2013.19 | opentable | illumiroom-kinect | concierge

opentableOpentable – If you haven’t stumbled on Opentable yet, you should definitely check it out and get it on your mobile.  Anyone can book a table at a restaurant with a PC or mobile device.  It does one thing very simply and it works.  And it does it for a fee and makes money.   I was reminded of this recently by a Gizmodo article that highlights the benefits very well.  Get it on your device.  The more of us use it, the more restaurants will subscribe to it.

In fact, if the OpenTable team are taking recommendations, how incredible would it be if this appointment making service was extended to hair stylists, mechanics, and even doctors and dentists?  Why am I still phoning for an appointment for anything?  All consumers should be able to pick an appointment and have it added to their mobile calendar  just like OpenTable.  OpenTable has the platform; all that would be needed is some branding to suit the other scheduling scenarios.  Reskin the app, get an iPad out to the sites – or even better, an API into their appointment systems – and we would never have to call again.

Even if that doesn’t happen, retailers and consumer facing organizations of all sorts should take note and make appointments easier.  Whoever can reduce the friction of making an appointment first will get an uptick in business.

Illumiroom-KinectkinectMicrosoft has made some announcements over the past month that indicate that their Illumiroom concept might actually see the light of day.  While Illumiroom is touted as a gaming platform, we all now that the big players in pizza automatically put an ordering solution on every console or device to be used by late night snacking gamers.  Expect the pizza team to have us all in an old school pizzeria within days of release.  That in turn should certainly drive some forward looking retailers to try some new ideas with Illumiroom in a concept store or even with an online store that will work with Xbox One.  It’s just another channel after all.

Even better, there were lots of Kinect hacks for real life shopping solutions, and with the release of Xbox One, the Kinect team indicated that the new Kinect will be released for Windows platforms.  This announcement means that solutions in stores now have access to a very cost effective visual tracking platform.  I would expect this module to be taken advantage of in a number of ways.  While novel attention getters like virtual dressing rooms are part of it, the more practical side of traffic counting and loss prevention could certainly leverage Kinect solutions.

waitroseConcierge @ Waitrose – UK based grocer Waitrose has indicated that they are going to add concierge style desks at the front of 100 their stores.  These desks will provide access to tablets to assist with online ordering, as well as some special services like giftwrapping and dry cleaning.  One would suppose that the services will expand over time.

At first glance, this does not sound like a significant change nor an earth shattering alteration in the lives of stores as we know them.  After all, it seems there have always been catalog counters at stores.  What I believe is different here is the recognition that these sort of desks are more likely to become a crucial hub of a retail store than a dusty catalog desk in the corner.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

  • With hubs like this retailers have a better chance of capturing sales that might be lost due to out of stock, by making it obvious where to go for help and providing a mechanism where you can order online to buy what you want right now via various options (buy now, ship to home | have item reserved at other store | pick another viable alternative item with input from customer service).
  • Store associates at the desk ensure that guests that are not technologically inclined can obtain assistance and ‘talk to a person’ as a significant percent of the buying population choose to do instead of using a traditional ordering screen on their own.
  • If customers wish to place an order online as they would from a traditional kiosk, the tablet is there for them to use.
  • Store associates at the desk can take the opportunity to show the less technically inclined how simple and useful it is to shop from a tablet exactly as they could at home, making them comfortable enough to do so on their own they don’t even have to visit the desk or even the store in future.
  • Stores provide an advantage over etailers  in that you could go pick up an item NOW.  If it isn’t easy to pick up that item, or the system doesn’t work, then the advantage over etailers is gone.  Making pickups simple and obvious ensures the advantage stays.  Having those desks covered by knowledgeable people will help hold together any bumps or errors with transactions as well.

Fundamentally what excites me about the implementation of these desks is that they involve a combination of operations, technology and forward thinking.  Too often technology is stuck into a store as an afterthought.  It’s important to be certain that there are benefits to the store, to the customers and to the retailer for any solution.  If all of the pieces are working together, the opportunities for success are much greater.

These desks are a recognition that shopping patterns are emerging and instead of giving everyone tablets, or changing a policy at head office, Waitrose have made this into a strategic plan that takes into account the situation, the customers and how best to serve their changing needs and expectations.  Expect to see more of this sort of structure change in stores.  These same thoughts can already be seen at Best Buy Canada.  Smart retailers will emulate them.

2012.07 | Carts, Pinterest & Registries

Kinect Shopping Carts – Check out this concept where your shopping cart can follow you around or lead you through a store to products via it’s Kinect Interface.  This goes into the “intriguing but probably a ways off” folder – like Google’s self driving cars.

It is a tremendous idea, but will take some time to work out the kinks in a busy store full of customers.  Also remember the usual questions around ROI.  Much as we all want magic shopping carts, and as much as technology is getting cheaper, will this technology double shoppers’ basket sizes?  Will it save on labour?  Can this thing keep up with people in the real world?  How much more will a shopping cart like this cost to buy and maintain?  How will they stand up to the beating they will take from the public?  I’ve seen a lot of tablets mounted to shopping carts in my time in one way or another, and much as I like the idea, it’s a tough solution on which to show a return.

I want my jet pack too, but I’m not sure if we’ll get it any time soon.  The media loves stories like this – with Jetson’s-like futuristic devices.  The public and store staff who have to deal with stuff like this in real life are generally less enthusiastic.   I hope it happens, but I’m skeptical.

Pinterest – Because we all need another social network to fill our hours of downtime, Pinterest is the latest to catch the imagination of the Internet and the media.  Basically it’s a bulletin board where anyone can pin any image that happens to catch their fancy – generally some object of shopping desire.  Others can jump in and like another user’s item, and that item shows who likes it.  Users can follow each others with similar tastes – like Facebook.

I personally don’t enjoy the social aspect of this as much as others seem to do.  Items that I want to remember to purchase later can go in my evernote or favorite on twitter via flipboard.  They also don’t have an iPad app, which seems a bit of an oversight that I’m sure will be corrected.  Either way, I don’t really browse the web as much on my desktop as I used to do, and I’m not adding another bookmarklet.  I’m bookmarkleted out with instapaper, delicious, and evernote already.   All that said, savvy retailers still need to be present and get their stuff out there for the masses who do love this thing.

Gift Registries – Long the purvey of chain retailers, gift registries are going rogue.  A recent Globe and Mail article outlined the changing demographic of those getting married, and how services like The Gift Network are springing up outside of retailers to fill the gap left by traditional registries.

What this article highlights is that the broad availability and relatively low cost of technology can enable solutions to compete with traditional ones that would not have existed in other times.  In the past, the gift registries were owned by the retailers – there wasn’t much choice available.  Now there is technology that reaches into every home to every friend, grandmother and child.  That kind of reach means that not all of the great ideas have to come from the retailers for a gift registry.   It does mean that retailers should find some way to accommodate potentially unrecognized needs from their shoppers, and perhaps shake things up in their own way to.  Expect more and more of these sorts of services to come into the mainstream.

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.

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