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.


2012.34 | Square Canada | Watch2Pay | Passbook Canada

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

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

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

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

2012.29 | LevelUp | Drive Thru | Glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012.27 | Starbucks and Square

Starbucks has already blazed a trail with their current iPhone and Android mobile payments app.  Yesterday’s NYT article indicating that Starbucks will be moving to Square for payments processing puts them even further along the curve of mobile payments.  This is a watershed change in the way that payments are processed in a national retail chain environment.

The article in the Times indicates that Square will process payments for Starbucks in the US, and the description of the implementation indicates that the Pay with Square (previously known as Card Case) application will be implemented as a future phase of this solution.

For the uninitiated, here is how Pay with Square works today:

To use the solution, customers have to have an iOS or Android mobile device with a Pay with Square App installed and be a registered Square User.  That registration includes the users personal details, including a photo, and a credit card connected to the account.  Customers then register with certain vendors where they wish to be recognized.  (Like having a tab at your local establishment)

When the customer goes into a store that uses Pay with Square, their proximity to the store causes the mobile app of the user to register that customer with the point of sale device in use at the store.   A customer would place their order, and at the point of tendering, the cashier can see a list of customers registered in the store based on their proximity.  The customer identifies themselves by name, and that person is selected by the cashier based on validation of their image on the screen of the point of sale register.  The payment is placed on the users card and a notification of purchase is sent to the customers mobile app.

The customer has paid by name and not pulled a wallet or a phone out of their pocket.  They simply walked into the store, asked for a Latte and said, put it on my tab, my name is Pete.  No cash, no card, no mobile, no PIN, no signature, no paper.

Starbucks may use the Pay with Square mobile apps and operate in the same way indicated above, or they may link this functionality to the Starbucks app.

Either way, consider the impacts of this partnership:

  • Square will obtain access to millions of payments every day.  Starbucks already processed 42 million payments over 15 months with their mobile app.
  • This no scan solution is a perfect fit for Starbucks clientele, product mix, and transaction types.
  • The no scan solution is a logical extension of the current mobile app and users accustomed to scanning their phones will easily transition to this payment method.
  • Non-technical users no longer have to be concerned about anything beyond registration.  They can get help with that and proceed with confidence where they may not have paid with mobiles.
  • No cards, no phone scanning, no pins, no signatures could speed transaction times.
  • eReceipts may finally mean the end of treat receipts and postcards in the mail for the free  beverage after every 15 purchases.
  • Millions of users could transfer to this mode of business, driving demand from consumers to simplify payments at other similar establishments.

Of course, the implementation of this solution opens up some other questions:

  • Pay with Square’s Retailer Solution is currently an iPad based app solution.  Will there be an API ported to the current POS HW/SW solution?  Moving to an all iPad solution seems unlikely given the sophistication, customization and inter connectivity to other systems of a POS solution in place at a Starbucks.  Moving from a POS for order taking to another device for payments would be sub-optimal. Current MSRs could potentially be used.
  • Will Square look to integrate with pinpads in future?   For EMV payments, hardware isolated pinpads are required.  Current design uses only an MSR.
  • What if someone doesn’t put a valid photo on Pay with Square?  Will the barista have to turn them down?
  • What if there are too many people in the store with the app.  Does the app have a sort function by name?  If the list is too long, it may make life difficult.
  • How will this interface with Apple Passbook expected in iOS 6?
  • What sort of fraud can we expect?  For a coffee purchase it doesn’t seem worth it or likely.  If you were selling HDTVs, this would be more concerning.

No matter what happens, this mode of payment acceptance is moving beyond experiment now, and we’ll soon see if it is fully accepted by the public.  Expect others to watch this closely.  This is a significant departure from the current paradigm.

2012.08 | Interactive Screens – not Kiosks

Interactive kiosk solutions have been a part of retail for as long as someone was able to stick a computer in a box.  While mobile is definitely a phenomenon in retail, we are far from saturation on kiosks as self service solutions.   In fact, there has never been a better time to consider a self service kiosk solution – and those solutions don’t have to be limited to a little square screen on a stick.

The technology options available to power these solutions has improved tremendously and there are an increasingly wide range of form factors, as well as peripherals of all sorts to serve pretty much any market or need imaginable.    In fact, I would suggest that the use of the term kiosk is outdated.  It refers to that little square screen on a stick or in a box from a decade ago.

The days of a cobwebbed kiosk in the corner are gone, and new technology means a new generation of interaction in sites.  Consider technology and societal changes that make these new interactions possible:

Larger format screens – 50 and 60″ LCD devices are now available for the cost of a regular old 15″ solution from a number of  years ago.     This reduced cost makes it more affordable to implement a kiosk that has some visual appeal, lots of space for visual elements, and more easily blends into the customer experience in the store than the technology of years gone by. Projection options are also finding their way into the mainstream – meaning a whole new opportunity for engagement and new placements of interactive experiences.

Increased Use of Touch –  – increased availability of touch interfaces means more people are comfortable with them.  If you think back just a few years, there was far less use of touch interfaces.  The release of iDevices, touch on Blackberries and various tablets and eReaders means that a comfort level has grown that was not there before.  This increases the willingness and comfort of the average consumer to interface with a touch system.

Pervasive Technology – There is now a generation of young adults who have never lived without mobile phones or the internet.  Where for many years one saw customers saying they “don’t want to use that thing” or “I want to talk to a person”, there is a whole new generation of shoppers are hungry for different touchpoints and shopping experiences.

What works with interactive kiosk experiences?

With the technology to enable incredible interactive experiences in any place where stores can exist, it is important to consider what experience is being provided.  I have seen a number of interactive experiences requested over the years, and there are a few learnings I can pass on.

1.  Buy-in – If an interactive experience in a retail setting is going to work, then all stakeholders have to be invested in it. If executives, store management or store staff don’t believe in the solution then it will fail.    Any half-hearted solution will not work.  It is like any other group initiative.  Without the conscious involvement, understanding and enthusiasm from the team, whatever solution you have will not work.  It will be doomed from the start.

2. Functionality – The solution has to have a benefit to all who use it.  A benefit for the user, the store staff and the business in general.  For the customer it could be helping them avoid a line, or get help without having to ask a staff member.  For the store staff, it could help them with capacity. For the business, it can keep customers in the store instead of leaving, it could upsell them, it could give them an experience that will keep them as a long term customer.

As an additional detail, my experience has been that transactional systems tend to get more use than informational ones.  Where some customers may be interested in reading product information in great details, there is greater usage and more direct measurable benefit to the business when someone wants to buy something and can do so directly on the solution.

If customers can look at product information, that’s great, but if they can buy the product and have it sent to their home, they don’t need to consider a second interaction.  They can do it on the spot.   Bottom line in my opinion – no ROI – no interactive solution.  If it isn’t driving business, it’s taking up space.  Don’t implement technology for its own sake.

As a personal aside please don’t waste time with the following:

  • e-flyers – I’d like someone to show me how this pays off.  Why would I scroll through an e-flyer at a screen in a store?  I will do it at home, but that is a different user experience.  It is always faster to scan through a paper one in a store, users have no audience waiting to use the unit, and often the paper flyers are sitting in a giant pile right next to the screen.
  • games – I’ve never understood why I would want to play a game on a screen in a store or how that would benefit a retailer. I’m also annoying others who may want to use the screen to find a product.  Exception – if it’s a contest where I get a discount and it’s quick.
  • in store wayfinding – Nobody trusts these in stores anymore.  In a small store there is no need for them.  In a large store who keeps this updated?  Stores change around so much, and I doubt that planograms are updated and automatically interfaced.  It can also take longer to scroll through than just walk through the store.  Exception 1 – if there is an automated interface to constantly updated planogram system. Exception 2 – if there is a version that works with your mobile device Meijer Findit – maybe.  Just put stuff where we can find it.

Based on what I’ve seen, these items are add-ons designed to flesh out a solution, but it never feels useful or natural to me, and drives out more value more than it adds.

3.  User Experience – If the customer doesn’t at least find the experience useful, they won’t use the screen again.  I’m not a UI designer myself, but self service best practices should be followed that suit the application, and having an experienced consultant design your interface is well worth the investment.

Examples of best practices include using as few screens as possible to get a user to completion of their task, using buttons and text that are easy to see and read, and minimize and simplify data entry unless absolutely necessary – especially duplicate requests.  Providing a simple and convenient experience will draw them in and bring them back.

4.  Ongoing Support – If the solution isn’t working, it’s not getting used.  If it’s not getting used, the benefits above are not being realized.  If people see it not getting used, it will be used even less until it is completely ignored, negating the initial intention of having the solution at all.  Ongoing support means making sure the hardware is working to it’s full potential.  No failed peripherals, or a paper sign tacked on it saying out of order.  That can’t happen.

Just as importantly, content must be accurate and updated where relevant.  If a kiosk never changes, unless it fulfills a very specific and key function it will die.  Retailers would never consider leaving their stores the same through seasons – they are always updated with fresh ideas, programs and products.  Interactive solutions must be part of any store updates – the graphics, the videos, the interactions must all keep pace.  People are always engaged with new content – we all know this.  Make sure the solutions are constantly updated to pull people in.

This is a key element that gets missed.  Project teams move to the next new thing, funding is pulled to other new projects, and solutions die.  Don’t let that happen.

5.  One Brand Experience – Retailers understand that providing a seamless single experience to retailers across all parts of the business makes it easier for consumers to buy, which means more sales.  Now that barriers are being removed web stores and brick and mortar stores, allowing returns across the banner, for example, customers are expecting this barrier removal to continue across all interface points.  As each channel becomes easier to use, customers are likely to try out the new ones.  If a customer considers an interactive screen in a shopping centre to be a window into their brand experience, they are increasingly likely to use it.  It’s no longer a separate thing – using this interactive solution should be part a consistent brand  experience.  Try as much as possible to make that experience consistent and targeted to those consumers as much as possible.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are key elements to making a solution really and truly work for the customers and the retailer.

Where is this going?

There is no way to know where the future takes us, but here are a few of my thoughts on the future of interactive screens – hitherto known as kiosks:

Every screen is interactive – and it should be.  Currently there is lots of digital signage out there, but the communication is only one way.  It is showing you messages and is not open for input.  The millennial cohort and younger generations are growing up with interactive screens.  Not having input doesn’t make sense to them.  Expect walls of digital posters in stores to be enabled for interactivity in the future.  During the slow hours of the day, they show brand and product messaging.  At busy times, they can be used to engage customers on selecting their best mobile plan, finding out their balance, or contacting a service rep.

Every interaction is personal – and it should be.  Future interactions should be filtered to get to the point for specific clients.  Allowing customers to identify themselves via loyalty cards or some other simple format means that the messaging and interactions can be customized.  This can minimize screens and touches and provide a streamlined experience.  It could mean language, recognizing services or products the customer has purchased or identified to provide assistance or upsell on them, offers specific to that customer, or even providing access to profiles so that customers can validate how they want to be dealt with.

Screens can be anywhere on any surface in any place.  Large screens are pervasive, but expect projection and other technologies to start to show up as cost drops and brightness increases.  They can cover large or irregular areas, they can provide big screen surface with a small device, and they provide flexible solution options. Starbucks had a good example of this in Toronto and Vancouver last year.

Screens will interact with each other.  Everyone knows we have screens in our pocket, but some content works better in a larger format.  It is technically possible to leverage both together in a store environment in myriad different ways.  Why not have a pre-ordering menu on a mobile device to stage an order that is passed to an in store device to order?  Why not provide a message that an order is ready to a mobile device while customers wait in the store?  Why not enable selection of items for purchase of out of stock items instore from the website, and then complete the payment transaction on the small mobile screen for privacy and security?  As the general public matures technically and they see benefits, these interactions will catch on.

Once again, I think the time has passed to call these interactive kiosks.  Mobile is huge for reatil. Tablets are huge for retail as well, and some think these persona devices signal the end of kiosks, but interactive screens in stores, shopping centres, or wherever you wish already are and will continue to play a tremendous role in the retail ecosystem.

2012.07 | Mobile Payments in Canada

A few options for mobile payments that have come to my attention as of late:

Verifone PaywareVerifone will soon be releasing a pinpad solution for iPhones in Canada that allows for EMV (also known as chip and pin) enabled payment acceptance.  A peripheral attached to the iPhone allows for the card to be inserted and a pin entered on the back of the peripheral.  This effectively provides a completely portable wireless (via wifi or cellular data) payment unit to business owners in Canada.  While not necessarily a device that larger retailers will want to use initially, it certainly lays the groundwork for change to the current industry model where countertop devices are connected via internet or a phone line and enables a whole range of small business owners to take payments wherever they do business with a device they already have on hand.

It’s the right move by Verifone – effectively giving the masses what they want.  I have had the question from numerous non-traditional small business owners of how they can accept electronic payments, and this is one potential answer.

I think it’s a great idea, but see challenges for retailers who already have issues with security.  There is also the challenge of charging – hopefully these devices have a USB pass-through charging cable that avoids the challenge of a small retailer forgetting to charge their iPhone.  No matter the challenges, this is a solution that needs to be there.   The use cases and issues will be worked out over time.

Interac e-Transfer – While most Canadians aren’t aware of it, Interac has been providing financial institutions the opportunity to enable Interac e-Transfer – effectively a slightly updated debit transaction – for some time.  It allows for individuals to transfer funds to other individuals without knowing their bank account information – the key barrier for most people transferring funds from person to person.  I’ve used this solution a few times via my bank both on my PC and on my mobile.

Users establish a payee on a list and set up a personal question that they have to answer.  An email or text message with a link is sent to the payee.  The payees then follow the link to enter their banking information and complete the transfer.  While this is a fully functional and usable system, it is not terribly convenient using my present service provider.  Payees for my bank have to be established on a PC and not on the mobile device – though once they are established, they can be selected form a list.  If it is not possible to establish a user on a mobile, few people will go for it.  Why not allow users to pick from the address book?  Probably fear of security holes.  Looks the Barclays in the UK is trying the same with Pingit, and I’m sure there are other offerings I have not heard about.

Google Wallet – Google Wallet continues to stumble along.  You can only get it in the US on a Nexus S through a single carrier, and now there are concerns two different hacking issues.  Yikes.  Wonder why it might be delayed in Canada?  Here’s hoping it gets flushed out, though I continue to wonder if NFC may not be doomed from a business perspective.  It’s fine technology, but there are always too many players who want their slice of the pie, or want to keep others out when payments come into the picture.

The End of Money – On the subject of electronic payments, I recently listened to a podcast with David Wolman, author of the newly released book “The End of Money“.  As a proponent of  a cashless society, I was intrigued by his discussion of the hidden costs of currency – costs of which I’m very much aware – and have picked up the book.  I’m looking forward to reading it, and you may want to pick up a copy as well.

2012.05 | Surface 2.0 | 2D Payment | 3D Printing

Microsoft Surface apparently had a demo of their latest and greatest on a Samsung system at NRF.  I wasn’t able to see it live while I was at the show, and more the shame because it looks really, really great in this demo video.  There is no apparent bezel and a really slick looking fixture like finish on the surface (forgive the pun).  While it looks just tremendous, do we really think anyone will be looking at keyboards and mice on something like this?  I think this looks incredible, but there must be a better use for it than showing catalog items.

I find these solutions so engaging, and their use of tangible objects a great move forward from gesture based interfaces, but someone needs to grab this thing with both hands and apply it to their business in a way that will use it to best advantage.  How about selling mobile devices and full out demos of their interfaces right on the counter so that you can try them out life size?  That is the kind of transaction that can take place standing at a counter.  Add to the demo and review options the ability to fill in forms with preset info from a wallet and I think this would be a great solution in a mobile selling situation.  No more shells of phones connected with silly wire cables.  Just one slick screen used as sharing surface.

3D Printing Redux – I’ve talked about 3D printing on the blog a number of times now, and I’ve discussed it with some retailers, but it seems pretty far off into the future for most of them.  I would suggest that manufacturers and retailers  heed the lessons of their predecessors; the music, film, and publishing industries.    Just because you have a physical object as a product doesn’t mean you won’t have to change your business model.  I recently read that the Pirate Bay has started a section called Physibles.  This is an area of the well known downloading site where anyone can upload and download digital plans for 3D objects and print their own.

Remember that technology has been progressing faster than companies over the last number of years.  If manufacturers and retailers don’t keep an eye on this, and build ways of addressing it into their business plans, they could stand to lose in many ways.  On the other hand, if it is embraced, new business models can emerge.   New and better printers that can print larger and larger items will only make this trend more prevalent.   It’s certainly complicated, but it’s something to watch.

Paying via 2D Barcode – As someone who has been waiting for NFC to break for years now, I’m getting behind the trend of just working with what we have.  Most widely used mobile devices don’t have NFC yet, but more and more have cameras, so they can read 2D barcodes.

MasterCard in Australia has begun a trial run of their Qkr (pronounced Quicker) app that lets clients order food from their seat in a movie theatre.  Customers scan a barcode from the seat in a movie theatre, pick items from a menu and wait staff deliver it.  I’m assuming this is all tied to a MasterCard from within the app at the back end so no payment details are entered at the point of sale.  Wonder how that works with PCI?

It’s not the widely distributed payment system panacea for any retailer, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2012.03 | NRF – AR – Payments & more

Stories of note from January:

NRF Big Show 2012 – As mentioned, I was at the NRF show this week.  Check out this video covering the underlying themes seen on the floor:  mobile,  consumer experience, convergence of channels, and inventory visibility.

Dominos Augmented Reality  – Dominos is using Augmented Reality to sell pizza in the UK.  Using the blippar app, users point their mobile’s camera at a billboard to see an overlay on their screen that they can touch for offers and ordering.

Microsoft Electronic Mirror – At CES this year, Microsoft was showing their version of a technology enhanced mirror concept.  I’ve seen a few of these so far, and perhaps they are a bit ahead of their time.  The Microsoft Kinect sure has some interesting possibilities for retail – particularly given it now has an official SDK – and eventually someone will work out a use case it in a retail setting that will add value to the customer experience.

Publix Cancels Curbside Pickup – US grocer Publix piloted a program for a year where customers can order groceries online and then have them brought to the car upon arrival to the store.   The program has been cancelled.  It’s an interesting idea, but I expect it is much simpler logistically to have customers come into the store to pick up their order or to have orders delivered to their home directly.

Intuit launching iPhone Payments in Canada – Staying ahead of Square, Intuit is expected to launch their GoPayment solution in Canada in the near future.  I’ve had requests from friends and clients about an equivalent to Square in Canada, so expect they will have some takers.  I will be most interested to see how they deal with EMV.  Both the Intuit and Square solution include card swiping modules that connect to the iPhone or iPad.  Those devices work fine with decades old MSR technology, but what about EMV and the requirement for reading chips from cards, and allowing entry of PINs- a requirement in Canada?

2011.35 | MasterCard Mobile Paypass: Not Mobile Payment

BMO Mastercard announced yesterday that they are offering the BMO Mastercard Mobile Paypass –  a mobile payment solution using NFC and specifically the Mastercard Paypass solution.

I find it perplexing, though not particularly surprising that Mobile Paypass  is receiving a relatively loud fanfare in the press here in Canada – 27 articles as of the writing of this post on Sep 13.  The headline “First Big Bank to Launch Mobile Payment” is somewhat misleading.   The solution that BMO are offering is not remotely new, and it is not what I would consider a true mobile payment solution.

This solution is a sticker with an NFC tag that can be used to pay at NFC payment terminals at the POS in the same way that MasterCard Paypass Cards are currently used.  Customers tap the Paypass Tag on the back of the mobile device on the payment terminal and the card details are passed to the terminal for payment.

The MasterCard Mobile Paypass can adhere to the back of a mobile device, but it can be just as easily stuck to your iPod, your leather wallet or your keychain if you so wish.  Effectively one can also do the same thing today with a BMO MasterCard plastic card.  It fits in the cover on the back of an iPhone, and nothing stops anyone from doing that and leveraging a ‘mobile payment solution’.

If MasterCard Mobile Paypass is considered a mobile payment solution, Esso Canada SpeedPass and Shell Canada’s EasyPay should be as well.  These solutions are wireless key fobs connected to an account with a credit card number that effectively do the same thing, and have been on the market and available for consumers for many years. While not ‘offered’ by a big bank and only usable at a specific retailer, they have certainly been in the mainstream for many years.

All of the hype around mobile payments should be around a true mobile wallet versus using a sticker or a key chain to make credit card payments instead of a physical credit card.  While these are wonderful stepping stones that I use and will continue to use, the exciting part is getting to that true mobile wallet.

The following are my criteria for a true mobile payment solution:

1. Integrated Communication to Payment Terminal – The NFC or whatever communication technology that communicates with the mobile payment device is physically ‘built in’ to the mobile device.   As far as I am concerned, a true mobile wallet is not physically separate from the mobile device.  That module could be part of a SIM card perhaps, but it should be integrated to the phone electronically in some way.  NFC is preferred, as it does not require cellular or wi-fi data accessibility for payments to be processed.

2. Mobile Wallet Application Software on the Mobile Device – A mobile wallet requires a mobile application that can leverage the NFC or other communication technology as though it were a peripheral.  It should be possible to see multiple cards from various banks and card issuers and their details at the very least.  A more sophisticated version should also include loyalty cards, gift cards, transaction details, coupons and offers, tickets and even receipts for all purchases made with the card.  While the solution could be browser based, it should have an offline function at the very least for times of no data connectivity.

3. Ability to pay with Multiple Cards – The wallet should support multiple payment cards that can be chosen on the screen with the same NFC interface to the payment terminal.  Could be any credit card (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc) or any debit cards from any bank. Should also be able to work with retailer offered gift cards.

4. Card Additions, Removals and Changes – The wallet should have the capability to have cards added or removed in the wallet by the user or bank or card issuer.  The cards would use the same NFC interface on the mobile device to connect to the payment device.  The wallet should have a the capability to be ‘deactivated’ remotely by the user or card issuer.

5. User to User Funds Transfers – Ideally, it would be possible to pass funds from one user to another by tapping the phones together, based on the account of choice by the user.  This could be a release 2.0 feature.

This sort of solution is very different from attaching a tag to a mobile device and calling it mobile payment.  The keys to getting a solution of this kind in place have been covered many times in this blog, but the fundamentals in Canada are a widely available and popular NFC enabled mobile device, and an application backed by a company large enough and trustworthy enough that consumers will be comfortable enough to put their credit card numbers in their hands.  Both are challenges.  I won’t even mention encryption, security, EMV, or PCI.  That it must work within those parameters is a given.

Google Wallet is closer to this reality than anyone else, though there are always rumours of Apple, RIM and Paypal as well.  When the mobile wallet I describe above is offered, we will have arrived.  Until that point, beware the inflammatory mobile payment headline.

Update 9/15/11 – I understand from another article that e-mail receipts are also available with this option.  That is a slight change, but considering it is mainly for purchases under $50, the value of receipts for double-double at Tim’s.  Still, it is a step forward to e-receipts and less paper that I am definitely in line with.

Another consideration is that if a purchase does happen to be over $50, I’m not sure what the process will be.  With my current BMO Paypass card, there is a chip on it, so I insert the card into the pinpad and enter my PIN for more than $50.  I don’t think there can be a chip on this card, so we might be back to signatures.  I expect that they will have to put a signature space on the card so clerks can check it.  Now one has to pass the clerk the mobile device so that they can check the signature (don’t like that), and get a paper receipt which negates the benefit.  I don’t think retailers will love gathering receipt slips again now that EMV is in place.  It’s a good stepping stone, and I’ll be very interested to see how it works out!  I’ll get one if I can.

2011.27 | Getting it all Online

The Future of Mobile Wallets – I’ve been hearing that the NFC mobile wallet will be the new reality any time now since about 2006.  With the inertia behind mobile phones, maybe the time has finally come in 2011/2012.  Some parties have some high hopes, according to the nifty infographics after the jump.  There is also some great information on the characteristics of the offerings put forth by the mainstream processors and carriers, though Square and Paypal were strangely absent.

eGifting at Starbucks – A recent update to Starbucks’ mobile app allows users to send a virtual gift card to another Starbucks card holder, as they can add to other card holders’ balances directly from their mobile.  The plastic gift cards that we throw out have been eliminated for mutual lovers of Starbucks.   Effectively Starbucks has deployed the first practical and widely distributed ‘complete’ electronic wallet.  Card holders with the mobile app can use the app at the POS to pay, and can now pass value to another user.  I’ve actually used my Starbucks card as a virtual currency already.  Last year a friend who owed me $100 and wasn’t able to be in my locale just put a credit on my Starbucks card.  It was cheaper than Paypal, and I was going to spend it at Starbucks eventually.  Who needs Bitcoin?  We can use Starbuck$.

NFC Cash Transfers on Android  – Not to be outdone, and with uncanny timing, Paypal has announced that they have enabled wireless cash transfers from one Android phone to another via NFC.  Very cool if you have a Samsung Nexus S.  Otherwise, we’ll wait on that to find it’s way to other platforms!

Getting Offline Data Online – Online presence isn’t the best at Canadian retailers, and there are many reasons and obstacles that make that so.  A recent post on Retail Technology Blog highlights a new service from Wishpond that allows retailers to get their product data and prices online so that consumers can find the right stuff at the best prices nearby when they do their research.  My search for Asics Shoes, which can be hard to find around my neighbourhood brought up some good options.  I’ve seen some similar sites in the past, including flit.com, and like.com, which allows you to search by color, style and more.

While this is a boon for consumers to find what they are looking for, and helps retailers to get their stuff out there, it will be interesting to see what this sort of price transparency does for retailers.  I’m reminded of MySupermarket in the UK that allows shoppers to compare a full basket to find the best prices based on the big stores in their area.  This will make pricing difficult.  Look to the ability to provide individual pricing and offers to attack competition for bargain hunters in the future.  Understanding what customers want before they search for it will be the next frontier.

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