2013.19 | opentable | illumiroom-kinect | concierge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2013.06 | No Omnichannel without Operations

All of my talks on Omnichannel with retailers drive me to try out every option I possibly can with my own transactions.

Last weekend I went to see Bharati in at the Sony Centre in Toronto. (I highly recommend the show by the way.  See it if you can!)  Being part of a busy family our weekend was packed with events, ride giving, lessons, and more.  I found myself getting ready to leave the house only about 2 hours before the show – this is definitely cutting it close.

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While I was preparing to depart, I used all of the tools technology available to enable to get there on time.  Ticketmaster was kind enough to send me a reminder email about the event on Friday, so I was able to pull up that message and logging into my account, I printed my tickets.  Great omnichannel experience from Ticketmaster.   It costs too much for Ticketmaster, but it worked smoothly to the point where I didn’t even think about it.

I know the route to get to the theatre well, but always check the GPS routes for options.  I also had to think about parking. Everyone who goes to any urban location knows that parking is a changeable proposition.  Your favourite sites get built upon, closed up, or changed to some other use.

I visited the Sony Centre website to see what parking options were recommended, and I was intrigued by a link to something called Click and Park.

When I clicked that link, I saw a list of the events at the Sony Centre.  The system allows you to pre-pay for a parking spot during your event in a prime location right next to the theatre.  It makes a lot of sense to have a parking spot reserved in a convenient location.  The site indicates the process is as simple as three easy steps: choose your event, select your location and print your permit.  I read through the FAQs, and decided I definitely wanted to try this.  What a terrific idea to optimize a consumer experience and that of a parking lot operator.

I picked my event, validated the parking garage, and paid.  I quickly received my permit.  The pricing was high.  It was $22.42, including fees and the cost of parking.  I expected it to be more like $10 to $15 for a weekend, but I was willing to pay a bit of a premium for a good guaranteed spot, and well – this was for science.  I wanted to see how it worked.

The parking location is a garage I have frequented many times over the years, so I knew where I was going.    I was parking at the Brookfield Place garage.  I did a bit of checking as I know that there are multiple entrances.  One off  Wellington Street and one from Front Street at least.  Both were referred to on the Click and Park website so I figured I was ready to go.

CaptureI printed my permit, hopped in the car, and drove downtown, smug in the knowledge that I had parking covered.  As I approached the lot, I encountered my first problem.  I knew where I was going, but I like to double check any special instructions.  I pulled out my parking permit to double check the address and see what instructions were provided.

Unfortunately, the permit just says Brookfield Place.  Um, ok.  It also says 5pm to 6 am.  Wait, what? My show is on at 2 pm.  It says that right on there.  What does that mean?

Now, what if I didn’t know the address?  Would have been nice to have that on there, right?  Oh well, when I looked at the website, there was lots of friendly green and blue Web 2.0 branding.  I’m sure there will be some sort of signage to point me in the right direction.

I found the lot (after taking a detour – downtown construction being what it always is), and drove up to the kiosk.  I pulled out my form, ready to scan it at….at…..well, nothing.  There was no scanner.  There was no signage indicating what to do.  There was no logo from Click and Park telling me what to do.  There was a flashing light.  Thought that might be a scanner, but no.

Now, I like to think that I know what a scanner looks like.  If you glance through the blog, you will see I’ve worked with a few scanners.  I did not see a scanner, any signage, or any indication of anything other than pushing a button to get a ticket.  So….I pushed the button to get a ticket.

I drove through the garage.  No signage.  No indication that Click and Park exists at all.  I walked through the garage to the event, and saw no indication of Click and Park.

After my very enjoyable show, I thought perhaps I would see a scanner on the way out.  I drove up to the machine on the way out, and with a much more extensive search can assure you that there is no scanner on the exit system either.  I dutifully paid Brookfield Place $10 and departed.

Now, I can’t speak to how this Click and Park solution works in other places, and when I read through their site, I see all sorts of venues that love this system.  It may work well in those spots, but they are not going to get much in the way of business in Toronto without some changes.

If an omnichannel solution like this is going to work, it needs to work for everyone, virtually without them having to think.  I go well beyond the average person to seek out answers and make systems work, but this whole thing does not work at all.   I’m willing to take the $22 (well, maybe $32) hit for science, but I don’t think all of the potential clients of the Sony Centre will feel the same.

This is all about making it easy – not about making the user do the work.

Here’s what I hope the good team at Click and Park consider:

1.  FULL Process Transparency: Providing a process that goes beyond Click and Park getting money and the user printing a piece of paper is important.  That’s all that shows on the website.  It’s great graphic design, but it’s not going to help customers.  I understand that individual parking sites may vary on a process because different parking lots look different and have different systems.  In the interim, why not have specific images or video of the parking lots and how it works?  When you pick a parking lot on the site, it should show the user those images of the process (like scanning a barcode at a gate) so they can see what to expect.  If clients feel comfortable they will try the service and are more likely to use it successfully.  Once you have repeat customers; inertia can carry the solution more.

2.  Better directions: Writing Brookfield Place on a piece of paper is next to useless for the user driving in an urban centre.  Give an address at LEAST.  Better yet, provide some verbiage with details on parking – maybe even an image of the front entrance.   Why not provide a link to Google Maps with the garage on it so I can click an an email or text on my smart phone to get directions on my GPS?  There is no other Brookfield Place, but I’m still not sure if I went to the wrong place or what happened.

3.  Signage: Working with partners can be challenging, but there absolutely needs to be signage at a partner garage above or near the entrance.  If there’s no signage, I’m not sure I’m in the right place.  There should also be signage at entrance welcoming Click and Park guests with some simple instructions like: scan your barcode at the gate next to you.  On the gate itself, there should be some signage with the logo and simple instructions on how to use it.

4.  Recovery: If I as a user somehow manage to make an error in the process, like I forget to scan my card, there should be a way to recover.  The only recovery I saw was a message in my email saying no refunds.  Wrong message.  There should be signage at elevators coming back to the garage for Click and Park clients saying that if they missed scanning their codes, they can go to a certain place to get a new ticket, see an attendant or whatever works.   As a user, I now have a negative feeling of the Click and Park brand and about Brookfield Place.  If you make it easy, everybody wins.

5. Followup:  If I didn’t use the parking space, I should get a text or email asking me why I did not use it.  Click and Park has a list of tickets.  The Parking Lot has a list of tickets.  Mine isn’t on it. Why not ask me why it didn’t work out?   This is a missed opportunity to be sure the solution is working correctly and to gain feedback from users and the site staff.

I fully realize the effort required to complete the items I  have suggested here, but with absolute certainty I can say that this service may as well not exist if it doesn’t revisit its processes.   This is a terrific idea, and I hope it takes off.  For now it just feels like someone slapped a payments website up with this parking lot’s name on it.  It takes more than that for a solution like this to work.  It has to be completely aligned with the operation of the site.

I know I’m $22 smarter from my experience.  I fully expect the value on the knowledge Click and Park will be a much higher amount in the end if they don’t change things up.

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