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

Modular Hardware = Consumer Win

Have you heard about Project Ara from Google? If not, you should check it out. It is an exciting initiative focused on offering modular phones to consumers. For those of you not familiar with this concept, allow me to use a fun example: Mr. Potato Head. With our spudly friend, we can swap ears, limbs, eyes, add accessories, and change expressions; all without purchasing a new Mr. Potato Head. The proposition of a modular phone is not too different: instead of purchasing phone after phone just for different hardware components, a consumer could simply replace part of the device. For instance, if a consumer wanted a new high-definition camera, he or she could simply remove the existing block component and swap it for a purchased new one. Or that person could add hardware functionality that might not otherwise be available, like NFC with a secure element.

This is a huge opportunity for consumers. Conceivably, costs for these devices and parts will decrease as more and more are produced. This means that quality hardware will be made available to a wider customer base, although if you’re a tween or teenager, this also means that you may be upgrading your device components every couple of months; a potentially expensive scenario for enabling parents.

With this being a Google initiative, I am also hoping that certified third parties will be able to offer standardized components for this platform, keeping with Google’s (relative) tradition of enabling an open ecosystem. I would also be interested in seeing some hardware specifications open-sourced and made 3D printable, but maybe I’m getting ahead of myself..

Overall, I am excited for what this project could mean for global smartphone adoption and consumer customization. Supposedly, we will be seeing the first of these devices in January 2015, and I look forward to testing one. If you are interested in helping with Project Ara, I recommend signing up here and additionally checking out Phonebloks. Be sure to tweet me with your thoughts on modular!

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Entrepreneurship, Technology

Oh Where is My Wearable

In the next 12 months, I plan on buying a smart watch. Why? Currently we have companies giving us what I like to call the “standard smart watch experience”: a wearable digital screen with mobile computing power. Devices from Samsung, Pebble and the like are the natural evolutionary relatives to devices like the Casio Databank from the 80s. Unfortunately, not a whole lot has changed between the two eras (at least not enough for a stronger consumer proposition). On a separate but parallel development track, companies like Jawbone, Fitbit and Nike are now selling wearable devices that enable consumers to better understand their fitness habits (or lack thereof). With these and similar technologies like Google Glass, which I purchased and returned earlier this year, we are still at the beginning stages of this phenomenon.

So where are the future growth opportunities? Much like any nascent product category, we are about to see some accelerated development in the smart watch space, which is good news for consumers. The International Data Corp is predicting a significant uptick in the number of wearable units sold over the next few years. The hardware manufacturers in the space will continue to add new hardware components, similar to what we are currently seeing between Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy S series. There won’t be much room for new hardware entrants, but with unified operating systems like the upcoming Android Wear SDK, applications will still be a terrific opportunity. The future of wearables is all about information convergence, particularly with real-time and personalized data. For consumers and startups alike, we should get excited about the future of wearables. At least until they turn into implantables..

Keep the conversation going on Twitter with #wearable!

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