2013.27 | uniqul | aireal | 3dfit

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Uniqul – A Finnish company recently released an identification scheme based on facial recognition.  The Uniqul concept video imagines the use of a camera to compare the faces of individuals against a database of images in order to identify them.  Such a system could be used for airport identification, payments, or any other application where cards or photo identification are currently used, including retail payments.  The system checks the image of the customer against a database, and returns the identified customer photo with a name to be verified by the customer.  The only customer action is to select an ok button to approve payment.

While the pluck of a company willing to chase such a challenging technological initiative is admirable, this is a challenging solution to implement.  Consider:

  • What if the returned name and image isn’t the customer’s picture and they say ok to the payment?  Free lunch.
  • What are the parameters of the image?  What if hair colour is changed? What if glasses are different? What if weight is gained or lost?   How often will photos have to be re-taken to be effective?  Any of these could result in customer and/or retailer inconvenience.
  • What about backgrounds and lighting for image capture?  Given the wide variety of retail locations with signage, people, windows and lighting, will faces be easily picked out by the solution?  Imagine having to look into a camera and sit still for a few moments to make your payment go through.  Awkward.
  • If such a solution was used at gas pumps, self service or even online, and users hold up a photo in front of the camera instead of using their own face?  It’s happened before with android lock screens.
  • It’s one thing to be a number.  Most acknowledge we have little privacy already, but payments connected to our actual faces might be a bit much for people to accept.  Pay by touch tried something similar with thumbprints from 2005-2007 but that didn’t work out.

I’m sure the designers have considered all of these concerns and a great deal more, they will have to be extremely convincing about security when discussing such a solution with payments processors and retailers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.49.37 PMAireal – Many retailers look to achieve an incredible consumer experience in their stores.  It takes a great deal to impress the jaded consumer with access to so much technology.  As a leader in entertainment, Disney continuously looks for new experiences.  One such experience is Disney Research’s Aireal – a combination of projection, motion sensors and fans.

One demonstration shows an animated butterfly that recognizes that a person’s hand is in the area, and ‘lands’ on it.  Puffs of air from fans controlled by the system blow on your hand to complete the illusion of a real butterfly landing on your hand.  Another concept would be interacting with a virtual soccer ball.  While not part of a transactional solution, it’s easy to see how a solution like this could find its way into a high end concept store.

3Dfit – One of the universal challenges for online retailers of apparel is fit.  In order to encourage sales, online retailers have to offer free returns.   In order to ensure a good fit, customers often resort to ordering multiple sizes and returning what they don’t want.  All of that means higher costs for retailers, and inconvenience for customers who have to return items.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 11.21.39 PMGetting the right pair of glasses for one’s face is just as difficult as finding clothing that fits – perhaps even more so.  Glasses.com are attempting to remedy that challenge with a recently released virtual try-on app for iPad to get potential customers a great view of how they will look in a new pair of glasses.  Users download the app, open it, and place it against a mirror.  The users capture a picture with the iPad camera looking straight at the iPad, and then turn their head to the left and then the right.  The app captures a 3D model of the users’s face from the photo.  With that 3D model, the full inventory of glasses.com can be shown on the user’s face.  The user can scan through images of their face with the glasses on, and even move the glasses up and down the bridge of their nose with a swipe of a finger on the screen.

While this isn’t the same as being at a store and trying them on, it can certainly help narrow the choices – a challenge with glasses, and adds a unique consumer experience to a brand.

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2012.23 | Nike AR, Uniqlo Pins, SSD & Pickie

Nike Fuel Station at BoxPark – Check out this Nike Store in the UK that leverages a number of new and unique technologies in store including an augmented reality app on iPads.

NikeFuel Station at Boxpark from Dezeen on Vimeo.

Uniqlo @ PinterestUniqlo, the Japanese casual apparel retailer recently “took over” Social Media Site Pinterest with a number of shell  accounts to draw attention to their new release of mesh products.  Pinterest uses an endless scrolling format on their pages, and Uniqlo built a playful sort of animation visible as users scrolled down the page.  Clever and artistic stunt to garner attention in a non-traditional manner in a non-traditional channel.

Falling SSD Costs – I’ve been getting more and more inquiries on the potential of leveraging Solid State Drive (SSD) versus Hard Disk Drive (HDD) technology for data storage on POS systems.  The costs of SSD have been dropping for years.  Seems like the drop is getting even more precipitous.  Hopefully we can look forward to the speed and reliability of SSD at a reasonable price in the very near future.

Pickie – I’m not sure if we can handle yet another social media channel, but here is another one of interest to retailers.  Pickie is a customized magazine that shows products based on your social media feeds.  You need a Facebook account to get an invite for the limited beta.  Social Media is increasingly being leveraged to sell to us.  While it could work, it makes you wonder if you want all your friends to run out and buy all the gear you lust over.

2012.22 | Tablets

While the iPad is certainly the standard for tablets, two new releases over the past couple of weeks may lift the bar for the essentially non-existent competition for everyone but the nerdiest of users.

Microsoft Surface – Leveraging the upcoming release of Windows 8 with its interface that works with desktop and tablets, Microsoft made a relatively big splash with its “Jobs-like” reveal of the soon to be released Microsoft tablet.  While some will deride Microsoft Surface as the Zune of tablets, there is some potential behind Surface. While much of the Surface tablet is speculative at present (price, release, user experience) Microsoft does have some things going for it.

Magnetic Cover with Keyboard –  iPads are not optimal for data entry and entry intensive uses.  While there are a number of bluetooth keyboard options, most of them mar the sleek look and profile of the iPad. If the keyboard included with the Surface tablet works well, it overcomes a missing element on the iPad without sacrificing the look and simplicity of the unit.

Windows 8 –  While iOS receives well deserved attention for its simplicity and ease of use, the OS has not changed a great deal in years.  Those who haven’t seen the look and feel of Windows 8 or seen a recent Windows Phone OS will be impressed.  In my opinion, the dynamic, configurable tile based interface leapfrogs the iOS interface in both ease of use and looks.  Another small item that might be useful in a tablet from a retail perspective is NFC capability.  Windows Phone 8 has NFC enabled and that may provide a way for retailers to get past dongle after dongle issue for payments in Windows 8 if that functionality can be ported to Surface.  It would certainly help here in Canada where EMV readers for tablets are hard to find thus far.

Display Size – It isn’t a massive difference, but the Surface unit has a 10.6 screen with a 16:9 ratio.  It’s slightly bigger than the iPad which is helpful for using the iPad as a shared screen.  Most video is wide format now, so it could display more full screen for demos in a retail environment.

Productivity Applications – While Apple came at tablets from the mobile side, Microsoft comes it from a desktop perspective.  Microsoft Office apps are much more feature laden and better for most business than Pages, Numbers and Keynote.  Much as Apple has some incredible templates and wonderful toys (using iPhone as remote for Keynote), they lack the depth of features that Office has.  If Microsoft ports Office to Surface with full functionality, they will be much more useful in a business environment and have a broader following in business.  Whether this is useful in a retail environment will depend on the application.

Surface may not have the cache of iPad.   Surface may not be the tablet the customers at Starbucks are using, but it may well represent the evolution of the computer at work. From a retail perspective it provides another potential low cost option with a slightly larger beautiful screen. The ability to add data entry without sacrificing usability and portability for client based solutions will help with some applications as well.  Add the ubiquity of Windows as a platform in retail in North America, and Surface could find a foothold in retail applications.  There are lots of details to shake out, but don’t discount it without investigation.

Google Nexus – Google also announced a new tablet recently.  One of many interesting releases from Google this week, the new tablet is made by Asus.  Much different from the iPad and Surface, the new Nexus tablet is a much smaller and low cost unit.

Priced at $199, the unit seems a more fitting competitor to the Kindle Fire.  Like the Fire, it is more of a paper back sized device purpose built to consume media – read books and magazines, watch video, play simple games and browse the Internet.  Like the Kindle Fire, the Nexus is closely tied to a content ecosystem in Google Play.  Nexus leverages the latest version of Android for Tablets  – Jelly Bean.

While not as feature laden as the iPad and Surface, tablets like this will continue to drive expectations of low cost devices that can be harnessed for many uses.  This relatively sophisticated technology is being driven closer and closer to a $0 item used as a loss leader to drive consumption of media, lowering the desire for consumers to pay without clear benefits.

The impact of this device on retailers is more on increased competition for the likes of Amazon, Kobo, and Kindle for electronic media.  It would be surprising to see these devices used in a retail environment as a selling or transactional tool, but that could all change tomorrow.

2012.20 | Airports, Tactile Touch, Recipes etc.

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Ordering in Airports – Given the unusual footprint and visitor activities in airports, dining has always seemed suboptimal in that environment. Restaurant layouts that make perfect sense in regular life are inconvenient and awkward in an airport. Many of us have walked into the regular pub like setting that has a total of perhaps 40 seats in an airport that serves thousands per day. It’s too busy, you are often lugging bags with you – which take up limited seating areas and cause you to constantly apologize to all around you for knocking everything with your bags.

Installations of iPads thoughout terminals to allow travelers to order food to be brought to them may ease that sense of awkwardness and make great use of airport seating areas if they are well laid out and sensibly arranged. I’ve heard through colleagues that fly through Laguardia where it has been piloted that it seems to work well there. I look forward to trying it in Toronto. Like all other retail technology, the operations behind the enabling solution will be what makes or breaks this! If there is good service level expectation setting and order fulfillment, this could do very well.

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Tactile Touch Screens – Whenever friends ask me what mobile device they should use, my first question is whether they prefer a keyboard. Some people are predisposed to a physical keyboard and don’t want to move to using a touch version. Those people may only have to change a setting on a touchscreen device in the future. Tactus Technology is soon to offer touchscreens with physical buttons that swell up off the display depending on what ‘buttons’ are shown on the display. Check out the video for a real glimpse of the technology and what it could look like. This technology provides an opportunity to have the best of both worlds – a physical keyboard and maximum display real estate. It simplifies multi-language keyboard issues and can offer unique context sensitive keyboard options to UI designers. It also means a potential for a simpler to use self service environment where users attention can be drawn to act as context sensitive buttons rise out of the screen as they are needed.

Recipes on Receipts – Retailer St Marche recently partnered with Hellmann’s in Brazil to print recipes directly on receipts. Taking context sensitive offers to another level, this idea actually prints recipes that include items purchased from the grocery store in that transaction. It’s being tried out on 100 registers. Makes you wonder how much fun POS software would be if every CPG wanted that on every transaction. If it does work out, taking this to the next level with e-receipts seems like an intelligent play; allowing for sharing with friends electronically and ensuring that customers don’t lose any favourite receipt recipes as thermal paper fades over time and could be overheated in a kitchen environment and turn black!

The Extra Inch – Take the time to listen to Terry O’Reilly’s most recent Under the Influence podcast episode, it has some excellent examples of how retailers can win customers over with the little things. More than ever I find retailers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and this podcast sheds some light on how some iconic companies are doing it today. I highly recommend adding Terry’s podcast to your regular playlist – it is always entertaining and you will always walk away with some new ideas. He has a great book as well that I heartily recommend.

2012.13 | iPad as Point of Sale Device

Given the ubiquity of the iPad, the adoration of the general public of the device, and my own personal ongoing interest and use of this device, consideration of using an iPad as a point of sale solution is a worthy point of discussion. After all, the word of our current age is innovation – we should embrace potential change such as this, and see where it may lead us. In the end, like every other solution in retail or otherwise, it’s about ROI, and if the iPad can deliver; why not?

As someone who has had an iPad since it was possible to get one and who has logged many a mile on it, it is a dream device for me personally. Convenient, simple, and incredibly multi-faceted, I use it every day and constantly. One of the most entertaining things about having an iPad is finding new uses for it and new apps to try.

For those of us who embrace it, it should come as no surprise that retailers are experimenting with it – evaluating different applications and apps in the store. There are many offerings that are fundamentally predicated on using an iPad as a POS: Square, Revel, Paypal, and there is an upcoming NCR solution to be released in June. (And yes, for full disclosure, I’m an NCR employee)

While payment processing is certainly a key element of the decision for these solutions, let’s set that aside for the moment and consider iPad from a hardware perspective. As much as we all want to skip the whole question and play with apps, the hardware should be fully considered from a usability and ROI perspective. In some ways the iPad is a hardware platform that can enable solutions we have dreamed about for years; in others it falls short.

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The Positives:

Hardware Cost – iPad 2 units are now available at reduced rates, and can be had for as low as $419. Given that a retail hardened POS terminal is more like $800 to $1,000, the up front purchase price is certainly attractive – particularly for a small business. Keep in mind that a stand will also be necessary which will add $100 to $200 to the cost depending on the model and type, but it’s still quite affordable to obtain.

Displays – Because iPad is put out in such volume and has the latest technology, they have vibrant bright screens. The touchscreen is capacitive (my option of choice), and does not require calibration. In a nutshell, the touch display looks great and they work very well.

Durability – iPad is made for the consumer market – notorious for hard usage. For general use in a specialty or relatively clean and simple QSR environment, it will suffice as well. While I had initial misgivings about its durability, my experience with retailers is that it has lasted better than anticipated in real world retail environments. It’s definitely getting use and doing well.

Small Footprint – As you can see from pictures of the unit, it requires little space on a counter and can provide just about the smallest footprint possible; especially if you want to go full urban hipster mode with no receipt printer or cash drawer.

Software Updates – While the focus is on hardware, the apple ecosystem is hard to ignore as a point of the solution. Depending on the application used, software updates can be very simple even for the novice user. If the solution is cloud based, users would not have to do anything other than perhaps change the address to which their browser is pointing. For app based users, the app store is a familiar interface, and updating apps is a relatively simple matter.

Network – Cloud based offerings are a tremendous area of growth and I embrace them myself. I use Dropbox, iCloud and more. The challenge with a retail business is that when these services are down, the business is down. In the past I would have expressed concern about this, but reliability of these services is quite high and improving. Data centers like Apples and Amazons make this possible.

Extensibility – The iPad is a great platform to add apps as discussed. Many retailers are using the iPad for manager’s tools, inventory, and more. Why not add point of sale capability to the units?

On the whole, the iPad represents a tremendously viable point of sale platform for the right environment, subject to the availability of apps and payment processing interfaces to suit retailer and customer needs.

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The Negatives:

Cost – While the iPad is slightly cheaper to obtain, the jury is out on how long they last. I’ve worked with some retailers who have used notebooks in retail environments for point of sale or sales tools. They lasted about 3 years. While you could argue that a user could just throw the unit out and buy another one, remember that retail hardened POS terminals are designed to last 7-10 years, and I’ve seen some last much longer. There are retailers running DOS because it’s working just fine. Also, while the hardened units are slightly more expensive, they do allow for simple modular repair, dual hard drive capability, remote supportability, software lockdown and more.

Displays – The iPad screen looks bright, but if I had come out to retailers and told them I had the best new point of sale solution in the world and it has a 9.7 inch screen, I would have been laughed out the door – and rightfully so. The screens are a bit small for a point of sale application in my experience. I’ve seen 12″ work well, and most retailers seem to think 15″ provides a good combination of real estate and visibility for the client and the retail associate. Some also accept 17″ displays, but it depends on the environment and the point of sale platform. The reflection on the iPad display can be difficult to read in brightly lit retail environments – particularly with the new intense lighting in some stores.

Durability – The consumer market is one thing, but the whole gamut of retail is another. While the iPads have been lasting well to date, and I’m sure they will do so, they haven’t yet had to deal with 7-10 years of dust. They haven’t dealt spills of a full drinks and survived (I have a friend who left an iPad outside in the rain over night; sadly it could not be resuscitated.) They are not made to deal with the head of direct sunlight – a challenge in some glassed in environments. (if you’ve ever used one outside in the sun, you may have experienced the automatic shutdown). While the iPads work very very well, they may be less able to accommodate more rugged requirements like DIY warehouse stores and intense QSR environments.

Small Footprint – While the iPad itself is smaller, if you have to use a cash drawer, printer and scanner, you won’t save that much real estate. Also note that the peripherals are effectively the same as those used on a regular point of sale device today, though some others have come out. I expect there will be some answers around this.

Batteries – One thing they never show in the pictures of these solutions is the power cord – it doesn’t look as pretty without the cable plugged in. The batteries do last a long time, but the units will always be on in a retail environment. Some solutions provide a battery pack which adds some battery life, but wherever there are batteries, there are people forgetting to charge them. It will be important to include a reminder to charge overnight – perhaps a dock – and to always keep a cord on hand.

Software Providers – Another brief comment on software. While Square and Paypal are both huge names right now, they are effectively offering a POS solution as a loss leader for payments processing. That means that retailers are locked into a POS solution based on their payments module. Retailers won’t care about this until they realize that to move they will have to update all of their inventory on to another system. This solution model is working very well today, and it may very well continue to do so and I hope it does. I think it can work, but it is a risk to consider. Retailers are in business for the long haul, and well as they have done, this is a new business model with relatively new players.

Chip and Pin – I’ve seen some interesting solutions to deal with Chip and Pin (using a pin pad to enter a code for card payments – we do that here in Canada) on iPod touch units with sleds. In America, they can use dongles in the headphone jack of the iPad, or in the bottom port, but in Canada that does not fly. Without Chip and Pin, this thing is a non-starter in the Canadian environment. There needs to be integration to a pin pad solution, but I’m not yet aware of one. Most pinpads are currently on RS-232 (sorry no ports on iPad), or on IP – that might work. Someone has to make that work before this can happen in Canada. Let me know if you have heard of any!

Solution Roadmap – iPad and all iDevices are on notoriously short roadmaps. Seen an iPod Classic lately? Didn’t think so. As a consumer device, it is entirely Apple’s prerogative to release new units every year – to change the size – to max out the screen resolution, to change the IOS platform, to add and remove ports and more – all at their whim. This may be fine, but it may start to impact a user that has an older unit. Will they be forced to upgrade because of changing specs? Will they have to source a different mount, a different payment device, a different peripheral at short notice as the units change every year?

Network – iPad only uses wifi. While this may not be a problem for some retailers, others are concerned about providing access to wifi networks in their businesses. I’ve also found that while I’ve had some rock solid experiences with wifi, some of my apple products will constantly lose connectivity with my wifi network, and the only way to fix it is to reset the router/modem. It’s a small issue, but worth thinking about.

I point out these issues not to rail against the iPad, but to point out potential obstacles. Sometimes in the rush towards new technology, these items can be overlooked. Better to have the issues in mind when looking to implement and consider them carefully prior to moving forward to ensure the best possible customer and store staff experience possible.

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On the whole, the potential of the iPad as a retail device is incredible. The millions sold are a testament to the strength of the iPad, and the following behind it.
 
In my opinion, the iPad will see a great deal of use as the main point of sale device in a boutique independent environment to start. It lacks some of the power and performance needed by top tier retailers – particularly given their investment in complex and sophisticated point of sale, inventory, and ERP solutions that can’t be changed at a moment’s notice. However, as point of sale platforms continue to progress, you can expect to see those platforms leverage the iPad in some way. iPad or not, the point of sale device is definitely changing.

2012.08 | Interactive Screens – not Kiosks

Interactive kiosk solutions have been a part of retail for as long as someone was able to stick a computer in a box.  While mobile is definitely a phenomenon in retail, we are far from saturation on kiosks as self service solutions.   In fact, there has never been a better time to consider a self service kiosk solution – and those solutions don’t have to be limited to a little square screen on a stick.

The technology options available to power these solutions has improved tremendously and there are an increasingly wide range of form factors, as well as peripherals of all sorts to serve pretty much any market or need imaginable.    In fact, I would suggest that the use of the term kiosk is outdated.  It refers to that little square screen on a stick or in a box from a decade ago.

The days of a cobwebbed kiosk in the corner are gone, and new technology means a new generation of interaction in sites.  Consider technology and societal changes that make these new interactions possible:

Larger format screens – 50 and 60″ LCD devices are now available for the cost of a regular old 15″ solution from a number of  years ago.     This reduced cost makes it more affordable to implement a kiosk that has some visual appeal, lots of space for visual elements, and more easily blends into the customer experience in the store than the technology of years gone by. Projection options are also finding their way into the mainstream – meaning a whole new opportunity for engagement and new placements of interactive experiences.

Increased Use of Touch –  – increased availability of touch interfaces means more people are comfortable with them.  If you think back just a few years, there was far less use of touch interfaces.  The release of iDevices, touch on Blackberries and various tablets and eReaders means that a comfort level has grown that was not there before.  This increases the willingness and comfort of the average consumer to interface with a touch system.

Pervasive Technology – There is now a generation of young adults who have never lived without mobile phones or the internet.  Where for many years one saw customers saying they “don’t want to use that thing” or “I want to talk to a person”, there is a whole new generation of shoppers are hungry for different touchpoints and shopping experiences.

What works with interactive kiosk experiences?

With the technology to enable incredible interactive experiences in any place where stores can exist, it is important to consider what experience is being provided.  I have seen a number of interactive experiences requested over the years, and there are a few learnings I can pass on.

1.  Buy-in – If an interactive experience in a retail setting is going to work, then all stakeholders have to be invested in it. If executives, store management or store staff don’t believe in the solution then it will fail.    Any half-hearted solution will not work.  It is like any other group initiative.  Without the conscious involvement, understanding and enthusiasm from the team, whatever solution you have will not work.  It will be doomed from the start.

2. Functionality – The solution has to have a benefit to all who use it.  A benefit for the user, the store staff and the business in general.  For the customer it could be helping them avoid a line, or get help without having to ask a staff member.  For the store staff, it could help them with capacity. For the business, it can keep customers in the store instead of leaving, it could upsell them, it could give them an experience that will keep them as a long term customer.

As an additional detail, my experience has been that transactional systems tend to get more use than informational ones.  Where some customers may be interested in reading product information in great details, there is greater usage and more direct measurable benefit to the business when someone wants to buy something and can do so directly on the solution.

If customers can look at product information, that’s great, but if they can buy the product and have it sent to their home, they don’t need to consider a second interaction.  They can do it on the spot.   Bottom line in my opinion – no ROI – no interactive solution.  If it isn’t driving business, it’s taking up space.  Don’t implement technology for its own sake.

As a personal aside please don’t waste time with the following:

  • e-flyers – I’d like someone to show me how this pays off.  Why would I scroll through an e-flyer at a screen in a store?  I will do it at home, but that is a different user experience.  It is always faster to scan through a paper one in a store, users have no audience waiting to use the unit, and often the paper flyers are sitting in a giant pile right next to the screen.
  • games – I’ve never understood why I would want to play a game on a screen in a store or how that would benefit a retailer. I’m also annoying others who may want to use the screen to find a product.  Exception – if it’s a contest where I get a discount and it’s quick.
  • in store wayfinding – Nobody trusts these in stores anymore.  In a small store there is no need for them.  In a large store who keeps this updated?  Stores change around so much, and I doubt that planograms are updated and automatically interfaced.  It can also take longer to scroll through than just walk through the store.  Exception 1 – if there is an automated interface to constantly updated planogram system. Exception 2 – if there is a version that works with your mobile device Meijer Findit – maybe.  Just put stuff where we can find it.

Based on what I’ve seen, these items are add-ons designed to flesh out a solution, but it never feels useful or natural to me, and drives out more value more than it adds.

3.  User Experience – If the customer doesn’t at least find the experience useful, they won’t use the screen again.  I’m not a UI designer myself, but self service best practices should be followed that suit the application, and having an experienced consultant design your interface is well worth the investment.

Examples of best practices include using as few screens as possible to get a user to completion of their task, using buttons and text that are easy to see and read, and minimize and simplify data entry unless absolutely necessary – especially duplicate requests.  Providing a simple and convenient experience will draw them in and bring them back.

4.  Ongoing Support – If the solution isn’t working, it’s not getting used.  If it’s not getting used, the benefits above are not being realized.  If people see it not getting used, it will be used even less until it is completely ignored, negating the initial intention of having the solution at all.  Ongoing support means making sure the hardware is working to it’s full potential.  No failed peripherals, or a paper sign tacked on it saying out of order.  That can’t happen.

Just as importantly, content must be accurate and updated where relevant.  If a kiosk never changes, unless it fulfills a very specific and key function it will die.  Retailers would never consider leaving their stores the same through seasons – they are always updated with fresh ideas, programs and products.  Interactive solutions must be part of any store updates – the graphics, the videos, the interactions must all keep pace.  People are always engaged with new content – we all know this.  Make sure the solutions are constantly updated to pull people in.

This is a key element that gets missed.  Project teams move to the next new thing, funding is pulled to other new projects, and solutions die.  Don’t let that happen.

5.  One Brand Experience – Retailers understand that providing a seamless single experience to retailers across all parts of the business makes it easier for consumers to buy, which means more sales.  Now that barriers are being removed web stores and brick and mortar stores, allowing returns across the banner, for example, customers are expecting this barrier removal to continue across all interface points.  As each channel becomes easier to use, customers are likely to try out the new ones.  If a customer considers an interactive screen in a shopping centre to be a window into their brand experience, they are increasingly likely to use it.  It’s no longer a separate thing – using this interactive solution should be part a consistent brand  experience.  Try as much as possible to make that experience consistent and targeted to those consumers as much as possible.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are key elements to making a solution really and truly work for the customers and the retailer.

Where is this going?

There is no way to know where the future takes us, but here are a few of my thoughts on the future of interactive screens – hitherto known as kiosks:

Every screen is interactive – and it should be.  Currently there is lots of digital signage out there, but the communication is only one way.  It is showing you messages and is not open for input.  The millennial cohort and younger generations are growing up with interactive screens.  Not having input doesn’t make sense to them.  Expect walls of digital posters in stores to be enabled for interactivity in the future.  During the slow hours of the day, they show brand and product messaging.  At busy times, they can be used to engage customers on selecting their best mobile plan, finding out their balance, or contacting a service rep.

Every interaction is personal – and it should be.  Future interactions should be filtered to get to the point for specific clients.  Allowing customers to identify themselves via loyalty cards or some other simple format means that the messaging and interactions can be customized.  This can minimize screens and touches and provide a streamlined experience.  It could mean language, recognizing services or products the customer has purchased or identified to provide assistance or upsell on them, offers specific to that customer, or even providing access to profiles so that customers can validate how they want to be dealt with.

Screens can be anywhere on any surface in any place.  Large screens are pervasive, but expect projection and other technologies to start to show up as cost drops and brightness increases.  They can cover large or irregular areas, they can provide big screen surface with a small device, and they provide flexible solution options. Starbucks had a good example of this in Toronto and Vancouver last year.

Screens will interact with each other.  Everyone knows we have screens in our pocket, but some content works better in a larger format.  It is technically possible to leverage both together in a store environment in myriad different ways.  Why not have a pre-ordering menu on a mobile device to stage an order that is passed to an in store device to order?  Why not provide a message that an order is ready to a mobile device while customers wait in the store?  Why not enable selection of items for purchase of out of stock items instore from the website, and then complete the payment transaction on the small mobile screen for privacy and security?  As the general public matures technically and they see benefits, these interactions will catch on.

Once again, I think the time has passed to call these interactive kiosks.  Mobile is huge for reatil. Tablets are huge for retail as well, and some think these persona devices signal the end of kiosks, but interactive screens in stores, shopping centres, or wherever you wish already are and will continue to play a tremendous role in the retail ecosystem.

2011.48 | iPad Table Ordering

While it’s been around for a number of years, interest in ordering food directly from the table has arisen again.  Here is one prototype that allows the table itself to act as the ordering screen.  We have had a food court conceptual solution that operates in a similar way using Microsoft Surface at the NCR demo center in Atlanta for some time.    It’s really very slick, but you have to wonder about the cost and complexity of filling a restaurant or even a mall food court with Microsoft Surface multi-touch units.

A  Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant has been piloting an ordering system for iPads for a month here in Mississauga that allows customers to order directly from the tables on iPads specifically deployed to the tables for that purpose. The solution is from Hubworks Interactive.   I visited the restaurant a month ago, but did not get seated at those tables to try out the system personally.  You can see the iPads sitting on the table in the background.  I like the concept, but a few thoughts come to mind:

  • The site is in here in Ontario.  In Canada, EMV is a requirement.  A pinpad is not visible on these devices.  Doesn’t that leave the restaurant on the hook if someone challenges the charge?  That is the general rule here.
  • How is the iPad secured so some nefarious soul can’t leave with it?  The iPad units I saw just sit on the table.  While they have a large pack on them to keep the battery charged and protect them, I didn’t see any securing of the solution. There was quite a large staff on hand, and that would defeat much of that potential but in a busy situation with 58 screens on the walls, and the proliferation of beer – some will probably walk.
  • I didn’t see a printer on the terminals, so doesn’t someone have to bring a receipt to the table anyway?  It makes it more convenient for clients to pay when they wish, but it doesn’t remove the effort of wait staff from bringing a receipt.  A paper receipt is required locally for debit and credit transactions.
  • Customers inevitably have some request that is not exactly as it appears on the menu.   (Soda water with extra lime, anyone?)  I assume that is handled by wait staff.
  • What about coupons for a free appetizer?  What about gift cards?  Are those accommodated?  Special offers and gift cards are a big part of the restaurant business.
  • Who is tasked with taking orders to the tables and validating that clients aren’t waiting too long?  When I asked about it at the restaurant, they indicated that the orders from the iPad ordering system are not identified any differently on the Kitchen Display system.  What is the influence on tipping when I entered my order on a terminal?  If it goes down will wait staff avoid those tables?
  • What is the care and feeding of such a solution from a technical perspective moving forward?  I’m not aware of much in the way of remote support tools for iOS units. The Hubworks Interactive website indicates that they use a cloud based solution which should minimize the management, but that work never goes away completely.  For example, these units have to be charged by someone at some point.  Cloud based solutions also mean that if the restaurant goes offline, those ordering units aren’t working.
  • How does the ROI work on these units?  The cheapest iPads are about $500. Add the cost of the case, software and ongoing support, and it must be at least $750-$1,000 per table.  While I can appreciate that there is a great deal of expense in a restaurant already with 58 televisions, the cost of putting iPads and an ordering solution at every table will add up.  There could definitely be a benefit of a perception of customer service, but is it worth it?

I applaud Hubworks Interactive for putting it together and Buffalo Wild Wings for trying something new.  Integrating new technologies into the grind of retail is always a challenge, and the only way to work out the kinks is to try it.  Time will tell if it works out.  I look forward to seeing how these fare in December 2012.

2011.47 | Latest Retail Tech Links

New-tritional Labeling – A controversial question, but I really admire this effort at re-thinking how  the nutritional value of foods is presented.  This is a tough area to solve, as everyone has different ideas of nutrition and what is good for you.

Savvy is a mobile tool to track prices after your purchase to ensure you take advantage of price guarantees.  Just take a picture of the receipt from a growing list of retailers, and the app takes care of the rest.

Domino’s is letting build their own pizzas as part of an iPad game called Domino’s Pizza Hero.  This is definitely a clever way to get into the hearts and minds of the kids who use their parent’s iPads to play.

AT&T has a new Concept Store in Chicago.

Hertz has new check-in kiosks that provide a video link to remote staff to provide a live link to the check-in.

Check out this Superhydrophobic Coating It’s touted as a way of protecting electronics from spills but I’m with the guy who wrote it…this could save my clothes.

2011.46 | Wired App Guide: Retail Edition

I finally read the Wired App Guide this weekend.  I highly recommend picking it up if you are interested in mobile apps.  It covers many platforms, and appears to try to stay neutral – iPhone, iPad, Android, WP7 are all represented, but it is iOS heavy. Sorry Blackberry lovers – no mention of Blackberry, though I know at least some of the apps are offered on the Blackberry Market from personal experience.

No matter how much you stay up to date with apps, the app guide is a good read, and there are definitely some useful apps in there, no matter what your personal interests.

Of the 400 apps included, only a  few are retail oriented; 15 by my count.  In fairness, defining retail can be daunting, so I’ve had to use my own reckoning (I’ve counted Netflix and rdio for example – they sell movies and music) and very few are from household “retail” brand names – Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks are the only ones.

Here are the most interesting mobile apps of interest to retailers that made the cut into the app guide:

Kindle – I love Amazon, but Kindle is obviously saving their best efforts for their own devices.  The picture in the app guide is from a Kindle Fire, which is miles ahead of what you get on other devices.  While Apple Amazon and other booksellers  by mandating a cut of in-app sales, the Kindle eBook store accessible via iPad is really an unfortunate user experience.  Kobo’s web store is much easier to navigate and use.  I also think Kobo is doing a much better job in Canada as of late.  Their prices are more reasonable, and the ereader program is comparable to Kindle.

Amazon Mobile – Take the mobile app, scan barcode at store, and get the price for an item from Amazon and add to your cart.  Helpful. Not unique to this app.  Tesco has an app that does the same thing, and Canadian Tire can provide pricing from local store with a barcode scan.  There are many more with notable capabilities – like Meijer’s Findit.

Starbucks – They had to be on there as the pioneer in building a mobile payment system.  The Canadian version is causing me and Canadian users headaches as it seems to be forgetting the login and password.  Forces users to *gasp* pull out their plastic card.  Great app otherwise, and I’m sure that will be fixed.

Apple Store -I’m less keen on the buying capability in the app, but the addition of in store pickup is very handy.  Being able to look up what Apple considers a good aftermarket product also is a useful touch.  More helpful is the ability to book a meeting with a Genius at your local store.  It should be this easy to book appointments with anyone.

Barcode Scanner – It’s an android app.  Not sure why they pushed this barcode scanning price comparison engine.  There have been many others available for years.

Seamless Food Delivery – Network of restaurants to order delivery from your phone.  Great concept.  Not available in Canada, but there are Canadian equivalents for online delivery – no mobile app, but should work on the browser of your mobile.

OpenTable – Reserve tables at your favourite restaurant.  My favourite new features is that you can now save your reservation to your calendar.  A must for obsessive-compulsive types.

Rdio Canada – While it appears to have been around a while, Rdio Canada allows users to play and listen to music in the Netflix model – but with way more content.  Mobile apps are available and it works with airplay.  I’m currently trying it out on a 7 day free trial.  $14.99 per month for unlimited. Great idea for those who don’t have a large music collection already.  Tough break if you are trying to still sell CDs.

Zinio – I don’t buy paper magazines anymore, and this app is the reason.  While there are a few magazines with native iPad apps, many don’t have them.  You can get many of the others here for prices as low as $10 per year.  Immediate downloads on availability.  Very useable reader. Can carry all my magazines with me when I travel.

It’s not terribly surprising that only a few retail brands made this list.  There are thousands of apps, and a top 400 list by necessity will have a lot of things unrelated to a retail experience.  The success of a retail mobile app is not necessarily indicated by being on this list either.

Like any other solution, it’s important to have a benefit to the user and the retailer.  Find a unique need for your clients, and fulfill it.  Many times fulfilling that need will streamline a cost for you.  Do you think it’s more expensive in the long run for Apple Stores to have a web based appointment system interfaced to their mobile app for simple scheduling of technical assistance, or for them just to let people pile into stores at random and get angry when they have to wait for hours to get assistance?

This technology provides a real opportunity to make lives better.  Take the opportunity to help your customers.

2011.44 | Holiday Shopping Tech Tips

Everyone is looking for ways to simplify the Christmas shopping experience.  Here are a few of my personal recommendations.

Sears Wish Book for iPad – The catalog updated for today.  Make wish lists and order from directly within the calendar app.  All the fun of the catalog with the connectivity of the 21st century.  Shop from your couch as you were meant to do.  Available on iTunes.

Gifting Books on kobo – Shop online for an eBook, choose to gift it, and an email is sent to your gift recipient.  The recipient clicks a link on the email and the book is delivered to their kobo account so that the can read it on their ereader, mobile phone, tablet or computer.  You can also send an eGift Card so that they can pick their own.

Toys R Us Gift Cards Value Check – Got a gift card to use at Toys R Us but aren’t sure how much is left on it?  Go to a price verifier in store and scan it and the price verifier will tell you how much is on it.   No need to wait in line or have do that awkward dance of cutting in line to just do one little thing.   Also ensures unscrupulous cashiers are telling you the truth about card values without a receipt.  This works in various retailers.  Give it a shot.

Target Gaming Kiosk – Not sure which game to buy for your young gamer?  Want to be sure a title is appropriate?  For cross border shoppers, you can use the Target Video Game Advisor.

BMO Mobile Paypass – Skim a few seconds off your payment process by using the BMO Mastercard mobile paypass to buy lunch on your shopping trip.  Using the card on the back of your phone can save getting your wallet out.

Mastermind Reviews – Not sure what gift to pick up for your little ones?  Before you go to the Mastermind store to take advantage of their free gift wrapping, be sure to visit their website for gift advice and to minimize your time in store.  Mastermind makes great use of video reviews by their store specialists to show you the latest toys including what you get, what it does, and more.

Find things faster at Chapters Indigo.  Can’t find the books you want at Chapters Indigo?  Use the kiosks to find what you need.  If the store you are in doesn’t have the book, you can see which stores have the item in stock so you can visit them immediately.  Alternatively you can order a book directly from the kiosk for shipment home or to the store.

Use Evernote for your Shopping List – When browsing online I constantly see items that would be perfect for that special someone.  If I don’t make a note, that idea will be gone forever.   Make use of tools like Evernote to keep Christmas lists.  Evernote is a free web based service that lets you make notebooks of clippings, links, audio files, and more.   Using an applet in your web browser you can grab a link or even the entire web page including pictures, product details, pricing..everything.  All of your notebooks are accessible on the web, on a tablet or a mobile device, so you can even take the list with you as you shop with all of the details, pictures and prices.   Make a Christmas Shopping notebook, tag any items you add with the recipients name, add some notes, save it, and you have the most detailed Christmas list ever with almost no effort.

Buy a Movie Ticket on your mobile device – If you decide to go to a movie on a whim this holiday season, you can save time in line by purchasing them on the way to the theatre.  Just purchase tickets directly on your mobile device.  Empire Theatres has offered mobile phone ticket purchases for some time.  Cineplex also offers mobile ticket purchases from their app, and even lets you print those tickets at the theatre from a specially designated kiosk in some sites.

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