2010.23 | Store 2010 and Retail Technology

I attended Store 2010 this past week here in Toronto, and was fortunate to hear some engaging speakers.   While I can’t possibly do justice to all of the points covered in the discussions which were just loaded with statistics and information, here are a few highlights and links to sites of interest from a retail technology perspective:

Daniel W. O’Connor of RetailNet – 2015: Next Generation Retailing

Chris O’Neill of Google – Google’s Big Bets in a New Retail Landscape

  • 20% of queries are local – opportunity for retailers to capitalize – Google’s Nearmenow makes it even easier for consumers to find what they are looking for.
  • Search is getting even easier on a mobile platform, as the need to type is removed, as Google Goggles allows for search based on an image from a mobile phone.
  • 87% of consumers research retail purchases online, while only 4% complete the purchase online

Mitch Joel of Twist Image – Social Commerce and Emerging Trends

  • 81% of shoppers read reviews – 1 negative review converts more people than every review being positive – people know what idiots are like
  • Comfort with channel drives commerce – Best Buy allows purchases within Facebook via Best Buy Shop and Share
  • Haul Videos are an example of how consumers are changing the dynamic
  • One day, one deal – Woot uses extreme simplicity, selling one product for one day only.
  • People discuss what they bought on Blippy, connect credit card, and tweets purchases.

There were far too many great examples of retail technology innovation to cover them all, but this gives a flavour. 

To get a first hand idea of what’s going on here in Canada with respect to social media, consider: Canadian Retailers on Twitter and Canadian Restaurants on Twitter.

2010.20 | Las Vegas | Self Service | Interactive Digital Signage | Vending

I was in Las Vegas at FMI last week and saw some interesting uses of technology in retail while I was there.  The beauty of Las Vegas is that solutions that may be cost prohibitive elsewhere can be experimented with in the unique high traffic, lucrative environment many know so well.   

Self service was apparent in Las Vegas – besides the thousands of slot machines, that is.  The buffet at Mandalay Bay allowed for payment for a buffet dining establishment, taking the diner as close to the old fashioned automat as is imaginable, what with self serve payment via debit/credit or cash, as well as serving themselves dinner.  The solution certainly appears to accommodate the massive numbers one has learned to expect in Vegas casinos.

Another solution in abundance was the use of large screen touch devices in retail settings.  Mandalay Bay Shops – the retail mall at Mandalay Bay had a large screen wayfinding unit that was engaging and interactive.  This particular mall was relatively simple to navigate, but devices of this sort could work even better in a larger retail shopping centre.  There are lots of additional potential around this technology including:

  • feedback to mall management on most searched destinations – allowing them to maximize value to retail tenants
  • animations to highlight the location and route to simplify the shopping experience
  • colour highlighting of retail destinations that are in the same area of interest – shoes, for example
  • ability to use areas of the wayfinding unit for revenue generating digital signage
  • ability to provide special offers to clients based on store selection
  • ability to leverage retailer loyalty programs away from the retailer site to gain insight into loyal clients behaviour away from stores

There were also a number of large format interactive digital signs placed vertically in front of restaurants to allow potential diners to peruse menus and specials.  (Link to China grill) The menu units weren’t getting a great deal of traffic when I was there, however there are lots of other screens to look at in Vegas, and I believe that while large format interactive digital signage is becoming increasingly common, many potential clients didn’t appear to know it was a touch screen.  This highlights the necessity of training consumers around self service solutions in order to maximize usage.  Best practices like consumer engagement and training are as important as the design of the device to ensure maximum benefit. 

There are a number of ZoomSystems vending machine store solutions in evidence in Las Vegas.  While common in airports, they seem to be relatively rare elsewhere.  In Las Vegas I encountered a number of Best Buy Express units boasting mobile accessories and iPods, as well as a Sepphora unit that was peddling cosmetics.  As per my post some time back on the convergence of self service and vending, you can expect decreasing costs combined with retailer experimentation and the fight for market share to drive more solutions like this outside of Las Vegas casinos and airports.

2010.04 | Self Service and Vending Collide

Consumers have been accustomed to vending machines in Canada for decades.  Pop, candy, and bubble gum machines are ubiquitious – seen at the front of stores across the country.  If you are old enough, you may even remember cigarette machines in Canada – banned long ago with the age verification problems associated with them. 

Self service in the form of ATMs, airline check-in kiosks and self-checkouts also have a strong presence across the country.  While the technology of vending machines seems relatively rudimentary and mechanical compared to their upscale counterparts, vending machines and self service are quietly converging.  Mark’s Work Wearhouse, for example, is experimenting with smart vending machines that sell clothing. (Yes, that’s me in the video clip) 

While it seems a bit strange to conservative Canadians to extend a  brand with vending, considering the incredible number of vending machines in places like Japan, it’s an interesting idea to try to expand one’s reach without building a whole store, or fitting into an environment where a store wouldn’t work.  Why not expand the brand beyond the traditional idea of a store? 

Examples of technologies and business models that can make this work:

PharmaTrust – Build an entire (well, most used perscriptions, anyway) pharmacy and then provide access to licenced pharmacists via video link. What a great opportunity to provide access to pharmacy services in small hospitals, clinics, places of business – wherever. 

ZoomSystems – Provide an entire store as a vending machine.  Best Buy and Rosetta Stone have used these, among others.

Vigix – This solution is a smart vending platform that sees all items for a vending machine sent in one secure container via courier, replaced by the courier with a smart RFID tag in the machine that opens it when the new cassette is near the machine.  This removes cost, effort, and shrink involved in stocking a traditional vending machine, while providing the intelligence of a processing unit that can provide interconnectivity to systems like a traditional kiosk platform.  It is now possible for higher value items to be dispensed in a much smaller platform in locations potentially useless for other uses.

2009.40 | Service Options

Providing a new service option to consumers necessitates giving them an advantage by using it; whether the advantage is convenience, speed of service, access to special percs or many others.  If there is no benefit for the consumer, there is no incentive for them to leverage a different service option.  Any well run consumer facing organization will seek out opportunities to provide customer benefits to differentiate their business and increase the top line, while leveraging cost streamlining benefits to improve their bottom line.
 
Here are a few positive examples observed over the past week:
 
Hertz – I returned my rental car to the Vancouver Airport very early in the morning and had to drop my keys in the slot.  A sign on the box indicated that rental receipts are available for download on their website within hours.  Based on entering a drivers license or credit card number, the Hertz site provides all receipts over the past 6 months, so I was able to pull all I the statements I needed electronically to complete my travel expenses.  Benefit to the consumer?  Instant gratification, a paperless transaction, no agent to call to request the receipt, and increased convenience.  It also takes effort away from Hertz agents, reducing cost, and making staff available to people that require live assistance.  The consumer gets convenience and improved customer service, and the consumer facing organization can leverage cost savings.
 
Starbucks – I have been looking forward to this sort of application as the future of retail for some time, and it appears that the future is almost now!  mFoundry is working with Starbucks on a pilot that will allow mobile based payments via 2d barcodes as well as balance checking and other information for Starbucks card holders.  Once again, consumer and retailer obtain benefits from this solution.  The consumer has potential for a simplified transaction flow, shorter queues, faster service, and a novelty factor that suits a segment of the Starbucks clientele.  Starbucks increases throughput with reduced order and tender time, provides a useful and simple customer service alternative, and aligns themselves more closely with their customers by establishing a hold on one of the most important access points – their customers’ mobile device.
 
5494_128773267062_106593592062_3004057_6437802_nCoca-Cola – I picked up the most recent Fast Company magazine, and read the lead article on Coca-Cola’s David Butler last week. A key component of the article concerns the new Coca-Cola Freestyle soda fountain.   In contrast to traditional self service soda fountains located in Quick Service restaurants, the new footprint boasts a digital LCD interface and technology that shrinks the required raw materials allowing users to access over 100 beverage choices instead of the 6 or 8 generally available today.   The benefit to the consumer in this case is the vastly expanded product selection.  The retailer (and manufacturer) benefit is providing more product selection in the same store footprint, and the capability of leveraging the electronic brain of the soda fountain to ascertain popularity of the beverage options – providing useful and as yet unmined sources of data about consumer preferences in this segment.
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