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!

Pre-Ordering


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.

Payments

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.

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2013.32 | iOS 7 for retailers

iOS 7 was released on September 19 to a great deal of fanfare.  With so much change in one release it can be easy to miss some of the details.  Hidden among the flat icons, control center and iRadio are some intriguing OS elements that could be leveraged by retailers to enable enhanced shopping experiences.    Check out some of the changes:

ibeaconsiBeacon – All of us in the retail technology world can expect to hear much more about iBeacon in the coming weeks.  Scores of articles are popping up on this little noticed item nestled into the long list of changes in iOS 7.  If you search the Apple corporate site, there is no information published on it, but it may finally unlock the mobile interaction nirvana that other attempts (nfc, shopkick and many more) have struggled to attain.   iBeacon is a technology that allows sensors to identify when consumers are in a very localized site – much more exact than GPS can ever be – and workable indoors.  This makes it possible to provide information to a mobile device in proximity to a beacon.

MLBVisit-360x640MLB has been working on a demo with Apple since early in the year.  In this use case, using a venue specific app on the mobile device will cause different actions to occur on the mobile based on the users location in the stadium driven by proximity to sensors that the app can identify.  When users near a ticket gate, their tickets pop up on the screen.  When they pass the ticket gate, detailed directions to their seat are on the screen.  When they visit a hot dog stand, purchases can drive an on screen loyalty card that with a buy 10 get one free type scheme reminiscent of the old Subway Sub club.   All in all, it’s possible to provide a custom experience for park visitors.

It’s not a real stretch to see where this sort of technology can be a game changer for retailers.  Not only is it possible to provide pinpoint location in a store, the user is known via the app.  The experience can change for every user depending on how the retailer wants to drive the conversation.  If you have a VIP client, perhaps you invite them to ask for their free bottle of San Pellegrino directly on an app to give it that sense of magic.  Perhaps one client gets a 10% off coupon for shoes, but another gets 20% off on leather goods in the same area.  Add to the personal touch the ability to tell who is taking you up on the offers and you’ve got a winning formula for selling in store.

While this technology is an enabler, I see serious complexity and tracking challenges for retailers on these beacons.   This is an incredible opportunity to improve and customize a customer experience, but it’s going to take time to get it right and figure out the rules to win over customers.

frequent locations

Frequent Locations – In iOS 7, Apple has built a tracker to indicate a user’s frequent locations.  The idea being that contextual location data can be provided to anticipate the user’s needs.

With this information it would be easy to identify a user’s regular visitation of a particular branch of a major retailer and leverage that data in apps.  Notifications of upcoming events at those locations could be highlighted to the user if they opt in to messaging.  Perhaps users could be prompted for their favourite stores for Passbook instead of having to identify them on things like their Starbucks card, or even better, it could just add favourite stores automatically based on the invidividual user’s data.

keychainKeychain – Mac Users are accustomed to keeping a mini database of their logins, passwords, and credit card information on their OSX systems.  Google chrome has similar functionality in it’s autofill functionality.

Keychain has been ported to iOS 7 and can store local passwords.  Earlier test versions seemed to indicate that Keychain was going to leverage iCloud to centrally store all of this information, but it was cut in the late stages of release.

While this isn’t fully implemented through iCloud, this move towards central and secure storage of credit cards provides a potential workaround for all of the in store payment scenarios that wreak such havok and drive up time and cost on deployments.

Consider a shopper with an app that allow them to scan items in the store.  Instead of having to go to a self-checkout, a pay station, or a regular POS, what if the app could ask for permission to use a stored card on the mobile for payment based on a PIN?

Photo 9-29-2013, 11 45 24 PM

Passbook  – Using passbook has always been a bit of a disappointment to myself and others.  It’s not intuitive to use, but the update made it a bit less annoying by removing the shredder that kills old tickets.

Uptake from retailers is picking up (there are 17 passbook apps on the Canadian app store as of this writing  Longos, Starbucks, and Sephora are the only non-travel and entertainment type apps).  I’ve used Starbucks, Cineplex, and Air Canada quite often and they’ve all worked well.    I just don’t see people using it much in the wild as you can also use the regular apps to pay for starbucks or to present your ticket barcodes for scanning.

Where the iOS 7 improvement comes in is a small change that incorporates the camera as a scanner.   One of the shortcomings of using coupons with Passbook in iOS 6 is that you had to find an offer that had the add to Passbook button and now add it.

Apple has now made it possible for consumers to cross from the world of paper to the mobile world.  Much more work needs to be done on Passbook.  Retailers and Apple need to find a symbiotic way to get customers comfortable with it, but this is a decent addition.

iOS 7 is an interesting study.  For myself, the interesting part of iOS 7 is watching users grapple with changed features, unforeseen glitches, and losing functionality to which they may be accustomed.  I’ve listened to my share of complaints on iOS 7 from my family and friends and acted as remote support on a few challenges so far.

As mobile devices become fundamentally ingrained into society and into everyone’s lives, these changes become personal and incredibly widespread.  Working in retail technology for many years, I’ve grappled with these challenges with retail clients over the years, and there are many parallels to updates applied across stores.  The important lesson is to embrace the change and look for the opportunities to leverage the potential for improvements that drove the change in the first place.  Retailers and consumers have much to gain from the ideas here, and everyone will have to learn together how to benefit.

2012.35 | Passbook Opportunity

When I first saw the presentation of Passbook at the iOS 6 press event earlier this year, I found it intriguing.  Apple had finally chosen to dip their pinky toe into the world of electronic wallets. I’ve watched so many other organizations with good intentions make this attempt, so why not Apple?

Passbook is intended to be your wallet on your iOS – or at least your billfold.  It’s the default Apple app where you can assemble and keep your loyalty cards, your coupons, your gift cards and your tickets.

Having all of those items in one place sounds like an improvement.  Even better, your iPhone can automatically pop up an indicator on your screen that enables a shortcut to Passbook and your usable item if you are near a store or it is time to use your ticket.

The benefit to the user here is to simplifying the process to use your mobile device as a wallet.  As mentioned many times, redemption of cash, coupons, tickets and loyalty cards needs to be dead simple and quick.

If Passbook works as advertised, one does not need to unlock the device, find the right app, and then look in the app for the ticket, coupon, or loyalty card.  For example, a person can connect a Starbucks card to Passbook and when they are near a Starbucks, they can get a reminder on their locked iPhone screen that they can touch to immediately access their Starbucks card.  If I have a flight on Air Canada, my ticket pops up on my screen when it is  time for my flight so I can use my ticket.  If I’m looking to use a gift card, I don’t have to look for some retailer app I never use and then navigate through a non-standard menu on their app to find my gift card.

That was the promise.  Unfortunately, based on my usage of Passbook over the past few weeks, I find it to be a sub-optimal electronic wallet in its present incarnation.  There are a number of reasons for that:

  • What is this thing?  Not all of the millions of iPhone users watch the keynote presentations on iOS updates.  Passbook is a lonely unexplained icon on many devices from my experience with friends and colleagues.  If an iOS user doesn’t have an enabled app, and there still aren’t many Passbook enabled apps in Canada, there is no indication of how Passbook is supposed to work.  If Passbook is selected, the user is presented with a little screen that points you to the app store that shows Passbook enabled apps.  The link is nice, but how about a link to a video or a page about  Passbook benefits at the most elemental level?  How about a link of how to set it up?  Most people are not going to try to hunt down what something is or how it works.  Why should consumers use Passbook instead of the app from their retailer?  Passbook has to have a clear and simple benefit over their current process, or consumers won’t even try it.  It’s not clear today.
  • Adding stuff to Passbook is not simple. Once users understand what Passbook is supposed to do and you  ownload a Passbook enabled app, the way to leverage Passbook with that app is not always clear.  For example, when I installed the Passbook enabled Starbucks app, I had to select my card in the app, choose Manage and add the card to Passbook.  When I did this, it asked me for favourite stores so that Passbook could provide quick access to my card, but I didn’t have time to set my parameters, so I closed the app.  When I went back into the app later, I could not  figure out how to add favourite sites.  There was no help section on Passbook within the app, so I had to figure it out through trial and error.  We can’t blame all of this on the Starbucks of the world or their app developers who are trying to use Apple’s Passbook App. There should be an ability in the Passbook App itself to scan the apps on the phone and allow users to pick from a list of potential items to add to Passbook.  There should be settings in Passbook to allow us to make any adjustments to how Passbook is used. Setting up each card you want to use and interconnecting with each retailer app is needlessly convoluted and will lose the majority of users.   At install of a new Passbook enabled app, Passbook should tell us we can use Passbook and ask how we want to do so.
  • Location based notifications are inconsistent – One of the biggest potential benefits of Passbook is that it will pop up automatically when we want it.  After I set it up correctly, it still took days before Passbook actually recognized when I was near a Starbucks store and actually gave me the notification of such.  I have an iPhone 4.  Perhaps this will be better on my iPhone 5, but lots of people use older hardware.  If the app is not consistent and accurate about bringing up the card, I have to unlock and find Passbook.  That’s no better than using the Starbucks app.  I’m not saying this happens to everyone, but I WANT to use it and I find this frustrating.   Good luck with the less nerdy demographic.
  • Accessing Passbook via popups was not explained – Once I finally got the notification that I could access my Starbucks card in Passbook, I was baffled as to how to get the card to come up on the screen.  I’m embarrassed to admit this as I’m a relatively savvy iOS user.  I swiped from the top.  I swiped across the screen.  I tapped it.  Then it went away.   After conferring with friends and looking online, we finally discovered that you have to touch the icon and swipe it across to have Passbook pop up.   This isn’t a bad system, but how about some explanation in the Passbook app?   How about a message the first time it pops up to explain it?  This swipe method is not intuitive to most users I’ve conferred with in my decidedly unscientific study.
  • Passbook doesn’t refresh on the fly – When I use the Starbucks app, it refreshes my gift card balance after I use it.  I can’t tell if my coffee was free or not! Passbook doesn’t.  This is less helpful than the retailer app.  Not more helpful.
  • Is this secure? As someone who works with retailers and is involved with payments, I assure you that a lot of time is spent on security.  If I swipe on the notification for Passbook it will bring up my Starbucks number and I don’t have to enter my iPhone security PIN.  If I leave my iPhone somewhere, someone could theoretically troll around and when they are near a Starbucks, my card will come up.  They could get a free cup of coffee or two if I didn’t notice.  If they are more insidious, they could take an image of my screen and use it to pay a little at a time.  Not entering the iPhone PIN is convenient for using Passbook, but I think it should be a configurable option.

While I’m sure all of these criticisms don’t sound like it, I’m glad Passbook exists.  I thank Apple and Starbucks, Cineplex, Air Canada and all of the others for trying to integrate their apps.  I want to try them.  I like using the apps. I want them to succeed!

I think Passbook is a great idea.  I fully comprehend the complexity of allowing all sorts of other organizations and developers build apps to leverage Passbook.  Getting consistency will be difficult.  There will be problems.  Operationalizing a wallet into retail is hard for anyone and everyone.

Apple needs to put together a very specific program about what the Passbook experience should be with feedback from retailers.  Keep it simple.  Make it easy for people to use it and show a benefit to the users.  If that happens, I think Passbook can make some headway.

I hope this input is useful to the developers of Passbook and I look forward to using it as it improves.  It’s certainly no worse than many other mobile wallet schemes I’ve seen.  But it’s no Pay with Square.

2012.31 | Store Maps | Gyft | Cars

Store Maps – Google Maps for Android is now expanding indoors in select sites in France.  From their release it appears that they are providing maps of the inside of stores including Carrefour and Galeries Lafayette Montparnasse.    I love this idea, and hope it catches on in North America.  The greatest challenge with mapping places like the insides of stores is the incredible amount of change.  Like Google Streetview which can get dated with businesses changing on the street, there is a certain amount of upkeep required to ensure that sites will not become stagnant and not useful.   Hopefully the Google army keeps up their good work to keep their incredible mapping network at the forefront.

Gyft for Passbook – The release of Passbook on iOS this week has renewed the hopes of the technophile community that the electronic wallet may finally be making its way into the mainstream.  Online giftcard seller Gyft has announced that their solution is now Passbook enabled, so that giftcards you purchase from Gyft can be used directly from iOS devices.  I love the idea of being able to give and recieve a giftcard electronically to a giftcard wallet on a mobile to ensure it isn’t forgotten or lost.  Since Gyft already does mobile phone redemption, I expect all of their merchants are ready to read codes directly from a smartphone screen.  Great solution and the perfect use of Passbook.  I was pondering how Passbook could move us away from the wallet, but I’ve always wondered how we get remove the requirement for ID cards like Drivers Licenses or Health Cards.  Check out Wired Magazine’s Christina Boddington’s articles on living without a wallet for a month.   Turns out a picture of your drivers license on your mobile won’t get you into a club.

Cars – While these items aren’t directly retail based, consider the potential changes to retailing down the road (pun intended).

First, Tesla allowed Elon Musks’ personal Tesla S electric sedan to be extensively test driven and it sounds like it’s pretty amazing.

Second, as part of their plans to deploy electric cars on a massive scale, Tesla also announced they are deploying free to use Solar Powered rapid car charging stations.  The stations can replenish 3 hours of driving time at 60 mph in 30 minutes.  The stations are as shown in the above image – a tall black and white monolith.  You have to admire their vision!

Third, autonomous vehicles are now legal in California thanks to recently passed legislation announced by Sergey Brin of Google and the Governor of California.  Google has already logged over 300,000 miles in cars that drive themselves, and this the beginning of making that an option for everyone.

Put those three things together and ponder the potential repercussions to various retailers.  Cars may not need gas anymore, fuel may be free or supplied at home.  People may need to fuel by sitting in one location for thirty minutes, and people may be able to pay little or no attention while they are driving (that part doesn’t seem different).   These are some extreme changes to society that could influence the petroleum industry, convenience stores, and all retailers.  Should gas stations become electrical fuel stations? Not likely.  Could parking lots and parking spaces be wired to charge everyone’s cars?  Maybe.  If we aren’t driving in a car, could we be shopping or validating our next destination?  Definitely.

None of these things are certain societal changes, and none of them will happen overnight, but they can certainly influence retail businesses, and owners should be watching for an opportunity to change to meet the needs of a new generation of consumers.

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