2014.02 | displair | louis vuitton pass| rough trade nyc

displairDisplair – All sorts of new user interfaces are being developed and that novelty often finds its way into retail – even if just as a way of garnering people’s attention for the short term.  Displair is a good example.  Some enterprising souls have built a solution that makes a touchscreen out of thin air.  Video is projected on mist shot into the air.  Sensors catch where the mist is broken to enable touchscreen capability.   While a novelty for now these sort of projected touch interfaces are a prime solution for changerooms or other areas where technology could help but there is limited or constantly changing space.

pounce-louis-vuittonLouis Vuitton Pass – 2D barcodes have always seemed like a jury-rigged solution.  Originally invented to track inventory, they can hold a lot more data than the traditional barcode, but retain an ugliness that fashion (and really everyone) disdains.  Expect to see more solutions like the one leveraged by the likes of the Louis Vuitton Pass App.  Instead of scanning unseemly 2D barcodes, pointing your mobile’s camera at an ad can open a link with product information.  This technology is not that new, but consider the potential of it being built into mobile apps the same way that shazam is used to recognize music, tv and movies.  If it becomes more common, image searches for the right products become that much easier.


Rough Trade NYC – Much has been made of the death of retail and of the record store (music for the youngsters) in particular.  Showing that retail is about the experience, and that music stores can survive in the world of iTunes, Rough Trade recently opened an outlet in NYC .   Rough Trade has been around in the UK for decades, so they are doing something right.  The new store in Brooklyn is broken into boutiques: a traditional CD and Vinyl Record sales floor, a curated instrument showroom, an audio equipment area, and a bookstore.  They offer a unique curation of music that seems a bit different from the iTunes crowd and have digital downloads subscriptions as well.  The piece that really pulls it together is a a 250 seat venue with a full bar that appears to be fully booked for shows.  It will be interesting to see if providing unique offerings, concerts, and providing a venue for a community will be enough to make a go of it.  Considering that digital downloads declined for the first time since iTunes opened, this subset of retail is really up in the air yet again, and this is as good an idea as any to pull in the music crowd.

2011.36 | 3D Printer as Retail Game Changer

It goes without saying that if pure music retailers had seen the rise of MP3 and iTunes a little more clearly, they may have approached things a little differently.

The march of technology affects all retailers in one way or another, and the lesson of the music industry has not been lost on the book industry.  The rise of the Kindle, the Nook, Kobo and more all indicate that retailers and content providers are approaching these radical changes intelligently; by trying to adopt them as their own and make them part of their business model before the wave of consumer demand overcomes them and makes them completely redundant.

Staying ahead of these developments involves quite a lot of guesswork.  For example, who would have anticipated the rapid adoption of smartphones driven by the iPhone less than 5 years ago.  Before that time, few retailers were asking about integrating mobile into their business in earnest – now all of them are doing so.

There is a technology that could have a huge impact on retailers in the future, but I have seen very little discussion on the point and that is 3D Printing.

For the uninitiated, 3D printers are machines that use plastics to ‘print’ small 3d items.  They work along similar lines to the old inkjet printers or plotters from the past, except that instead of using a robotic arm to just draw on a sheet of paper, they lay down layers of plastic to build a 3 dimensional object.  Once one layer is put down, the ‘print head’ is lifted a level, or the layer moves down, and another layer of plastic is put on top of the first.  As the layers build, a 3 dimensional object is formed.  A user opens a file with a 3 dimensional object plotted in it from a CAD application of some point, selects Print, and the printer does the rest.

Solutions of this type have been used for prototyping for some time, and I’ve even used some of these on mockup solutions in our labs.  What is most interesting about the technology is that it is available for purchase to consumers, and there are open source solutions to make this technology available to the masses.

The most well known option available is MakerBot Industries Thing-o-Matic, which retails for just under US$1,300.  This user assembled kit makes it possible for home printing of 3D objects.

Today, these devices just print small plastic pieces, so what is the potential impact on retailers? Let’s consider a future where these 3D printers become increasingly sophisticated.  They become as cheap and simple to obtain as our paper printers, they use stronger materials, they can print larger items, they can use different types of material, they can print very sophisticated objects and they are simple to operate as a paper printer.

If all of this were true at some point in the future,

  • It would be possible to purchase a digital copy of physical object and print it at home.
  • There would be no physical inventory to fulfill orders, no shipping to customers, and very little in the way of  logistics required.
  • No need to visit a physical store for purchase.
  • ‘Instant’ gratification for consumer.
  • There is an increased ability to handle massive swings in consumer demand as long as the server traffic can accommodate hits from consumers.
  • Ability to effectively release new products quickly as no pre-release manufacturing needs to be waited on.
  • There is a potential threat of piracy on the design of physical items – just like there is with mp3 files or eBook files.
The net impact of this type of solution could be very similar to the impact of mp3 and eBooks to brick and mortar retailers.   3D printers would drive different revenues as designs instead of products are sold, new nimble online competitors would arise, and many other retail landscape altering changes could occur.  There are already services that will print items in 3d for customers as a service, as an example.
Will this technology mature quickly or not?  What changes will occur because of it, and when?  It is impossible to say, and guessing is a sure way to look the fool in the future.   What is certain is that retailers should keep an ear to the ground to ensure that rapid progress in technology is something that is used as a potential competitive advantage, as opposed to the technology that puts a retailer out of business.

2010.16 | Record Stores & Technology

With this weekend’s celebration of record store day, I became nostalgic and thought of how buying music worked in days gone by.  I thought of my first album purchased from the local record store, the whole asthetic pleasure of buying music in those days.  The spurious decoration in the store.  The sketchy characters that worked in record stores.  Taking home the physical object.  The art on the cover, the smell of the new CD, the booklet with the words.  It was an experience. 

Over time, the pleasure of that experience was chipped away by massive piracy.  The rise of Napster and Limewire and then iTunes and the iPod chipped away at the record stores.  The pleasure of the music purchasing experience was overcome by the convenience and simplicity of obtaining music from these places for a younger generation.  The stores where I used to browse as a youngster slowly disappeared – A&A, Sam the Record Man, Tower Records and many others.  Those that survive are re-inventing themselves for a very new situation. 

I obtain all of my music online.  I frequent places like the iTunes, the sixty-one, and last.fm to listen to, hear about new music and get suggestions for new material.  I can look at endless blogs like quickbeforeitmelts, cavacool, or Cover Lay Down as well.    I sometimes buy music directly from the bands themselves.  In fact, I was listening to an NPR technology podcast last night that was talking to a band who has never released a physical CD and yet make a living from their music. 

If there has ever been a retail segment fundamentally impacted by technology it has been record, er, music stores.  What lessons can be learned from the demise of the record store as we knew it, and what could the music stores do to ?

  • There is no way to control the sorts of technologies that overcame the music industry and its’ retailers.  The Internet and social media have such a huge hold on society today – and particularly the young monied demographic that they serve, that it would be more productive to embrace it and use it to advantage than to fight it with old strategies.   For example, if you are a used music store, use Twitter to tweet about recent additions to stock.  You can develop a following.  The internet is all about niches and leveraging them.
  • Consider selling things that can’t be downloaded electronically.  Many music stores are jumping on this very well – selling vinyl is picking up again for audiophiles – and video games for Xbox and Wii still require physical media.
  • Find a way to drive traffic using the technology – foursquare is gaining a foothold with retailers as a way to drive traffic with special deals for the mayor or those who check-in at their stores
  • Provide an experience that can’t be had online – Starbucks provides a sensory experience.  It’s certainly possible to do something similar in a music store to cater to a specific demographic.  Build a physical community that can then leverage the one online.  Why don’t have digital downloads for customers in the stores?
  • Go local – Align with local bands who haven’t been discovered yet that are playing venues in the neighbourhood of the store – whether on Myspace or by a label.  Building a relationship with them brings their fans along, and shows those that love the medium that the store is part of the local fabric.  Make the store a gathering place for like minded people.

All of these things are much easier said than done, and I don’t have the answers – merely the benefit of hindsight.  In fact, I think physical music stores are doing many of these things, and probably more.  One thing is certain – as a retailer – or owner of any consumer facing organization, it is now important to understand the business impacts of technology – it goes beyond ROI and a CIO.  It is important to consider how any new consumer technology trend could fundamentally undercut your business.  If you don’t, there will be someone to take the business from you with their unique business model – directly or indirectly.

2009.29 | Attack of the eReader Clones

Learning from mistakes is a basic lesson that publishers, booksellers and gadget manufacturers are not taking lightly.

Amazon is making headway on selling ebooks, claiming that Kindle growth is “very strong”, starting with the success of the original Kindle eReader, and building upon it further with the the release of the improved Kindle DX in the first half of 2009. With the success of the iPod product family and their close alignment with iTunes resulting in blockbuster sales for both – remember that iTunes sells more digital music than anyone by far and more music than most brick and mortar retailers – it seems that publishers, booksellers and electronic gadget makers are not going to ignore the potential of the electronic reading game.

Borders UK is trying Elonix, Shortcovers wants consumers to use thier mobile, Sony has a strong offering, and there are certainly no end of other models and manufacturers vying for a place in a potentially lucrative market. Magazines have also been getting into the mix, with Starwood hotels offering free digital download of popular magazines for hotel guests.

It will be interesting to see if ebooks expand in the same way as music and video. While the ebook model removes the distribution channel required for regular books and provides instant gratification with books downloadable immediately after purchase, it also requires yet another gadget with a cost. That gadget does not necessarily mimic the same experience that many consumers desire in a book. The heft of a book, the ability to fold and hold it as they wish, and even the ability to share it with friends or pass it on give the physical aspect of a book more value than with a CD.

While music is a very different consumer experience from books, it is still worth watching to see how consumers move this business, and these organizations are wise to continue to play a part in the equation.

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.

2009.11 | “New” New Media | Mobile Stores | Changing Gaming

Not everyone is cutting and slashing when it comes to new ideas in this challenging retail environment.

New new media – with the release of Kindle 2 people seem to be taking e-books seriously. Trying to place Amazon as the iTunes of e-books doesn’t seem like a bad plan given their success. While music stores were slow to adopt digital delivery channels, it doesn’t look like books will make the same mistake. Indigo started their shortcovers.com store. Not to be outdone in the US, Barnes and Noble is buying Fictionwise to stay in the race.

Mobile Store Market – Given the incredible growth of the mobile market it’s no surprise that there are plenty of players looking to capitalize. Specialization is coming into it – Best Buy has Best Buy Mobile stores in Canada for example. Now word comes this week that Bell Canada has purchased The Source stores in Canada. While Bell already has a sizable store footprint mainly in Ontario and Quebec with Bell World and Espace Bell, expect them to build on that strength geographically and by obtaining revenue and control over gadgets that can access their core service offerings. With increasing saturation in wireless, you have to wonder if owning all your own outlets and not having to pay dealers could help the bottom line. It’s a bold move in a downturn to increase your stake as a retailer, but it’s always better to buy when prices are low.

Changing GamingGamefly’s first kiosk went in this week. As the first entry by a company that offers a subscription service, this offers a potentially interesting twist, providing them a middle ground between an online and bricks and mortar presence, and a platform with the potential to mix subscription and on-demand services – a new angle in this business.

%d bloggers like this: