2013.32 | iOS 7 for retailers

iOS 7 was released on September 19 to a great deal of fanfare.  With so much change in one release it can be easy to miss some of the details.  Hidden among the flat icons, control center and iRadio are some intriguing OS elements that could be leveraged by retailers to enable enhanced shopping experiences.    Check out some of the changes:

ibeaconsiBeacon – All of us in the retail technology world can expect to hear much more about iBeacon in the coming weeks.  Scores of articles are popping up on this little noticed item nestled into the long list of changes in iOS 7.  If you search the Apple corporate site, there is no information published on it, but it may finally unlock the mobile interaction nirvana that other attempts (nfc, shopkick and many more) have struggled to attain.   iBeacon is a technology that allows sensors to identify when consumers are in a very localized site – much more exact than GPS can ever be – and workable indoors.  This makes it possible to provide information to a mobile device in proximity to a beacon.

MLBVisit-360x640MLB has been working on a demo with Apple since early in the year.  In this use case, using a venue specific app on the mobile device will cause different actions to occur on the mobile based on the users location in the stadium driven by proximity to sensors that the app can identify.  When users near a ticket gate, their tickets pop up on the screen.  When they pass the ticket gate, detailed directions to their seat are on the screen.  When they visit a hot dog stand, purchases can drive an on screen loyalty card that with a buy 10 get one free type scheme reminiscent of the old Subway Sub club.   All in all, it’s possible to provide a custom experience for park visitors.

It’s not a real stretch to see where this sort of technology can be a game changer for retailers.  Not only is it possible to provide pinpoint location in a store, the user is known via the app.  The experience can change for every user depending on how the retailer wants to drive the conversation.  If you have a VIP client, perhaps you invite them to ask for their free bottle of San Pellegrino directly on an app to give it that sense of magic.  Perhaps one client gets a 10% off coupon for shoes, but another gets 20% off on leather goods in the same area.  Add to the personal touch the ability to tell who is taking you up on the offers and you’ve got a winning formula for selling in store.

While this technology is an enabler, I see serious complexity and tracking challenges for retailers on these beacons.   This is an incredible opportunity to improve and customize a customer experience, but it’s going to take time to get it right and figure out the rules to win over customers.

frequent locations

Frequent Locations – In iOS 7, Apple has built a tracker to indicate a user’s frequent locations.  The idea being that contextual location data can be provided to anticipate the user’s needs.

With this information it would be easy to identify a user’s regular visitation of a particular branch of a major retailer and leverage that data in apps.  Notifications of upcoming events at those locations could be highlighted to the user if they opt in to messaging.  Perhaps users could be prompted for their favourite stores for Passbook instead of having to identify them on things like their Starbucks card, or even better, it could just add favourite stores automatically based on the invidividual user’s data.

keychainKeychain – Mac Users are accustomed to keeping a mini database of their logins, passwords, and credit card information on their OSX systems.  Google chrome has similar functionality in it’s autofill functionality.

Keychain has been ported to iOS 7 and can store local passwords.  Earlier test versions seemed to indicate that Keychain was going to leverage iCloud to centrally store all of this information, but it was cut in the late stages of release.

While this isn’t fully implemented through iCloud, this move towards central and secure storage of credit cards provides a potential workaround for all of the in store payment scenarios that wreak such havok and drive up time and cost on deployments.

Consider a shopper with an app that allow them to scan items in the store.  Instead of having to go to a self-checkout, a pay station, or a regular POS, what if the app could ask for permission to use a stored card on the mobile for payment based on a PIN?

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Passbook  – Using passbook has always been a bit of a disappointment to myself and others.  It’s not intuitive to use, but the update made it a bit less annoying by removing the shredder that kills old tickets.

Uptake from retailers is picking up (there are 17 passbook apps on the Canadian app store as of this writing  Longos, Starbucks, and Sephora are the only non-travel and entertainment type apps).  I’ve used Starbucks, Cineplex, and Air Canada quite often and they’ve all worked well.    I just don’t see people using it much in the wild as you can also use the regular apps to pay for starbucks or to present your ticket barcodes for scanning.

Where the iOS 7 improvement comes in is a small change that incorporates the camera as a scanner.   One of the shortcomings of using coupons with Passbook in iOS 6 is that you had to find an offer that had the add to Passbook button and now add it.

Apple has now made it possible for consumers to cross from the world of paper to the mobile world.  Much more work needs to be done on Passbook.  Retailers and Apple need to find a symbiotic way to get customers comfortable with it, but this is a decent addition.

iOS 7 is an interesting study.  For myself, the interesting part of iOS 7 is watching users grapple with changed features, unforeseen glitches, and losing functionality to which they may be accustomed.  I’ve listened to my share of complaints on iOS 7 from my family and friends and acted as remote support on a few challenges so far.

As mobile devices become fundamentally ingrained into society and into everyone’s lives, these changes become personal and incredibly widespread.  Working in retail technology for many years, I’ve grappled with these challenges with retail clients over the years, and there are many parallels to updates applied across stores.  The important lesson is to embrace the change and look for the opportunities to leverage the potential for improvements that drove the change in the first place.  Retailers and consumers have much to gain from the ideas here, and everyone will have to learn together how to benefit.

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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.

2009.12 | Mobile Marketing | Google Voice | Going Digital

Mobile Marketing – I was thinking about this even more than usual this week; being involved in a number of meetings that warranted discussion on the subject. While being able to pass messages to customers on their mobile isn’t particularly new, giving it relevancy by location is still novel.

Acuity Mobile’s Aislecaster allows retailers to target customers with messages within 3 feet. I’m not sure that everyone will be comfortable with this right out of the gate. Businesses need to be careful that they establish rules of engagement with customers, or you wouldn’t be able to walk three feet without being bombarded with messages, which will not fly with consumers. The messages also need to be targeted, relevant, and different from what is on the shelf in front of you.

If this technology goes in the right direction it could be a terrific tool for retailers, and benefit for consumers. Both Omnifocus and GPSToDo are iphone apps that will remind you of tasks when you are near a location. Think about not forgetting the milk when you are driving home from work because when you go by the grocery store, as your phone reminds you based on location. The important issue here is that the solution needs to be voluntary and it needs to add value. If it doesn’t do that, it won’t do much.

Google Voice – I tried to sign up for Grand Central a while back, and it’s been in closed beta for some time. I’ve been looking for a tool where I can have ONE number – whether I’m on the road, on my mobile, on a landline phone or on an IP phone on the internet. Why shouldn’t this exist? Why do we need all of these numbers? Google bought Grand Central a couple of years ago, and are finally starting to push it into general use under the Google Voice name. What an awesome tool. One number for life.

Going Digital Continues – Don’t think all of this digital download hype affects you? Think again. The Itunes Store didn’t exist until 2003, and as of 2009 it sells 70% of all digital music online, as well as videos, applications and more. It became the largest seller of music in the USbigger than Wal-Mart last April (2008). From 0 to largest retailer in 5 years? Bigger than Wal-Mart? Nobody does that. It is unbelievable. “Record Stores” as we knew them are disappearing or re-inventing themselves to sell other media and products. Now look at Amazon with their Kindle Bookstore. They are looking to do the same as apple with e-books, and they have almost 250,000 titles to back it up. Traditional retailers should take notice, but I’ve not seen any of them cornering the market in the same way. These guys have captured the change in medium/format of their product, and have solved the cost of delivery problem by making it effectively 0. Watch for more.

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