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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Technology

Is Your Body a Password?

Biometrics – data related to your physical body. Fingerprints, voice recognition, brain patterns… I have been seeing more and more biometric products in the market lately, often tied to wearables (Fitbit, Jawbone, and even Apple to name a few). I’ve even started to see clothing with integrated biometric sensors.

But going beyond the usefulness of inwardly insight, I am now starting to see biometrics replace the password. Look at Apple, a former employer of mine, with Touch ID. MasterCard, my current employer, even made a minority investment and product pilot in the space. But can this unique information replace passwords?

Traditionally, authentication has required two attributes: a username (which may or may not be public) establishing a user identity, and a password (hopefully known only by the individual) which allows access to that identity’s account. I would argue that biometrics replace the former of these two, but cannot solely replace the latter.

Think about it: what happens if someone steals or spoofs your biometric data? You can’t just log in and change your fingerprint or your retina image – they are forever unique to you (barring any unusual surgeries). Biometric identity will play a significant part of authentication in the future, but as a different type of user identification and part of multi-factor authentication.

What are your thoughts on biometrics and security? Tweet at me with #biometrics to let me know!

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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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Entrepreneurship, Technology

APIs for the Internet of Things

The recent announcement from Google’s Sundar Pichai should be a reminder that connected devices, otherwise known as “the internet of things,” are here to stay. Yes, we know that Google Glass isn’t exactly mainstream (remember, I returned mine), but that isn’t the only device type we can look forward to. Everything from your watch to your washing machine is connecting to the internet, but until Mr. Pichai’s announcement, many of these systems have been closed (adoption of android on new devices is a whole other story). Where an opportunity exists for existing and new IaaS and PaaS companies is to provide useful hardware-based services. There are MANY creative solutions that can be sold as a service. In addition, there is a tremendous data opportunity here, which as we all know is a major investment focus for many firms and corporations. I’m looking forward to seeing significant IaaS and PaaS development in this space.

What are your thoughts on the Internet of Things? Tweet at me with #connected, and let me know!

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Community, Technology

Why I Returned My Google Glass

Ajay GlassFirst of all, yes, you can return Google Glass. Why did I? Well, rather than start from the beginning, I think I will start from the end. I had coffee with my CEO, Ajay Banga, a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, Ajay is the kind of down-to-earth person you don’t think CEOs of major corporations to be. Some of our discussion revolved around potential markets for this type of wearable technology, and the requirements for significant adoption. We had some fun with my Glass (as you can see to the right and here) and talked about the landscape of wearables in general. Where we immediately agreed was that the consumer proposition wasn’t quite there yet for something mainstream, even with products like Pebble and Gear in the market. We’ll get there, eventually, but we aren’t there today.

944835_10152144915052008_1408164435_nI’ve been a Glass Explorer for about a month now, and overall, it has been a great experience. Essentially acting as a volunteer beta tester, I’ve been able to interact with other Explorers in a closed discussion environment and provide product feedback to the Google Glass team. It has been a good experience overall, as I discussed in my initial review. My main concern with the Explorer edition has been the hardware, which should improve with future iterations. What has been most interesting in my testing has been the social implications of wearing the device. Some folks have come up to me asking about it, wanting to learn more. Others keep away and almost ostracize me, seemingly unsure of who (or what) I am. I know the Google Glass team is well aware of these issues from both testers and the media, and I am sure that will be reflected in future hardware changes.

Even with the recent announcement of Glass frames, it is tough for me to justify the price to myself. I am still very excited about the potential of this technology, and I hope to rejoin the program or purchase a future version of the device. This is one Glass Explorer signing off, for now…

What are your thoughts on wearable technology? Tweet at me with #wearables, and let me know!

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