2013.06 | No Omnichannel without Operations

All of my talks on Omnichannel with retailers drive me to try out every option I possibly can with my own transactions.

Last weekend I went to see Bharati in at the Sony Centre in Toronto. (I highly recommend the show by the way.  See it if you can!)  Being part of a busy family our weekend was packed with events, ride giving, lessons, and more.  I found myself getting ready to leave the house only about 2 hours before the show – this is definitely cutting it close.


While I was preparing to depart, I used all of the tools technology available to enable to get there on time.  Ticketmaster was kind enough to send me a reminder email about the event on Friday, so I was able to pull up that message and logging into my account, I printed my tickets.  Great omnichannel experience from Ticketmaster.   It costs too much for Ticketmaster, but it worked smoothly to the point where I didn’t even think about it.

I know the route to get to the theatre well, but always check the GPS routes for options.  I also had to think about parking. Everyone who goes to any urban location knows that parking is a changeable proposition.  Your favourite sites get built upon, closed up, or changed to some other use.

I visited the Sony Centre website to see what parking options were recommended, and I was intrigued by a link to something called Click and Park.

When I clicked that link, I saw a list of the events at the Sony Centre.  The system allows you to pre-pay for a parking spot during your event in a prime location right next to the theatre.  It makes a lot of sense to have a parking spot reserved in a convenient location.  The site indicates the process is as simple as three easy steps: choose your event, select your location and print your permit.  I read through the FAQs, and decided I definitely wanted to try this.  What a terrific idea to optimize a consumer experience and that of a parking lot operator.

I picked my event, validated the parking garage, and paid.  I quickly received my permit.  The pricing was high.  It was $22.42, including fees and the cost of parking.  I expected it to be more like $10 to $15 for a weekend, but I was willing to pay a bit of a premium for a good guaranteed spot, and well – this was for science.  I wanted to see how it worked.

The parking location is a garage I have frequented many times over the years, so I knew where I was going.    I was parking at the Brookfield Place garage.  I did a bit of checking as I know that there are multiple entrances.  One off  Wellington Street and one from Front Street at least.  Both were referred to on the Click and Park website so I figured I was ready to go.

CaptureI printed my permit, hopped in the car, and drove downtown, smug in the knowledge that I had parking covered.  As I approached the lot, I encountered my first problem.  I knew where I was going, but I like to double check any special instructions.  I pulled out my parking permit to double check the address and see what instructions were provided.

Unfortunately, the permit just says Brookfield Place.  Um, ok.  It also says 5pm to 6 am.  Wait, what? My show is on at 2 pm.  It says that right on there.  What does that mean?

Now, what if I didn’t know the address?  Would have been nice to have that on there, right?  Oh well, when I looked at the website, there was lots of friendly green and blue Web 2.0 branding.  I’m sure there will be some sort of signage to point me in the right direction.

I found the lot (after taking a detour – downtown construction being what it always is), and drove up to the kiosk.  I pulled out my form, ready to scan it at….at…..well, nothing.  There was no scanner.  There was no signage indicating what to do.  There was no logo from Click and Park telling me what to do.  There was a flashing light.  Thought that might be a scanner, but no.

Now, I like to think that I know what a scanner looks like.  If you glance through the blog, you will see I’ve worked with a few scanners.  I did not see a scanner, any signage, or any indication of anything other than pushing a button to get a ticket.  So….I pushed the button to get a ticket.

I drove through the garage.  No signage.  No indication that Click and Park exists at all.  I walked through the garage to the event, and saw no indication of Click and Park.

After my very enjoyable show, I thought perhaps I would see a scanner on the way out.  I drove up to the machine on the way out, and with a much more extensive search can assure you that there is no scanner on the exit system either.  I dutifully paid Brookfield Place $10 and departed.

Now, I can’t speak to how this Click and Park solution works in other places, and when I read through their site, I see all sorts of venues that love this system.  It may work well in those spots, but they are not going to get much in the way of business in Toronto without some changes.

If an omnichannel solution like this is going to work, it needs to work for everyone, virtually without them having to think.  I go well beyond the average person to seek out answers and make systems work, but this whole thing does not work at all.   I’m willing to take the $22 (well, maybe $32) hit for science, but I don’t think all of the potential clients of the Sony Centre will feel the same.

This is all about making it easy – not about making the user do the work.

Here’s what I hope the good team at Click and Park consider:

1.  FULL Process Transparency: Providing a process that goes beyond Click and Park getting money and the user printing a piece of paper is important.  That’s all that shows on the website.  It’s great graphic design, but it’s not going to help customers.  I understand that individual parking sites may vary on a process because different parking lots look different and have different systems.  In the interim, why not have specific images or video of the parking lots and how it works?  When you pick a parking lot on the site, it should show the user those images of the process (like scanning a barcode at a gate) so they can see what to expect.  If clients feel comfortable they will try the service and are more likely to use it successfully.  Once you have repeat customers; inertia can carry the solution more.

2.  Better directions: Writing Brookfield Place on a piece of paper is next to useless for the user driving in an urban centre.  Give an address at LEAST.  Better yet, provide some verbiage with details on parking – maybe even an image of the front entrance.   Why not provide a link to Google Maps with the garage on it so I can click an an email or text on my smart phone to get directions on my GPS?  There is no other Brookfield Place, but I’m still not sure if I went to the wrong place or what happened.

3.  Signage: Working with partners can be challenging, but there absolutely needs to be signage at a partner garage above or near the entrance.  If there’s no signage, I’m not sure I’m in the right place.  There should also be signage at entrance welcoming Click and Park guests with some simple instructions like: scan your barcode at the gate next to you.  On the gate itself, there should be some signage with the logo and simple instructions on how to use it.

4.  Recovery: If I as a user somehow manage to make an error in the process, like I forget to scan my card, there should be a way to recover.  The only recovery I saw was a message in my email saying no refunds.  Wrong message.  There should be signage at elevators coming back to the garage for Click and Park clients saying that if they missed scanning their codes, they can go to a certain place to get a new ticket, see an attendant or whatever works.   As a user, I now have a negative feeling of the Click and Park brand and about Brookfield Place.  If you make it easy, everybody wins.

5. Followup:  If I didn’t use the parking space, I should get a text or email asking me why I did not use it.  Click and Park has a list of tickets.  The Parking Lot has a list of tickets.  Mine isn’t on it. Why not ask me why it didn’t work out?   This is a missed opportunity to be sure the solution is working correctly and to gain feedback from users and the site staff.

I fully realize the effort required to complete the items I  have suggested here, but with absolute certainty I can say that this service may as well not exist if it doesn’t revisit its processes.   This is a terrific idea, and I hope it takes off.  For now it just feels like someone slapped a payments website up with this parking lot’s name on it.  It takes more than that for a solution like this to work.  It has to be completely aligned with the operation of the site.

I know I’m $22 smarter from my experience.  I fully expect the value on the knowledge Click and Park will be a much higher amount in the end if they don’t change things up.

2012.41 | New Ways of Retailing with Tech

googleshoppingGoogle Shopping –  It seems almost everyone is expanding their retail presence, making it possible to buy anything, anywhere, and anytime.  In addition to Google Play –  Google’s online store for android apps, ebooks, movies and music, consumers can also visit Google Shopping – a shopping portal apparently on the rise.

Consumers have another shopping channel and retailers have another confusing choice to make around partnering with Goliaths like Google.  Do retailers rely on Google to point clients to them for free, pay with adwords, or leverage a sponsorship with Google Shopping?  Do they post an enhanced catalog on Google Catalogs?  Increasingly retailers lean towards curation of goods and services to provide differentiation.  Does Google take away some of that differentiation with top 10 lists and 360 degree views?  Perhaps, but it could potentially drive more traffic in the near term.

PepsPassbook Promo – While still underwhelming and in need of expansion, Apple’s Passbook is probably the best mobile offer/ticket/giftcard platform out there by potential user count and likelihood of uptake by consumers.  Consmr recently offered a reasonable bribe to new users.  Download Consmr, and receive a Passbook ‘coupon’ for a free Pepsi Max redeemable at Kum & Go stores.

This is the first notable campaign to use Passbook to meet my notice.  Getting that large base of users to try a coupon via Passbook can only help expand the footprint.  There will certainly be lessons to learn, as this is not nearly as simple as it appears from the perspective of those offering the free Pepsi Max

Hopefully this Passbook offer only provides a one time only coupon code that is a unique code.  If it doesn’t, all the user has to do is take a screen capture of the coupon (It’s as simple as pressing the power button and then home button and then waitning for the flash on iOS.  Swipe your hand across the screen on newer Samsung Android for the same result.) and then use it again…and again…and again.  Just because coupons are electronic doesn’t make them less subject to fraud.  In fact, a user could send out that coupon to all of their friends in seconds – negating the intent of the offer as only one person had to download the Consmr app to get the coupon.  Beyond a unique coupon code for each user, retailers can also tie coupons to unique identifiers as part of a loyalty program to ensure redemption matches the expectations of those making the offer.  Retailers and marketers have to be sure the target audience AND the technology are all considered or losses and campaign failures can result.


Square GiftcardsSquare is now offering electronic gifts as part of their service.  Square Wallet Users can give and receive credits for businesses that use their payment systems.  This is an intelligent and logical progression of the payments system and provides another potential expansion point as everyone’s mom joins Square to try to give their grown techie offspring a free coffee or book.

The article says they are waiting on Square giftcards for Canada.  Seeing as we don’t have Square Wallet here today and won’t until 2013, that seems a valid point.

2012.33 | Killing Queues Completely

If you haven’t reconsidered your queuing strategy in a while, and even if you have, you should check out this article or the audio podcast on priority queuing by Benjamen Walker.   Many organizations are offering options to pay to avoid waiting and Benjamen discusses the morality and utility of such models, examining amusement parks, toll roads, colleges, airports, retail and banking.

From my perspective, if an organization can find an opportunity to match a benefit like someone’s time to a cost they are willing to pay, that’s a great win.  Where I think caution should be taken is on whether allowing those express queues impacts the underlying customers.

As some of the contacts Benjamen interviews point out, organizations may be  making lines longer or negatively impacting their business in some way by causing a detriment to valuable clients that could result in a long term corporate problem.    The ultimate win is if a consumer can get what they want with NO queue at all and the regular business is positively impacted.

A few examples:

  • Ordering online and shipping to home – customer doesn’t wait in line for what they want, inventory at store may not be impacted, and the line in a store is reduced.
  • Self-checkout – customers that have a small number of items have more lanes available to check out.  While the process of checking out on your own takes longer, the total time in store can be reduced.  Small transactions are removed from the other queues.  As tendering is the longest part of a transaction, the throughput of other queues is increased.

The biggest lesson here is to always think of the larger picture.  Perhaps reducing a line isn’t about charging people for it or adding more lanes.  Perhaps its tackling a way to attack the positive root cause of too many customers wanting your service.  A few ideas I’ve wanted to see in the real world:

  • Starbucks / Coffee Shops – Separate lines for brewed coffee and espresso based drinks and food orders.  I know it would be more difficult to sort this out, but seems like the espresso beverages and food take longer to actually order and then fulfill.  Seems like an express for the brewed coffee might actually keep lines shorter to make everyone happy.
  • Airports – Separate lines for experienced travelers and new travelers.  Why not have specific lines for people who need more help?  As a frequent traveler, I often grit my teeth as I watch my flight time edge closer and those in front of me don’t have their boarding passes, or their passport open, or their customs documentation filled out. They will go no faster or slower, so why not focus on them and provide an option for frequent travellers?  Kiosks have certainly improved this, but there is room for improvement!
  • Drivers License Renewals – I went to the local MTO for my drivers license photo, and while this process has been streamlined incredibly perhaps there is still a chance to remove the wait almost completely.  When I went on a lunchbreak there were 18 people in line in front of me and 10 joined afterward.  Lots of windows are open, but given that all you really need from me is a photo, why not allow the entire transaction to be staged online and have a specific line for photo only?  Allow me to stage the transaction online including my credit card number I want to use to pay.  Give me a barcode to bring.  When at the office, scan my barcode, let me stand there and take the photo.  There was still too much back and forth of slips of paper and cards and receipts.

None of these are ideas flawless and they may be dead wrong.  While there have been some great strides around queuing avoidance (online ordering, online license stickers renewals, mobile boarding passes, serpentine queues), I think it can go further.

I encourage more experimentation around queuing ideas.  I think the public are open to trying out something different.  As a consumer if an organization asks me to try something different to see how it works, I’d be glad to try it.  Why not try some new ideas?  Why not post the results online or in stores?  Let customers know you care about making their wait shorter or non-existent.    Make the goal a complete elimination of waiting, even if that doesn’t seem possible.

It’s all about choice.  Make sure there are options, and perhaps you can make everyone happy.

2011.29 | Mobile Retail Apps

In order to get the attention of today’s consumer, retailers need to provide the best possible experience from any channel where customers wish to interface with them.  Michael’s – home to the crafty types – has put together their own mobile app with a spin towards functionality that they feel that their following would enjoy – things like video examples and mobile versions of datasheets, as well as the usual coupons and offers.  Sounds terrific.

Here are a few thoughts about following in their footsteps with an iPhone app:

1.  Ensure your target market are iPhone users.  I’m sure Michael’s checked that and decided that the development was worthwhile.  Mobile apps are inexpensive compared to many enterprise level retail software development efforts, so it probably wasn’t a difficult decision.  Because Michael’s already had a library of web based resources anyway, the only addition was probably the iPhone interface.

Fundamentally, with web services in place they can all be leveraged to build an app for another platform.  More practically, I recommend a mobile web based interface for the retailer’s website that will work on any platform.  There are platforms that will automatically re-format the screens to fit any size device – Blackberry, iPhone, Android, Windows and more – based on the browser and screen resolution of the device accessing the page.  This is more a function of practicality than design.  Why provide functionality to users on one platform, when for a similar cost, you could provide it to all smartphone users?

Examples of mobile web instead of apps click on theses links with your mobile: LLBean and Sears. For lots of examples of apps, check out my page on Canadian retailers with links to social media and apps.  A recent article indicates that retailers are starting to follow this web format instead of iPhone apps.

2.  Make sure the mobile app has functions that are practical and add to the customer experience you want to provide.  Just because an advertising company will throw in an app for free as part of a contract, or your head of marketing wants to have an app to see your logo in the apple store doesn’t necessarily make it worthwhile to the consumer.  In fact, if the app doesn’t add anything new to the arrangement, the consumer may feel you have been wasting their time.    A standard store finder isn’t enough – I can just do that on the maps application.  However, one that shows via a coloured icon that the store is currently open, as is used on Starbucks Canada or McDonalds Canada, is a pretty good idea.  The Home Depot Canada app has a function to measure screws and various other items.  All of these are examples of trying to do something different that is helpful, and can enhance the customer experience for their specific clientele.  I can’t tell you the idea that will make your app or web based store, but your customers might!  Ask them.

3.  Ensure the app can identify the user in a way that the customer can opt in or opt out.  Most retailers have a loyalty program in place.  What better way to identify the customers than leveraging this same infrastructure?  Be certain that opting in works flawlessly and simply and that nobody is forced to identify themselves.  In fact, if there is an additional benefit to the customer to identifying themselves on the app, all the better.  If there is extra functionality for loyalty users, they are more likely to identify themselves and be happy about it.

Why identify customers?  There are benefits to customers and retailer alike.  First, if the customer is identified, it is possible to provide a unique experience for that customer.  Whether it is default languages or remembering shopping lists, having that identification allows the retailer to provide additional benefits to the consumer, and they in turn may have the opportunity to opt in to the experience that they wish to have across mobile, POS and web interfaces.  A customized experience can drive loyalty, which drives bigger baskets and more sales.

Secondly, having the identification in place allows retailers the ability to identify what channels and functionality are used and by whom.  Considering the myriad opportunities for IT investment, knowing who is using what in what way provides a validation of customer usage against customer sales.  If only 200 customers are using your iPhone app, that may seem like a bad investment, but if 90% of them are in your top segment for sales, that may not be the case.  Just looking at downloads of an app is not good enough anymore.  This also turns around for the customers.  Seeing what customers are using ensures that the best channels and functionality are available to them for their retailer.

2011.27 | Getting it all Online

The Future of Mobile Wallets – I’ve been hearing that the NFC mobile wallet will be the new reality any time now since about 2006.  With the inertia behind mobile phones, maybe the time has finally come in 2011/2012.  Some parties have some high hopes, according to the nifty infographics after the jump.  There is also some great information on the characteristics of the offerings put forth by the mainstream processors and carriers, though Square and Paypal were strangely absent.

eGifting at Starbucks – A recent update to Starbucks’ mobile app allows users to send a virtual gift card to another Starbucks card holder, as they can add to other card holders’ balances directly from their mobile.  The plastic gift cards that we throw out have been eliminated for mutual lovers of Starbucks.   Effectively Starbucks has deployed the first practical and widely distributed ‘complete’ electronic wallet.  Card holders with the mobile app can use the app at the POS to pay, and can now pass value to another user.  I’ve actually used my Starbucks card as a virtual currency already.  Last year a friend who owed me $100 and wasn’t able to be in my locale just put a credit on my Starbucks card.  It was cheaper than Paypal, and I was going to spend it at Starbucks eventually.  Who needs Bitcoin?  We can use Starbuck$.

NFC Cash Transfers on Android  – Not to be outdone, and with uncanny timing, Paypal has announced that they have enabled wireless cash transfers from one Android phone to another via NFC.  Very cool if you have a Samsung Nexus S.  Otherwise, we’ll wait on that to find it’s way to other platforms!

Getting Offline Data Online – Online presence isn’t the best at Canadian retailers, and there are many reasons and obstacles that make that so.  A recent post on Retail Technology Blog highlights a new service from Wishpond that allows retailers to get their product data and prices online so that consumers can find the right stuff at the best prices nearby when they do their research.  My search for Asics Shoes, which can be hard to find around my neighbourhood brought up some good options.  I’ve seen some similar sites in the past, including flit.com, and like.com, which allows you to search by color, style and more.

While this is a boon for consumers to find what they are looking for, and helps retailers to get their stuff out there, it will be interesting to see what this sort of price transparency does for retailers.  I’m reminded of MySupermarket in the UK that allows shoppers to compare a full basket to find the best prices based on the big stores in their area.  This will make pricing difficult.  Look to the ability to provide individual pricing and offers to attack competition for bargain hunters in the future.  Understanding what customers want before they search for it will be the next frontier.

2011.11 | Mobile Barcode Scanning in Store

It used to be that walking around a store with a camera would result in odd looks at the very least, and potentially an invitation to visit the parking lot.  With the ubiquity of cameras on mobile phones, every person in the store over 12 is probably toting a camera as part of their personal communication apparatus.  With the increased availability of shopping apps, there is a good chance that those people are comparison shopping or gathering information while in stores.

There is an app for that, of course.  In fact, there are a number of apps available that make it possible for consumers to scan items in stores with their mobile phone cameras to get information on products or to check prices elsewhere.  I’ve discussed these apps before, but their increasing use makes them worth another look in a bit more detail.

There are various applications for the iPhone and Android platforms.  These scanning apps have been available for a couple of years now, but with the increased processing power and improved cameras on recent phones, using the apps has become much more practical.  In their early days, the cameras, the software and the processor working together took a few tries and a few seconds to get a good scan.  10 seconds is a short time to wait in line, but starts to get old waving a brick of metal and plastic at a barcode on a book, so the speed of a successful scan makes a huge difference.  With the most recent iterations of these apps, they scan very quickly (and quietly), making the scanning option much more practical to the non-technical user.

What apps are in use?   Here are the ones on my iPhone.

RedLaser – Acquired by eBay, RedLaser is a solid product scanning app.   The app is free.  The camera on the mobile phone is pointed at the barcode of a product, and the app will search the internet via Google for pricing at online stores.  If the camera doesn’t capture for some reason, the barcode can be entered on a numeric keyboard as a backup.  The app also checks eBay for used options.  A list of the options is provided – all linked directly to the websites for online purchase.  I have used this app to scan products with mixed results.  Books, DVDs and toys work well.  Consumer products from large CPGs don’t always work.  These codes may show as Product of Kraft Foods Inc., or as a retailer specific item.  Wine has worked from time to time as well.   The challenge for Canadians is the the pricing results are often US based with no Canadian options.  RedLaser will also keep a list of products scan, usable for a future shopping list.  That list can also be emailed.  One more nifty feature is that for food products, the app will provide nutrition facts via DailyBurn.  For Canadians, this product is still mostly a novelty until Canadian price options show on the list.  Available on iOS and Android.

SnapTell – A part of A9, effectively Amazon, SnapTell uses visual scanning to identify products.  The app is free.  Simply find a CD, DVD or book, and take a photo from within the app, or select from your camera roll on the iPhone.  The picture taken of the cover will be compared with a database of product images, and has a very high match rate to products based on my scans.  Like RedLaser, the app will then provide a listing of where the item can be purchased online.  Barcodes can also be scanned or entered manually – in fact, there is a high-tech barcode scanning animation that hints that James Bond uses this thing. While the image capture has a bit more gee-whiz factor than scanning barcodes, it does require a couple of extra keystrokes to take the photo, and then press the use button, but it’s not a massive pain.  Earlier versions with iPhone 3G were painfully slow, but with iPhone 4 it’s quite snappy.  From a Canadian perspective, there is no Canadian pricing option that showed on my scans.  The app also displays useful information about movies for example, with links to Google, Youtube, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and more.  There is a local pricing option that is set to work in the US and UK – given that these are the only two regions selectable in the app.  Available on iOS and Android.

ShopSavvy – Another barcode scanning app with similar functionality, ShopSavvy takes a slightly different angle, providing a list of deals right on the main screen.  It also has some list functionality for comparison shoppers to track what prices they see for an item at stores as well.  ShopSavvy also has a great deal of sharing functionality including the ability to share details via email, dropbox, facebook, tumblr, and twitter.  There weren’t as many online store options as RedLaser and Snaptell (no Canadian stores again), but it scanned just as well and was as easy to use.  The app is free.  Available on iOS and Android.

Pic2Shop – Another nice little scanning app that bills itself as the original barcode scanner on the app store, Pic2Shop is another nice little scanning app that can be used to shop.  Using the same scanning process as the other apps, Pic2Shop is very quick.  From a Canadian perspective, amazon.ca is the first item that shows on the list, so there is a Canadian pricing option!  Pic2Shop also offers a plethora of sharing options – in fact, you can share via pretty much every social media format I’ve heard about.  Google, Bing and Yahoo search capabilities are also available.  The app is free.  Available on iOS, Android and Windows.

In case the threat of apps outside of Canada isn’t enough, there are other apps that Canadian consumers could be using include both the Amazon, and Canadian Tire apps.   Both of these apps have scanning directly within the app.  Consumers walking through bookstores can scan for pricing from Amazon by grabbing a book from shelves to price compare.  Consumers looking at any product in a store (or at home) can scan it within the Canadian Tire app, and find out pricing and availability at their closest Canadian Tire Store.

All of these apps are amazing work and do a great job of things that were unthinkable just a few years ago.  For retailers, there is a great opportunity to leverage these platforms – whether by getting on the databases that they search, or by integrating them into retailer specific apps.  It’s easy to imagine using these apps as one’s own personal price verifier – in store or otherwise.  Perhaps that  price verifier could be used to indicate interest in a subscription to a product so that one knows when a specific brand of peanut butter is on sale, or when a new shipment of lobsters is coming in.   An even simpler option that has not arisen yet – why not open a Kobo, Kindle or iBooks eReader app, and pull down a book from the shelf and scan the barcode or the cover, so that the book opens in the eReader store, and at the press of a button it downloads to the iPhone app for later reading?   This would be a huge step to pull together the mobile and store worlds.  While it sounds risky and cannabalistic, if a bookstore doesn’t do it, someone else can use these apps to build it, so the option is to approach this on ones’ own terms, or let someone else dictate those terms.

Then again, perhaps these things that I have described already exist.  There are thousands of apps in the App Store and in the Android Market.  I could have missed some.  Let me know which if I’ve missed and your experiences with them.

2010.14 | Connecting Virtual Stores with Bricks & Mortar

With the three main points of contact for consumers (point of service, web, and mobile) well entrenched, consider some strategies in the news for bringing the three together for a connected and integrated experience.

  • Purchasing with 2d Barcodes through the shop window – A number of companies are making it possible to buy things in the front window even if the store isn’t open – bringing together the virtual with bricks and mortar.  It’s not new, we’ve been reading about it for years, after all, but it’s still not mainstream.    I love it, I’m just not certain how much my non-technical, non-geek peers will embrace it.
  • Paying with Cash Online – The barrier for many consumers who are hold outs for ecommerce is payments.  Some consumers don’t have a credit card, prefer anonymity, or would just rather pay cash.  Kwedit allows customers to use their interface to make a purchase online and pay for it at 7-Elevens across the US.  I don’t know if we have this sort of need in Canada, but if so, it’s a great strategy to tap it!
  • Mobile Payments at Starbucks Expanded – Starbucks released their iphone app a few months back with a pilot 2d barcode payment capability at sites in Seattle and one other city.   It’s now expanded this payment option to Starbucks outlets in Target stores – one of their franchisees in the US.   I look forward to this option in Canada one day.
  • Using Finger Pulse to Dispense Beverages – Moving walletless is a noble pursuit, and this one takes it one step further by removing a mobile device as well.  At Retailtech in Japan, a Coca-Cola machine was rigged up to dispense Cokes based on finger pulse recognition.  While it’s an interesting concept, it doesn’t differ greatly from the now defunct Pay-By-Touch model which was not able to make a go of it.  Registering your finger print (or pulse) is definitely a turnoff for a large segment of the buying public.  Whether it’s concerns over privacy or someone removing others digits for profit, physical validation will be a tough sell when it’s connected to payments.
  • foursquare – I’ve just started experimenting with this social media tool.  The idea is that users can check-in whenever they visit a consumer facing establishment.  Points are given for check-ins as well as badges.  Why would people do this?  It’s a game; a fun competition to get badges and points, and even become the mayor of a given location if you check-in more than anyone else.  It also allows users to provide and read tips on any establishment.  Never underestimate the desire of people to take part in a scavenger hunt like this (listen to this week’s Spark podcast with Jesse Schell if you don’t believe me!).  The exciting part about foursquare should be the ability of retailers to match up with their most loyal clients and make them their best salespeople!

2010.05 | iPad Store

I read a great quote recently about the Apple iPad release on Wednesday.  While Steve Jobs commented that Apple and iPad were placing themselves at the crossroads of Technology and  Liberal Arts, Stephen Fry says: “He might perhaps more accurately have said that Apple “stands at the intersection of technology, the liberal arts and commerce”.”  This is an excellent point and it will be fascinating to see whether the iPad catches on, and what impact this will have on the consumer landscape with respect to the buying and selling of media.  While many will dissect the features of the device itself, the fact of the matter is that this device and others like it are driving us ever further along the road of the new consumerism where customers don’t go to a physical store – the store is always on and always in our bag or our pocket, and the ability for instant gratification and delivery is a reality.

iTunes dwarfs all other sellers with respect to music and media online, and are now making a break towards reading material.  Amazon built internet commerce with their store and their impossibly long shelf of books.    Amazon recognized the potential of the shift to portable electronic media when they came out with the Kindle and Kindle DX.  The implications of a massively popular device that allows for downloadable media like books, newspapers and magazines are massive.  While Kindle has opened that door a crack, iPad has the potential to rip it right off the hinges with the volume of users it can bring to the party.

iTunes and other online stores have the capability to charge a reduced rate for a publication that can be provided instantly.  There is no more incentive to wait in a queue ’til midnight for the new Harry Potter novel, to wait until 5 am for your morning paper, or to wait for you monthly subscription to Wired to arrive.  It just arrives.  While the Kindle does this already, the iPad can take it up a notch by providing a more accurate reflection of the physical experience of reading a magazine and some books by providing a flashy, engaging full colour format in a novel, hip, interactive package – one upping the Kindle. 

From a consumer facing organization perspective, this opens another rich mobile channel.  With the iPad, consumers now have a web enabled (though no flash) 9.7″ 1024 x 768 screen in their hand wherever they go.  They’ve not only got the store in their pocket to buy music, movies, books, newspapers and magazines, but they have a portal to the physical world that does not currently exist. 

The package presented by the iPad transcends the problem with mobile devices – the small screen.  Now consumer facing organizations have a bigger window to show clients.  Instead of trying to order a meal from Swiss Chalet on your mobile device and having to scroll through myriad menus and sections to pick your options – all very well done considering the screen real estate at Swiss Chalet Mobile – consumers can potentially look at a menu exactly as you would see at the store, pick the items off the touchscreen, and finalize the order in a format and interface that is far more like being in the restaurant than either a PC with a mouse or a mobile device.

The GPS and compass in the solution allow that “full screen” device location enablement.  The purchaser of a new dress can look online for a matching pair of shoes online while she is in a cafe by perusing a visual search engine such as Like.com.  That shopper can now see that the pair of shoes that she likes are at Nordstrom.  If Nordstrom has thought it through, she would be able to see on their site that the store has 1 pair left of size 6, and she can have them put on hold for her at the click of a button.

The fullscreen also provides an interface more likely to drive clickthroughs on targeted advertisements as well.  This provides a potentially rich opportunity for the beleagured magazine and newspaper industries who can now provide richer feedback to advertisers on who is clicking on their ads, and allow those advertisers to use the GPS to drive offers to readers with a further level of refinement.

It appears that consumers and retailers alike are in for a richer mobile experience.

2009.35 | Consumer Information Simplified

Innovation continues unchecked in the world of consumer facing organizations and applications, particularly in the world of information availability.

Comparison Shopping Invisible Hand is a Firefox add-on named for Adam Smith’s description of the free market benefit in his publication The Wealth of Nations. The add-on automatically looks up other vendors for whatever product you may be have on your browser and provides a pop-up to allow the user to go directly to that page, or look at other retailers’ prices. Yet another example of the potential of perfect information – great for consumers – tough for retailers.helpaugmentedreality234234

Augmented Reality – If you needed another reason to get an iPhone 3GS beyond Apple fanboy status, this one is quite flashy. Yelp! is a service locator that allows one to look up restaurants and other services based on a geographic location. When you open the yelp! iPhone application and search on a service – like pizza for example – it puts flags on a map, and if you tap the flags it opens up small boxes that indicate the name and rating of pizzerias on the map. It also has a killer undocumented feature. If you open the application and shake the phone, a button that reads Monocle appears in the top corner. The map in the screen is now replaced by the live image from the phone camera lens. Based on where the camera is pointed, at a local pizzeria for example, that same small box with the name and rating of the pizzeria comes up as an overlay on the image. Expect reviews on systems like this to gain ever increasing importance to consumer facing organizations as these sorts of applications become widely available.

Simplified Access Air Canada has released an iPhone app, and it is a worthwhile download. One argument against obtaining a boarding pass on the mobile is the challenge of entering a great deal of text – be it login, password, frequent flyer number. Now this can be stored on the phone via the application for simpler access to boarding passes as well as schedule information and personal travel info.

%d bloggers like this: