2011.40 | Impulse, Queueing, Entertainment & Apple Washing

Putting the impulse back into shopping – Loblaw in my local area experimented over the past number of months with no candy and magazine racking at the point of sale in some sites as part of a fixture refresh.  I personally liked the clean lines of the stores with this layout at Loblaw; no clutter, easy to see who is open for customers and which line is best.  It also gave a wide open feel at the front end of the store.  However, sales are more important than clean lines in most people’s books.  At my local store on Monday they re-installed racking with the magazines, gum and candy we all know so well.  Store staff indicated that magazines and candy just weren’t selling in  racks around the corner from the POS.

Single Queue – I’m seeing an increase of impulse fare in my area at other retailers, as some of them are moving towards a single queue.  Walmart escalated this queuing trend here in Canada, and others are also taking this approach.  Michael’s and the various banners of TJX including Winners, and Marshall’s (Style Sense was always this way), have moved to a single queue with a mini-maze of racks stocked with small impulse items on them to tempt you as you wait for a register to come available.    Some of the sites are also using simple queuing tools to indicate open tills to customers.  I am a fan of the approach, as the most equitable plan with flexibility for the site staff.  I no longer feel stiffed when a cashier takes a break and closes a lane when I’ve been waiting in that line.

Washroom Entertainment – In years past, visits to the washroom in restaurants was all business.  The most unusual item I ever experienced was Italian Language tapes over the sound system in the lavatories at some of my favourite Italian restaurants – entertaining and educational.  In a welcome effort to provide a unique experience to visitors, I’ve noticed more and more in the way of cute items in the washrooms of restaurants – funny posters, 2d barcode posters, TV’s over the urinals, ads on urinal pucks and increasingly digital signage.  While  in Montreal this week, I saw something that took that up a notch.  While visiting a very new and slick looking St Hubert Express, the washroom featured projected video of the top of a gravel pool of fish over the sink. While certainly not aimed at my amusement, I definitely see the benefits of this to drive the children to spend some extra time washing their hands.  It’s nice to see someone paying attention to the small details.  I do wonder about the long term viability of such a solution, but time will tell.

Washing Produce – I saw a great solution on line this week for produce.  Adhesive labels  for fruits and vegetables to provide PLU and GS1 Databar codes that turn to soap when they are wetted, so that there is no sticker waste from produce.  Instead, a useful anti-bacterial soap to ensure food safety.  Love the idea.  I expect the focus on apples is due to the fact that many other kinds of produce are often sprayed with water in the store for various reasons – dissolving the stickers in advance of purchase.

2009.46 | RedLaser for iPhone

IMG_1035There are a number of tools that attempt to take comparison shopping and price checking to a mobile platform.  SnapTell for iPhone and ShopSavvy on Android, for example.  I’ve not had the chance to use ShopSavvy, but have used SnapTell. 

SnapTell makes use of image recognition like LaneHawk does for a checkout scenario, recognizing the image of the product, and then connecting results to a database to look up the product, generally with a price lookup online.   

ShopSavvy, and the relatively new RedLaser for iPhone use image recognition on barcodes, but there are 2 small game changers here compared to SnapTell and other image recognition apps:

1.  Users don’t have to hit a button to take a photo and then submit it.  The solution shows a square to align the barcode within.  When the unit has something it wants to capture, the square turns green.  When it can capture, it just does so, vibrating briefly and showing the results.  This saves users at least 2 button presses used on other image capture solutions.  Doesn’t sound like much, but any removal of complexity is a win on the retail floor.

2.  It’s much faster than the other solutions I’ve used to do the same thing.  Images of barcodes are probably simpler to compare than a vast database of images of DVDs, CDs and books, but whatever the reason, it’s more responsive, meaning less standing in an aisle wondering what the solution is doing. 

The database has had challenges with some products, but that’s not surprising, considering the number of products with barcodes in the world.  It also does not appear to read GS 1 Databar codes – at least not coupons.    There were also problems in lower light conditions, and shaky hands (too much caffeine) but in all fairness, in 90% of cases, a retail environment has adequate lighting and steadiness to allow RedLaser to work very, very well.  As an optical scanner, RedLaser is very impressive.  

What’s the real game changer here?  The potential of using cameras to capture barcodes is not new, and certainly not nearly as fast or accurate as purpose built barcode scanners.  Where potential exists is on how it barcode scanning can be leveraged on mobile. 

All of the apps are understandably focused on price checking at this point, but how much can one save on a bottle of Purel, and how convenient is it to have to scan every item one picks up in a store to price check.   The pennies may or may not be worth it.  Given the incredibly small footprint of cameras these days, there could be real potential in using cameras for barcode scanning on mobile POS in a specialty low volume environment.  The tiny readers on current handheld units are just as bad at reading the codes, so why not use low cost cameras on handheld mobile devices that could be used for other purposes in store, like documenting the condition of damaged goods at a site, or validating that corporately mandated displays and planagrams are in place?  Using cameras may also one day allow retailers to leverage the personal phones staff or even their own customers to complete transactions, though that will take some improvements in the solution, and a significant culture shift.

2009.45 | Produce Barcodes | Apple POS | Mobile Recipes & Ads

Produce Barcodes – The barcode is so deeply ingrained into our lives in so many ways that it’s invisible to most people.  Produce in grocery stores is one of the last great frontiers in getting barcodes in place consistently on all products.  The effort to get GS1 Databar in place is ongoing and has been for many years to simplify produce purchases.

A recent article indicates that the USDA may approve laser etching on produce as an alternative to today’s stickers. This is probably a step backward from a checkout throughput and scanning accuracy perspective.  The laser etching indicated in the article doesn’t look easily readable by a scanner if a barcode was printed on the produce, particularly if the produce has a dark skin.  It also remains to be seen if the laser etching could show the kind of detail that would be ideal given tracking concerns relative to food recalls that have cropped up in recent years.

It will probably take some time for the laser etching to come into use, if it becomes common at all.  There was a slightly different scheme in 2006 whereby farmers were putting stencils on apples to allow them to grow with barcodes.  There was no word on the results since that time, but one would wonder about the difficulty in scanning red codes with today’s red laser barcode scanners.

Apple Store POS – More word that Apple is changing from their current EasyPay handheld POS solution in the Apple Store to a new iPod Touch based solution.   The handheld solution is a great fit for the Apple Store environment, and if they can use their own platform, it will be a coup for them.  It will be interesting to see what sort of MSR reader they use on the iPod touch for payments, and even more interesting to see if they bother in Canada where EMV will not allow the MSR swipe in October 2010.

IMG_1027Mobile Recipes & Ads Whole Foods recently released an iPhone app that provide users to a selection of recipes and store information.  On the positive side  there are lots of great recipes that allow search by course, ingredients, and even what is on hand.  There is also a good store locator with specifics on each site.  Unfortunately there is no obvious option that provides a complete shopping list other than the long list of ingredients in each individual recipe.  The store information should also leverage the great job that they are doing with Twitter, but doesn’t appear to do so as yet.

This month’s Wired Magazine leveraged a mobile app called kooaba.  By taking a picture of the ads in the magazine with the app, the ads are recognized, and special content related to the ad is provided. For example, taking a photo of the ad for the T-Mobile MyTouch 3G, the screen provided options to buy the product online, call T-mobile, follow the solution on Twitter or watch a commercial about the product.  While gimmicky, this sort of application would absolutely be of value for a complex product a customer is very interested in.

2009.24 | Mobile Checkout with GS1 Databar

GS1 Databar has been looking for common acceptance for years, and a recent article in the NYT discussed how ‘The Bar Code is Taking a Leap Forward and GS1 Databar may yet reach a Plateau of Productivity with its usage for coupons on mobile.

Hopefully mobile can be one impetus to drive the usage of GS1 Databar, and it will see the kind of acceptance that has driven other symbologies like 2D barcodes or to a much lesser extent, Microsoft Tag. There are a number of significant potential benefits to be reaped by consumer facing organizations that can leverage these codes, including: increased throughput, reduced shrink, improved food safety, and the potential for increased sales from consumers’ demand for data.

The greater challenge is passing this data from the real world to the pocket of the consumer – a mobile platform today. While Metro AG has some great ideas (thanks, Michael) on how to do this using their mobile assistant and on customers’ own mobile devices, the challenges of a successful implementation are very real and very difficult.

Ideally, enlightened consumers could scan their own purchases as they shop, but there are some incompatabilities between consumer behaviour and the technology that can drive issues of shrink – intentional or not. The inherent slowness of using a camera for barcodes versus a laser or LED scanner, the complex multiple step shopping processes (scan with phone, place on atm reader, pay with phone), and the essential lack of any security limit this excellent effort as a stepping stone towards a more complete future solution.

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