2015.03 | retail mobile apps in canada

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

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

Transaction Capability

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

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


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

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

Simple User Identification

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

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

Fun and Rewards

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

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

Memory Extension

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

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

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

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


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

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

Passbook Enablement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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.

2014.04 | january linkdump

CaptureGet me there – eCommerce could really meet stores if Google follows through on their latest concept.   The idea is that advertisers may find a transaction valuable enough to foot the bill to pay for a potential client to come to their store.  If an advertiser signs up for this service, a “take me there” button appears on the ad that can be clicked and a taxi can pick up the user to take them to the store.  Their patent even considers a self-driving car being used to pick up potential clients.   Great idea in theory, but there’s lots of room here for people to try for free rides. 

Anticipatory Shipping – Amazon apparently filed a patent for shipping product before clients order it. The idea is that items that are likely to drive demand in an area are shipped to that area and redirected to a person who orders it to minimize shipping time.  I haven’t decided if this is genius or lunacy.

Miserable Men – If you happen to visit instagram, check out Miserable Men – an account full of images of unfortunate gentlemen who appear to be experiencing a sub optimal shopping experience as a shopping partner. While it’s comedy, and we’ve all been there, there has to be some opportunity here for cross-selling, or at least retailers could attempt to entertain or otherwise reduce the pain inflicted on these poor souls.  The account would be better named Missed Opportunities.  IF we are so hyped about the customer experience, here is an area ripe for improvement.


Apple Payments –  There have been ripples again recently that Apple is making moves to attempt to enable mobile payments in the real world.  With the base of devices they have, they could certainly make an impact.  However, changing payments to mobile devices is rife with challenges.  Google failed at it.  Square was expected to be a big deal at Starbucks and so far hasn’t made any noise beyond the small business level so far.

There are so many opportunities for failure with mobile POS payments between two parties in a store.  To succeed, there are changes to retailer software, changes to retailer devices, training cashiers, training consumers, data connectivity, user interfaces, security, and much much more.  Those are only the initial technical challenges.  You also need to establish consumer confidence in your payment system and make it as universally available as possible.  You also need to get credit card companies on board in some way, and find a way to make money on transactions that are already laden with fees from various players and find a way to do it without charging consumers.

As an early adopter, I would be excited to see an Apple payments system, but it’s a challenging initiative.  As a retailer, it’s best to keep your payments options as flexible as possible to ensure that if something does come along, that your solutions are in a position to enable new tendering options as easily and quickly as possible.

2013.34 | loop | shop this

loop walletLoop – A new payments solution called Loop is looking to make its way into the ever complex pile of payments options.  The solution leverages current infrastructure in place by accessing MSR readers in place and communicating with them over the air via a case on the mobile device.   Using current infrastructure is a smart move. Anyone with real world experience in retail technology knows that changing out thousands of stores with even a small piece of technology is a significant effort.

The even greater challenge is getting mindshare from the general public.  The world has been overwhelmed with payment options; swiping, dipping, PIN, no PIN, tapping, scanning a barcode, RFID dongles, gift cards, scanning from mobile screens, NFC on mobile – there are too many choices and they are confusing to a great part of the population.  As Square found out at Starbucks, even a slight change to the payments process can easily confuse store staff.  Another unfortunate challenge is that the crowd that is most willing to attempt to use a mobile device to make payments are also the population least willing to stick a chunky case with a cable on their phone to enable payments.

From a selfish consumer’s perspective, the best way to deal with this sort of payments challenge is to put the payments infrastructure online and let the payments happen there.  Consider Uber.  For those that are unfamiliar, this app virtually flags down a cab / limo / SUV near you so they can pick you up and take you to your destination.  Instead of holding cars up on the road while people pass cash back and forth or tap cards, customers put their credit card in the app and store it there.  They request a car and see an estimated price.  When they ride is over, the approve the payment within the app.  The driver can validate payment received and everyone parts happily.  No new infrastructure required and there is less inconvenience for the consumer.

Buying movie tickets with the Cineplex mobile app works the same way.  Unfortunately one has to enter their credit card for every transaction, but still no need to wait in line once you get to the theatre.  While there are risks from those who would use stolen cards, Cineplex found a way to deal with it, and I’m sure others will as well.  While it’s a pain to have to enter credit cards in all of these apps, it beats putting some crazy case on my phone that will only work at some places.

While these are definitely point solutions and not the universal wallet that solutions like Loop are trying to enable, there are more and more mobile or tablet point of sale solutions and passing a card or cash (or God forbid a cheque) seems like more of an anachronism every day.  It would be great to put it online, get away from readers of any sort and be done with it.  Payment systems that do not depend on tapping, swiping or scanning ANYTHING are the best path to the future.  If geo-fenced payments like pay with square or paypal here or even iBeacons could be used to enable geo-fenced payments so we could all quit with the crazy swiping, and signing that would be perfect.  Fundamental changes like this take time, but every step counts, and I appreciate solutions like Loop trying to move us all in the right direction.

If anyone is looking for a real nut to crack, let’s figure out a way to put ID cards like Health Insurance and Drivers Licenses on mobile.  Then we can really ditch the wallet.

Photo 10-22-2013, 10 30 59 PM

Mastercard Shop This – Wired magazine (tablet edition) subscribers can access Mastercard’s Shop This functionality in the November edition.  The concept is that with Shop This, consumers register their shipping details and their cards with Shop This and then they can buy items directly from the Wired magazine tablet edition without exiting the magazine app.  Removing the need to enter details every time you wish to purchase something removes the barriers to purchasing, and that’s what Shop This enables.  I found the initial version a bit disappointing as the Shop This logo doesn’t appear on all the items.  Expect more of these sorts of schemes to enable simple payment and shipment in the same vein as Amazon and iTunes.  In fact, iOS 7.0.3, released today, enables keychain capability to extend to iPhones to allow Safari to remember address and credit card details across devices and browsers.

2013.31 | freeosk | oyster | paypal beacon

3015672-slide-s-3-freeosk-the-redbox-of-free-samplesFreeosk – Why not automate the process of providing free samples at grocery stores?  The Freeosk can be installed in a store for automatic dispensing of free samples.  I can take or leave the need to have someone hand me a piece of a granola bar in a cup.

While it looks like a space saver, using the space to give samples AND provide a product display, the most interesting part of this kiosk is that shoppers scan their loyalty card to get their sample.  This provides retailers an opportunity to figure out if the free samples are driving business and to whom.  As an added bonus, maybe it would stop all the scofflaws from drinking more than their fair share of the free apple cider at my market! via Fast Company

oysterOyster – Applying the the strategy that Pandora, Spotify and Songza use for music, Oyster is offering a subscription based service for books.  They have 100,000 ebooks; you have 9.99 a month and you can read all you wish.  It’s great to see subscription based services on offer, but it’s yet another blow to bookstores and paper lovers everywhere.  Now if we can just get a service like Whispersync on a subscription basis.

paypal beaconPayPal Beacon – Paypal recently released their homage to 2001: A Space Oddysey  – the Paypal Beacon – to enable payments via bluetooth.  I look forward to this type of disruption in payments.  As a consumer, I hate carrying cash, and I’m interested in dumping cards as well.  The best transaction is one where I didn’t even notice it happening, and geofenced solutions like these can make it happen.

As someone involved in retail point of service installations, I’ve seen the incredible effort involved in making systems work with payments.  It’s difficult to break away from that complexity, but there are definitely moves afoot that indicate this complexity may be overcome.  It’s wonderful that the likes of Paypal and Google Wallet have new apps that are branching out of their traditional areas to enable payments from the consumer end.  From the retailer end, organizations like my employer (NCR), are providing options with solutions like our connected payments solution to simplify the back end challenges.

While it doesn’t appear that cash is disappearing anytime soon, retail is all about choice.  If you want to pay with cash, you should be able to do so.  If you want to pay with debit or credit, that should be easy for retailers to implement and for customers to use.  We aren’t there yet, but it does look like there is finally some progress to enable the transactions of tomorrow.

2013.27 | uniqul | aireal | 3dfit

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.22.11 PM

Uniqul – A Finnish company recently released an identification scheme based on facial recognition.  The Uniqul concept video imagines the use of a camera to compare the faces of individuals against a database of images in order to identify them.  Such a system could be used for airport identification, payments, or any other application where cards or photo identification are currently used, including retail payments.  The system checks the image of the customer against a database, and returns the identified customer photo with a name to be verified by the customer.  The only customer action is to select an ok button to approve payment.

While the pluck of a company willing to chase such a challenging technological initiative is admirable, this is a challenging solution to implement.  Consider:

  • What if the returned name and image isn’t the customer’s picture and they say ok to the payment?  Free lunch.
  • What are the parameters of the image?  What if hair colour is changed? What if glasses are different? What if weight is gained or lost?   How often will photos have to be re-taken to be effective?  Any of these could result in customer and/or retailer inconvenience.
  • What about backgrounds and lighting for image capture?  Given the wide variety of retail locations with signage, people, windows and lighting, will faces be easily picked out by the solution?  Imagine having to look into a camera and sit still for a few moments to make your payment go through.  Awkward.
  • If such a solution was used at gas pumps, self service or even online, and users hold up a photo in front of the camera instead of using their own face?  It’s happened before with android lock screens.
  • It’s one thing to be a number.  Most acknowledge we have little privacy already, but payments connected to our actual faces might be a bit much for people to accept.  Pay by touch tried something similar with thumbprints from 2005-2007 but that didn’t work out.

I’m sure the designers have considered all of these concerns and a great deal more, they will have to be extremely convincing about security when discussing such a solution with payments processors and retailers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.49.37 PMAireal – Many retailers look to achieve an incredible consumer experience in their stores.  It takes a great deal to impress the jaded consumer with access to so much technology.  As a leader in entertainment, Disney continuously looks for new experiences.  One such experience is Disney Research’s Aireal – a combination of projection, motion sensors and fans.

One demonstration shows an animated butterfly that recognizes that a person’s hand is in the area, and ‘lands’ on it.  Puffs of air from fans controlled by the system blow on your hand to complete the illusion of a real butterfly landing on your hand.  Another concept would be interacting with a virtual soccer ball.  While not part of a transactional solution, it’s easy to see how a solution like this could find its way into a high end concept store.

3Dfit – One of the universal challenges for online retailers of apparel is fit.  In order to encourage sales, online retailers have to offer free returns.   In order to ensure a good fit, customers often resort to ordering multiple sizes and returning what they don’t want.  All of that means higher costs for retailers, and inconvenience for customers who have to return items.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 11.21.39 PMGetting the right pair of glasses for one’s face is just as difficult as finding clothing that fits – perhaps even more so.  Glasses.com are attempting to remedy that challenge with a recently released virtual try-on app for iPad to get potential customers a great view of how they will look in a new pair of glasses.  Users download the app, open it, and place it against a mirror.  The users capture a picture with the iPad camera looking straight at the iPad, and then turn their head to the left and then the right.  The app captures a 3D model of the users’s face from the photo.  With that 3D model, the full inventory of glasses.com can be shown on the user’s face.  The user can scan through images of their face with the glasses on, and even move the glasses up and down the bridge of their nose with a swipe of a finger on the screen.

While this isn’t the same as being at a store and trying them on, it can certainly help narrow the choices – a challenge with glasses, and adds a unique consumer experience to a brand.

2013.04 – Evernote Fridge | Amazon Coupons | Mobile Pay


Evernote Fridge – As time goes on, client channels that have to be addressed by retailers continue to pile up, splinter and move all over the place.  Consider the prototype Samsung T-9000 refrigerator from Samsung.  This sleek modern refrigerator sports a 10 inch control screen built into the door.  The screen’s interface has an Evernote widget that would allow proud owners of this gleaming device to add items to their grocery list right on the door.

As Evernote is a note taking utility already in extensive use with the kind of consumers that would buy a refrigerator like this, it’s a very thoughtful addition and something that might actually justify another screen in the house.  Additions to a grocery list on the door can be synchronized with your Evernote account via a wifi connection on the unit and would be updated up on whatever device(s) are connected.  Given the add-on applets to evernote like Skitch and Evernote Food, you have to think a smarter grocery list app might not be far off .  This is a clever idea, and another challenge/opportunity for retailers who are working to engage clients at any point in the decision making process.

Amazon Coupons – While we can’t buy groceries at Amazon in Canada yet, they can in Seattle from Amazon Fresh.  I found a recent tweet on their coupon options particularly interesting.  Coupons are not used as much in Canada as the US, but if an Amazon were to come on the scene, the ability to leverage coupons like this starts to look very attractive.  If all clients have to do is go through the list and click to add the coupons to their account and then select the items – well why wouldn’t you do it?

In contrast, manufacturer’s coupons are not used as much in Canada.  Most of us can’t or won’t remember to bring a paper coupon, and we don’t want to hold up the line at a checkout.  Most Canadian retailers do not have an interface to a central clearinghouse to scan coupons as far as I have experienced in my work with retailers.  The acceptance of coupons remains relatively manual.  This exposes retailers to potential coupon fraud, expired coupon or misredeemed coupon losses, additional costs to manage and redeem manufacturer coupons.  For these reasons and more, I’ve noted a distaste for coupons and a preference for price matching policies that are simpler to administer and only really used by the zealots who will do anything to save a few dollars.


Canadian retailers are missing an opportunity and perhaps exposing themselves to a real competitive disadvantage if online providers get a simple process to leverage coupons.  Effectively these retailers can sell for less, and they are still getting their higher price via CPG redemptions.

I have an answer to this, Canadian retailers; send me a message if you are interested in how it can work.

Capture1Mobile Pay
 –  While I was working in NCR booth at the National Retail Federation Big Show in New York last week, I saw a lot of really interesting ideas but I found one of the new solutions to be particularly  interesting.   While mobile payment is a really hot item everywhere these days, some of my colleagues on the hospitality side have taken things to a new level.

All of us have had the experience where we are in a restaurant and we want a refill but the server is nowhere to be found.   Instead of trying to catch the server’s attention, imagine being able to pull out any mobile device with a browser, connect to the restaurant, pull up your tab and order another beverage.

At the end of the transaction, instead of going through the whole:  “paper bill dropped at table – put card on paper bill – server takes card/ brings back machine or receipt” routine, you could just scan a 2D code on the bill, add your tip, pay and leave.  That’s exactly what Mobile Pay can do.  The system even allows you to rate your service right on the mobile device and even mention your experience on social media.

It’s a simple, but very intriguing solution.  For now this is offered in the US at a number of venues, but I would be very interested in trying it out at home.

2013.01 | 3D Parts, Sail, SilverCar

teenage engineering3D Parts Printing – As 3D printing becomes increasingly mainstream, we can expect to see more companies taking advantage of that to differentiate themselves.  Swedish Synth Company Teenage Engineering allows customers to print their own parts from CAD files on their website.  This is a wonderful use of the technology and while keeping clients happy, allows TE to spend their time on their next product instead of fulfilling low profit, manual, but very important requests for small replacement bits for currently installed product.  I would love to see more of this!

Capture2Sail is Done – Verifone Sail is discontinued already.  Released last year as a dongle for smartphones to be used as part of a service to accept payments aimed at smaller retailers, Verifone are apparently backing away from Verifone Sail as they say the segment is not viable in the long term, though the website is still up at present.  Curious challenge since this segment is the entire business model for Square, though their partnership with Starbucks provides an out for them to other business models.

unnamedSilverCar – SilverCar is a car rental service offering one kind of car – Silver Audi A4s.  That’s it.  Clients use the website or mobile app to book their reservation.  Clients build a profile that includes not only the usual information like dates and times for rental, but addresses that they plan to visit, and even their favourite radio stations.  When clients get to the airport, they enter in their information on their mobile and their car unlocks with all of their information uploaded to the vehicle.  On return, instead of dealing with a mobile wielding attendant, the app automatically charts out all of the costs and passes the receipt electronically.  Looks like they are only operating in Dallas at present, but will be very interesting to see how they make this work.  It could change car rentals everywhere.

2012.38 | More Channels are Better

The Government of Ontario recently announced that it will be removing their network of 72 ServiceOntario Kiosks installed across the province.  The kiosks have sat unused for a number of months already as anyone who lives in Ontario can attest.  They are placed in many high traffic shopping areas across the province, and were strangely more noticeable these past few months without the usual line of 5-10 people around them.

Unfortunately it appears that the kiosks were targeted by criminals using skimming devices, and in reading between the lines, it appears that the government officials got very nervous about the potential for both payments fraud and for the security of the data of the citizens of Ontario.

As anyone who works in retail or banking can tell you, unfortunately there is always a certain level of fraud you can expect to see across any network with payments.  Pinpads are stolen or compromised from point of sale locations every day.  Attempts are made to skim the information of customers from ATMs.   So it goes.

While there is no way to eliminate fraud completely – electronic or otherwise, there are certainly options to minimize fraud on self service devices.   Admittedly, there are extra costs involved in taking precautions, and those will have to change over time as technology and fraud tactics adjust, but that’s really just part of doing business with self service, assisted service or any other consumer facing situation.    As with anything in life, it seems a shame to allow a few malcontents to ruin something that is helpful and useful to so many.

Unfortunately if you add in political posturing to this equation, it’s not terribly surprising that a government official will claim he’s protecting the public so that he can put a check mark of benefits he has provided to the voter on the mailer he gets Canada Post to send us every quarter.  That’s the game politicians have to play, but I find it surprising that any person who  walks around with a bank card, a credit card, or even a library card in his wallet can express his concern that he will not support a system that is not ‘foolproof’.  No system is completely foolproof by definition.  If you look at the comments from to the article in the Star, I don’t see any comments from people being concerned about their user data or financial data.  The comments revolve around their preferences for kiosks, people, or online, and some even make suggestions on how to fix the issue.

I used the kiosks for years and found them useful, but this year I changed over to their online service to get my new plate stickers and I found it very easy to use,  I had my stickers well before the renewal date, and I avoided lines as well as a trip to the mall.

That said, consumers increasingly expect to interface with organizations in the channel of their choosing.  I prefer online and mobile transactions, but my wife likes to transact with a real person.  I have friends who prefer the kiosk for whatever reason.

Today’s forward thinking organizations provide as many channels as are relevant and possible for consumers to ensure that they get all of the services they need.  That objective should not be limited to retail, banking or travel.  Government is a consumer facing body, and if they don’t offer the services consumers want, they will eventually face a consumer backlash or miss out on a potential cost savings or revenue benefit for their organization.

As far as the kiosks go, the implementation of a new network of kiosks is a huge investment.  With that behind them, it seems a shame that the government would just throw it all away in the name of security and savings.  Why not place the kiosks in ServiceOntario centres to reduce the load for overworked staff and to reduce the queue lengths?  The units are less likely to have security issues if staff are nearby and they could be made inaccessible after hours to further avoid tampering.

While the online option is terrific and probably growing, ask any one of the dozens of people in line at ServiceOntario sites if they would rather use a kiosk right now or wait 20 minutes to talk to a live person and see what they say.  In the end, it’s all about consumer choice, and removing a choice is a shame.

2012.36 | CIBC Mobile Payment

CIBC recently released a mobile payment app. I was very interested to see the details released, and I encourage all of the other banks and credit card companies to follow their lead. I would love to try the app if I met the criteria but at present I’m not a CIBC card holder.

This solution is certainly a welcome step along the evolution of the mobile wallet, but it’s not going to convert everyone to using their mobile phone to pay everywhere.

I see two main challenges to the success of this particular solution as it exists today: Barriers to entry, and perceived benefit.

Barriers to entry will drive down usage. To use this payment infrastructure, potential users have to be: CIBC Visa cardholders, Rogers Mobile Subscribers, and Blackberry Mobile Device owners. This immediately limits the population of potential users. Potential users will also have to register for the Rogers SureTap service, obtain a special Rogers SIM card with NFC capabilities (through the mail or at a store) to be enabled with their mobile account , download the CIBC mobile payment app from Blackberry App World, and configure the app for use.

I personally have no problems with doing any of these things, and I might do it if I was a part of the targeted user group, but then I’m not representative of the general population when it comes to technology. The vast majority of the population either have no interest in doing some or all of these things, and/or will have no idea what I just wrote. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a HUGE barrier to entry. We just bored thousands of users out of doing this. There are too many services, too many steps, and too much explanation of all of the plumbing. If the mobile device doesn’t come with this thing ready to go, most people simply aren’t going to use it.

The perceived benefit of this solution is also uncertain. If I go to a store today, let’s consider the experience. First, users have to discern whether the store takes this form of mobile payment. If you ask a clerk at the store, they probably won’t know or will give clients an incorrect answer.

Assuming the consumer is savvy enough to look for the contactless logo in the provided video, what is the benefit of using one’s mobile to pay? If your average person is shopping, they usually have their wallet with them. Mainly because people still carry them, and they have things other than credit cards – drivers licenses, ID, health cards, and more. (Don’t believe that’s a problem? Check out the wired special on this very subject.)

In order to pay in the traditional way at the point of sale, the consumer pulls out their wallet and their card, inserts the card in the pinpad and enters their pin. If they have a contactless card, they just tap the pinpad with the card.

In order to pay with the new mobile solution at the point of sale, the consumer pulls out their mobile, unlocks it, goes to the CIBC mobile payment app, puts in their pin if they have one in the app, and then taps their mobile on the pinpad.

Q: How is this easier than using a card? A: It isn’t, and it doesn’t add anything to the experience.

The main benefit I see is not having to bring a wallet if no ID is needed (unusual), or using the mobile in a pinch.

This is the first iteration of the solution. I fully expect this solution to expand to other handsets – they already mention Windows Phone, and perhaps to other CIBC cards. I’m sure the solution will also evolve and be offered with brand new handsets when consumers purchase them.

Moving beyond the challenges of this app, I am one hundred percent behind it and what it’s trying to do. There is no mobile wallet today that is universal, that works with every card, that is built into every phone when you get it, that works with every platform, that works at every pinpad. That nirvana isn’t coming anytime soon.

What we do have today are organizations like CIBC, Visa, Rogers, RIM and others that are well-intentioned and forward thinking in trying to get a solution like this off the ground. This is a change that will take place over years. Steps like this and others will get us there. If you have access to this solution and can do it – try it out. If you are getting a new Blackberry and you have a CIBC Visa, why not get all this set up when you buy it? Others seeing this solution in use will drive familiarity. Usage begets usage if the benefit is there.

The only way for us to get to the solutions we want is to embrace the solutions that get us part way. This is not easy – just ask Google. Let’s all be part of the bleeding edge and pull mobile payment solutions along.

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