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.

2013.18 | slender vender | cc glasses | snipsnap

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Slim Vending Machine – The new Diet Coke Slender Vender finally avoids making vending machines look like a big wide refrigerator. Too often we stick with a standard configuration for a technology just because that’s how things have always been. The streamlined look and the ability to make a vending machine fit in places where traditional units would not fit is a refreshing notion. Perhaps Ogilvie should talk to Proctor and Gamble and my favourite retailers so I don’t have to pick up my razor blades at the front of the store. Why not take the challenge of a high shrink item and turn it into an opportunity to install a sleek display that fulfills a need for security? I believe putting high value high shrink items in vending machines at the front of the store would give the product top billing and keep consumers like myself out of the checkout line; in a good way. Even if I had to use a vending machine at the end, it’s still faster than asking a teenager to get my razor blades out of a cabinet.

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Closed Captioning Glasses – Regal Cinemas and Sony are releasing new glasses for use in theatres. These glasses have technology that project closed captions onto the glasses so that patrons that are not able to hear the audio can better follow the movie with no impact to anyone else in the theatre. While not the sleekest looking glasses you’ve ever seen, they certainly represent a wonderful addition for guests that are hard of hearing. It would be incredible to connect these glasses into Google Translate so that subtitles would appear on the glass as you are talking to a person for real-time real-life subtitles! They could also represent a great tool for retailers to provide real-time details on customers to staff in a Google Glass like wearable interface without users having to look up and to the right.

CaptureSnipSnap – Coupons are a challenge for many retailers. Paper coupons may be of dubious origin. Home printing quality can make it hard to tell if someone is faking a coupon. Chasing down manufacturers for reimbursement is extra work. Putting store staff in the drivers seat on deciding if coupons are valid isn’t ideal.

SnipSnap isn’t going to make it any easier for retailers to deal with coupons. This app allows users to take pictures of their coupons and keep them in the app on their mobile until they get to the store. This assumes of course that the retailer will accept scans of coupons from the mobile devices of users (maybe). It may also assume every lane has a scanner that can read from a mobile device (also maybe).

The point of consideration this sort of app is that coupons represent a wild west for retailers – they can come from everywhere. They are certainly an important part of the business, and retailers are best to stay ahead of the curve of what consumers want. Find a way to provide a legitimate coupon vehicle so that retailers and customers alike can experience the benefits and avoid the potential pitfalls of apps like SnipSnap.

2011.38 | The challenge of ongoing support…

I was visiting a few sites in downtown last month and made a quick visit over to one of my oft-visited sites.  The Marks’ Vending Kiosk at the Go section of the Union Station Bus Terminal.  The kiosk was presented with some fanfare as part of a vending project back in January of 2010.  I’ve always thought of it as a well built kiosk that filled a potential need.

My recollection of this project was that the plan was to put these vending machines for clothing in hospitals or arenas, where consumers could find themselves without the right sort of apparel.  It seems like a great idea on paper, so I’ve enjoyed going back to visit the kiosk to see how it has been faring.

Unfortunately, this visit was not what I was hoping.  The vending machine seemed virtually abandoned.  Merchandise in the unit was inappropriate for the season, much of the inventory was gone.

There were a couple of scarves left in it – an interesting choice in the September timeframe when I was there, and unfortunately on a 30 degree day.  Truth be told, I encountered the same thing when I visited this same kiosk back in July 2010 when it had some polar fleeces and tuques.

There was a message on the screen indicating the Kiosk was unavailable.   I hope that it has been updated and re-stocked since that time.

The kiosk did remind me of some of the challenges I have encountered in projects over the years.

It is a great deal of fun and excitement to be part of a project team – to be part of building something new and original .  The less glamorous part is getting a solid infrastructure into place across marketing, operations and IT to ensure that a solution like a vending kiosk can continue to live and flourish for the many years that it takes to provide an ongoing service.  Without this ongoing dedication, it is very difficult to attain success.  While less exciting, I would argue that it is this ongoing dedication that really makes the solution.

While there may well be technical issues with the kiosk, it certainly appears to be more of a change in strategies, an unfortunate location, or perhaps a lack of cross organizational planning.  All systems have technical problems from time to time, but this seems more systematic.

Perhaps I am wrong, and I had bad timing.  Perhaps the kiosk is selling so much that it was out of inventory that day, and I hit a blip of operational integrity.

Whatever the issues, I’m sure the solution will be addressed one way or the other. Rent can’t be insubstantial in downtown Toronto, and it would be a waste of a great technical solution for it not to be used.

2011.33 | Self Service Implementations

I’ve been traveling through North America over recent weeks, and saw some self service solutions out in the world that were worth sharing.

Toronto Airport Printing Kiosks provided by ePrintit:   Saw these kiosks on a recent trip from YYZ to YUL.  The picture is blurry as I was walking by it early in the morning.  The idea is that busy travelers can print documents via USB or email.  I’ve not had an opportunity to use it, but it seems a robust enough solution.  The solution appears to be brand-able by the owner of the location, and this one was branded by the airport in Toronto.  My main reservation would be how much  anyone really needs to print anything anymore in the age of mobile boarding passes, hotel reservations that are numbers and even RFPs that are increasingly requested via electronic copy.   I may not be the market they are looking for.

New York Lottery Instant Ticket Dispensing Machine –  installed in a rest stop along the New York Thruway.  The part of the solution that surprised me was the lack of any age verification beyond an attendant in the store.  I guess they could police it, but if the area became busy, it would be possible for minors to buy scratch tickets.  I’ve not seen these solutions anywhere in Canada, where we don’t allow cigarette machines, and I know provincial lotteries are vigilant about under age gambling making the lack of presence unsurprising.

Frankly, given the number of times I’m waiting behind people purchasing lottery tickets, I would welcome them to speed up the lines in stores as long as there was an age verification mechanism involved.

Pilot Travel Center One Stop Kiosk – installed at a Pilot site in Georgia off I-75.  This service is for commercial truck drivers, and catered specifically to their needs including special offers and details on loyalty cards as well as the ability to print receipts.  The most unique thing on it was the ability for truck drivers to order a shower.  The kiosk assigns the user a shower and provides a code that will unlock the facility assigned to them. The user can enter the code at the door and they are allowed entry.  There was also an internally focused kiosk for Pilot Center employees in the store as well.  This is a unique implementation in my experience!

Polynesian Resort – Walt Disney World – Captain Cooke’s Quick Service Restaurant Self Ordering Kiosk – While making a required WDW pilgrimage, I used these kiosks a number of times.  The kiosks are part of a hybrid self service/assisted service model.  Customers enter their main meal orders on the kiosks, and a ticket with barcode and transaction number is printed.  Customers then visit the assisted point of service and present their ticket.  The attendant looks up the suspended order on the kiosks and it is brought up on the assisted service terminal.  While the solution isn’t fully streamlined; providing an end to end ordering and tendering solution, it makes sense in this unique environment.  WDW has a dining plan with myriad rules that would make tendering via self-service a very challenging task for the uninitiated.   I also visited the Grand Floridian, which did not have this system, and this kiosk ordering system seems to work much better than having to interrupt the kitchen staff with orders.  Overall, a useful solution, once you got used to it.  Given that this facility is open 24 hours, it also seemed to have terrific uptime as all units were always running when I was there.

Coca-cola vending machine with large format LCD touch screen – installed at Epcot @ WDW, these units had full motion video on top and bottom and full size images of the product for sale inside them.  These units were much more visually appealing than the usual soda vending machines.   On the upside, the potential for branding and messaging are endless.  With a touchscreen , interactive opportunitiesabound for marketing types.  With connectivity, it should also be always possible to provide electronic payment, leverage remote updates on inventory to minimize truck rolls to restock, and to get real time updates on the sales by beverage.  The units are probably more expensive than current units, given the hardware involved, and probably leverage more electricity.  Unfortunately I didn’t buy anything from it to see how it worked, as I drank my fill of free sugary beverages from seven countries around the world right next to it for free.Plumreward iPad Solution – installed at my local Boston Pizza at the point of sale is an iPad in an enclosure.  This solution is linked with Plumreward – not to be confused with Plumrewards for all of you Canadians. It allows users to leverage offers across various retailers.  Interestingly, the iPad looks so small in this environment that I originally mistook it for a digital picture frame.  My concern is that it is so small it might be overlooked by customers.  This is an interesting implementation – similar to email marketing implementations I’ve seen before, but not as comprehensive as solutions provided by others.

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.

2010.45 | What’s the difference between Wifi and Wireless?

I get asked this question on a regular basis: “What is the difference between Wifi and wireless connectivity?”.   The issue arises from a desire to make a solution ‘wireless’ for in-store portability.  The confusion arises as many technologies are wireless and that term is used interchangeably with many of them.

In very general terms wireless (most of my customers mean cellular) and wifi are the same thing in that they allow devices to connect to the Internet without a cable.  The functionality and end result is effectively the same.  The difference is in the method of connectivity.

Wifi is a terminology that refers to short range wireless connection to a wireline broadband connection. It is very much a cordless home telephone. The home cordless phone provides a short range wireless connection to a home landline connection.  A router, modem, or switch with wireless capability behaves in the same way by connecting a device with wifi capability wirelessly  to a wired broadband connection. You would use wifi at home, in an airport, or at Starbucks. There are a number of different connection speeds, anywhere from wireless b,wireless g, to wireless n. The connection speed of g or n is generally fast enough to take full advantage of most home broadband connection capability.  In order to access wifi you need permission from the owner of the wireless router to access their network connection. Users must be within range of the network to access it – usually not more than 10-20 meters without special equipment.

In retail, wifi may be used for short distance wireless connections such as wireless handheld devices for inventory, electronic shelf labels, wireless payment terminals in restaurants and wireless monitoring devices for self-checkouts.  The challenge is ensuring security and that any wireless networks can be certified for PCI and EMV.  Their can also be dead spots for the wifi connectivity depending on the layout of the store and materials used.  Concrete and steel check stands, pillars and the like can block or interfere with signal strength though this concern.

Wireless connectivity, while covering many technologies as mentioned generally refers to connecting devices using cellular technology. A cellular wireless device connects to cellular towers to provide internet connectivity. This is how Blackberry, iPhones and smart phones connect to the internet to get data.  (Most actually have wifi connectivity as well)  The most well known example in Canada is Rogers well named and marketed ‘rocket stick’.  This USB based device connects any compatible device to the internet via a 3G connection.  In order to access data from a wireless device over cellular you must subscribe to a cellular data plan either on a smartphone or with a rocket stick device. The only limitation on range on cellular data is the range of the cellular coverage. This means you can use a cellular data connection anywhere you can use a cell phone. While cellular has more range, the speed is not quite as fast as wifi and he speed of cellular data varies with the availability of 3G and 4G networks. In areas without 3G in Canada connections are generally via the older Edge network which provides data but at a much slower speed.

 

In retail, cellular connections are used on vending machines and kiosks so that third party devices can access the internet without requiring access to a host retailers network. Cellular is also a common backup connection for debit and credit processing in retailers in Canada to ensure electronic payments are still available in the event of primary connectivity failure.

In general, both options provide a savings over wired connections as they lower cost and complexity of installation.  Cellular is certainly gaining ground on the speed advantage of wifi, and is much better for portability.  No matter what technology is embraced in the future, it will probably be wireless.

2010.43 | Gold ATM

Given the frenzy around investing in gold over past months, it isn’t surprising that some enterprising individuals are now offering the opportunity to purchase gold from a vending machine.  A german company is offering a franchise program where vending machines that dispense gold are placed in what one must assume are secure shopping areas.

This is just one example of how self service and vending are moving to all facets of society, including the most affluent.

2010.37 | Thinking Slightly Outside the Box

In my travels online this week I saw a number of interesting ideas.  While not particularly brand new, many of them are moving from an unlikely novelty to the kind of thing retailers are willing to try.

  • Tesco has launched an iPhone app where customers can shop for all of their items on the phone and then set a delivery time.  Interesting notion that should be fun to follow.  Whether clients will have the patience to scroll through and pick everything for a larger order seems unlikely, but if there are saveable short lists of items that people are purchasing, it could represent a real convenience and the next iteration of the old web grocery model.  I’m not sure if it is part of the solution presently, but adding this to the pickup option to their Click and Collect program would be an interesting shopping model!

 

  • The general population are now accustomed to Self Service in a vending machine model where we purchase, but how about kiosks where we actually stock them for credits?  One such example is the ecoATM, whose company was recently purchased by Coinstar.  These units accept end of life mobile phones for resale or refurbishment.    Pepsi is also into this game with their Dream Machine where users can drop off their recyclables for charity.   Good idea in principle, but it may be challenging to implement.  Of course, we could take recycling to a whole new level and recycle the self service machine itself as one German company is doing.

 

  • La Boutique Puegot has a Virtual Mirror application online.  The website allows users to take pictures of themselves with the webcam and “try on” different kinds of sunglasses prior to purchasing them.  There are lots of virtual models out there, but the increasing availability of webcams makes this a possible staple for similar items like hats, hairstyles, scarves, and maybe even clothing.

 

  • I recently met with Gridcast media, and very much enjoyed some of the unique empty storefront installations they have done for various advertisers around Toronto.  I particularly enjoyed the storefront they did for DuskTV as well as the one for Caramilk.  Expect more of this sort of interactive experience on the street with the decreased cost and sophistication of technology.

2010.35 | Self Service User Experience

I visited the Henry Ford Museum this weekend, and can’t recommend it enough.  The museum provides an incredible view into the progression of technology from the industrial revolution to the near present.    The museum houses an incredible collection of cars, bicycles, trains and more.   If you haven’t been, you need to go. 

Some of the most interesting displays to me were those pertaining to retail.  They have an entire 1940s diner called Lamy’s – including an NCR cash register and vending machine, a full neon sign from McDonalds from the 1960s, and even a complete hotel room from an iconic Holiday Inn from the 1970s.  Studying history does a great job of reminding us of our roots, and for providing context for the present, and visiting this museum certainly did that for me.   While on one hand, it reminded me that we have come very far, it also indicated that we may have lost some very engaging and exciting elements of self service solutions and the retail experience.

What brought the experience component to my mind was the Mold-A-Rama machine I encountered near the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile on display.  This retro vending machine made a plastic molded toy of the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile before my eyes in about 1 minute.  It was a delight to watch!  It had sixties styling, impressive looking gauges, and a bubbled window to display the inner workings as the machine made the toy by injecting plastic in a mold.  You could even watch the toy pushed by a little metal rod as it fell into the little drawer for pickup.   The toy is delivered still warm into your hands for the low price of 2 $1 bills fed into the machine. 

There was also a cigarette vending machine in Lamy’s Diner (See the National logo at the bottom in the image) that had awesome styling and great kinetic feedback.  Having a mechanical handle directly under the item of choice that you pull gives the experience a tactile and direct feedback that involves the user more than a touchscreen of items or a button that feeds to a circuit into a magic box.  It was a throwback to my youth and the mechanical experience of the gumball machine and the pay telephone.

I was reminded of how commonplace the transactions via self service have become over the years.  Since self-service has become so ingrained in our society, we have become so accustomed to these machines that they have become invisible.  This invisibility is certainly a missed opportunity to connect with our collective customers and bring them a new and pleasurable experience instead of a chore. 

Today’s consumer is certainly more sophisticated than the targeted customers of these machines, and life is more complex (age verification on the cigarette machine, anyone?), but there is still an opportunity to build on today’s self service experience. 

As of late, I am aware that numerous vendors and retailers alike are working on ways to engage our collective customers while providing them the speed of transaction and ease of use that they have come to expect.   One great example I recently highlighted is a vending machine in Japan that utlizes a large screen on their vending machine that replicates the look and feel of an older model machine with product behind the window.

Another excellent example is a new ATM design made through a partnership of organizations, including my employer NCR.   Have a look at the video and watch the animation on the screen of the ATM before the cash is dispensed.  For some reason this small change to the interface puts a little thrill into the transaction that our human nature cannot resist.

Engaging our customers is always the right thing to do.  We always need to be learning, and new ideas come from surprising places.  Let’s hope we can learn from the past to make tomorrow’s self service not only a useful experience, but a pleasurable and exciting one as well.

2010.32 | Wine Vending

I was surprised to see wine vending kiosks being trialled in the US given all of the barriers to self service dealing with products like alcohol, but apparently Simple Brands are implementing a solution in Pennsylvania.  There have been related solutions like the wine tasting counter at Metro AG, and there are self serve wine vending systems in at least one bar in Japan, but it is surprising to see this sort of solution so close to home, and further to see a state run liquor board use them to extend their reach to venues beyond the state stores themselves, versus a state where liquor is not required to be sold in a state store.

Considering recent attempts at legislation in California to ban alcohol sales at self-checkouts which was defeated, you can expect this sort of solution to be controversial.

Any discussions around self service with liquor control organizations in Canada is likely to meet with incredible skepticism and caution, given Canada’s penchant for government control over alcohol.  There is quite simply a great deal of risk in providing ‘unsupervised’ access, and understandably, no organization or individual for that matter, wants to erroneously provide alcohol to an underage or inebriated person given the potential dire consequences of such an error.

While self-checkout systems are supervised and require an intervention by a live attendant to verify age and sobriety, the wine vending system uses technology to do it.  Customers must scan in identification and provide a quick breath of air into a breath analyzer to validate that the client is not inebriated.  There are also cameras mounted on the system for an additional precaution – cameras which appear to allow a centrally located call centre associate to monitor purchases and clients visually.

Experience dictates a potential backlash around privacy, given that a drivers license or other ID has to be swiped at the same time as a purchase is made.  Add a breathalyzer to that mix, and it might turn some people off.  I would also be interested to see how the bottles are released for sale.  The door opens remotely with a purchase, but it’s not clear how the shelves secure the individual bottles.

Vending has worked for beer in the Czech Republic and in Japan, but those countries are generally far more liberal in their alcohol laws than in North America.  If it can be done for pizza , ice cream, french fries, medical marijuana and cars, it can be done for wine.

(I was joking about the cars.)

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