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    In fact, I would suggest that the use of the term kiosk is outdated.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.

2012.02 | Mobile Tickets @ Cineplex

Last weekend I went to see The Adventures of Tintin.  I took the opportunity to try out Cineplex’s new mobile ticketing solution as part of this experience.  At the outset I wasn’t sure if this was the sort of solution I would use over again, but I came away quite impressed, and I expect I will be obtaining tickets this way in the future.  I am constantly baffled by the queues at my local theatre at the traditional ticket line.  I’ve always bypassed them by using the self service kiosks that they have for tickets.  If I can go even further and avoid purchase while in the theatre, I’m glad to do so.

Cineplex has offered their Print, Skip, and Scan option for some time.  Under this program, customers visit the Cineplex website, pick the film and venue and then print their tickets at home.  The tickets each have barcode that can be scanned for entry.  I have been a user of this solution many times, but have found that often my family decides to see a movie on the spur of the moment.  Given the time it takes to print out the 4-5 pages of tickets on my slow home printer, it’s actually faster in this instance to go to the theatre and just use the self serve kiosk to order and print tickets.  This new mobile solution lets me get my tickets on the way to the theatre.

Here’s how it works:

  • Customers with an iPhone or iPad can buy tickets right on the mobile device.  The Cineplex app can be downloaded from the iTunes store.  (The app is also available for Android and Blackberry users)
  • On first use customers add their Scene Loyalty card number in the app so they get full credit for purchases.
  • Using the app, which has great Flixster like information on the films showing, customers select the film, venue, showtime and quantity of tickets.
  • Customers enter their credit card number to pay.
  • The app provides the option to either print tickets at home (tickets sent via email) or use one’s mobile device to pick them up at the theatre.  I chose to use my mobile device.
  • The tickets quickly become available under a tab at the right side of the app labelled ‘tickets’.  Upon clicking the tickets tab, all tickets available to the customer are displayed on the mobile device.  Each ticket transaction has an associated barcode that is displayed on the screen.
  • Upon arrival at the theatre, customers visit a dedicated, stylish and very plainly identified kiosk to print their tickets.
  • After indicating on the kiosk that ticket printing is requested.  Customers open the cineplex app, select the tickets for the film they wish to use, and present the resulting barcode on their mobile to the plainly labelled scanner/imager on the kiosk.
  • Tickets for each individual attendee print immediately.  Customers take these tickets to the Cineplex associate who scans it and customers are ready to watch their movie.

What’s great about this solution?

  • It provides yet another channel for Cineplex customers to use.  Great retail today is about customer choice.  Customers can now buy tickets in yet another way – one that is very interesting to a significant segment of the movie viewing public – and one that is sure to appeal to Millenials who are increasingly accustomed to purchasing goods and services on their mobile devices.  While a new channel is available, all the old ones are still there.  If customers want to line up and buy their tickets from a person they can do so.  If they want to use a self service kiosk, they can do so.  If they want to order online and print at home, they can do so.  If they want to order online or on their mobile and print at the theatre they can do so.
  • It’s simple and builds upon the principles of purchase via their other channels.  It uses the same purchase flow and probably same web services for online ticket purchases.  This makes it a simple transition for current users.
  • The kiosk interface is very simple and the solution doesn’t make you wait. It’s very responsive.

What can improve?

  • Purchasing on the mobile and entering a whole credit card makes for some small text and less than optimal user interface situations.  That is probably more a function of what you can do with a mobile website today, and given that this is an initial iteration, I’m sure this will improve.  I expect that could also be improved if customers were allowed to tie a credit card number to their scene account so no credit card number need be entered.
  • The kiosk was a bit hard to find – placed by the arcade area.  Given all of the other technology in the front of a theatre, I can see that this would be a challenging decision for both logistical (power, data, floorspace) and flow (queueing, so many screens at front of the theatre) reasons.  Once you find the area, it is very plainly labeled and easy to understand.  Also, once customers that wish to use a solution like this know where the kiosk is, it becomes a moot point, as it will be easy for them to find.

On the whole, a very well done implementation in my mind.   I find it useful, and I applaud Cineplex for making the effort to install a solution of this kind.  I look forward to the evolution of this solution.

2011.48 | iPad Table Ordering

While it’s been around for a number of years, interest in ordering food directly from the table has arisen again.  Here is one prototype that allows the table itself to act as the ordering screen.  We have had a food court conceptual solution that operates in a similar way using Microsoft Surface at the NCR demo center in Atlanta for some time.    It’s really very slick, but you have to wonder about the cost and complexity of filling a restaurant or even a mall food court with Microsoft Surface multi-touch units.

A  Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant has been piloting an ordering system for iPads for a month here in Mississauga that allows customers to order directly from the tables on iPads specifically deployed to the tables for that purpose. The solution is from Hubworks Interactive.   I visited the restaurant a month ago, but did not get seated at those tables to try out the system personally.  You can see the iPads sitting on the table in the background.  I like the concept, but a few thoughts come to mind:

  • The site is in here in Ontario.  In Canada, EMV is a requirement.  A pinpad is not visible on these devices.  Doesn’t that leave the restaurant on the hook if someone challenges the charge?  That is the general rule here.
  • How is the iPad secured so some nefarious soul can’t leave with it?  The iPad units I saw just sit on the table.  While they have a large pack on them to keep the battery charged and protect them, I didn’t see any securing of the solution. There was quite a large staff on hand, and that would defeat much of that potential but in a busy situation with 58 screens on the walls, and the proliferation of beer – some will probably walk.
  • I didn’t see a printer on the terminals, so doesn’t someone have to bring a receipt to the table anyway?  It makes it more convenient for clients to pay when they wish, but it doesn’t remove the effort of wait staff from bringing a receipt.  A paper receipt is required locally for debit and credit transactions.
  • Customers inevitably have some request that is not exactly as it appears on the menu.   (Soda water with extra lime, anyone?)  I assume that is handled by wait staff.
  • What about coupons for a free appetizer?  What about gift cards?  Are those accommodated?  Special offers and gift cards are a big part of the restaurant business.
  • Who is tasked with taking orders to the tables and validating that clients aren’t waiting too long?  When I asked about it at the restaurant, they indicated that the orders from the iPad ordering system are not identified any differently on the Kitchen Display system.  What is the influence on tipping when I entered my order on a terminal?  If it goes down will wait staff avoid those tables?
  • What is the care and feeding of such a solution from a technical perspective moving forward?  I’m not aware of much in the way of remote support tools for iOS units. The Hubworks Interactive website indicates that they use a cloud based solution which should minimize the management, but that work never goes away completely.  For example, these units have to be charged by someone at some point.  Cloud based solutions also mean that if the restaurant goes offline, those ordering units aren’t working.
  • How does the ROI work on these units?  The cheapest iPads are about $500. Add the cost of the case, software and ongoing support, and it must be at least $750-$1,000 per table.  While I can appreciate that there is a great deal of expense in a restaurant already with 58 televisions, the cost of putting iPads and an ordering solution at every table will add up.  There could definitely be a benefit of a perception of customer service, but is it worth it?

I applaud Hubworks Interactive for putting it together and Buffalo Wild Wings for trying something new.  Integrating new technologies into the grind of retail is always a challenge, and the only way to work out the kinks is to try it.  Time will tell if it works out.  I look forward to seeing how these fare in December 2012.

2011.39 | Retail Linkdump

Robots at the Mall – Everyone loves robots, and malls in Abu Dhabi may soon be leveraging robots as service ambassadors.  The humanoid robots built by Barcelona based PAL Robotics  have touch screens built into their chests, cameras in their heads to allow them to recognize users, and wheels to allow them to drive around.  Instead of printing a map to a location in a large mall or hospital, the robots can lead you there.  Make sure you watch the video.  Very iRobot.

No Branch Banking 2.0 – While there were a few Internet only banks floating around with the first Internet bubble, one still needed a card to get cash at some point.  With our new mobile reality, Movenbank is offering a cardless banking experience based on the web and Android NFC mobile devices.

Mobile Phone Recycler ATM – While I’ve heard of kiosks to recycle old technology in the past, ecoATM now sports a camera to identify your old mobile device so you can get a quote on the spot.  via PSFK

eBay Mobile Image Search – 2d Barcodes are too unwieldly for many – or so it seems.  How about taking a picture of something you like with your mobile phone camera, and having your mobile look for that item on sale on eBay based on the image?   eBay recently announced that the eBay mobile app will have this capability in the mobile app by the end of the year.

Ikea Happy to Bed Campaign – Ikea’s recent online campaign makes use of a fancy Youtube trick, an interface to Facebook, and some input from the user to provide a very personalized shopping experience.  Make sure you watch the whole video.  You are somehow convinced to build a shopping list without knowing what was happening.

2011.24 | Dollars to Donuts

New Canadian Notes – The Bank of Canada has publicized the design of the newest set of legal tender here in Canada.  Check out all of the details on the new security features put in place to establish consumer confidence in paper money in the time of electronic payments.  If you are a retailer, ensure that you speak to your suppliers of technology that deal with currency (bill pay kiosks, self-checkouts, vending machines, currency counters, etc.) as upgrades may be necessary due to the new material and security features of the bills.  Operational changes will certainly need to be take place to understand and communicate the new features to staff so that they can validate that no counterfeit notes are accepted at assisted service.  New $100’s are coming our way this November.  Expect the $50 in March 2012, and the $20, $10, and $5 in fall 2012.  Canadian $2 and $1 coins are also changing in late 2011 or early 2012 in an effort to reduce the cost of currency, so changes will be a foot for coinage as well.  The Dutch are actually adding a 2D barcode to their Euro coin – scan it and see where it takes you.

ZooshNarette is promising the ability to provide payment via ultrasonic communication instead of NFC.  Their promise is that a $30 upgrade gets you the hardware interface on a POS, and the required interface on the phone is in place using the speaker and microphone.   While an excellent attempt at finding the holy grail, this is yet another splinter in the ongoing mobile wallet debacle.  My main concern would be security.  It didn’t take long for Shopkick, which uses ultrasonic technology to get hacked.   Why couldn’t someone nearby just record the ultrasonic sounds and then translate them to bits they can use online?  I’m sure they have an answer, but I’m not sure I’m ready to try it with my own money yet.  via PSFK

Consumr – Like a Flixster for consumer goods, where users can review consumer goods, and ratings are provided from critics as well. No app yet, but you can see how this would provide a useful resource for shoppers once it gets onto a mobile app, where one can only assume it is headed.  One more social platform for grocers to ponder. via PSFK



2011.18 | Sizing Booth, Mobile Payment, Social Media Vending

mybestfit – A mall near you may soon be featuring a booth that allows you to quickly know your size of choice at all of the stores in the mall.  The booths offered by mybestfit and currently installed in a Pennsylvania mall look very similar to full body scanning solutions see at the airport, but instead of scanning for dangerous items provide a very detailed sizing profile for users.  Given the ongoing vanity sizing taking place in fashion, this could be a very useful service.   While it doesn’t solve the problem of varying sizes at stores, it could take some of the guesswork out of picking the right size clothing to take to the dressing room.  Whether these booths use the same technology or not, the footprint is essentially identical.  This means that the biggest obstacle for this solution is removing consumer perception that ‘nude’ images of them will surface on the internet somewhere.  While they highlight that users stay clothed for sizing, I see no validation that privacy is assured and that no images are seen or kept.  This solution needs to be sold carefully to consumers and locked down hard against technically proficient attendants with, shall we say, a potentially loose sense of privacy and online behaviour.  I’m not suggesting that these points would be front and centre of their marketing plan, but there should be an FAQ somewhere.  I’m not shy, and I trust the airport security who protect us to a reasonable degree to keep images to themselves as a semi-official professional organization, but I don’t trust some person at the mall I’ve never met, and nobody else should either.  Privacy issues aside, if it works as advertised, it’s a very impressive and practical solution, and it would be great to see it in the local mall.

Mobile Payment – Much hyped Square had come under some fire from the payments industry for security holes, but is looking to move towards industry standards with some investment from Visa.   Also, for those of us with those EMV woes that may want to pay or be paid through these iPhone interfaces, iZettle out of Sweden apparently have an EMV flavour of card reading device.  As always, the mobile wallet brings controversy, multiple players, and no simple answer any time soon.

Social Media Vending MachinePepsi recently announced social media capability in a new breed of vending machines.  Users can purchase a Pepsi for a friend at a machine, and the friend can pick up their beverage at another social media enabled vending machine.  Users can send the beverage with a personalized text message or some macines will even have video message capability.   Check the video for more details.  It’s fascinating how vending and self-service are increasingly converging.  The improvements in technology seem to allow the only limit to the solution be the imagination of the responsible party.  That and a solid budget.  As these systems become increasingly complex, the support infrastructure behind it will need to become more robust than the person in the delivery truck unlocking the unit and emptying the coins.  The thought behind supporting solutions like these for the long term is as important as the idea itself, as this solution support – the infrastructure for the video, the supply chain for the merchandise, the ability to monitor the uptime of the system, and the ongoing care and feeding in general – will be what makes these solutions a success or a giant boat anchor.  A boat anchor with a large, blank flat LCD on the front of it.

2011.16 | M-commerce Redux

The influence of mobile technology continues to make itself felt in retail this month:

Home Depot Canada iPhone App Update – There are many retail apps, and more and more of them are attempting to provide value and functionality that you can’t already get with the standard mobile phone apps.  Finding store locations is certainly useful, but not something that will cause users to open an app again and again.  The way McDonalds Canada’s app indicates 24 hour sites with different icons on the map, and Starbucks shows whether stores are open or closed at the moment you are searching does add some value for those of us trolling for late night (or early morning) snacks.  An interesting update to the Home Depot Canada app adds some value in a different way.  The updated app provides a number of tools that are unique to a DIY environment, and more importantly, are actually useful.  Among a number of mini apps within the app, the new toolbox has an app that provides for a quick match for nuts and bolts based on aligning a sample on the screen, a great conversion tool, and a tape measure that allows users to estimate a distance by entering in their shoe size and pacing out a distance.  Users can even save their measurements with whatever titles they want.  This is an excellent example of providing a small but memorable and valuable service on an app that meets the needs of a specific target market.

Selfcheckout on Mobile at Stop & Shop – Further to their iPhone and Android apps, Stop & Shop announced last week that they releasing an app that allows users in stores to scan their own items for checkout.  I would enjoy using this app just for price verification – there is so often a shortage of signage and a long walk to a price verifier that would make this a helpful application for me.  As far as using the solution to checkout, this turns into a real operational scenario.  I’d be fine using it if Stop & Shop trusts me enough to just scan my items, pay and walk out.  Unfortunately, security usually requires periodic audits – which could slow this process down for some users.  Also note that all of the operational issues I pointed out in an earlier post in 2009 about self-scanning still apply, but with some mobile considerations added in.  It’s great technology, and getting better all the time.  If it is to have wide success however, these serious operational changes need to be accommodated to ensure that the solution will work as it should for consumers, and any shrink issues are fully understood and dealt with. 

Mobile Purchasing – With over 70% mobile penetration in Canada and over 90% in the US (see page 190 of the report), it’s no wonder that these apps continue to roll out, and that retailers target sales directly on the devices.  I’m an early adopter, so I’ve purchased tickets, rented and purchased movies, bought music and maybe a book or two.  I can see purchasing a lot more on mobile if it was easy enough to do so.  I’m seeing more and more retail sites optimized for use with mobile devices that automatically move to a mobile version when you access them on your phone, and that could move more purchases to the device.   It would also be nice to have a simple interface to some of the half day sales the likes of the Gap put on.  Consumers might be more likely to take advantage of a short term deal if it was only a few screen touches.  Expect retailers to improve on the mobile web to take advantage. 

Don’t expect the mobile wallet to get solved any time soon however.  Even though apple stores are selling the square dongle, there is still much to be worked out on the back end for real full scale consumer payments to take place.

2011.14 | Expanding Retail Business in Canada: Technical Considerations

One of the signs I’ve seen of late of an improving retail sector is expansion.  I’ve had discussions with a few colleagues on clients expanding into Canada from other countries or expanding into other provinces.  Here is a list of the most common considerations for technology when expanding into or around Canada.

Taxes – Like many other jurisdictions in the world, Canada has tax rates and types that vary by province.  Some provinces charge separate Provincial Sales Tax (PST) and Canadian Federal Sales Tax (also known as the Goods and Sales Tax or GST).  Others charge a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

Electrical Power – For businesses coming from Europe or Asia, the power in Canada is 120V, 60Hz, and NEMA 5 connectors are used.  Ensure that retail POS and other solutions have the correct power supplies and power cords to connect to power in Canada.  If  UPS devices are used for power protection or backup, be certain to purchase units that operate with Canadian voltages and connectors.  The same power and connector standards are used in the US and Canada.

Price Verification – Requirements for Price Verification vary by jurisdiction in Canada.  In Quebec, having electronic price verifiers in stores is a legal requirement unless there are prices shown on every item in a store.  In the rest of Canada, the Scanner Price Accuracy Voluntary Code is a voluntary pricing code of conduct that retailers who are members of the Retail Council of Canada, Canadian Association of Chain Drug Stores, and Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers adhere with – covering off a very large percentage of Canadian retailers by sales.   I’ve noted in various online forums over the years that consumers across Canada have voiced concerns about store staff’s knowledge of the voluntary code, causing some consternation among consumers, so retailers would do well to be sure store staff are aware of the rules and act on them to ensure strong consumer relations.

Weighable Items –  Weigh scales in grocery need to be certified as legal for trade by Measurements Canada under the Weights and Measures Act via an Authorized Service Provider.   Note that Canada uses the metric system, and the scales must be calibrated in kilograms.  A remote post display is required for use in Canada, even if the weight is displayed on a user screen like those on a Self-Checkout.

Language – Canada is officially a bilingual country, but is increasingly multi-lingual given many years of strong immigration- particularly in the city centres.  Retailers should expect to provide customer facing systems in both French and English, particularly in Quebec, and should have a good understanding of French in Canada.  This means that all consumer facing solutions, such as kiosks, selfcheckout systems, customer facing displays and receipts require multi-language capability.  Under Bill 101 it may also be necessary to provide back end solutions used by staff in store in French.  Some retailers also use French versions of Windows and other operating environments.  Note that not all POS versions of Windows 7 embedded provide for Multi-Language capability so Windows 7 Ultimate or Windows 7 Pro may be required for a French Windows 7 Image.   Recent years have seen increases of requests for other languages on kiosks, ATM’s, and self-checkouts across Canada in my experience – primarily for Asian languages.  Retailers serving urban populations with technology that has the capability to serve multiple languages may find themselves with a competitive advantage.

Electronic Payments – All pinpads to be used in Canada must be certified by Interac, Canada’s electronic payments Association.  All pinpads to be used in Canada should be EMV certified and capable.  As in the US, PCI compliance is also required.  Some of the most common pinpads used in Canada by Tier One retailers in Canada include the Ingenico i3070, Verifone Vx810, and Verifone SC5000, though there are many others in use.  Many Canadian retailers have also enabled NFC payment acceptance on their pinpads over the past few years as part of the effort to move to EMV and PCI compliance.  Canada has a high rate of electronic payment penetration, with many tier one retailers I’ve spoken with indicating that as much as 70-80% of tenders are either debit or credit.  Use of cheques in Canada is very limited.  Less than 1% of tenders are cheques for most retailers I’ve spoken with, and it is 0 for many.

Cash Management – Primary currency in use in Canada is the Canadian Dollar.  The most common denominiations are the $20, $10, and $5 note.  $50 and $100 notes are also available, but used less often, and some smaller retailers refuse to accept them for fear of forgery.   Coinage includes $2 (toonie), $1 (loonie), 25 cent, 10 cent, 5 cent and 1 cent.  50 cent coins exist but are in limited use.  There are various forgery safeguards on Canadian currency to protect against forgery, and Canadian notes are changing to a polymer base in 2011/2012.  Canadian retailers often use a 4 Note , 8 coin slot cash insert for cash drawers, versus the 5 note, 5 coin slot cash insert used in the US.  The use of differing coins and notes also means that cash handling solutions like self-checkouts, cash recycling , and fraud detection systems will differ to accommodate the different notes and coins.  The lack of $1 bills means far less bill usage on cash handling systems than the US.

On a more localized level:

Sales Recording Module for Restaurants – Quebec – Revenu Quebec has implemented requirements for retailers to record all sales transactions through the use of a Sales Recording Module installed between the POS and the printer.

Reusable Bags and Plastic Bag Fees – In the City of Toronto, there is a bylaw which requires a charge of 5 cents for plastic bags and others have followed suit.  Many Canadian retailers have adopted a charge across the country to drive down usage of plastic bags.  Whether as a result of this charge or not, there is a significant use of reusable bags by Canadian shoppers.  For the bag fees, retailers need to be able to add the fee and to both assisted and selfcheckout solutions – a relatively simple matter.  For reusable bags, self-checkout systems need to be enabled, and staff need to be trained to assist customers in understanding the process of using their own bags with self-checkout.

This is by no means an exahaustive list and is provided based on my experiences to date.  It is intended for informational purposes only and ideally is helpful in providing a view to the types of technical hurdles that may exist for those who plan to expand into or across Canada.  If there is any facet of technology that I have overlooked in consumer facing stores, or if I have made an incorrect statement please leave a comment, and I will be glad to adjust the article.

2011.12 | WalkIN to a Freezer Door LCD

It used to be that the biggest news on the block was the size of a screen or the power of a processor.  Now there are wild new ideas every time you look in the news.  Here’s are eight items that caught my eye recently.

One of the winners of the of SXSW 2011 Startup Bus Prize this week was WalkIN – a Queueing App for Restaurants on iPhone.  Slightly different spin on something like OpenTable which makes reservations, these guys want to let you know exactly where you are in the queue so that you can walk right into a table.  At the same time, restaurant owners have full visibility to the queue as well.

Translucent Displays mean that customers can potentially access product information and details via a freezer door LCD.  Very interesting, but now I have to get people off the freezer door to get my fishsticks.  Seems like we’re already climbing over each other.  Really cool concept.  I look forward to the creative types who find an ROI for it.

A useful article and video updating us on what the Metro AG team are currently showing in their future store.  Also see more detail in an earlier article and video I posted in 2009 on this store to see previous iterations of new technology in use at the Future Store.   Scanning speed and capability on a mobile has picked up considerably in the almost 3 years since they first tried this.

Google Cars – Check out an excellent article including video of what it is like to ride in a car completely controlled by a computer.  This would certainly solve the problem of texting while driving, but more importantly from a retail perspective, it would allow for a different dynamic on shopping trips.  The integration of technology to cars is certainly accelerating – consider Ford, but also Zipcars and Cars2Go.  Now if they can just get bluetooth to work…

Microsoft Tag shelf talkers for Herbal Essences are in place at 53,000 stores.  This is a great use of mobile scan codes for informational purposes that I’ve always thought would be great.  While on a much smaller scale, this is the same idea.  Some good discussion of 2d barcode for informational purposes.  To be honest, couldn’t they use different colours for Microsoft Tag?  That must be throwing the marketing people off. I prefer the ugly boxes of 2D to the 1980s fuschia and yellows triangles of Microsoft Tag.  No matter which option used, I’ve always thought this would be a great solution for higher end items like washers and dryers, or perhaps DIY advice on kits purchased at Big Box DIY.  In any case, if the retailers don’t get into it, the CPGs and their agencies will do it on their own – organizations like Kokanee beer and their agency grip limited – who recently put 2d barcodes on beer cans with links to interactive maps of trails.

A brief but fascinating article on book pricing strategies that indicates books could go to 99 cents each, as it’s theoretically possible for authors to make more money that way, as the volume will grow as the cost drops. I’m not sure if that will be the case, but it’s a great throwback to business school days in setting prices for maximum return.

For those who think that self-checkout is only for big box environments, this cafeteria in Ohio is returning to the roots of the communal trust based cashbox in the small cafeteria, but with a technological twist (and a security camera).

NEC is discussing new object recognition technology to identify origins of produce – assuming you wanted to know what tree your apple came from.  Have investigated this technology before there are challenges within stores for self-checkout around issues such as identifying organic vs standard produce.  It’s amazing to me that they can use fingerprint like recognition technology to understand the origins of a shipment of apples.   I’d love to see this in action in a lab, but expect the more challenging aspect of a solution of this sort being connecting thousands of stores to a central database so a fruit can be identified.  Most retailers (or suppliers) aren’t signing up for something like that without some sort of ROI.

2011.02 | Retail Technology at CES and NRF

Now that holiday season has passed, we find ourselves in trade show season.  Two of the perennial favourites for retail techies are CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and NRF‘s Big Show (National Retail Federation).  Where CES is generally the showcase of technology retailers may sell (or not), NRF reveals how to sell that technology (and lots and lots more) with technology.

At CES, there was a demonstration of one technology of more than passing interest to consumer facing organizations.  Microsoft demonstrated Surface 2.0.  A slick upgrade to their commercial platform, the new version is built on a 4 inch thick Samsung platform that allows it to be used in its’ current table iteration, as well as mounted on the wall.  Royal Bank of Canada is implementing Surface 2.o, and have already been using Surface with a number of applications as part of a recent branch makeover targeting a retail store feel.  Wind Mobile and Sheraton hotels have also been using Surface in their consumer facing areas.  Expect to see more unique application for this giant iPad coming to a bank or store near you.

At NRF, there are always too many retail technology solutions and ideas to see or cover completely, but a few highlights included:

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