2016.05 | Paper, Plastic, Neither?

It’s taken decades for us to get this close to the paperless office. Paper will probably never go away completely, but over the years the usage of paper and copies in my work has diminished exponentially. I rarely print anything. I prefer to store and send all information electronically. Electronic information is much quicker to share, easy to search, and easy to carry.

But has this movement to electronic information reached retail consumers visiting stores? It has, but not to the same degree that many of us experience at work and at home.

I recently visited a specialty shop to buy some tea, and encountered a familiar experience. I was offered the opportunity to join a loyalty club and I’m glad to do that for a discount, however, the method of enrollment was to scan and give me two plastic cards. One card for my wallet and one for a key ring. I accepted them and then took both of my paper receipts; one for my transaction and one for the debit/credit transaction. I then promptly threw away the paper receipts and, after registering my cards, dutifully scanned them with Stocard and filed them.

I accept that one plastic card and one (or two) paper receipt(s) aren’t going to fill up a landfill, but consider the millions of transactions that take place every day. We generate and track all of the data electronically, but instead of sharing it electronically, we print it off and hand it to a customer so that the vast majority of them can promptly throw it away or lose it.

thd receiptWhy do we still print receipts? Let’s consider the arguments I’ve heard over the years:

  • Customers like to check their prices and discounts. This is 100% true – particularly in grocery for a certain subset of budget minded customers. These customers want their receipts and they study them carefully.  They should have them. Retail is all about enabling choice, and this may be a group that will always want paper, however, it is arguable that they have never been provided a better alternative. A subset of these people will accept an electronic receipt if we can supply it quickly enough after the transaction and enable capability paper can’t provide.
  • Loss Prevention teams prefer customers to have bags and paper receipts. It’s obvious that this would make policing in challenging shrink environments easier. Consider another angle. Loyalty customers should receive perquisites, and not having to take a paper receipt is one I enjoy. All transactions are recorded electronically, and with the increasing proliferation of mobile devices in the hands of store associates and shoppers, it should be a simple matter to look up the customers receipts on a store or personal device and validate the date, time, and items on a transaction if required.
  • Retailers are required to give a receipt by Interac / Payments Processor / Credit Card Company. I don’t have a definitive answer on this item through the research I’ve done online (message me if you know!), however, it is certain that no paper receipt is required for eCommerce transactions which are a growing segment of retail purchases. I have also personally made a number of transactions at retailers where I opted for an electronic receipt and no paper receipt was printed, so it is possible.
  • Returns require a receipt. In today’s environment, all retailers should have a centralized database of transactions. We’re no longer relying on our cashiers to validate a real receipt versus a counterfeit receipt or whether a customer is potentially returning items dishonestly. Receipts are not required – transaction ids are required, or even better – the customer’s unique identifier to look up their past transactions. Data is what is needed.  Not paper.

The bottom line here is that paper should be optional.  If customers want it, it should be available. If they don’t want it, there is no need to print it. Every retailer and restaurateur is constantly looking for ways to save any costs.  Any budget cut significantly should help a retailers bottom line. If 25% or 50% of a paper budget for a year is removed it’s an improvement. Take the opportunity to enable an shopper opt-in no receipt option on POS or non-integrated pinpad terminals, and if processes are enabled correctly, the retailer’s knowledge of the shopper’s data will make the experience seem simple and seamless, just by scanning an id from a mobile device.  No paper, no card and no wallet needed

So what about the loyalty card? Why are pieces of plastic still distributed?  In the past, it enabled providing a quickly read and convenient MSR card. It enabled quick enrollment and provided the retailer with a desirable place in a customer’s wallet with their cash and credit cards.  Their logo was visible, and if the customer wanted points and discounts they had to carry that card and look at that logo.

simonsWe now live in 2016, in the world of smartphone proliferation. We live in the world of Apple Pay, Apple Wallet, Android Pay and Stocard. We live in a world with hundreds of cards and loyalty programs – more than can fit in a physical wallet.  Scanner-Imagers have replaced MSR readers. Mobile based electronic

It’s important to capture shoppers at the time of purchase, and while like paper receipts, plastic loyalty cards should be available, why give one to all shoppers to throw away? Once again, they cost money; why throw anything away if it’s not necessary. Why not enroll shoppers electronically at the point of purchase? Electronic loyalty cards provide benefits beyond plastic cards:

  • Shoppers sometimes forget to bring their wallet or plastic loyalty card with them.  Shoppers bring their mobile devices everywhere.
  • Apps and Mobile Wallet cards can have geofenced capabilities to allow apps to be brought up on the mobile device with a shortcut at the bottom of the screen on iOS devices – a similar position to that cherished in the wallet in the past.
  • Point totals can be shown directly on the card if enabled in Apple Wallet or Android Wallet or other apps, allowing shoppers to know their balance and potentially increasing their purchases in store before point of purchase.
  • Rebranding can be completed electronically instead of deploying new cards.
  • Pairing apps and electronic store cards allows a single touchpoint on mobile devices for interaction with customers.  A single app can allow opt-in promotions for loyal and dedicated shoppers, and they can identify themselves with that same device.

There are multiple ways to enable electronic enrollment. Some shoppers are likely to enroll online before visiting the store.  I use a password and identity manager that will autofill forms on any device I own to avoid constantly entering the same person details. Simons, for example, allows shoppers to enroll for their program online and even show the barcode on screen from the mobile website.  For those shoppers that enroll in the store, a loyalty id can be generated electronically and connected to an email address for the shopper to add their details later. Other creative solutions like tapping an NFC tag to connect to an enrollment engine are also available from organizations like Mobilpoint.

For the ongoing use of loyalty cards, it’s easiest for shoppers to use Apple Wallet or Android Pay for retailers that support it and Stocard for those that do not.

For those that want it, there is nothing wrong with paper or plastic.  Retail is all about enabling choice; yet there is no reason for paper and plastic to be the default.  There are lots of use cases to justify the electronic path and move the receipt and card options out of wallets and into the electronic world.

2015.03 | retail mobile apps in canada

This recent online article provided an interesting quotation.  “Canadians are not all that engaged in getting mobile apps from retailers” according to Indigo’s VP of Marketing and Customer Intelligence.  Do Canadians avoid downloading apps or using mobile options to shop because we don’t see value?  Not everyone would agree with that opinion, and if apps provide value that aligns with their brand, retailers’ most dedicated brand followers are likely to be among their users.

There is no magic formula to mobile apps. Retail is all about choice. Every shopper is different and has their own unique journey. Every retailer provides different services and experiences. I have a number of Canadian retailer apps on my mobile device, and the ones that stay on have different traits that I find engaging:

Transaction Capability

I have purchased movie tickets using the Cineplex app for years now. It works well and interfaces to Passbook to simplify scanning for ticket pickup. One opportunity to make the app even better is to simplify payment. Mobile doesn’t lend itself well to entering credit card numbers. While I understand the challenges of storing credit card numbers, online retailers already do it, and I would be willing to store mine as it would easily cut the transaction time in half.

From my perspective, using the app allows me to buy my tickets on the way to the theater while someone else drives and skip the purchasing line at POS or kiosk at the theater. It may not be a value to all users, but skipping lines is a popular past time for most people. Retailer Bonus: lines are shorter for those that choose to buy tickets onsite!


Picture1While I remain uncertain about the value of pre-ordering in an environment like Starbucks that is often high traffic with a lot of queuing, the pizza ordering process has a process to it that lends itself well to mobile ordering. There are a number of options available in Canada, but the one that works for me isn’t an app at all. Panago pizza has a mobile enabled website. Their ordering options are very simple, and best of all, my most recent orders are front and centre when I login. Many apps are focused on jazzy animations of pizzas with the toppings on them.

Animations are fun for first use, but not when I want to just order the same order I had last time for pickup on the way home from the airport after a long day. No need to pay on the app. I pay when I get there, so no need to enter card numbers. If they ever put this simple interface on an app and stored my login it would certainly have a place on my mobile. For now it’s one of few bookmarks on my mobile desktop – and they even remembered to provide the icon on the site so it’s easy to see on the mobile.

Simple User Identification

Picture2One of the main challenges with websites over mobile apps is having to enter passwords. Using password managers like SplashID and 1Password simplifies this, but the majority of the people I speak with glaze over when I mention these tools, and most users forget their endless passwords, adding unwanted multiple steps to a mobile transaction that will dissuade them from using the app. Google and Apple are doing their part to enable browsers to automagically remember all of these passwords, but if credit cards are stored, security starts to suffer.

iTunes makes buying music and video simple by approving purchases with the fingerprint reader on the home button. Lululemon’s shopping app also identifies users by their fingerprint. This is a seemingly overlooked way to login to apps and bring up all of my info – shipping addresses, shopping cart, credit cards and more to apply to a transaction while providing some security. Retailers are constantly looking to remove friction from the purchasing process and both of these apps do that very well.

Fun and Rewards

Going to see a movie in a theater is a shared experience. I find that the Timeplay app for use at Cineplex theaters enhances that shared experience while providing rewards that are valuable to me – scene points towards free movies. The app allows everyone in the theater to compete in a movie trivia game where the mobile devices are used to submit answers to trivia games on the screen – like bar games of old. The top winners get Scene points and snack bar prizes. My children like to compete with me, we all have fun, and I eventually get a free movie entry.

An opportunity to improve the biggest issue with the app was recently addressed by enabling the user’s scene number to be stored in the app and prizes more easily applied. Once again, data entry of long numbers is not ideal. Removing those barriers makes everyone’s experience better, and will increase app usage.

Memory Extension

Picture3Retailers that have extensive inventories of products that lend themselves to repeat purchases provide utility with a favourites tracking capability. LCBO carries a lot of different kinds of wine, and everyone has gone there with instructions to pick up a bottle of wine that a loved one liked that they thought was from Australia and had a blue label; no red….or was it yellow. What year was it?

The LCBO app allows shoppers to scan barcodes on bottles and add them to a favourites list. For the next visit to the store, it’s easy to find that bottle that is impossible to remember without some help. It’s much easier to show your mobile screen to a store associate than describe its physical attributes. As an added bonus, the app will provide details on inventory as of 24 hours at your closest store or at any store in the chain too ensure you make the most of your trip.

This is a great example of truly connecting the mobile and store experience – it’s simple, it suits the needs of shoppers in this environment and provides value.

The Indigo app mentioned in the original article that prompted this post is on my mobile as well.  It has the ability to hold favourites lists as well, and you can name them, so I keep ongoing lists of books my family mentions to remember as gifts.  The app also leverages Passbook for loyalty card use.


For small transactions with regular customers, enabling payment via a barcode and stored value card is the best way to enable payment without using the pinpad at point of sale. Starbucks has done this well for years, and I have personally trained numerous Tim Horton associates over the past few months on how to accept the Tim Card on my mobile with their imager at POS and drive thru.  Wendy’s Canada are new to the game, and their solution works in much the same way – though with unique constantly changing six digit codes instead of a barcode.

While this payment capability is very useful, I still see shoppers re-loading their stored value card at the POS. That is a value of both of these stored value apps – the cards can be reloaded on the app. No need to hold up the line or enter a PIN at the POS. I think most people aren’t comfortable setting it up, and there is some need for culture shift there. Both of these apps do well at this, though once again, in my opinion, passwords and initial setup reduce the full contingent of potential users who are scared off by the effort. My initial setup for the Tim’s app took three attempts to match 2 passwords with capitals, symbols, etc.

Passbook Enablement

Picture4As someone who aspires to minimize my wallet, I use Passbook every day. I’ve seen very few others using it when I am at a POS, and it should be more widely used. Apps like Air Miles, Tim’s, Starbucks, and Cineplex all enable loyalty or payment cards to be stored in Passbook.

Passbook negates the need to carry another piece of plastic. There is no need to look through your phone to find and open the specific app for the card you want. I always have my mobile with me to show my card. While not every retailer can scan the card as they are not in the right cycle for replacement of their scanners, they can still give their number for entry – kudos to Rexall staff for always doing this when I show my card.

There is not an ideal mobile wallet yet, but changes like this are cultural, take time and are achieved by taking small steps – I start with loyalty cards and coffee payment. Drivers license and other ID could be next. I’m doing my part to encourage shoppers and retail associates to become comfortable with these options by using them and talking about them with others. Passbook is far from perfect, but it’s the best option to date.

There are lots of value in mobile apps already available and there is lots of opportunity for more.  Consider just a few other opportunities I’ve not seen realized in Canada as of yet:

Mobile Apps for Gas Pumps – It’s been very cold in most of Canada this winter.  Why not control the fuel pump from inside the relative warmth of our cars?  The technology exists to do this and even order food from outside the store.  You could even scan codes from windshield washer fluid, ice or firewood in the summer and pay without having to enter the store.  Oh, and it’s time to get rid of those stickers that say not to use your mobile at the pump.  The gas station operators are less concerned than in the past. The myth of danger is busted.  That said, we should always pay attention to what we are doing when we fuel.

Coupons – I’m not sure why we can’t open our mobile and select coupons to apply to our loyalty card for usage when we buy those items in Canada.  The technology exists and is available and in extensive use in the US.

Enable the app as Information Hub – All retailers are enabling buy online and ship to store.  Why not build this information into my account page so I can look it up?  A red notification icon on the app here would be more likely to catch my attention than an email.  Receipts should go here too.  I hate wasting paper.  Let me tell you that on the app, and don’t make me take a paper receipt automatically.  All account details should be available to me here and online and on my tablet.  Dominos does a great job of showing the status of your order and lets you track your order through the process. It would be fantastic to do this with orders for bigger items.

I think that there is a great deal of opportunity to improve on the mobile interactions retailers can provide, but as indicated, there are already lots of great options.  It’s impossible to walk around in public without seeing people staring at a mobile device.  There is no reason that they won’t adopt retailer apps, but they have to be educated, and it has to be more than signage.

For all of the signage I’ve seen at stores, I’ve never seen any evangelists in stores to help people understand all of the value that shoppers can get from the apps.  I’ve never seen cashiers or associates answering customers problems show them how it’s very easy to get what they need from the mobile app.  While the benefits of apps discussed above aren’t of value to everyone, there is definitely a population of people that are completely unaware of the benefits.  In a strange twist, the best vehicle to convince everyone to leverage this technology completely may be human interaction.  In the interim, I’m happy to use these tools and continue to share with others who are interested.

2013.11 | Retail Tech Miscellany

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.17.52 PMWaste Elimination – Check out The Disappearing Package – a Masters Thesis based on eliminating the packaging part of consumer packaged goods altogether.  Not sure how realistic these are, but eliminating packaging is a welcome concept, and there are some interesting options shown.  via Fast Company

Mobile Selling Across Platforms – There has been lots of talk about mobile retailing, but Gucci took it to heart and redesigned their mobile website to provide a unique experience suited to buying on a smartphone or tablet as well as a traditional pc or notebook.  One can’t help but notice that Gucci chose to update their mobile website instead of an app.  Given the increasing pile of mobile os ecosystems and flavours (iOS, Android, Windows) and devices (smartphones and tablets of various shapes and sizes), setting up a great website with mobile optimization seems the way to go.

IBM retail AR appShelf Overlay – Augmented Reality is another concept that has been touted as a game changer for retail.  IBM has a conceptual mobile app that allows users to use their mobile device’s camera to capture items on the shelf with image recognition and then allow shoppers to sort through the assortment based on various parameters as they would on a website.  Customers could find gluten free items, or see what items are on sale.  I love the concept, but I’m not sure if most people today will have the patience to search a store this way.  If they do, everyone will be bumping into each other and trying to stand back from the shelves.  It could get a bit awkward walking down the aisles!

Data elements are likely to be a challenge for this.  If a retailer doesn’t have a fully populated database with all the elements needed to filter, a significant effort will be required to update systems on the back end to support this effort.  Apparently it’s being tested in the UK.  Some fun additions in my mind: highlight items from my shopping list on the shelf in green in case I can’t find them, highlight my usual items as I walk by them, put blinking green on items that may interest me, and finally integrate this into Google Glass to make it less awkward to use.

Loyalty Apps – I’ve always hated those little loyalty cards that you got stamped for a free coffee.  My sushi place has a terrible version of this that you can’t even read.  I also hate carrying paper cards and I’m not alone.  Check out this recent blogto profile of a number of smaller loyalty programs that are trying to take this niche into the smartphone age.

CapturePinterest Analytics – Pinterest is one of the most interesting social media stories to come on the scene for some time, and it got a bit more interesting as their Web Analytics have been released.  Now pinners including retailers, will have a better idea of what people are pinning.  It’s unclear if that changes much for retailers that pin, but at least some gauge of reaction is possible.  Perhaps the ability to tag whether an item was purchased would help.  I’ve always thought Pinterest would be a great social media network for retailers to add to a client profile.  When I visit higher end retailers or am looking for something fashion related, staff always ask about my hobbies and style.  It would be nice to just let them glance through a few Pinterest boards to give them a flavour for what you like. Not only that, but the retailer sees what you like at other retailers.

2011.25 | Trade Privacy for Convenience

All retailers want to understand their customer better to sell more stuff.  In order to gain an understanding data must be gathered to build customer profiles.  Loyalty or member based card programs were instituted to gather data.  Consumers were and are willing to give up some privacy in return for a reduced price or special offers.  As technology has matured and become ubiquitous, privacy has become more precious to some.  Pricing has become increasingly competitive, and one can only discount so much.

One strategy for driving loyalty and gathering data is by offering convenience in return for taking part in a loyalty program.  One relevant current example is Starbucks’ mobile payment which is available to customers with a registered Starbucks card, and nobody else.  While there are benefits like a free shot of syrup and a free birthday beverage, these are standard items.  More exciting to customers is being able to pay quickly and simply every day, and it can only by done by registered customers.   What if we were to take this registered user benefit further?  Some examples:

  • A customer has coupons and offers tied directly to their card.  The customer only requires a reminder to buy the product to obtain the offer.  No need for customers to clip coupons or remember to bring them along.  When the loyalty card is scanned, and then a product is scanned, the customer gets the special price automatically.  With newer software solutions, this connectivity to the card can get granular enough that individual prices can be offered to individual segments or even individual customers if retailers wish to do so.  Not having to remember pieces of paper in the digital age is a benefit to consumers, and obtaining unexpected offers breeds loyalty.
  • Price guarantees are often provided over a certain time period.  In the online world, pre-orders have price guarantees that are provided automatically.  Why should customers have to go back to stores to ask for their credit?  Why not allow loyalty card holders or high value clients automatic refunds for price guarantees?  While it’s not practical for grocery, it can be done for general merchandise, fashion, and any large ticket items.  While it sounds counter-intuitive to give funds back, it is currently rare enough that it will drive confidence in a retailer to encourage return business on profitable large ticket items.
  • Loyalty customers could be eligible to receive e-receipts.  Retailers like Old Navy and Sears already provide such platforms, however there are some potential holes in the solution as it exists today.  First, if a customer has to provide an email address, there is always a chance that the receipt could go to the wrong place, and the customer will not have a receipt – a potential problem for both parties.  Second, providing e-mail addresses will soon start to slow down the check-out process.  Using a loyalty card or even an account number attached to the card will provide a quicker checkout experience and a database for the receipts.  Apple Stores already effectively do this using a customer’s Apple ID for the transaction based on the customer’s credit card swipe.
  • If a customer leaves an item behind at POS or Self-checkout, they can automatically receive an SMS message to ensure that they have all of their items with them.  This could be triggered by a button on the POS linked to the customer’s loyalty card which has the customer’s mobile number.  If the customer registers their mobile with the loyalty program, when they cash out, the cashier could have a button on their screen that allows them to SMS previous customers a standard message indicating that they should ensure that they did not leave anything behind.
Privacy for lower prices is common enough in the retail landscape.  There are many more creative outlets possible given all of the details in today’s technology.  Sooner or later, a savvy retailer will cash in on these potential differentiators.  These benefits are still novel today, and can win an audience accustomed to convenience and novelty.  Best of all, it uses technology in a way consumers love – in a manner that is ideally transparent to the user.

2010.25 | Contactless Transit in NYC | Walmart Loyalty | Mobile Movie Marketing

Contactless Transit – While contactless has lots of benefits, it sure seems to have problems with customer usage.  NYC has the contactless credit card option on the turnstiles as part of a 6 month trial, and while the benefits seem obvious, there are few takers according to this NYT video. Why would consumners opt to go to a vending machine, charge a declining balance card, and then use that card to pay for their ride? Consider the benefits to users:

  • One card will do where two were once needed – no need for separate Metro Card
  • No need to recharge a card at a Metrocard Vending Machine = no waiting and reduced time spent on purchase
  • The turnstile opens and closes just as quickly
  • No need for an advance outlay of funds
  • No more lost coins or cash jingling in your pockets – though the cash option may be what drives the recharging of cards depending on your population.

Yet still little usage based on their informal survey in the subway.  Most likely problem: they’ve not been advertising it strongly enough in person as part of this trial.  For self service to succeed someone at the site needs to be there telling New Yorkers why this is a benefit.  Technology isn’t enough on its own.  The general population needs to be shown, shown again, and then shown another time – highlighting the benefits in a brief, clear manner. 

Walmart Loyalty – While a perennial holdout in the many loyalty schemes available here in Canada, Walmart Canada will be offering loyalty points on their new credit card to be released as part of their newly chartered bank.  This should shake things up a bit.

Mobile Movie Marketing – As part of the upcoming release of the Steve Carell motion picture Despicable Me,  the Best Buy Movie Mode mobile app will translate the nonsense jabber of little characters called minions during the end credits of the movie while users are in the theatre.  This idea certainly provides an interesting cross pollination for retailers like Best Buy to the movies, and we can certainly expect them to extend it to other films.  Now we will have public service announcements at the end of the movie to remind us to turn ON our mobile.  Like that was necessary.

2009.36 | Changing Approaches

The Fitting Room – LA retailer Metro Park is using the fitting room as a point of differentiation, making a potentially painful interaction- trying on a new garment – something that makes customers feel special. To take this a customer experience enhancment further, St Clair Interactive has a solution that allows retailers to understand what customers didn’t buy. Items are scanned prior to entering the fitting room, and then retailers can look for patterns in what customers left behind as well as in what they bought. Having that understanding can improve suggestion making in the store, allow for adjusted stocking practices, and help understand individual customer behaviour for loyalty card holders.

The Supply Chain – Retailers and manufacturers are always looking for an opportunity to drive out cost and ensure that the merchandise consumers want is in store. While the parameters considered are quite extensive, Tesco is taking it a bit further by incorporating weather into their calculations.

Checkout – Item level RFID had some great results at a Bloomingdales study last month. Interestingly the comments indicate that while the inventory savings are wonderful, there may be a greater opportunity for consumer benefits in leveraging RFID – help finding items, immediately provide details on size and colour, suggest coordinating items by scanning them and many more.

In Aisle – With the costs of technology going ever downward, expect to see more interactive solutions within the aisles as you shop. The costs and functionality of price verifiers and kiosk platforms are crowding ever closer, making the only obstacles a good interactive program and the operational support to make it happen. Expect the usual lack of knowledgeable staff to be replaced by viable useful technology solutions.

2009.33 | Item Level RFID

RFID has been touted as the future of retail for some time now. Item level tagging certainly seems a long way down the road, given the usual challenges of change including issues like RFID tag costs, altering the supply chain, and engineering changes to store operations.

American Apparel is making an attempt to leverage RFID in the store, and if it works, there are some interesting potential benefits given the right retail environment:

  • Simpler Inventory Management – Cycle counts are more automated and faster, providing more selling time and less administrative time for store staff.
  • Shrink Reduction – RFID could prove more effective than EAS technologies, given the potential to allow an exit gate alarm to go off only if an item has not been scanned. Instead of scan and de-activate, an item needs only be scanned. The gate could even identify the specific item that has passed through the gate to staff.
  • Better Service in Store – Always knowing the sizes and colours on the floor and in the back is key to customer satisfaction.
  • Potential Loyalty Program Benefits – Having RFID readers in the store could allow Loyalty card holders to be identified by staff and accorded special treatment.

There are certain to be other benefits not yet considered, so let’s hope that the business case comes together for the technology.

2009.27 | Strategies for Tough Consumers

Tough times drive tough consumers. Retailers are adjusting their strategy to the new reality around consumer behaviour in varying ways.

2009.23 | Trading Privacy

The basic agreement underlying basic consumer facing loyalty programs is that consumers are willing to trade a certain amount of their privacy in return for a discount on goods, services or other rewards.

Moving past that basic agreement, more sophisticated consumer facing organizations provide targeted offers or suggestions to consumers based on their selections or buying habits with the consumer’s agreement.

Now consider the internet generation and web 2.0, where few question the fact that every online and mobile service online is ‘free’. All comers are completely willing to provide their intimate details to populate the key fields of the system – a marketers dream. In this environment, the consumer’s data is the price of admission for a ‘free’ service.


Last.fm keeps track of all their members’ music and listening habits in incredible detail. In return, it is possible to listen to new music online with links to purchase music from iTunes, discover concerts and share music online or even right on their mobile device (video is coming, too). The data captured is an irreplacable resource that can be sold to music artists and labels (or movie studios). Detailed listening data can be used to target consumers of specific musical taste, providing spot on targeting, reducing promotional costs, and driving revenues.

While this could still be considered a fair trade, assuming data is kept anonymized and used for legitimate and agreed upon commercial purposes, it does bring up troubling privacy issues. In 2009 most people are comfortable sharing their information online in social media experiments like Facebook, last.fm, Bookarmy, Evernote and countless other very useful applications. There are certainly other applications for these consumers’ data that have not been considered by the consumers as they provide it, and insidious or not, it signals change in our society and our consumer interactions.

Privacy issues or no, the first consumer facing organizations that discover a seamless way to allow customers to move as themselves from point of service to online to the web, remembering preferences of product and business method, purchases, while making useful recommendations and generally acting as our trusted advisor will certainly profit. There are many attempts being made today.

2009.16 | Mobile Life

Everyone knows that mobile is exploding as a touchpoint for consumers. NCR is banking on it as are many others. I was amazed on a recent trip to Walt Disney World in Florida at the explosion of mobile device usage everywhere I went. I saw hundreds of teens texting on their holiday. I saw their parents using their mobiles to keep track of the rest of the family on vacation, as well as keep tabs on work via email. Disney even has a handheld based adventure for kids to experience at Epcot, indicating they understand the importance of this channel.

While usage numbers on mobile continue to grow, there are also some tremendous opportunities to improve on our mobile world and interactions with customers. Most of the interactions I observed were SMS and email based, and I don’t think that has even begun to leverage the technology to its fullest. This weekend, I used my mobile to:

:: look up new releases on dvd for friday night rental,

:: look up directions in real time from a concert hall to a restaurant,

:: look up the restaurant’s phone number from the maps application to call ahead for a table,

:: view the restaurant menu ahead of time to look for options to suit my wife’s special dietary needs

:: transfer money directly to a friend’s account from my phone to pay him for the show tickets, as I don’t carry cash or cheques,

:: look up the score for Saturday night’s Leafs vs Canadiens hockey game (lost again),

:: read through 3 newspapers (NYT, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail) while waiting to pick up my children at a party,

:: look up an author online while I listened to a radio broadcast about her and bookmarked it,

:: record a voice memo to pick up some things while running errands for my wife,

:: look up Easter themed books while shopping at Chapters,

:: take a picture of a book I thought my wife would enjoy while at the store,

:: look up my bookmark for the author from the radio and look for her books,

:: show an image of my iRewards card to the cashier in my photos on my phone instead of carrying all my loyalty cards.

Most of these items are an opportunity for consumers to leverage a tool they already have in a new way, increasing convenience at little or no cost. On the business side, they are also an opportunity for consumer facing organizations to learn about their customers habits, and increase their wallet share via coupons, services, or leveraging a recommendation engine. This is a true win for both parties – more convenience for more information, allowing better service.

My iPhone makes it easier to do the things on this list, but not so easy that everyone is willing and/or able to do them just yet. Many people don’t even know that they can do these things. Apple and RIM have an opportunity to assist via their interfaces, and organizations have a tremendous opportunity to build or be a part of the applications of the future that blur the line between mobile and self service. Applications like:

Electronic Wallet – Pay with your mobile using credit cards via NFC, or pay with retailer specific declining balance cards tied to an account number via 2D barcode. Carry all of your Loyalty cards without straining your purse or your wallet. Benefit for the consumer; less of a physical burden and less organization. Benefit for the retailer; more in depth understanding of consumer activity as loyalty cards are at hand for every transaction.

Electronic Receipts – You can already get a receipt emailed to you at the Apple Store. Why not have it transferred to your phone in a receipt folder in electronic format? If there is a return or a warranty issue, you always have all of your receipts, and you can transfer them back to the retailer when for validation you complete a return. No more paper cost or paper waste. Never lose the receipt. No more George Costanza wallet.

AutoFill Applications – I saw a terrific example of this at the NCR Executive Briefing Centre. Your phone has all of your vital statistics on it in an encrypted folder. You pull up an application on a kiosk, or Microsoft Surface, and you can use your phone to automatically fill out the application with all of your personal details, much as you can with the Google Toolbar Autofill on your web browser. No more filling out your name and address for the millionth time on an application for a Loyalty card, a car lease, or even a raffle ticket.

Mobile Plan Adjustments – Go directly online and change your phone plan. Traveling to Europe? Go online on your mobile, select the checkboxes to add a la carte options like bulk SMS messages or air time to your plan, and your account is updated. No more IVR or talking to the call centre, no more confusing options, just a quick bullet list of what you have and what you pay, right on your phone.

Hotel and Car Keys – Another great demo at the NCR Executive Briefing Centre. Instead of obtaining a plastic card for your room key, use an NFC chip in your phone to register and open your door during your stay. They could do this with rental cars as well. They use similar technology for car sharing services like Zipcars. No more lost keys.

Mobile Image Recognition – Take a picture of a restaurant, a menu comes up on your phone. Take a picture of a product, and a datasheet or informational video plays on your phone. It’s coming.

Store in the Pocket – As a retailer, what better way to tighten your relationship with your customer by putting a virtual store on their mobile device. Your store is always on and always with them. Amazon has a store that’s optimized for the iPhone, and you can buy books on iPhone kindle app. Watch for ways to connect these stores to the real world, like scanning a barcode or taking a picture of a product. Starbucks has started it by allowing customers to find and purchase the song they hear on the radio at the store from Itunes on their iPhone with no charge for wifi. Expect to this to expand and get smarter. No more wandering the book store trying to remember that music or book your friend suggested.

Order Streamlining – I’ve been waiting for someone to perfect (or even attempt this) for a couple of years now after seeing this great mockup that I carry around on my phone. The real opportunity here is to connect the mobile experience to the self service or assisted service situation. Customers have a menu application on their device, and select their order. The selections are saved, and then the screen shows a 2D barcode on demand, which can be read by a customer facing scanner at the end of the line. That 2D barcode can also encode a retailer specific declining balance card so that payment can also be initiated at the same time as the order is placed. QSR organizations have the opportunity to lock in customers; providing them faster service, and complete tendering – the slowest part of the transaction – while the customer is waiting for their order. No more repeating your order or having it misheard.

These solutions may seem a little like a scene from the film Minority Report, but if you don’t use this technology, you know someone who will. These solutions exist today, they will become increasingly easier to use, more mainstream, and their usage will grow.

I placed my first ecommerce order in 1995, when I purchased a Wired Magazine subscription via email with my credit card number because that was the only way it could be done. If you consider the leaps and bounds the Internet has taken since that time, imagine how mobile will influence our lives in the coming years.

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