Technology

Evolving the In-Store Experience

This past weekend, the first Masters of Code (MoC) hackathon took place in Sydney, Australia. It was an exciting event with some terrific teams creating great solutions. Each MoC event has a theme and this one was focused on enhancing the mobile retail experience “in-aisle.” One of my favorite teams built a connected shelf that, using a weight and measurement system, could tell which items were being placed on it, provide contextual related product recommendations and complete payment for that item through an app. The experience was seamless and removed the burden of “payments” from consumers.

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Future of Retail, in which I discussed the transition from current consumer experiences in-store to seamless, and in some cases invisible, ones. This is a trend that I expect will continue. Lately, I have thought a lot about the future needs of retail, and there are direct and related areas we should keep an eye on:

Easy Application Development

According to Multichannel Merchant, more than 75% of retail merchants do not offer their customers an app. I strongly suspect that this will change, so tools that allow a merchant to efficiently build a secure, scalable application will continue to be useful.

Wearables and Mobile

Consumers that walk around in-store are using their phones (and now and in the future their wearables) to search for product reviews, look at alternative pricing, etc. While the evolution of hardware will continue continue, the interaction of that hardware with a retail environment though digital mediums is a great opportunity. Payments, loyalty, information – many areas are ripe for enhancement with the consumer use of mobile technology.

Energy and Internet

Just as consumers are using more mobile devices in store, retail has differing infrastructure needs. Whether it be reliable and scalable wireless capacity or the advent of wireless power for devices (and I’m not talking about inductive charging), there are many infrastructure requirements for a great retail experience.

Delivery

There has been a relatively new development of what some have termed the “on-demand economy.” It is becoming experientially important for merchants to provide goods in a rapid fashion. Originally this started with online merchants providing same-day delivery, but now retail stores are differentiating themselves by allowing customers to have the in-store experience of shopping and payment without the hassle of having to bring their purchased items home themselves, instead having those items delivered to the proper shipping location.

Loyalty and Marketing

One of the biggest costs (and in many cases, sunk cost) that in-store merchants incur is putting in the time and effort to get a potential customer in the door only to have that customer leave empty handed. Tools that improve customer acquisition and retention for the real-world will continue to be needed.

Supply Chain Management

Trade and commerce is becoming even more global. Manufacturers and merchants will need improved systems that provide real-time (or close to it) data on goods being transported and shipped. SMBs need better quality information to make smarter inventory supply decisions.

Personalization

A personalized experience is often a more effective one and the in-store experience is no exception. The delivery of this personalized experience doesn’t necessarily need to be digital, either, but it does require structured data in order to deliver something effective to the consumer.

Digital Security

There are two immediate opportunities in my mind that merchants can do to make sure their digital infrastructure is more secure: ensure that servers are in fact secure through multi-factor authentication and compartmentalization of data and environments, and begin to tokenize data (in addition to payments) to ensure that if a compartment is indeed compromised, that information is useless to unauthorized individuals or systems.

Payments

As I wrote previously, from a consumer experience perspective, payments needs to disappear (though much of what happens in payments is invisible to consumers already). The Apple Store’s and the Covers of the world do it terrifically. Through the convergence of digital and physical platforms, we can expect seamless and secure payments experiences.

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Entrepreneurship, Technology

Why Regulation Would Help Bitcoin

A lot has happened in the world of Bitcoin this week. The Chair of the Federal Reserve recently gave the opinion that the Fed does not have the authority to regulate Bitcoin because the technology is not tied to the financial institutions under its jurisdiction. While the Fed may not have jurisdiction over this new platform, if Bitcoin is to serve a long-term proposition, it is necessary to establish a regulatory framework in order to protect stakeholders. Hopefully the loss of about half a billion dollars from Mt. Gox will inspire some global action. While many in the Bitcoin industry (if we can call it that, yet) have assured the community that they believe in “transparent, thoughtful, and comprehensive consumer protection measures,” we have learned throughout our world history that financial services companies (particularly those operating on a global scale) are not able to sufficiently self-regulate.

The reality is that this is a huge opportunity for those in the Bitcoin space rather than an impediment. If the goal is to push Bitcoin mainstream, then it is necessary for the platform to get legitimate recognition from the major global economic drivers. This means enacting certain consumer protections that are not present in the system today. This is a rapidly evolving space that leaders like the Bitcoin Foundation can play a significant role in.

What are your thoughts on the future of Bitcoin? Tweet at me with #bitcoin, and let me know!

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Entrepreneurship

B2B v. B2C v. …..

In a recent conversation I was having with a NYC early-stage VC, the conversation turned to a topic I quite honestly hadn’t thought much about: “In the near future, do you think B2B or B2C will be bigger?” After giving my reply, he thought that my view of B2B was contradictory to the general viewpoint of the venture capital industry. Thinking back, however, perhaps what I had a greater difficulty with was the premise of the question itself.

Traditionally, we have seen a lot companies serving businesses (broadly defined) and consumers. Now, however, we have some terrific large and small companies serving developers, an entirely new customer of the 21st century. One customer that continues to be underserved is governments, especially “non-federal” ones. I call this group SMGs (small and medium governments). There is a real data service opportunity for this group, and only a handful of local, startup and nonprofit organizations currently serving it.

Remember, that’s just the customer base; now let’s think of the even larger issue of geography. Yes, the internet has made certain products, platforms and services available to a wider variety of populations, but that does not mean that a US solution is applicable to Brazil. Of course there will be corporate consolidation through M&A activity, but the solutions still remain relatively unique given equal scaling opportunities.

So if asked again, do I think B2B or B2C will be bigger in the near term, I think the answer will be: “Yes. They will both be big, as will B2D and B2G. Plenty of room in all four for growth.”

What industries do you think will be biggest in the startup world? Tweet at me with #nextgen, and let me know!

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