful stepping stones that I use and will continue to use, the exciting part is getting to that true mobile wallet.

The following are my criteria for a true mobile payment solution:

1. Integrated Communication to Payment Terminal – The NFC or whatever communication technology that communicates with the mobile payment device is physically ‘built in’ to the mobile device.   As far as I am concerned, a true mobile wallet is not physically separate from the mobile device.  That module could be part of a SIM card perhaps, but it should be integrated to the phone electronically in some way.  NFC is preferred, as it does not require cellular or wi-fi data accessibility for payments to be processed.

2. Mobile Wallet Application Software on the Mobile Device – A mobile wallet requires a mobile application that can leverage the NFC or other communication technology as though it were a peripheral.  It should be possible to see multiple cards from various banks and card issuers and their details at the very least.  A more sophisticated version should also include loyalty cards, gift cards, transaction details, coupons and offers, tickets and even receipts for all purchases made with the card.  While the solution could be browser based, it should have an offline function at the very least for times of no data connectivity.

3. Ability to pay with Multiple Cards – The wallet should support multiple payment cards that can be chosen on the screen with the same NFC interface to the payment terminal.  Could be any credit card (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc) or any debit cards from any bank. Should also be able to work with retailer offered gift cards.

4. Card Additions, Removals and Changes – The wallet should have the capability to have cards added or removed in the wallet by the user or bank or card issuer.  The cards would use the same NFC interface on the mobile device to connect to the payment device.  The wallet should have a the capability to be ‘deactivated’ remotely by the user or card issuer.

5. User to User Funds Transfers – Ideally, it would be possible to pass funds from one user to another by tapping the phones together, based on the account of choice by the user.  This could be a release 2.0 feature.

This sort of solution is very different from attaching a tag to a mobile device and calling it mobile payment.  The keys to getting a solution of this kind in place have been covered many times in this blog, but the fundamentals in Canada are a widely available and popular NFC enabled mobile device, and an application backed by a company large enough and trustworthy enough that consumers will be comfortable enough to put their credit card numbers in their hands.  Both are challenges.  I won’t even mention encryption, security, EMV, or PCI.  That it must work within those parameters is a given.

Google Wallet is closer to this reality than anyone else, though there are always rumours of Apple, RIM and Paypal as well.  When the mobile wallet I describe above is offered, we will have arrived.  Until that point, beware the inflammatory mobile payment headline.

Update 9/15/11 – I understand from another article that e-mail receipts are also available with this option.  That is a slight change, but considering it is mainly for purchases under $50, the value of receipts for double-double at Tim’s.  Still, it is a step forward to e-receipts and less paper that I am definitely in line with.

Another consideration is that if a purchase does happen to be over $50, I’m not sure what the process will be.  With my current BMO Paypass card, there is a chip on it, so I insert the card into the pinpad and enter my PIN for more than $50.  I don’t think there can be a chip on this card, so we might be back to signatures.  I expect that they will have to put a signature space on the card so clerks can check it.  Now one has to pass the clerk the mobile device so that they can check the signature (don’t like that), and get a paper receipt which negates the benefit.  I don’t think retailers will love gathering receipt slips again now that EMV is in place.  It’s a good stepping stone, and I’ll be very interested to see how it works out!  I’ll get one if I can.

2011.31 | Shopping from your Car

The rebirth of the American auto business is thanks in part to the efforts of the car companies to integrate two great consumer loves – automobiles and mobile phones. It started out with Bluetooth integration to allow hands free calling, but given the increasing power of smartphones and their usability, auto makers are taking it up a level to provide remote control capability, audio integration and more.

I saw a wonderful demonstration of the potential of these solutions in the demonstration centre at my own place of business some time ago. At the time it seemed a bit fanciful to me, but over time, I’m starting to see the real potential of the idea.

At present the integration of mobile phones and automobiles is mostly linked to telephone calls and audio integration.  Some solutions are going a bit further as mentioned above, but there aren’t any shopping solutions that I have seen yet.

If we take that technology a few steps further you can imagine the incredible change that is coming our way.

Consider a drive home from work a few years hence:

You get in the car, and begin to drive home.  Your phone rings and it is your spouse.  They indicate that you are short on milk and bread, and that you had promised to pick up a jar of olives that day.  This sort of conversation is routine on a car ride home in today’s world.

The part that will change is that after you hang up the phone, you will then be able to ask your mobile via audio command to check the stores on your route home for three items: bread, milk, and olives.  Your mobile device can take the command given and can identify the stores in order of preference, price, or location.  You can speak the name of the store you would like to buy from, and the purchase will be made instantaneously over the phone.  You stop at the store and pick up the items purchased at a special counter – or even better – you pull up and someone puts them in the trunk of your car.  The receipt is already in your receipts folder in your email.

While it sounds like a bit of a dream, all of the solution components exist to do this today:

Smartphone with Automobile Integration–  The power of any of the smartphone mobile devices available today is well within the realm of reality required for completing these sorts of solutions.  Many new cars have bluetooth integration and that technology should expand and improve.

Audio Input to MobileGoogle has been doing this for some time.  It is getting more accurate, as well.  I use Dragon Dictation and have tested it in loud environments and it works well.  Apple is also rumoured to be building this into next iOS – expect others to do so.  Expect people to abuse it in public to everyone’s embarrassment, as well.

GPS Search along route – It is already possible to identify locations along a route using Google Maps.  While stores need to be identified in some way, sites tags could be used.

Inventory Search – There are already UK based services to price compare specific grocery lists.  While more rare in Canada for grocery, there are some that provide inventory searches in general merchandise already – Chapters Indigo and The Source already provide it.  If there is an API to get the information, it could be brought together for this solution.

Online Purchase – There are many services to purchase online already like Paypal, or a retailer can leverage an existing web store.

Paying without Entering a Credit Card – The purchase could be completed via a one click purchase by keeping a credit card number on file as  is already done by iTunes and Amazon.  The solution would have to be adjusted to a verbal equivalent, but this could be done using a solution like Amazon’s PayPhrase.

While this sort of solution would not be without its complexities, it is certainly within the adjacent possible.  Like the Tesco Korean Subway grocery shopping solution, or like the Starbucks Mobile Payment solution, it is a matter of assembling a number of components that already exist today and cleverly packaging them.   Being the first one to a solution like this could provide a terrific competitive advantage.

The greater challenge for retailers is integrating a monster like this into their operations infrastructure.  To make something like this really take off, execution would need to be flawless.  If the inventory is missing, or the store staff don’t provide a pickup, or the payment process isn’t simple, customers will not use the solution and it will be a wasted idea.

While this is a challenging area – it seems like a true possibility.  Retailers are already struggling with the many channels for sales – web, mobile, store, self service kiosk and more, it will only get more complex over time as these channels snowflake into various subsections – like mobile ordering via an automobile.

Beyond the complexities of all of the items above, there are two things for retailers to consider before being able to leverage a solution like this:

1.  A service oriented architecture of some sort needs to be in place to deal with ongoing requests for new channels. If every solution is custom, this will never happen.

2.  In order to accommodate customers via all of these channels and to understand what channels customers are using and what they want, it will be come increasingly important to implement a back end solution that allows retailers a view of customers across all of these channels as well as a vehicle to interface with them across all of them in the simplest most transparent way possible.  Without this infrastructure, the business will become increasingly fragmented and impossible to operate efficiently.

A solution like this would have been mere fantasy even 3 or 4 years ago.  It is exciting to see the possibilities for consumer convenience, and the potential for retailer differentiation.  Hopefully we will see implementations of this type in the near future.

2011.21 | Google Wallet Could Work

I’ve derided attempts at a mobile wallet for some time.  I want it as badly as anyone, but it has been an elusive dream for years.

If you look through the blog you can see my reasons for this skepticism.  It’s never been about the technology – that capability has existed for years.  It’s about the infrastructure, consumer readiness and not adding fees for the service.  I’ve been thinking about last week’s announcement around Google Wallet, and it could work – in Canada at least.  Let’s discuss just a few reasons why their model could work.

NFC acceptability at POS – While articles I have read about the US and Europe have indicated that they have not adopted NFC strongly, numerous Canadian retailers have built NFC into their infrastructure as they were forced to spend millions on getting EMV in place.  The EMV upgrade caused thousands of pinpads to be replaced, and untold hours of software changes and testing.  It only made sense to include NFC in that process to make best use of the investment.

This investment places Canada in a solid position on the number of POS sites that can accept NFC payments.  Not convinced?  Consider just a few of the major retailers that accept contactless in Canada: Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, Loblaws, Sobeys, Cineplex and probably many more where I haven’t used my NFC cards yet. (Let me know if you’ve seen it elsewhere in the comments!)  More sites where an NFC tender can be provided means more potential purchasing locations where a Google Wallet can be used, which drives potential use, and therefore more potential adoption.

One PIN to rule them all – Canadians have become accustomed to Chip and Pin over the past few years.  The unforeseen challenge of this new and more secure system is remembering PINs for multiple cards.  I have relatively few cards, but have 3 credit cards and a debit card.  Try keeping 4 pins straight in your head for whichever card you are using.  Using the same PIN for all four?  If you get filmed entering your PIN, you could be scammed on all of your cards.

If you use an NFC credit card, most retailers don’t require a PIN for purchases under a pre-set amount – generally $50 or so – particularly for their own cards.  I like using them for that reason alone.  Not entering a PIN at every transaction is a convenience to users and can speed throughput for retailers.  At the same time, having a single PIN on the Google Wallet means that the card could not be used unless that PIN  has been entered, providing an extra layer of security for an NFC transaction.

Usability – I’ve highlighted that any new payment solution needs to be extremely simple to use.  Your most novice user needs to be able to do this in 5-10 seconds flat in front of a queue of impatient people and a bored cashier.  The Google Wallet with NFC appears to get closer to this nirvana than other solutions.  My technologically challenged mother uses NFC cards regularly and loves it.  You “Tap n Go”.  Consumers can use the current pinpad at the POS just like they have done for years.  It’s comfortable.

Contrast this interface with Square as one example.  Square is an awesome idea and it looks slick, but is my mom going to use it?  Nope.  Too foreign.  It also requires the use of a solid data connection to work every time as transactions are completed via the network.  Anyone want to be held up relying on your local wireless coverage to complete a transaction? NFC gets around that by allowing the use of NFC which just requires the mobile device to be on.

Will my mother use this solution?  Probably not right out of the gate.  But a mobile wallet needs to be this simple to get widespread traction in the marketplace.  For those of you who may deride this need saying that our Gen Y digital natives are more sophisticated, watch your average mobile user at any point of service.

Many citizens (I didn’t say all – and they aren’t the only ones!) of this segment are so busy checking texts, talking on their mobile, or zoned into their own world listening to their iPod that they are often loathe to interrupt to complete a transaction. Mobile wallet usage needs to be so simple that one can open the app while they complete other activities while distracted.

I would also argue that Gen Y, while potentially more comfortable and trusting of technology than older consumers, are still subject to the needs of a simple user interface.  They are not necessarily any better at using technology.

Increasing Mobile Usage – While Canada lags behind the US in mobile technology, we are catching up.   99% of the 18-34 set have a mobile phone.  We are up to almost 25% of mobile phones with a data plan.  A target market of 25% of the population isn’t a bad starting point, and it will only grow.  This increasing use of mobile is also driving increased comfort with downloading apps like the mobile wallet.  Android is also gaining market share – providing a potential foothold.

The Google Factor  – Past attempts at mobile wallets in Canada have been pilots inevitably involving a mobile carrier, a credit card company, and a bank. Sometimes a credit card processor and/or a retailer got into the mix. All parties have been trying to figure out a way to split the profits for years – nobody has made it work.

Neither consumers or retailers will pay a significant fee for the privilege of carrying their phone instead of a piece of plastic. There has been no large monetary benefit to these parties to add additional cost and risk into the mix for the returns they have found or we would already have mobile wallets.  The carriers and handset manufacturers have not included NFC into the mobile handsets as they had no incentive to do so, and importantly – no universal application to leverage NFC if it were there.

Another problem is the issue of consumer acceptance.  Carrying a mobile wallet for every credit card, bank or other institution adds complexity, it doesn’t remove it.  Having a mobile wallet from some Silicon Valley start up you’ve never heard about – not going to do that either.

The difference here versus the past is that Google is looking for an edge over Apple and RIM.  They want and need to provide something the iPhone doesn’t have.  The handset manufacturers also want in on that.  NFC is a viable option they can provide.

To use that hardware, a universal mobile wallet from a trusted source is needed.  Google is a verb now – who doesn’t know Google.  The name Google Wallet doesn’t make you nervous – it makes you want to download the app.  They also provide the corporate clout needed to deal with the major banks and credit cards.

They are providing the hardware we could never get in the past, and a universal app that could allow us to use all of our credit cards in one trustworthy mobile wallet. These two elements, along with the benefits above, may just push Google Wallet into mainstream usage.

This isn’t even remotely a slam dunk.  At present this is going to be used in two test markets.  It only works with one phone.  It’s not offered in Canada yet.  There is no guarantee the credit card companies will get on board.  There will always be security issues.  EMV could force you to pull out your card anyway for a larger purchase.  If your battery is dead you have no wallet.

Many hurdles need to be overcome, but Google is moving us closer to the mobile wallet than ever.  Perhaps they could offer it on other platforms like Blackberry and Apple’s iOS.  Ideally Google’s initiative will drive other organizations to come up with their own wallets.  Paypal – perhaps.  Apple is likely to get in on this as well.  Having organizations like this behind a mobile wallet initiative can only move the ball forward.  After all, what’s left to add to our mobile gadgets?

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