2013.27 | uniqul | aireal | 3dfit

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Uniqul – A Finnish company recently released an identification scheme based on facial recognition.  The Uniqul concept video imagines the use of a camera to compare the faces of individuals against a database of images in order to identify them.  Such a system could be used for airport identification, payments, or any other application where cards or photo identification are currently used, including retail payments.  The system checks the image of the customer against a database, and returns the identified customer photo with a name to be verified by the customer.  The only customer action is to select an ok button to approve payment.

While the pluck of a company willing to chase such a challenging technological initiative is admirable, this is a challenging solution to implement.  Consider:

  • What if the returned name and image isn’t the customer’s picture and they say ok to the payment?  Free lunch.
  • What are the parameters of the image?  What if hair colour is changed? What if glasses are different? What if weight is gained or lost?   How often will photos have to be re-taken to be effective?  Any of these could result in customer and/or retailer inconvenience.
  • What about backgrounds and lighting for image capture?  Given the wide variety of retail locations with signage, people, windows and lighting, will faces be easily picked out by the solution?  Imagine having to look into a camera and sit still for a few moments to make your payment go through.  Awkward.
  • If such a solution was used at gas pumps, self service or even online, and users hold up a photo in front of the camera instead of using their own face?  It’s happened before with android lock screens.
  • It’s one thing to be a number.  Most acknowledge we have little privacy already, but payments connected to our actual faces might be a bit much for people to accept.  Pay by touch tried something similar with thumbprints from 2005-2007 but that didn’t work out.

I’m sure the designers have considered all of these concerns and a great deal more, they will have to be extremely convincing about security when discussing such a solution with payments processors and retailers.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.49.37 PMAireal – Many retailers look to achieve an incredible consumer experience in their stores.  It takes a great deal to impress the jaded consumer with access to so much technology.  As a leader in entertainment, Disney continuously looks for new experiences.  One such experience is Disney Research’s Aireal – a combination of projection, motion sensors and fans.

One demonstration shows an animated butterfly that recognizes that a person’s hand is in the area, and ‘lands’ on it.  Puffs of air from fans controlled by the system blow on your hand to complete the illusion of a real butterfly landing on your hand.  Another concept would be interacting with a virtual soccer ball.  While not part of a transactional solution, it’s easy to see how a solution like this could find its way into a high end concept store.

3Dfit – One of the universal challenges for online retailers of apparel is fit.  In order to encourage sales, online retailers have to offer free returns.   In order to ensure a good fit, customers often resort to ordering multiple sizes and returning what they don’t want.  All of that means higher costs for retailers, and inconvenience for customers who have to return items.

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 11.21.39 PMGetting the right pair of glasses for one’s face is just as difficult as finding clothing that fits – perhaps even more so.  Glasses.com are attempting to remedy that challenge with a recently released virtual try-on app for iPad to get potential customers a great view of how they will look in a new pair of glasses.  Users download the app, open it, and place it against a mirror.  The users capture a picture with the iPad camera looking straight at the iPad, and then turn their head to the left and then the right.  The app captures a 3D model of the users’s face from the photo.  With that 3D model, the full inventory of glasses.com can be shown on the user’s face.  The user can scan through images of their face with the glasses on, and even move the glasses up and down the bridge of their nose with a swipe of a finger on the screen.

While this isn’t the same as being at a store and trying them on, it can certainly help narrow the choices – a challenge with glasses, and adds a unique consumer experience to a brand.

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2012.20 | Airports, Tactile Touch, Recipes etc.

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Ordering in Airports – Given the unusual footprint and visitor activities in airports, dining has always seemed suboptimal in that environment. Restaurant layouts that make perfect sense in regular life are inconvenient and awkward in an airport. Many of us have walked into the regular pub like setting that has a total of perhaps 40 seats in an airport that serves thousands per day. It’s too busy, you are often lugging bags with you – which take up limited seating areas and cause you to constantly apologize to all around you for knocking everything with your bags.

Installations of iPads thoughout terminals to allow travelers to order food to be brought to them may ease that sense of awkwardness and make great use of airport seating areas if they are well laid out and sensibly arranged. I’ve heard through colleagues that fly through Laguardia where it has been piloted that it seems to work well there. I look forward to trying it in Toronto. Like all other retail technology, the operations behind the enabling solution will be what makes or breaks this! If there is good service level expectation setting and order fulfillment, this could do very well.

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Tactile Touch Screens – Whenever friends ask me what mobile device they should use, my first question is whether they prefer a keyboard. Some people are predisposed to a physical keyboard and don’t want to move to using a touch version. Those people may only have to change a setting on a touchscreen device in the future. Tactus Technology is soon to offer touchscreens with physical buttons that swell up off the display depending on what ‘buttons’ are shown on the display. Check out the video for a real glimpse of the technology and what it could look like. This technology provides an opportunity to have the best of both worlds – a physical keyboard and maximum display real estate. It simplifies multi-language keyboard issues and can offer unique context sensitive keyboard options to UI designers. It also means a potential for a simpler to use self service environment where users attention can be drawn to act as context sensitive buttons rise out of the screen as they are needed.

Recipes on Receipts – Retailer St Marche recently partnered with Hellmann’s in Brazil to print recipes directly on receipts. Taking context sensitive offers to another level, this idea actually prints recipes that include items purchased from the grocery store in that transaction. It’s being tried out on 100 registers. Makes you wonder how much fun POS software would be if every CPG wanted that on every transaction. If it does work out, taking this to the next level with e-receipts seems like an intelligent play; allowing for sharing with friends electronically and ensuring that customers don’t lose any favourite receipt recipes as thermal paper fades over time and could be overheated in a kitchen environment and turn black!

The Extra Inch – Take the time to listen to Terry O’Reilly’s most recent Under the Influence podcast episode, it has some excellent examples of how retailers can win customers over with the little things. More than ever I find retailers are looking for ways to differentiate themselves and this podcast sheds some light on how some iconic companies are doing it today. I highly recommend adding Terry’s podcast to your regular playlist – it is always entertaining and you will always walk away with some new ideas. He has a great book as well that I heartily recommend.

2012.18 | New Interfaces for Retail

Lots of ideas around new interfaces have been showing up this month.  Here are a few notable examples:

UI Concept for Sharing Files between Devices – Check out this User Interface concept.  While this example is to move an article from one device to another, why not consider an interface like this for a digital wallet?  It would be far more intuitive for a virtual cash register to show on a tablet, and a wallet on a mobile.  The cash register ‘sees’ a customer’s mobile wallet and they can ‘slide’ some virtual cash onto the cash register.  It seems over the top, but it’s increasingly achievable.  Using a visual interface that provides a bridge from the physical interaction of today to the virtual transaction of tomorrow can add a cool factor that could drive mobile payments more than what we see today.

Projected Interactive Retail Display – We’ve all seen how Microsoft Surface is able to react to physical objects.  Perch Interactive has put together a projected display to interact with physical objects in a store – translating the experience to one that online shoppers, and one would assume the millennial types, will understand, recognize, and enjoy.  This appears to be an incredible way to provide product information and recommendations to clients.  This should work particularly well in the low light environments of Abercrombie and Fitch type environments.

Connecting Facebook Likes with Real World ObjectsC&A in Brazil have set up a Facebook page for followers to like their favourite ensembles.  Those items are showcased in stores on clothes hangers with a display that indicates the number of Facebook likes directly on the hanger in real time.

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