2010.24 | PSFK Future of Retail

It takes some time to work through all of it, but if you can make the time and have the bandwidth (it’s 55 MB), I highly recommend downloading the PSFK Future of Retail Report.  The document has some wonderful discussion of the technologies coming to the fore in retail, including some examples that were new to me.

Take the time to read through it and get the full context of everything.  They did a great job of bringing all of the trends together.    Thanks to PSFK for doing the work, and putting it out there under creative commons. 

A few of my favourite items from the deck:

  • Subports – Purchase via Text Message.  Such a simple concept that ties into impulse buying!
  • Layar – Augmented reality app that now has ability to purchase content inside the app itself (requires iPhone 3Gs or android)
  • Point Inside – Indoor maps of malls that allow you to see where you are
  • FastMall – Turn by turn directions inside the mall
  • GroceryIQ – iPhone app to track and organize grocery shopping.
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2010.18 | Canadian Retailers Using Social Media

I’ve been on the lookout for how retailers in Canada are using social media and mobile solutions to interact with their customers.   I was pleasantly surprised at the creativity and innovation of some of the organizations.    My observations are purely observational at this point, and based on what goes on in the Greater Toronto Area, but here are a number of uses of social media that have caught my eye recently:

Integrating Social Media and Digital Signage – Holt Renfrew has a limited time ability to tweet your #holtsbeauty tip on to their in-store digital signage in Toronto.   A free way to share information among HR customers, and get ones’ name in lights as it were.

Highlighting Social Media On-Site and Following their Customers Online  – Jack Astor’s are encouraging their customers to join their Facebook page when they bring the check.  They also started following me on Twitter when I became mayor of one of their locations on Foursquare, so they are paying attention.   That’s the kind of two way interaction that is novel to people and shoes a dedication to customers who are loyal enough to visit their restaurants and publish it online.

SMS Coupons – Payless Shoe Source Canada is offering a limited time SMS coupon for 20% off next purchase (text 77777 with Payless).  There is a very quick response with the coupon.  Kudos to Payless for highlighting that you have given them your number for messages and providing a very quick opt out, which worked flawlessly.  It’s a novel opportunity to use a coupon without paper, and the instant gratification of the text is satisfying as well.

Youtube Channels – Mastermind Toys has great coverage across many social media sites; particularly their Youtube channel where they show videos of their staff discussing products for sale in stores. This is a great way to bring the store experience into the online world.

Beyond these individual businesses and their ideas, I’m impressed at the increase in Twitter Feeds in Canada over the past couple of years.  Many consumer facing brands working in Canada have active Twitter feeds.   Here are the more active accounts that are either Canadian Based or have a Canada specific Twitter Feed along with their Follower counts as of May 3, 2010:

Canadian Retailer Twitter Feeds – May 3, 2010

Retailer Followers Retailer Followers
Addition Elle 175 Nutrition House 301
Aldo Shoes 1,810 Pet Valu 816
Bath & Body Works Canada 164 PizzaPizza 757
Best Buy Canada Deals 5,398 Planet Organic 1,343
Birks Jewellers 840 President’s Choice (Loblaw) 343
Browns Shoes 753 Purdy’s Chocolates 426
ChaptersIndigo 3,064 Roots Canada 2,716
Cineplex 224 RW & Co 443
Dairy Queen 77 Sears Canada 2,901
Empire Theatres 3,284 Shoppers Drug Mart 923
Fido Mobile 726 Subway Ontario 216
Future Shop 6,753 Sunrise Records 60
GameStop Canada 4,217 Suzy Shier 176
HMV 2,832 Taco Bell Canada 1,547
Holt Renfrew 3,011 Teaopia 205
Home Depot Canada 768 The Body Shop Canada 664
IGA Québec 717 Tim Hortons 2,250
Jack Astor’s 255 ToysRUs Canada 42
Jean Machine 398 West 49 293
Koodo 52 Whole Foods 1,159
La Senza 1,782 (My local store – find yours here)
Mastermind Toys 861 Wireless Wave 222
McDonald’s Canada 1,620

While the numbers are not massive, they are interesting to analyze.  Not surprisingly, technology leads the way: Future Shop, Best Buy and GameStop show very high numbers, for example.  Niche grocers Whole Foods and Planet Organic also have very high follower numbers considering that Planet Organic is a relatively small chain, and Whole Foods number represents one store.  Remember that this list is mostly composed of people who have chased down a retailer and added it to a list.  Not many of them highlight their Twitter accounts beyond an email or link on a webpage.   This may very well represent a very dedicated demographic – or at the very least, one that is interested in the stores, the bands and what they are about.

Social media is certainly a growing opportunity for retailers and has grown leaps and bounds over the past couple of years.  It will be interesting to see how it matures in Canada over the coming months and years and what we learn from it.  So far it affords retailers an essentially unheard of opportunity – a virtually free marketing experiment.

Update – July 28 – I’m maintaining a list of Canadian Retailers on and Canadian Restaurants Twitter.  Let me know if I’m missing any!

2009.22 | Traveling

I traveled from Toronto to Vancouver to visit a few clients last week, so the technology around travel was certainly on my mind. So many innovations have hit travel in the past decade that it is incredible to think how much things have changed.
 
Check-in Kiosks, Web Check-in, and Mobile Check-in have all streamlined the queuing experience regular travelers know so well. While much improved the area is still ripe for additional innovation. Think about the number of transactions at an airport. Where else do we compact so many transactions into one place in such a short time as a captive audience? What could we do to improve upon an already much improved experience? I had a few thoughts while on the road.
  
Organization – There are various apps that help streamline the travel experience. There are a few basic options for this today, like Tripit, TravelTracker, or Travelocity. Some tradeoffs are made on these solutions. An online offering means being up to date with changes, it also means $3/MB for Canadians traveling to the US. An offline offering means changes may not be shown on your itinerary. In future releases, it would make life simpler to have a mobile check-in button, or even better, a place to store all of the 2d barcodes so they are not accidentally deleted or lost in email or photo areas of the phone.

air_canada_2d Boarding Pass Generation – On my trip, I used web-checkin and had the boarding pass sent to my iPhone as a 2d barcode. While convenient, there is an opportunity to build on this. For one thing, I  don’t know my credit card number or Air Canada Aeroplan Account from memory, and I certainly don’t know my itinerary number. This dissuades me from using mobile check-in in all but the direst situations, and I’m a bleeding edge mobile user. Typing the last 4 digits or letting the program validate the itinerary number on the device would suffice. Even better, using a program like 1Password to pass the information to the airline check-in could also work, much like Google Toolbar Auto fill. The web is fine at home or at the hotel, but when one is only traveling for the day, or the web is unavailable, using mobile checkin should be a simple option.

Security and Boarding – Nothing seems to make security in an airport more uncomfortable than handling a mobile device with their rubber gloves. A barcode scanner that passengers can scan at Security and Boarding so staff don’t have to handle any devices or boarding passes is a better alternative. This provides consistent processes, improved traveler tracking within the airport, less opportunity for a misread boarding pass, and less effort for staff to interpret the information on the miniscule screen of the latest gadget. An intervention may be necessary and staff can deal with the exceptions, providing better throughput. [Update: 5/27/09 While traveling through Montreal (YUL), there was a scanner to scan my own boarding pass. Progress!]

Flight Services – A truly interactive mobile platform with easy access buttons to get feedback on specific issues and a chat function could provide airlines with an incredible customer management tool including the ability to:

  • allow passengers to notify if they are late or unable to make the flight so that the flight can depart, or a seat can be given for standby
  • send text message notifications of flight changes
  • automatically update itineraries if there are cancellations with all preferences automatically applied, and special messages outlined (free airmiles, lounge access, directions to their gate, etc).
  • report lost luggage
  • provide a platform for customers with problems to voice their concerns and opinions and get immediate feedback

With so many millions of happy travelers passing through airports every year, this provides an opportunity to allay the loud concerns of the few major problems, bringing the attention to those who can make a difference quickly. There are tools to do this today, but they are not well advertised or utilized.moverwallet

Car Rental and Hotel Checkin Hertz’s kiosks and Hyatt certainly go in the right direction. A 2d barcode reader would be ideal so mobile devices can be used instead of a printout. Even better, an NFC credit card used to book the trip could make the transaction wireless and avoid the 2d barcode. I already have an NFC credit card, even if I don’t have an NFC mobile phone, which would be ideal. Why not scan the card for pickup and payment? For hotel, the NFC credit card can potentially be used as the room key as well, so the room could be opened without even removing the card from one’s wallet.

Further down the road, perhaps wifi could be used as it is used with the recent ‘mover’ iphone application. It looks like a mini version of Microsoft Surface. A wallet would show a number of cards sitting on the screen and a swipe of the finger slides the appropriate card towards the kiosk and a pin or signature could be entered on the kiosk.

With all of these solutions, it comes down to two things that drive every self service solution: utility and simplicity. If a solution is useful and easy to use, it will gain populartity and usage. It will be interesting to see which solutions meet those criteria in travel over the next few years and how much more convenient it will become.

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