2014.20 | coin vs plastc

The newly hyped Plastc sure looks a lot like Coin – both are electronic replacements for the plastic cards carried in the wallets of consumers.

Let’s revisit that product and see how it stacks up against Coin, especially given all of the recent hype around alternative payment schemes such as Apple Pay.

CaptureC O I N 

Coin raised some serious concerns for me when it was first revealed – from the original post.  Since that post, additional information is available from the Coin site and FAQ.  Here are the concerns I had with updates from Coin:

  • Acceptance – Retailers and their staff may have some qualms about scanning a relatively unknown black electronic device across their pinpads. Education will be needed for store staff to be confident that this is a valid technology to use for payment. If this is not achieved, everyone that spent $100 will be out of luck when they go to pay with their single card.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that card branding and details will be visible on the screen of the card.  This should help with this challenge.  In the intervening year since Coin has been under consideration there have been so many new payment schemes that have popped up in the media that as long as a card scans, store staff will probably not question it too deeply depending on the transaction value and type.]

  • Fraud – What stops a Coin user from stealing cards and putting a number of them onto the Coin card to complete fraudulent transactions? Hopefully there are some measures to verify that the person scanning the card is the rightful owner of the card.

[UPDATE: The FAQ indicates that the card owner must have a card in hand in order to enter it into the database.  A mobile app takes an image of front and back and matches it to an MSR swipe.  The system also requests a temporary authorization on the card in an amount that must be validated by the user by looking at the account online.  That’s a clever move and reduces the potential of this card becoming a tool for fraud.]

  • Dishonest Store Staff – If one can easily flip through all my cards with the touch of a button, there better be a PIN lock on it to do that, otherwise you just gave a cashier in a restaurant ALL of your cards. Hit the button and swipe to capture all of the numbers. If they’re not dishonest, they may accidentally select the wrong card by selecting a button.

[UPDATE: There are no details I could find on the FAQ that indicate that there is a PIN lock to stop someone from sorting through all of the cards on the device, though there is reference to tap code that may serve this purpose.  As the device is swiped as an MSR, this would indicate that if you hand that card to a server in a restaurant and they take it to a POS to scan, they could theoretically scan all of the cards on the Coin device to capture all of the account numbers if they are familiar with it. While the device avoids the concern of being a fraud tool, it doesn’t really protect the user in the restaurant scenario any further than current 40 year old MSR technology.  As a consumer I would want to know if the tap code locks a particular card for use on the device.]

  • User Validation – How do stores validate that the user is who they say they are? Is there a signature on the back of Coin? Does it show the card number and expiry date on the screen? Is a Drivers license needed for verification every time?

[UPDATE: There are no details on the site other than the fact that the Coin will display the card details.  One can only assume that a cashier or server would ask to see your drivers license or alternative ID to see a signature for validation. Probably necessary to carry ID anyway, but it really negates the point of having a cool device for payment when users scratch a line onto paper to prove who they are.]

  • EMV – Consumers in many parts of the world outside of the US no longer use MSR cards, and we can expect the same in the US over coming months and years. I see no chip option available but perhaps that is a future consideration.

[UPDATE: Coin it its current iteration – not released yet by the way – will not support EMV.  This is a serious shortcoming that becomes more crucial over time.  As a consumer I see little benefit to purchasing a tool like this that will only be usable in some places when EMV takes hold.  Also: International markets can’t use this solution – that’s disappointing for us.]

  • Contactless – I like using the contactless feature of my cards to make my purchases quick and simple. No indication that coin has NFC capability

[UPDATE: No indication of NFC or other contactless capability.]

Some other interesting points that came available after the original post about Coin:

  • Coin uses low energy bluetooth connectivity is used to remind users that have left cards behind via their mobile device.
  • The device is supported via an app for both apple and android mobile devices.
  • The device uses a non-rechargeable battery targeted for 2 years of usage.  Mileage will vary.

As a Canadian, Coin in it’s current iteration won’t work for me – it’s not targeted at international markets.  A US consumer may find it useful, though I have concerns about security and the real benefits.  Also in the currently prescribed video of an affable dude with a beard showing us the solution, Coin should really scrap the big wallet.  Do people who want a single card really carry a George Costanza wallet after they get this sleek new device?  I think not, but that’s just one voice.   All kidding aside, the Coin solution is intriguing.  Bringing something new like this to market is very difficult and they deserve full credit for pushing the idea; it’s certainly a credible concept.

P L A S T C

CaptureLet’s consider the same real world concerns for the newly unveiled – and yet also unreleased – Plastc.

  • Acceptance – Plastc has an e-ink screen that covers the bottom third of the front of the card.  This allows for graphics and details to be shown on the card that should lend it credibility when it’s used for payment.  That same e-ink screen is scannable with a barcode to allow the use of loyalty cards with it as well. Another point of consideration is EMV.  With future EMV capability, store staff have no reason to look at cards.  In fact, once consumers and staff are accustomed to staff NOT having to check signatures, the need for the laughable security measure of checking signatures becomes aggravating to staff and shoppers alike.  (Ask Canadians about visiting Gap Brand stores – a rare holdout that checks signatures – it annoys all.)
  • Fraud – Details are less specific, but the Plastc Wallet mentions the requirement of a facial scan and authentication.  Details of how cards are added are not provided at present.  The card shows an image of the cardholder, which should also be useful in minimizing fraudulent transactions.
  • Dishonest Store Staff – There is a PIN on the card, but the site does not provide details on whether the card is locked when cards are passed to staff.  That said, the card supports NFC and ships with a chip that will enable Chip and Pin / EMV in future, so there is less need to leave a card with a server or cashier, reducing the potential for card number capture.
  • User Validation – At release, signatures would be used.  Signatures could theoretically be stored on the e-ink screen, but there is no indication of signatures shown on screen.  Once again, with NFC and EMV options, the necessity of a signature is avoided, and the use of a PIN or just the NFC itself simplifies the validation.
  • EMV – The card has a chip to be activated later via a software update.  This is key for future proofing with EMV coming on the scene in the US in 2015, and opportunity for international usage.
  • Contactless – The card has contactless capability.   This avoids the need for signatures, enables small value purchases and reduces fraud compared to MSR options.

Other points:

  • Like Coin, Plastc uses Low Energy Bluetooth to alert users to cards left behind.   The card automatically locks if left behind.
  • An app is used to manage account information stored on the app.
  • Barcodes can be put on the screen and shown for scanning. This means that the Starbucks app could be enabled to work with it.
  • The NFC function could also be used for access doors to add additional card functionality
  • The Plastc card is rechargeable on a wireless charging pad. Entire lifetime is not indicated.

Both the Plastc and Coin cards aim to eliminate all of the cards we carry in our wallets, and both appear to have created the miraculous with such tiny hardware.  Both certainly represent viable options, but given the need for a chip in particular and contactless to a lesser degree, the edge goes to Plastc.  While some pundits may suggest that mobile programs like Apple Pay would supersede card hardware like this, but the complexity of payments is such that cards will not go away quickly and card solutions definitely fulfill a need for an interim solution to move us all to the mobile wallet.  It’s hard to say if consumers will shell out $100 or $150 for the convenience of cards like these, but one must wonder if the card companies may not eventually decide to fund such things.

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2014.18 | iOS8 for retail

CaptureiOS 8 will be released this week.  Among many changes to the operating system for apple mobile devices, there are a number of changes that are worthy of consideration to retailers.

Apple Pay – The moment Apple Pay was released, a flood of POS providers showed their support and ability to enable Apple Pay on their platform (my own employer among them).  Apple are releasing the program in the US with support from a number of well known tier one retailers.  While there is no way of knowing whether showing an apple logo on the retailer’s door will get people to finally jump to a mobile wallet, it’s a good strategy to keep options open in the event it becomes a commonly requested payment method.

apple-pay-retailers-iphone-6-announcementRetailers in Canada that implemented new pinpads for EMV  over the past few years enabled NFC on those pinpads as a matter of course.  With that NFC capability, they should be well placed to enable Apple Pay when it becomes available in Canada.  US based retailers that do not currently have NFC capability and are working through EMV certification would do well to include NFC and Apple Pay integration as part of that process.    The incremental cost of enabling Apple Pay as part of an overall EMV effort is likely to be minimal.  While it would be optimal to deploy quickly to take advantage of consumer interest, EMV takes time and if the devices onsite do not have NFC capability, a deployment of new devices will be necessary.

It will be important for retailers to track where and how Apple Pay gains traction.  The area of focus may vary – hospitality and small transactions could be the sweet spot, but perhaps it will be popular with shoppers at luxury retailers.  Retailers should watch closely and ensure that their shopper’s preferences are fulfilled.

Photo 2014-09-15, 9 09 00 AMScan Credit Card for eCommerce – While much was made of the ability of scanning scan credit cards to add them to Passbook, the ability to scan credit cards into Safari for eComm purchases is also a nice addition.  As someone who makes eComm purchases on my mobile devices for items such as movie tickets, making a purchase is an effort.  Shoppers must TYPE their full name, credit card number, expiration date and card security code.  I have those memorized, and it’s still clunky to do on a mobile.  For some retailers one also must type in a verified by visa password.   If that whole process can be replaced by a scan from my phone, or an autofill from my safari keychain, it saves a whole lot of typing and removes obstacles from mobile purchases.  Retailers who enable this function are likely to drive more sales through their mobile channel with the removal of obstacles.

Capture2Location Based App Shortcuts – On earlier versions of iOS, Passbook provided a lock screen notification for Starbucks if you were in a store.  Passbook also provided a lock screen notification for a plane or movie ticket if the time for the ticket was approaching.  While this was a convenient workaround an unnecessary pin code entry, it also required some setting changes.  For Starbucks, users had to identify “favourite” sites that enabled Passbook to provide the lock screen notification for Starbucks payment.

iOS8 provides a non-Passbook lock screen shortcut in the bottom left of the screen based on your GPS location.  Users have noted that their iPhones with apps from Vons, Tesco, Starbucks and more  show an app icon in the bottom left of the lock screen.  When users swipe up on the icon at bottom left, the app is opened with out a PIN [Update: you still need your PIN to access the full app.  Passbook = no PIN).    While it may appear that beacons are at play, it sounds like it may be driven by GPS as some users had no connectivity at the time.  One user also indicated that a Costco icon showed at the bottom left even though they did not have a Costco app installed.

Retailers stand to benefit from reduced barriers for shoppers to use their mobiles once again.  Making an app easier to access while actually at the retail location is a great idea.  Providing a visual cue right on the lock screen is even better.  This access sets the stage to enable retailers to bring online and stores together with some unique functionality.

CaptureHey Siri! – The latest iteration of Siri allows users to access the personal assistant without having to push a button.  iPhones can now listen for users to ask for help.  Siri is also finally going back to its roots with integration to more services.  Siri is able to listen to songs for you with Shazam to find and purchase the name of the song/tv show/movie you are observing.

While Siri will be a great sales tool for Shazam and iTunes to sell it doesn’t help other retailers much on the surface, but it does indicate a possible door widening to integration with other services.   When Siri was originally launched, it connected to 45 services, but after Apple bought them, it connected to only 12.  The founders of Siri are working on another service – viv – that promises to take the personal assistant to another level – and ideally connect it to a plethora of services that can access it via natural language.

Retailers that can make their transaction engines available to channels like AI personal assistants will be exposing their products and services in a new way.

Privacy – In past iterations, mac addresses were easily harvestable from idevices by pinging them with a wifi signal.  In essence, ‘free’ consumer tracking was possible.  With iOS8, iDevices provide a pseudo MAC address until consumers actually establish a connection with the wifi network.  This means that retailers and other consumer facing organizations will need to track consumers via an iBeacon option or even through accepting a wifi connection with shoppers.

Making the MAC address data private is the right thing for retailers and shoppers alike.  All retail programs should be opt-in and retailers and all consumer facing organizations should be clear on data tracked, for what purpose, and allow shoppers the right to opt out of anything they are not comfortable with.  Selling is a two way street and being as honest and straightforward is possible will have the best returns in the long run.  Shoppers who are willing to provide their data for improved service are not hard to find, and everyone appreciates an honest trading partner.

CaptureIndoor Positioning –  Apples latest offering enables indoor maps and wayfinding to be more easily implemented by shopping centres and department stores.  Apple has made iPhone motion sensors available to their API.  With that API update and a more powerful processor, indoor systems can access phone data to make navigating large venues simpler.

Retailers that leverage any tool possible to provide access to their products and services make themselves more readily available to shoppers.

iOS 8 looks to be a landmark release with lots of new features and functions.

Check out a longer list of deep dive functionality, and please share any retail oriented features discovered at release!

2012.34 | Square Canada | Watch2Pay | Passbook Canada

Square Canada – Square is now available in Canada.  Now small businesses in Canada who want to take credit cards or operate a very simple cash register on an iOS device can take advantage of the Square offer.  Can’t wait to see which Canadian businesses show up on their Canadian directory of users.   Should change payments in Canada as we know them if they use Pay with Square. [Interesting point – turns out they are just using their MSR dongle and not a chip and pin solution to read the card.  Not ideal in Canada where EMV is the norm, as retailers bear the risk of an MSR (non chip) transaction!]

Watch2Pay – Watch2Pay, which sounds a bit like a wig for your watch, offers an NFC enabled watch.  Basically, one purchases a watch and it includes a PayPass NFC enabled Mastercard as well as a MasterCard Watch Card.  The Watch Card looks very much like an old school SIM card but is actually an NFC chip.Plug the Watch Card in the back of the watch, and you can use your snazzy new watch to pay anywhere Mastercard PayPass enabled payments are available. Watch2Pay is currently available in the UK and Poland, and appears to be coming soon to the US and Russia.

Passbook Canada – As an iOS user, I’ve been using Passbook where I have had the opportunity – mainly as a Starbucks customer. So far in Canada,  Cineplex, Starbucks, Porter Airlines, Canada’s Wonderland, Living Social, Valpak Coupons and Air Canada have released apps that support Passbook.    If you know of more, highlight them in the comments.  I’m also interested to hear experiences with using Passbook in Canada.

While it works as a place to keep your loyalty cards and tickets, I don’t find that Passbook is working for me.  Tickets and cards are supposed to be easily accessible via alerts based on your proximity to where they would be used, avoiding the need to unlock your mobile, open an app and find the applicable item.  So far, it’s been a mixed bag on usability and functionality.   I have another post in the works where I’ll share my limited experience with Passbook.  For now, let’s say I agree with Rene at iMore on Passbook.

2012.29 | LevelUp | Drive Thru | Glass

Paying with LevelUp – The LevelUp payment system recently announced a new payment dock.  This payment system has users link a credit card to a 2D barcode they scan on a special dock at participating retailers. Their new dock now apparently allows for NFC as well.

NFC is an interesting choice given the ongoing non-adoption of NFC on many mobile devices.  It’s been next year for sure since 2005, and the iPhone 5 didn’t have it, but hey, the Nokia 920 looks incredible, as does Windows Phone 8, and they offer NFC, so you never know.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have many options given the ongoing uncertainty around mobile interfaces and payment infrastructures.  Bluetooth is a good option to keep – never know when that might show up.  The new dock sure appears to hide a Genesis Imager under that white case, does it not?

Drive Through Grocery Pickup – Tesco recently announced it is tripling the locations that offer click and collect for orders.  Online grocery shoppers can opt for picking up their orders at the store in a special drive through area instead of having to be at home to accept their order during a specific delivery window.

It’s interesting how demographics, geography and timing play such massive roles.  Publix decided not to pursue this channel at the beginning of 2012 after a 2 year pilot at three sites.  This appears to be  solution that has to have the right fit and it may be difficult to find.  It’s certainly a polarizing subject.  There are many interesting comments for and against on a retailwire article on grocery delivery/pickup.

Google Glass – There was lots of talk back in the spring about Google’s Project Glass.  For the uninitiated, these are a set of glasses that effectively overlay a smart phone experience on glasses so users get the benefits of a smartphone without the smartphone.  The user interface elements are ‘projected’ over real life in front of your eyes.  To date, most of what has been shown to the public has been concept videos and a live demo at Google I/O.  Wall Street Journal’s Spencer E. Ante – a regular human outside of the Google Hive got to try them out.  Sounds like it’s not ready for primetime, but that’s how new tech evolves!  This is still a technology that should be watched one way or the other.

2011.21 | Google Wallet Could Work

I’ve derided attempts at a mobile wallet for some time.  I want it as badly as anyone, but it has been an elusive dream for years.

If you look through the blog you can see my reasons for this skepticism.  It’s never been about the technology – that capability has existed for years.  It’s about the infrastructure, consumer readiness and not adding fees for the service.  I’ve been thinking about last week’s announcement around Google Wallet, and it could work – in Canada at least.  Let’s discuss just a few reasons why their model could work.

NFC acceptability at POS – While articles I have read about the US and Europe have indicated that they have not adopted NFC strongly, numerous Canadian retailers have built NFC into their infrastructure as they were forced to spend millions on getting EMV in place.  The EMV upgrade caused thousands of pinpads to be replaced, and untold hours of software changes and testing.  It only made sense to include NFC in that process to make best use of the investment.

This investment places Canada in a solid position on the number of POS sites that can accept NFC payments.  Not convinced?  Consider just a few of the major retailers that accept contactless in Canada: Tim Horton’s, McDonald’s, Loblaws, Sobeys, Cineplex and probably many more where I haven’t used my NFC cards yet. (Let me know if you’ve seen it elsewhere in the comments!)  More sites where an NFC tender can be provided means more potential purchasing locations where a Google Wallet can be used, which drives potential use, and therefore more potential adoption.

One PIN to rule them all – Canadians have become accustomed to Chip and Pin over the past few years.  The unforeseen challenge of this new and more secure system is remembering PINs for multiple cards.  I have relatively few cards, but have 3 credit cards and a debit card.  Try keeping 4 pins straight in your head for whichever card you are using.  Using the same PIN for all four?  If you get filmed entering your PIN, you could be scammed on all of your cards.

If you use an NFC credit card, most retailers don’t require a PIN for purchases under a pre-set amount – generally $50 or so – particularly for their own cards.  I like using them for that reason alone.  Not entering a PIN at every transaction is a convenience to users and can speed throughput for retailers.  At the same time, having a single PIN on the Google Wallet means that the card could not be used unless that PIN  has been entered, providing an extra layer of security for an NFC transaction.

Usability – I’ve highlighted that any new payment solution needs to be extremely simple to use.  Your most novice user needs to be able to do this in 5-10 seconds flat in front of a queue of impatient people and a bored cashier.  The Google Wallet with NFC appears to get closer to this nirvana than other solutions.  My technologically challenged mother uses NFC cards regularly and loves it.  You “Tap n Go”.  Consumers can use the current pinpad at the POS just like they have done for years.  It’s comfortable.

Contrast this interface with Square as one example.  Square is an awesome idea and it looks slick, but is my mom going to use it?  Nope.  Too foreign.  It also requires the use of a solid data connection to work every time as transactions are completed via the network.  Anyone want to be held up relying on your local wireless coverage to complete a transaction? NFC gets around that by allowing the use of NFC which just requires the mobile device to be on.

Will my mother use this solution?  Probably not right out of the gate.  But a mobile wallet needs to be this simple to get widespread traction in the marketplace.  For those of you who may deride this need saying that our Gen Y digital natives are more sophisticated, watch your average mobile user at any point of service.

Many citizens (I didn’t say all – and they aren’t the only ones!) of this segment are so busy checking texts, talking on their mobile, or zoned into their own world listening to their iPod that they are often loathe to interrupt to complete a transaction. Mobile wallet usage needs to be so simple that one can open the app while they complete other activities while distracted.

I would also argue that Gen Y, while potentially more comfortable and trusting of technology than older consumers, are still subject to the needs of a simple user interface.  They are not necessarily any better at using technology.

Increasing Mobile Usage – While Canada lags behind the US in mobile technology, we are catching up.   99% of the 18-34 set have a mobile phone.  We are up to almost 25% of mobile phones with a data plan.  A target market of 25% of the population isn’t a bad starting point, and it will only grow.  This increasing use of mobile is also driving increased comfort with downloading apps like the mobile wallet.  Android is also gaining market share – providing a potential foothold.

The Google Factor  – Past attempts at mobile wallets in Canada have been pilots inevitably involving a mobile carrier, a credit card company, and a bank. Sometimes a credit card processor and/or a retailer got into the mix. All parties have been trying to figure out a way to split the profits for years – nobody has made it work.

Neither consumers or retailers will pay a significant fee for the privilege of carrying their phone instead of a piece of plastic. There has been no large monetary benefit to these parties to add additional cost and risk into the mix for the returns they have found or we would already have mobile wallets.  The carriers and handset manufacturers have not included NFC into the mobile handsets as they had no incentive to do so, and importantly – no universal application to leverage NFC if it were there.

Another problem is the issue of consumer acceptance.  Carrying a mobile wallet for every credit card, bank or other institution adds complexity, it doesn’t remove it.  Having a mobile wallet from some Silicon Valley start up you’ve never heard about – not going to do that either.

The difference here versus the past is that Google is looking for an edge over Apple and RIM.  They want and need to provide something the iPhone doesn’t have.  The handset manufacturers also want in on that.  NFC is a viable option they can provide.

To use that hardware, a universal mobile wallet from a trusted source is needed.  Google is a verb now – who doesn’t know Google.  The name Google Wallet doesn’t make you nervous – it makes you want to download the app.  They also provide the corporate clout needed to deal with the major banks and credit cards.

They are providing the hardware we could never get in the past, and a universal app that could allow us to use all of our credit cards in one trustworthy mobile wallet. These two elements, along with the benefits above, may just push Google Wallet into mainstream usage.

This isn’t even remotely a slam dunk.  At present this is going to be used in two test markets.  It only works with one phone.  It’s not offered in Canada yet.  There is no guarantee the credit card companies will get on board.  There will always be security issues.  EMV could force you to pull out your card anyway for a larger purchase.  If your battery is dead you have no wallet.

Many hurdles need to be overcome, but Google is moving us closer to the mobile wallet than ever.  Perhaps they could offer it on other platforms like Blackberry and Apple’s iOS.  Ideally Google’s initiative will drive other organizations to come up with their own wallets.  Paypal – perhaps.  Apple is likely to get in on this as well.  Having organizations like this behind a mobile wallet initiative can only move the ball forward.  After all, what’s left to add to our mobile gadgets?

2011.14 | Expanding Retail Business in Canada: Technical Considerations

One of the signs I’ve seen of late of an improving retail sector is expansion.  I’ve had discussions with a few colleagues on clients expanding into Canada from other countries or expanding into other provinces.  Here is a list of the most common considerations for technology when expanding into or around Canada.

Taxes – Like many other jurisdictions in the world, Canada has tax rates and types that vary by province.  Some provinces charge separate Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and Canadian Federal Sales Tax (also known as the Goods and Sales Tax or GST).  Others charge a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

Electrical Power – For businesses coming from Europe or Asia, the power in Canada is 120V, 60Hz, and NEMA 5 connectors are used.  Ensure that retail POS and other solutions have the correct power supplies and power cords to connect to power in Canada.  If  UPS devices are used for power protection or backup, be certain to purchase units that operate with Canadian voltages and connectors.  The same power and connector standards are used in the US and Canada.

Price Verification – Requirements for Price Verification vary by jurisdiction in Canada.  In Quebec, having electronic price verifiers in stores is a legal requirement unless there are prices shown on every item in a store.  In the rest of Canada, the Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code is a voluntary pricing code of conduct that retailers who are members of the Retail Council of Canada, Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers adhere with – covering off a very large percentage of Canadian retailers by sales.   I’ve noted in various online forums over the years that consumers across Canada have voiced concerns about store staff’s knowledge of the voluntary code, causing some consternation among consumers, so retailers would do well to be sure store staff are aware of the rules and act on them to ensure strong consumer relations.

Weighable Items –  Weigh scales in grocery need to be certified as legal for trade by Measurements Canada under the Weights and Measures Act via an Authorized Service Provider.   Note that Canada uses the metric system, and the scales must be calibrated in kilograms.  A remote post display is required for use in Canada, even if the weight is displayed on a user screen like those on a Self-Checkout.

Language – Canada is officially a bilingual country, but is increasingly multi-lingual given many years of strong immigration- particularly in the city centres.  Retailers should expect to provide customer facing systems in both French and English, particularly in Quebec, and should have a good understanding of French in Canada.  This means that all consumer facing solutions, such as kiosks, selfcheckout systems, customer facing displays and receipts require multi-language capability.  Under Bill 101 it may also be necessary to provide back end solutions used by staff in store in French.  Some retailers also use French versions of Windows and other operating environments.  Note that not all POS versions of Windows 7 embedded provide for Multi-Language capability so Windows 7 Ultimate or Windows 7 Pro may be required for a French Windows 7 Image.   Recent years have seen increases of requests for other languages on kiosks, ATM’s, and self-checkouts across Canada in my experience – primarily for Asian languages.  Retailers serving urban populations with technology that has the capability to serve multiple languages may find themselves with a competitive advantage.

Electronic Payments – All pinpads to be used in Canada must be certified by Interac, Canada’s electronic payments Association.  All pinpads to be used in Canada should be EMV certified and capable.  As in the US, PCI compliance is also required.  Some of the most common pinpads used in Canada by Tier One retailers in Canada include the Ingenico i3070, Verifone Vx810, and Verifone SC5000, though there are many others in use.  Many Canadian retailers have also enabled NFC payment acceptance on their pinpads over the past few years as part of the effort to move to EMV and PCI compliance.  Canada has a high rate of electronic payment penetration, with many tier one retailers I’ve spoken with indicating that as much as 70-80% of tenders are either debit or credit.  Use of cheques in Canada is very limited.  Less than 1% of tenders are cheques for most retailers I’ve spoken with, and it is 0 for many.

Cash Management – Primary currency in use in Canada is the Canadian Dollar.  The most common denominiations are the $20, $10, and $5 note.  $50 and $100 notes are also available, but used less often, and some smaller retailers refuse to accept them for fear of forgery.   Coinage includes $2 (toonie), $1 (loonie), 25 cent, 10 cent, 5 cent and 1 cent.  50 cent coins exist but are in limited use.  There are various forgery safeguards on Canadian currency to protect against forgery, and Canadian notes are changing to a polymer base in 2011/2012.  Canadian retailers often use a 4 Note , 8 coin slot cash insert for cash drawers, versus the 5 note, 5 coin slot cash insert used in the US.  The use of differing coins and notes also means that cash handling solutions like self-checkouts, cash recycling , and fraud detection systems will differ to accommodate the different notes and coins.  The lack of $1 bills means far less bill usage on cash handling systems than the US.

On a more localized level:

Sales Recording Module for Restaurants – Quebec – Revenu Quebec has implemented requirements for retailers to record all sales transactions through the use of a Sales Recording Module installed between the POS and the printer.

Reusable Bags and Plastic Bag Fees – In the City of Toronto, there is a bylaw which requires a charge of 5 cents for plastic bags and others have followed suit.  Many Canadian retailers have adopted a charge across the country to drive down usage of plastic bags.  Whether as a result of this charge or not, there is a significant use of reusable bags by Canadian shoppers.  For the bag fees, retailers need to be able to add the fee and to both assisted and selfcheckout solutions – a relatively simple matter.  For reusable bags, self-checkout systems need to be enabled, and staff need to be trained to assist customers in understanding the process of using their own bags with self-checkout.

This is by no means an exahaustive list and is provided based on my experiences to date.  It is intended for informational purposes only and ideally is helpful in providing a view to the types of technical hurdles that may exist for those who plan to expand into or across Canada.  If there is any facet of technology that I have overlooked in consumer facing stores, or if I have made an incorrect statement please leave a comment, and I will be glad to adjust the article.

2010.47 | Retail Mobile is Exploding

Not that it’s a surprise to anyone, but the movement to mobile for retail is really picking up as of late. While many retailers are experimenting with their own apps, those that don’t take part are likely to get dragged into the mobile world whether they want to do so or not.

Paypal is piloting a mobile payment scheme through their PayPal Local program in partnership with Bling Nation. Under this program, NFC stickers are mailed out to those who enrol and those NFC tags are connected to Paypal accounts, effectively allowing users to link their payments to their mobile device instead of their wallet.  While the program is only a trial it’s an interesting potential workaround to the usual debit and credit electronic payment infrastructure.  To simplify the process, Bling Nation users activate through a Facebook App.  Interesting choice.

Self Scanning apps like ShopSavvy and RedLaser are upping the ante with new functionality and Amazon’s own app is scanning now too to allow customers to price match in stores.

Sounds like consumers want mobile websites too.  The trick is figuring out what that means.

2010.42 | Scanning Barcodes From a Mobile Screen

Misconceptions abound about scanning the screens of mobile devices.

There are a number of different ways of passing data from a mobile device to another platform in a store environment – 2D barcodes, Microsoft Tag, NFC, Bluetooth, and via Apps – the possiblities are quite broad and are dependent on the application.

Applications in a store environment most often involve passing loyalty or coupon information from a mobile device to a point of sale (POS).  The method that arises most in conversation is that which would seem most intuitive to the general population.  Can one scan a barcode from the screen of a mobile phone with a scanner at the point of sale?

The answer: it depends.  Consider the following examples:

Example 1: A customer approaches a Point of Sale in a store with an Apple iPhone.  The customer has scanned an image of their loyalty card into their phone complete with a traditional linear barcode from the back of the physical loyalty card.  The cashier has a Handheld Scanner at the POS and attempts to scan the customer’s screen to enter their loyalty information into the system…  It won’t work.   A traditional handheld or even bioptic scanner will not reliably capture a barcode from the screen of a regular mobile device’s screen.   I have personally attempted it many times, in many retail situations with various scanners and mobile devices and screens in stores and in lab environments.  The screen is too reflective or does not pick up the contrast in the bars and spaces, no matter how large or bright the image may be.  (It may give a positive scan once in a while, but not consistently.) I’ve heard that some iPhone apps get around that by showing the images in certain ways, but I’ve never seen it work live or via any online searching.


Example 2: A customer approaches the boarding gate at an airline terminal with a Blackberry Torch.  The customer has downloaded an electronic boarding pass to their phone complete with a 2d barcode.  The boarding agent has a Handheld Scanner with a 2d Imager built into it.  The customer holds out their device, and the agent scans it with the imager.  It will work.   In this instance, though the situation appears exactly the same as the first example, the big difference is the the use of the 2d Imager and 2d barcode.  A 2d Imager is essentially a camera – better suited to identifying the 2d barcode on the mobile device.

The implication of the formulas above is that the great majority of technology in place at current points of sale will not read barcodes from a mobile device.  Most retailers wishing to take advantage of barcode reading from mobile devices will need to invest in new scanning devices.

NOTE:  The imager will also read a 1D traditional barcode from the mobile screen.  The barcode does not have to be a 2D barcode.

2010.33 | Drive Thru Technology

Given North America’s car based culture drive thru is a crucial and often the largest part of any QSR business. Adding the logistical challenges of the outdoors and queued vehicles to the already challenging job of taking orders, fulfilling orders and accepting payment is no trivial matter.  There are many areas where new technology is being leveraged – sometimes in unexpected ways – to deal with this challenging pursuit for QSR operators.

Digital Menu Boards – With costs for hardware decreasing, incredible consumer acceptance of digital screens everywhere, and the capability to update screens and signage in any way at any time remotely and consistently, moving to digital menu boards is a logical step for QSR operators, assuming they can establish an ROI.  There are some excellent points both for and against using this technology, but assuming a reasonable ROI, expect these to slowly take over.

Ordering Kiosks –  It’s not surprising that the leap would be made from digital menu boards to an actual kiosk that one can order from in line.  A few organizations have built some promising solutions and are piloting.  I’m a self service user and proponent, but I’m torn on the question of kiosks in drive thru environments given the potential complexity of the operation.  My experience with self service is that it generally takes longer to use a kiosk like this to order than just saying what you want.  Mileage may vary depending on your business, but consider the time to speak the order “One large double double, please!” to at least 3-4 screen touches to just buy one coffee.  The touchscreen will be much slower.  Now consider a family carload and their constantly shifting of orders and special requests (Where’s the button for extra ketchup?)  Add that to hundreds of cars streaming through a drive thru, and you’ve got significant reductions in throughput, and a potential traffic problem as cars back out into the parking lot or onto the street.  QSR operators would need to carefully understand the impacts of their menu and their customer base to implement a solution of this sort. 

A potentially more efficient solution would be an integrated solution to a mobile device that would allow customers to pick all of their menu items on their phone.  With all menu items entered, the order can be saved on the phone, and displayed as a 2d barcode.  When the customer arrives at the kiosk in their car, they scan the 2d barcode at a reader on the kiosk, and the entire order is displayed on the screen for customer verification.  This means 2 button pushes, as well as the avoidance of a scratchy speaker discussion that the kiosk was meant to provide in the first place.  It also means the capability of upsell on the screen which could merely slow down the ordering process in the self serve kiosk instance. 

Payments –  Contactless via NFC was supposed to be the wave of the future (forgive the pun), but my experience has been that even if the drive thru is equipped with NFC readers, the cashiers act puzzled when you wish to use them.  Much as people claim to want to use it, NFC has not been embraced, and there are no indications of changes to consumer behaviour.  It’s more likely that new cars with their increasing array of technological wonders will work this out for us as outlined in QSR Magazine.  It would make sense to enable one’s car to leverage payments based on pushing a button for a drive through scenario, and as the article says, the cars may even direct us to our favourite restaurants.  Perhaps the payments will be made via Facebook, with more and more businesses selling directly within Facebook, Facebook credits and mobile ubiquity coming together to simplify the process.

No matter what technology is leveraged, it will be key to consider simplicity, speed, and integration in any solution.  Any technology or process change has to be dead simple so that the process is as easy as today or easier, or it will not be embraced.  Changes have to ensure speed is not sacrificed for technology’s sake.  The bar is high, and customers are used to fast service.  Slow it down, and they will move to a competitor.  Integration will become increasingly important given all the different ways in which consumers can interact with a business.  It is important to bring all of these interfaces together to gain the full understanding of a customer for a business, and to allow them to interact with the business in the way they choose.

2010.08 | Change at the Till

While change is constant, it seems things are really picking up at the point of sale.  Here’s where it’s happening:

Coupons:  There has been a great deal of excitement and change around electronic coupons over the past year.  The combination of a tough economic climate and cheap technology has driven many to look for a better way.  Various couponing platforms are now available online or on mobile devices.  Retailers, suppliers, and third parties are all part of the trend which is now growing faster than the traditional paper format.   The challenge is to rein this in to the consumer’s benefit and to align it with a retailer’s strategy.  The best bet is for retailers to embrace social media to track usage as much as possible, and ensure that their target markets are best served.

Payments: With all of the changes to payments in Canada over the past few years – PCI, NFC, and Chip and Pin along with the entry of other players to challenge Interac with Visa Debit, Maestro and even Enstream – it’s easy to overlook changes in other parts of the world that are even more groundbreaking.   A colleague sent me an article over the weekend (thanks Douglas!) that discusses how mobile payments are surpassing credit cards in Africa.   It seems that much in the way that they skipped over landline telephony with mobile phones they’ve skipped from cash over plastic to mobile.  Payments still aren’t making their way to mobile yet in Canada, but Enstream is claiming NFC phones are coming to Canada, and perhaps Square can get things rolling in this area as well. 

Mobile:  The most important challenge facing retailers is how to connect the mobile experience with the store experience.  This article covers the opportunity well.

Still to come is the killer app that manages to bring the offers, the electronic world as well as the bricks and morter experience completely together – a way of linking how consumers wish to interact with the retailer to get the most out of those interactions for the retailer by making it seamless to the consumer.  There are applications to make this happen, but I’ve not yet seen any consumer facing organization that has established an ongoing conversation with consumers that makes the channel of interaction invisible.  [For full disclosure, I work as part of a team to sell a solution with this capability at NCR.]  Given the increasing interest in electronic offers, it is a perfect time to implement.  The technical issues are surmountable.  The greater issue is being the first retailer with the will end effort to fit these technologies to their business.

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