2013.31 | freeosk | oyster | paypal beacon

3015672-slide-s-3-freeosk-the-redbox-of-free-samplesFreeosk – Why not automate the process of providing free samples at grocery stores?  The Freeosk can be installed in a store for automatic dispensing of free samples.  I can take or leave the need to have someone hand me a piece of a granola bar in a cup.

While it looks like a space saver, using the space to give samples AND provide a product display, the most interesting part of this kiosk is that shoppers scan their loyalty card to get their sample.  This provides retailers an opportunity to figure out if the free samples are driving business and to whom.  As an added bonus, maybe it would stop all the scofflaws from drinking more than their fair share of the free apple cider at my market! via Fast Company

oysterOyster – Applying the the strategy that Pandora, Spotify and Songza use for music, Oyster is offering a subscription based service for books.  They have 100,000 ebooks; you have 9.99 a month and you can read all you wish.  It’s great to see subscription based services on offer, but it’s yet another blow to bookstores and paper lovers everywhere.  Now if we can just get a service like Whispersync on a subscription basis.

paypal beaconPayPal Beacon – Paypal recently released their homage to 2001: A Space Oddysey  – the Paypal Beacon – to enable payments via bluetooth.  I look forward to this type of disruption in payments.  As a consumer, I hate carrying cash, and I’m interested in dumping cards as well.  The best transaction is one where I didn’t even notice it happening, and geofenced solutions like these can make it happen.

As someone involved in retail point of service installations, I’ve seen the incredible effort involved in making systems work with payments.  It’s difficult to break away from that complexity, but there are definitely moves afoot that indicate this complexity may be overcome.  It’s wonderful that the likes of Paypal and Google Wallet have new apps that are branching out of their traditional areas to enable payments from the consumer end.  From the retailer end, organizations like my employer (NCR), are providing options with solutions like our connected payments solution to simplify the back end challenges.

While it doesn’t appear that cash is disappearing anytime soon, retail is all about choice.  If you want to pay with cash, you should be able to do so.  If you want to pay with debit or credit, that should be easy for retailers to implement and for customers to use.  We aren’t there yet, but it does look like there is finally some progress to enable the transactions of tomorrow.

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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.

2011.19 | Buy Now! | Try it on! | Pick it out!

Buy Now! – I was interested to see that in Wired 19.05 (on the Wired iPad app) it is possible to click a button next to the profiled products in the Test Sections which takes readers directly to a link to purchase said item.  While the wizards at Conde Nast aren’t perfect (making me watch a video every time I go to the title page is annoying; losing track of my purchases of every single iPad Wired issue didn’t impress) this is a seemingly obvious improvement to magazines, which we all know are giant bundles of ads anyway.   Considering Conde Nast owns Vogue, this seems like a lucrative way to help fund the magazine and provide a very useful service. (They only won me back on Wired because 19.05 was free – good move Wired.)

Try it on! – A Topshop store in Russia recently toyed with a Kinect hack to build a virtual mirror.  While this is the second one of these I’ve seen in recent months, I’m still not convinced of their validity as a true selling tool.  Placing this in the middle of the sales floor is an obvious attention grabber for a one off situation (note guy holding tray of champagne), but unlikely to be a device used for the masses to sell more clothing.  It’s a really great technical trick, and fun for now, but the video doesn’t give me the impression of what the outfit would really look like if one was serious about buying it.

Pick it out! – Another kinect hack solved a more practical problem in my mind.  Picture going to the deli or the Starbucks and asking for that sandwich that you want in the front row in the second level of the glass display.  No, not that one, the one behind there.  Having been on both sides of the glass in retail, I love this hack that allows a person behind the counter to understand what item is being indicated by the shopper.  The kinect is configured to provide an image of what the shopper is pointing at.  Small benefit, but if you have a complex display and have to deal with hundred of shoppers the time and angst savings could add up.

2010.24 | PSFK Future of Retail

It takes some time to work through all of it, but if you can make the time and have the bandwidth (it’s 55 MB), I highly recommend downloading the PSFK Future of Retail Report.  The document has some wonderful discussion of the technologies coming to the fore in retail, including some examples that were new to me.

Take the time to read through it and get the full context of everything.  They did a great job of bringing all of the trends together.    Thanks to PSFK for doing the work, and putting it out there under creative commons. 

A few of my favourite items from the deck:

  • Subports – Purchase via Text Message.  Such a simple concept that ties into impulse buying!
  • Layar – Augmented reality app that now has ability to purchase content inside the app itself (requires iPhone 3Gs or android)
  • Point Inside – Indoor maps of malls that allow you to see where you are
  • FastMall – Turn by turn directions inside the mall
  • GroceryIQ – iPhone app to track and organize grocery shopping.
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