2009.17 | Convenience | DVD Landscape | Mobile POS

Taking the Store to Customers – Convenience has ever been important to consumer facing businesses, and there are many new and different ways that these organizations are trying to make their products and services more convenient for consumers to obtain.

The primary inconvenience of purchasing food from a mobile vendor is the difficulty of knowing where they are. Kogi Korean BBQ, a taco truck in LA, lets their customers keep track of their location via Twitter – taking uncertainty out of the mix.

Starbucks is looking to place coffee vending machines across North America that leverage electronic payment – including contactless – avoiding the necessity for having coins or small bills at the ready.

Coinstar is already doing very well with Redbox DVD rental machines. They add additional convenience by providing a reloadable credit card solution – a gap filler for those who wish to rent and don’t have a credit card. This should sound familiar, as this solution is available on an NCR platform used by Readycredit. These would be well placed next to NCR SelfServ Entertainment units.

The Changing DVD Landscape – The DVD rental industry is becoming increasingly complicated, with ever changing players, formats and scenarios. While the cheap DVD rental is a boon for the consumer, there are complications, as it represents a paradigm change for studios and consumers alike. Whatever the issues, expect them to be resolved, and this business to continue its growth for the next few years at the very least.

Mobile POS – I’ve already expressed my admiration for the handheld POS units used in Apple Stores. Now it looks like they might be taking the expected step of moving from their current Windows Based platform to an iPhone based solution with the soon to be released iPhone 3.0 software which allows improved connectivity and interoperability for hardware add-ons. This is key, as swiping a card is much faster than typing in a number, and EMV will require dip card readers in many countries.

While this platform doesn’t suit every environment, look for mobile based payment systems to act as the small business POS of the future. You can already download some from the iPhone app store today.

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2009.09 | Consumer Interaction Complexity

We’ve discussed the importance of consistency across multiple channels in today’s consumer facing world. The tools and interfaces available to consumers continues to grow at breakneck speed, and very few of the consumer facing organizations have leveraged them fully, though the rate of change certainly makes that difficult for everyone. I’ve beaten Twitter to death, but here are a few other technologies that could provide additional channels for retailers, and new ways for consumers to leverage technologies.

Microsoft Surface – This table based LCD provides another venue for the internet in the home, and at consumer facing businesses. Using sensors in peripherals and in the table, data is flawlessly passed from surface to devices like phones and cameras – allowing sharing payments and endless possibilities. NCR recently demonstrated a financial solution using Microsoft Surface.

Motorola Sparrow – This new concept is billed as solution to assist store staff in building a better relationship with customers. Part Telxon gun, part loyalty tool, this shows some real innovation in what’s really been a bit of a stale area for some time.

Google Latitude – See where your friends are at any given time on your mobile with this newly released location based social networking tool. Loopt and others have done the same thing, but Google jumping on board will give it additional credibility. People have concerns about privacy, but do we really think we have privacy anyway? Will the younger generations care? If they don’t, this tool provides consumer based organizations a way to market via their consumers.

2009.08 | Twitter 2 | Kindle 2 | Kill POS

Twitter Revisited – I referenced Twitter back in week 2 as an emerging trend for retailers and it only keeps growing. I finally opened a twitter account myself, just to see what the hype was about. I’m not sure if it will be a big deal in the long run or not, but I certainly see the potential from many articles. Here’s the gist in my mind: the individual tweets don’t mean much; they’re quite often garbage in fact, but searching on the aggregate may just be the next wave of web 2.0. Twitter can provide timely personal product research and reviews, it can tell you what people are talking about at any given time, it can provide a window into world events before the news, it can even be a way to strengthen the brand and enhance the multi-channel experience.

Kindle 2 – Amazon released their new version of the Kindle e-book reader this week. For the unitiated, the kindle is a very compact device that allows for electronic books to be downloaded directly over cellular to the unit in 60 seconds or less. It can hold hundreds of books, and can access newspapers and blogs. It uses e-ink electronic paper display to make it appear more like a book. There are no monthly fees for the access to the network, but you have to buy your books from Amazon (it will read other formats, but for over the air you are stuck with Amazon). Books are available more cheaply than the paper versions. The unit will convert the books to speech and read them to you over headphones, which has copyright people scratching their heads. Basically, Amazon have targeted an iTunes/iPod like setup for books and other media, and have improved on it slightly with their new solution. It remains to be seen if the book people have the same wonderful foresight as the music and movie industries around electronic content distribution. As always, technology is not holding back innovation. Money, fear and the status quo hold back innovation.

Kill POS – The more I go through stores, the more I wonder why we haven’t been able to kill the traditional POS. By that I mean the unfortunately disinterested associate who stands behind the counter and tries to ignore me as I wave my product and payment at them. I see instances of that occuring today – I buy music from iTunes or other online stores, I use selfcheckout when it is available, and these are great steps – but I look forward to it going further.

For example, I go to the Apple Store to buy an Airport Express to hook my pc to my stereo. A ‘Genius’ – I’ll use that loosely, but hey – that’s what Apple calls them – comes over and engages me in a discussion of the product and what I might like to do with it. He answers my question on cable requirements, we discuss iphone apps, technology trends and the like, and I decide to buy the unit. He pulls out his wireless unit, scans the product, swipes my card and asks me how I would like my receipt. I tell him to email it, and he does. No bag required thanks. We exchange pleasantries and I leave. That wasn’t a task – I enjoyed it. I was engaged by a person who had a shared interest, and we completed the transaction like we were buddies on the street. The transaction extends my loyalty of the brand to a personal relationship.  It’s definitely not for every retail environment, but it’s a goal.

2009.02 | Store Design | Twitter | Netbooks

Store Design – Design is an increasingly used differentiator in products. We’ve all seen it. The blue LEDs on TVs, endless mobile phone iterations, and touchscreen interfaces are just the tip of the iceberg as everyone tries to find the next iPhone. Stores are no different. Have a look at some examples. Stores are increasingly design based trying to provide a unique customer experience. If we can our solutions part of this design, we can place our products as a key element of the overall environment.

Twitter – This is a web service where people share what they are doing a few characters at a time. Sound ridiculous? It is. So are lots of other websites, but millions love it, and when that happens, the bandwagon grows. Barack Obama had a twitter account during the US election, and some retailers embrace it as another channel, including Starbucks, and large US retailer Zappos. Expect more to jump on board.

Netbooks Various manufacturers are now producing new smaller notebooks in the 9 inch range. This means further mobile computing power in the hands of the masses and more opportunities for them to research buying decisions in the field. Using Facebook or other social media allows clients to look at recommendations from their online contacts. There are rumours that Apple is testing a large version of the iPhone to provide a slightly different netbook like experience. If that happens, there could be another wave of mobile apps and change to the retail technology landscape.

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