2014.03 | lovelist | electroloom | homechat

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Lovelist – Pinterest is a great tool and quite simple to use.  I use it to remember products or looks that catch my eye and can turn to it for inspiration when I actually look to purchase a new item.  The new app Lovelist takes this to another level by allowing users of the app to scan items and add them to a Pinterest board.  That effectively provides a rudimentary bespoke gift registry as a Pinterest board.  The app allows you not just to take images and describe items you see – as Pinterest’s own mobile app already does – but to scan barcodes on products and have data populate onto a pin that could be added to a board. Scanning minimizes effort for the user and ensures that you are capturing exactly what you see.

This app brings to the fore a potential use for Pinterest as a central gift registry clearing house across all retailers that I think would be relatively simple for Pinterest to implement that could provide them with increased usage as well as some interesting traffic and data. Why not allow users to make a gift registry on Pinterest, and allow other users the ability to anonymously indicate that an item has been purchased.  In fact, Simple Registry already provides this very solution – including the ability to split the cost of larger items.

Where a Pinterest solution could excel is that it can provide cross retailer (even Amazon) registries and the ability to use the app to register and add items.   Pinterest could do this at no charge, and provide retailers the ability to see these registries to allow them to push relevant and timely offers through the life of the registry, understand product affinities and more.

Like every other element of retail, expect the gift registry segment to splinter more and more as there are increasing options for consumers to register on systems outside of retailers. Retailers would be wise to build flexibility into systems and operations to accommodate outside or affiliate solutions like Simple Registry, a Pinterest Registry, or whatever provides the consumer with the experience that suits their needs.    Assist purchasers to search online registries for items that could be purchased in your store, assist them in removing items from the list they have purchased and more.  This means implementing a program with store associates to ensure that they are aware of registry programs beyond the retailer to ensure consumers can shop as they wish in your stores.

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Electroloom – 3D printing is increasingly mainstream.  If you don’t believe it, head down to one of the Makerbot stores.  If you visit, you will see many little printers and scanners happily printing out bracelets and other little trinkets.  Don’t want to leave home?  You can still get the 3D printer experience by using your Xbox One to scan yourself and have the team at Shapify send you a 3D printed action figure of yourself.  While this all seems like silly fun, remember that availability for 3D printables online is growing.  You can find items already on the Pirate Bay, for example, and there many more.

With that in mind, Electroloom is a concept that is getting off the ground with an eye towards enabling the ability to custom print clothing designs on demand at home.  The group are targeting the end of 2014 to have a concept product.  Whether Electroloom is successful or not, this technology is definitely coming and apparel designers and retailers are well advised to stay abreast of developments in this area. Whether enabling printing at a retail store and cutting distribution and unused inventory costs, or allowing printing at home to become a seller of design instead of product, printing apparel has the potential of being a game changer to fashion in the same manner that mp3 and ebooks were to their respective areas.

lg-homechat-ces-2014Homechat – Having recently replaced some appliances in my home, I wondered why I couldn’t connect them to my mobile device to provide notifications.  Seems that the team at LG were thinking along the same lines.   LG’s HomeChat allows for regular language discussions with LG appliances to drive instructions and provide status updates.  While their notion of asking if there is beer in the refrigerator seems somewhat enthusiastic, (how are items going in and out of a fridge getting scanned, what database is it checking to see if something is ‘beer’), the idea is certainly worthy of consideration.   I’m sure I won’t want to program my roomba from the road to change its cleaning schedule, but it would be nice to know if I need to empty its dust receptacle or if my laundry is done.

My experience with the best use of new systems like this is to start with a basic function, get it working in a way that is useful to users and then build out on it.  First, establish basic notifications from appliances, then you can get more sophisticated as the user and solution evolve together.  For instance, start with dishwasher cycle complete notifications, over time move on to notifications that the rinse aid is empty and provide a capability to add it to a grocery list on Evernote or in a grocery app.  As always, the issue is not the technology, it’s how people interact with it and if they gain utility.  Much like email marketing becomes noise, too many messages from anything will quickly become overwhelming.

However this technology progresses, retailers should ensure that they are able to take advantage of feeds from services to make relevant offers or provide help to clients – being able to accept input from a service to an app to add that rinse agent to a grocery list is a good example.  There is no way to be ready for everything, but being open to the idea is a good start.

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2013.36 | leveraging pinterest in store

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At this point, everyone in retail is aware that social media is a key selling tool for retailers; not just a novelty.  From a specialty and department store retailer perspective, Pinterest is of particular value. Pinterest provides a focused window into the taste and style choices of users in a way that no other social platform does. While Facebook, Twitter and others are about sharing your life and relationships, Pinterest is all about lists of favourite things that is easily separated from the minutia of life details. It’s built for shopping. That focus appears to be translating into sales for retailers, as statistics show that Pinterest’s role in driving sales is growing compared to the other social media platforms.

The challenge for retailers is to take that data and translate it into sales across their enterprise through every channel possible.

Big players are taking notice and using Pinterest in some unique ways:

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  • Nordstrom physically tagged their most tagged items on Pinterest. Understanding customer popularity enables them to highlight the most popular online items in their stores.
  • JCrew released their September style guide to Pinterest followers BEFORE sending it to their catalog subscribers. This enabled a more interactive experience than a catalog at what must have been very little incremental production cost. The set even has contact information to connect for advice on assembling a look.

While there is great potential around eCommerce sales in establishing a retailer Pinterest account, obtaining followers, and getting a feel for your client bases likes, there is also rich data available about clients that goes beyond a single retailer brand that can also be used in many different ways across the retailer enterprise. Some examples of data use include:

  • Obtain insight directly from your clients and potential clients on product interest and taste – no need for data mining
  • Gain vision on products your clients favour from other retailers and sources
  • Highlight opportunities for product sale / bundle / offer opportunities
  • Review a perceived neutral location for client opinion
  • Opportunity for differentiation on customer experience 
  • Directly connect current and potential clients with the items they want both online and in store.

The direct connection of clients with items they may wish to purchase is a very powerful one.

pinterest-jcrew-sept-style-guideOur personalities go deeply into what we wish to purchase and our underlying satisfaction with our selections. When we visit stores, with only a few minutes onsite, we can only provide store associates the briefest glimpses of our personality to decide what the best match for a product may be. What if instead of analyzing our appearance, a few minutes of discussion and products we favour, the store associate scan through pages of items we select that represent our personal style, our interests and how we live our lives?

As a data feed available online, Pinterest can provide that window into the preferences of clients. With the right associates and the right tools, this view into a client’s personality can be used to drive more sales in stores by showing consumers items that will most interest them based on their tastes.

How to proceed in store?  Here are some high level thoughts:

  • Obtain permission from clients to connect their Pinterest accounts to their loyalty accounts in your enterprise customer database.  Always ask for permission to use their data and explain what the data will be used for.  Always make it optional to share.  If you change your use, highlight it to them.  Offer them something in return for this information (offer, points, etc.)  The sharing of information must be mutually beneficial.  This sharing must be customer choice and respect their privacy.
  • Leverage a tablet based clienteling solution to provide access to trusted in store client advisors to provide them with client style preferences from your collections and from other sources.  Train them to make recommendations on current store inventory based on cues from client Pinterest accounts.  Train them to be sensitive to the fact that clients are sharing their data client benefit and that it must be respected and clients must feel that their privacy is kept at the level they wish to keep it.
  • deartopshopWhen the program begins, have the staff explain what the clienteling app does and what it is for.  If clients do not wish to take part, immediately flag them to not be approached again.  Enable the tablets to identify clients by as many identification methods as possible – phone, email, client id, or whatever is available.  Let the client choose.
  • Analyze data from clients that agree to share, and leverage data on other brands preferred by clients for competitive and alliance partnerships.  (Apparel sellers could partner with shoe  or accessory seller)
  • Train sales staff to sell against or complement competitive items within a client Pinterest list.

Connecting Pinterest data to other cross channel information such as customer populated sizes and preferences, website wishlists, purchase history and more on a tablet provide comprehensive picture of the client that can enable truly amazing customer experiences.  While Pinterest isn’t the central feature of an in store tablet based clienteling solution, it can certainly add some unique value and is worthy of consideration.

2013.25 | keyme | hyperlocal | nordstrom pinterest

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Keyme – While physical keys are increasingly disappearing, much like cash they are still a part of life that will not go away for some time. All of us have misplaced a key at some time, and startup Keyme looks to help customers out of that jam. The company has kiosks located at select Manhattan 7-Eleven sites that allow users to print their stored key pattern on demand. Customers register their keys at the kiosk at no charge. The machine captures the pattern of the key against a credit card and fingerprint for security. If you lose your key, head over to 7-Eleven, enter in your information, scan your fingerprint, and you can have a copy of your key printed for $20.

It’s a novel idea that solves a real problem. While I’m certain all precautions are taken for security, Keyme puts the pattern for your house key with your home address and your credit card number online. That means security better be solid. The risks are the same as all of the other cloud services that increasingly connect everything – doorlocks, security systems, online thermostats, and more. As cloud services and gadgets make our lives more convenient, they inevitably expose us to new risks that we will all have to weigh against that convenience.

From a retailer perspective, some of these technologies could drive future opportunities. Imagine being able to provide a lockbox to which you can give programmed access one time only for a package or a grocery delivery. What if the security camera at our front door can page us when someone comes to the door and you can let them in remotely and lock the door again when they leave? Maybe the delivery man can even replace your eggs when you run out – or not.

CaptureHyperlocal – This hyperlocal food market concept by Kayleigh Thompson provides a platform for farmers to sell their produce / food products. Think of this concept as the sort of infrastructure that etsy provides for arts and crafts sellers with an extension to price and label food. While it’s a long shot for something like this to take off, this sort of connection between producer and end clients is an increasingly common theme online eCommerce sites like etsy, fab and more. Large grocery chains could leverage a platform like this to bring together the best of a farmer’s market with the infrastructure benefits of a chain.

CaptureNordstrom – The high end chain have been labeling their most tagged items from pinterest in their stores. It’s fascinating to see social media pulled into the real world. Seeing a top ten list of most popular products in a physical store brings an element of involvement to the store that could not exist otherwise. Expect to see more of these connections between the online and physical stores, and expect more of them to pay off as consumers become increasingly comfortable and attuned to connecting the channels.

2013.20 | design my outfit

When I want to buy clothes, I like to buy an entire outfit.  I’m not one for matching things.  I’d like to buy a shirt, pants, maybe a jacket – maybe even shoes and a belt.  I know for a fact that there are people at retailers much better than I at putting together an entire look, and not sell me a shirt.  When I used to visit menswear stores for suits, store staff  used to do that for me.  Most of my clothing shopping now is online and I’m noticing an unfulfilled need.

There are lots of ways to shop for clothing online.

  • Pinterest is helpful for checking out new things under Men’s Fashion and adding anything that catches your eye to your account.
  • My usual retailers constantly (really – constantly) send me email messages with different looks.  Many of them are for women and children (really – in the days of omnichannel ?!?)
  • Many retailers provide you with lookbooks, or blogs that can provide some direction for the fashion minded.

While all of this is entertaining, there is a serious shortcoming in the world of specialty retail.  Other than high end retailers, I’ve not seen any retailer do a terrific job of assisting customers to assemble an outfit or a wardrobe.  Everyone is still selling articles of clothing.  They are not selling a look – though they are showing them to us. Consequently they are missing sales and overlooking an opportunity to provide a valuable add-on service to their clients.

When you visit the ecommerce sites of  a Banana Republic as an example, they both have collections, looks and full outfits they show, but they make you work at trying to put together the ensemble.   BR recently sent me an email with their summer collection.  It shows a number of outfits for summer 2013.  Sounds good.  Say you like one of the outfits.  You click on it.  You get a list of shirts.  What?  Why can’t you just click on the outfit, and you show me all of the pieces so I can just buy the outfit?

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JCrew seem to be going in the right direction.   In their lookbook, when you click on a look, you get a list of the items in the picture.

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This is better.  Many of the pieces are populated on the resulting page – but not all of them.  The optimal scenario would be to see all of the elements together on one page, where we can swap out the blue shirt for a white shirt, change the belt, and see the look.  Even better than that, have various options pre-set to show the shopper.

Another pet peeve on the web sites.  These guys know my sizes.  I login when I’m on their ecommerce sites.  Why am I picking from lists all the time?  Why not default to my sizes I usually buy and let me adjust from there?

Stores that I visit seem to be worse.  When I visit a store, they’ll have a mannequin that is sporting a shirt and pants that seem a good option.  The shirts are right next to the mannequin, but the pants are AWOL.  Mixed in with fifty others types of pants that aren’t quite the same ones.   Why not label what the items are and put them near the mannequin?  If that’s not possible, find a simple way to tag the ones that are on the mannequin to make it easier for me to find them?  Some stores have staff that are good at this and some don’t.  Why not remove the guesswork for those people and set an operational program to do it for them via numbering, coloured tags or some logical scheme?

I’ve also always wondered why clothing retailers don’t partner with other retailers to let me buy all at once?  As an example, why not have Aldo put some shoes in here that suit the look. Then after I close my order direct me to the Aldo site?  Perhaps Aldo can give BR or JCrew a little kickback for the sale and everyone wins.

I don’t mean to pick on these particular retailers.  I mention them because I frequent their sites and buy their products and I like them.  I’m aware that the ideas I’m suggesting require some sophisticated coding, and significant thought and effort.  Partnerships with other companies are difficult – fitting fashion lines together would be fantastically challenging.  That said, showing me a whole outfit and letting me buy it with one click is going to get more dollars from me and probably some others as well.  If someone can solve it, there is real opportunity.

If the retailers don’t fulfill it, perhaps third parties can make it happen.  Pinterest may figure out a way to have users build outfits and set links to clients to get a sales commissions.  Perhaps services like Trunk Club can go downscale and fill the need.

Has anyone seen this done better?  An online valet service?  A retailer’s ecommerce site that does it well? Let me know what you’ve seen!  I think this can be improved upon for the benefit of all.

2013.11 | Retail Tech Miscellany

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 10.17.52 PMWaste Elimination – Check out The Disappearing Package – a Masters Thesis based on eliminating the packaging part of consumer packaged goods altogether.  Not sure how realistic these are, but eliminating packaging is a welcome concept, and there are some interesting options shown.  via Fast Company

Mobile Selling Across Platforms – There has been lots of talk about mobile retailing, but Gucci took it to heart and redesigned their mobile website to provide a unique experience suited to buying on a smartphone or tablet as well as a traditional pc or notebook.  One can’t help but notice that Gucci chose to update their mobile website instead of an app.  Given the increasing pile of mobile os ecosystems and flavours (iOS, Android, Windows) and devices (smartphones and tablets of various shapes and sizes), setting up a great website with mobile optimization seems the way to go.

IBM retail AR appShelf Overlay – Augmented Reality is another concept that has been touted as a game changer for retail.  IBM has a conceptual mobile app that allows users to use their mobile device’s camera to capture items on the shelf with image recognition and then allow shoppers to sort through the assortment based on various parameters as they would on a website.  Customers could find gluten free items, or see what items are on sale.  I love the concept, but I’m not sure if most people today will have the patience to search a store this way.  If they do, everyone will be bumping into each other and trying to stand back from the shelves.  It could get a bit awkward walking down the aisles!

Data elements are likely to be a challenge for this.  If a retailer doesn’t have a fully populated database with all the elements needed to filter, a significant effort will be required to update systems on the back end to support this effort.  Apparently it’s being tested in the UK.  Some fun additions in my mind: highlight items from my shopping list on the shelf in green in case I can’t find them, highlight my usual items as I walk by them, put blinking green on items that may interest me, and finally integrate this into Google Glass to make it less awkward to use.

Loyalty Apps – I’ve always hated those little loyalty cards that you got stamped for a free coffee.  My sushi place has a terrible version of this that you can’t even read.  I also hate carrying paper cards and I’m not alone.  Check out this recent blogto profile of a number of smaller loyalty programs that are trying to take this niche into the smartphone age.

CapturePinterest Analytics – Pinterest is one of the most interesting social media stories to come on the scene for some time, and it got a bit more interesting as their Web Analytics have been released.  Now pinners including retailers, will have a better idea of what people are pinning.  It’s unclear if that changes much for retailers that pin, but at least some gauge of reaction is possible.  Perhaps the ability to tag whether an item was purchased would help.  I’ve always thought Pinterest would be a great social media network for retailers to add to a client profile.  When I visit higher end retailers or am looking for something fashion related, staff always ask about my hobbies and style.  It would be nice to just let them glance through a few Pinterest boards to give them a flavour for what you like. Not only that, but the retailer sees what you like at other retailers.

2012.23 | Nike AR, Uniqlo Pins, SSD & Pickie

Nike Fuel Station at BoxPark – Check out this Nike Store in the UK that leverages a number of new and unique technologies in store including an augmented reality app on iPads.

NikeFuel Station at Boxpark from Dezeen on Vimeo.

Uniqlo @ PinterestUniqlo, the Japanese casual apparel retailer recently “took over” Social Media Site Pinterest with a number of shell  accounts to draw attention to their new release of mesh products.  Pinterest uses an endless scrolling format on their pages, and Uniqlo built a playful sort of animation visible as users scrolled down the page.  Clever and artistic stunt to garner attention in a non-traditional manner in a non-traditional channel.

Falling SSD Costs – I’ve been getting more and more inquiries on the potential of leveraging Solid State Drive (SSD) versus Hard Disk Drive (HDD) technology for data storage on POS systems.  The costs of SSD have been dropping for years.  Seems like the drop is getting even more precipitous.  Hopefully we can look forward to the speed and reliability of SSD at a reasonable price in the very near future.

Pickie – I’m not sure if we can handle yet another social media channel, but here is another one of interest to retailers.  Pickie is a customized magazine that shows products based on your social media feeds.  You need a Facebook account to get an invite for the limited beta.  Social Media is increasingly being leveraged to sell to us.  While it could work, it makes you wonder if you want all your friends to run out and buy all the gear you lust over.

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