Monday Mar 03, 2014

Two Really Cool Approaches to Payment

As if the oodles of emerging payment schemes weren't enough, two more approaches have arrived on scene.  Aside from enabling your phone to make payments, they are very unique and well worth some consideration.  The first solution is called LoopPay, and its creators claim it works on 90% of existing payment terminals without any new hardware.  Install the wallet on your phone and plug-in either the fob or charge case, then tap on any existing payment terminal to pay using your credit or debit card.  Now think about that.  How's it done?

No, they're not using NFC or bluetooth to communicate with the terminal.  That would involve additional or updated hardware, and I said this works with existing terminals.  Are they using sound like ShopKick?  Nope.  QRcodes?  Good guess, but no.  Think about it from the terminal's perspective.  The only way to enter card data is the keyboard or the magstripe.  Wait for it.  Yes, the phone via the fob emits a magnetic field that contains the track data.  Its pushing the track data into the magstripe head of the terminal.  From the terminal's perspective, we have a traditional, card-present transaction.

Here's the rub: like I said, it only works on 90% of the terminals, and in real-world tests maybe even less.  Its a tough sell for banks and retailers to say "works most of the time" to their customers.  Obviously there are security concerns as well, but I'm assuming they are able to vary the track data just as EMV would, so its at least as secure...maybe.  But then again, I'm still not convinced that tapping my phone is any more efficient than swiping inserting my card.

The second approach is a bit more traditional.  If you'll recall, Google Wallet only worked on certain phones when it was first released.  iPhones were out because they don't support NFC, and only select carriers were supported with Android.  That's because the wallet made use of the secure element, a place were crypto algorithms are run and data can be secured.  The secure element can be built into the phone, but most of the time its in the SIM chip that's owned by the telcos.  And as Google found out, if the telcos don't allow access to the secure element, you can't do NFC payment.

That's where SimplyTapp enters the scene.  They're advancing Host Card Emulation (HCE), a method by which you can do NFC payments using a secure element that resides in the cloud instead of the phone.  Android has included HCE in their latest version, KitKat, so now all NFC-capable phones are ready for NFC payments.  The big news here is that banks are now free to create payment schemes without getting approval from the telcos.  Both MasterCard and Visa recently endorsed HCE so I'd expect existing banking applications to begin adding the ability to pay soon.

So where does that leave us?  The telcos continue to want a piece of mobile payments via Isis; Google gets access to more handsets; banks are well positioned to support their own mobile payments; MCX continues to focus on reducing merchant fees; and Apple is the wildcard.

Tuesday Mar 12, 2013

Shopping with Google Glass

ConAgra Foods, makers of Healthy Choice and Marie Callender's meals, created the video below to show what the future of shopping may look like from behind Google Glass.  This is clearly not possible today but is within the realm of possibility for the near future.

I was annoyed they chose to follow two people instead of just one.  I assume they did it to illustrate the conversation between the women, but it distracts from the overall shopping theme.  If the conversation was that important, it would have been better to ask for product advice.  I was more impressed with the voice response than the augmented reality aspects.  Being able to direct commands to Glass vs people in the room is tough -- usually you need to preface commands with a keyword or press a button.

Being able to overlay text on products is pretty tough as well.  Today you'd need to use a barcode or marker of some sort because image recognition is just too unreliable, especially when all the products look similar.  At best you can count the number of facing items and possibly recognize the brands.

Checkout was certainly fast!  Surprised they didn't have to blink Morse Code for their PINs.  All in all I thought most of what they accomplished would have worked well on their smartphones without Glass.  It certainly has me thinking about the future.

Would have been funny to see one of the women run into an endcap because spam blocked her vision.  Maybe next time.

Wednesday Feb 13, 2013

What's Next from Apple?

Apple has had a profound impact on the retail industry with its amazing stores, mobile POS, and devices that allow people to shop on-the-go.  So it makes sense to monitor the boys in Cupertino so we don't get blindsided.  This week two big rumors were revealed that might give us some hints of what's to come.  First, Bloomberg is reporting Apple has a team working on a smart-watch, a wearable device that has some of the iPhone's features.  I find it hard to believe they can pack enough battery into a wristwatch for it to be anything iPhone-like, but perhaps its just a conduit for alerts from a bluetooth connected iPhone.

This "iWatch" concept has me thinking about even faster payments at the POS.  No need to whip out that phone, as perhaps the iWatch will  transmit payment credentials.  This could be the second step toward the wearable computer, the first being Google Glass.  The future may bring real-time product previews and offers magically popping up in your field of vision.  (BTW, our Retail Applied Research team has been working on iPad-based augmented reality for delivering contextual reports to store managers as they walk the aisles.)

The second rumor is that Apple is looking to buy a high-end television manufacturer.  The potential for Apple to apply what it learned from the music industry could really change the way in which we consume TV.  And of course, Apple would be well positioned to optimize Second Screen Commerce, allowing viewers to easily buy what they see. PayPal has teamed with Tivo to allow viewers to buy from ads, but a true Apple TV might just allow purchases from sitcoms.  The Big Bang Theory meets QVC.

I just hope the iWatch isn't waterproof, because the shower is my only remaining refuge.

Tuesday Jan 22, 2013

Picking a Winner for Payments

Probably the most common question I get asked is, "which emerging payment system is best?"  Its a good question, and unfortunately, my crystal ball is a bit cloudy.  Remember, it took credit cards a while before they got traction.  Some of the same things I hear today ("we don't need a new payment scheme," and "it compromises my privacy") I'm hearing in reference to emerging payments.  And just as those complaints eventually quieted, the same thing will happen and people will adopt new ways of paying.  One thing I can say confidently is that the payment landscape will change over the next 3-5 years.

Is NFC dead on arrival? No. I'm not going to count Google, AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and MasterCard out this early in the game. They are behind thanks to a lack of NFC support in iPhones, but they are still viable solutions.  With retailers needing to upgrade their POS terminals to accept EMV cards, now is a great time to also install NFC capabilities.  Once there are more NFC readers out there, more and more innovation will occur around them.

PayPal is definitely in the lead since they are able to leverage their e-commerce base of users.  Their lack of reliance on NFC has worked in their favor, at least in the short-term.  Of course if NFC takes off, I'm sure PayPal can add that technology as well.  Their flexibility and reach are strong points.

Google and Isis have great systems, but since they are limited to Android devices they are not serving enough of the market.  That, of course, will improve over time. While all three (Google, Isis, PayPal) are addressing consumer convenience, none are really addressing transaction costs for merchants.  That's where MCX, the retailer led mobile wallet, could shine. Since they are not on the forefront, they have the luxury of watching the market and picking the best ideas.

At the recent NRF conference, MCX representatives said they are planning to use barcodes for payments in order to support all mobile phones.  They are also focused on lowering transaction costs for merchants as well as protecting customer data, something that differentiates them.  The approach sounds right, but they are far behind in development unless they acquire or partner to gain access to an existing wallet.  Best potential of all the solutions, but furthest behind.

I suppose I could put all my retirement savings into one stock, but I'd rather spread the risk across many.  By the same token, there's no reason for retailers to pick winners at this early stage.  The best advice is to get into the game and try supporting one of the new wallets. In many cases, there's funding available to help offset costs.  This invaluable experience will prepare you to take advantage when winners are more apparent.

Monday Oct 29, 2012

Isis Finally Rolls Out

Google has rolled their wallet out for several chains; I see the NFC readers in Walgreen's when I'm sent their for milk.  But Isis has been relatively quiet until now.  As of last week they have finally launched in their two test cities: Austin, and Salt Lake City.  Below are the supported carriers and phones as of now, but more phones will be added later.

  • AT&T supports: HTC One™ X, LG Escape™, Samsung Galaxy Exhilarate™, Samsung Galaxy S® III, Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro™
  • T-Mobile supports: Samsung Galaxy S® II, Samsung Galaxy S® III, Samsung Galaxy S® Relay 4G
  • Verizon supports: Droid Incredible 4G LTE.

Of course iPhone owners have no wallet since Apple didn't included an NFC chip.

To start using Isis, you have to take your NFC-capable phone to your carrier's store to get the SIM replaced with a more sophisticated one that has a secure element configured for Isis.  The "secure element" is the cryptographic logic that secures mobile payments.  Carriers like the secure element in the SIM while non-carriers (like Google) prefer the secure element in the phone's electronics. (I'm not entirely sure if you could support both Isis and Google Wallet on the same phone.  Anybody know?)

Then you can download the Isis app from Google Play and load your cards.  Most credit cards are supported, and there's a process to verify the credit cards are valid.  Then you can select from the list of participating retailers to "follow."  Selecting a retailer allows that retailer to give you offers via the app.

The app is well done and easy to use.  You can select a default payment type and also switch between them easily.  When the phone is tapped on the reader, there are two exchanges of information.  The payment information is transferred, and then the Isis "SmartTap" information which includes optional loyalty number and digital coupons.  Of course the value of mobile wallets comes from the ease of handling all three data types (i.e. payment, loyalty, offers).

There are several advertisements for Isis running now, and my favorite is below.


Wednesday Oct 03, 2012

The State of the Internet -- Retail Edition

Over at Business Insider, there's a great presentation on the State of the Internet done in the Mary Meeker style.  Its 138 slides so I took the liberty of condensing it down to the 15 slides that directly apply to the retail industry.  However, I strongly recommend looking at the entire deck when you have time.  And while you're at it, Business Insider just launched a retail portal that's dedicated to retail industry content.  Please check it out as well.  My take-aways are below after the slide show.

[Source: Business Insider]

Here are a few things I took away from the statistics:

  1. Facebook and Twitter are in their infancy.  While all retailers should have social programs, search is still the driver and therefore should receive the lions share of investment.  Facebook referrals are up 92% year-over-year, but Google still does 80% of the referrals.
  2. E-commerce continues to grow at breakneck speed, but in-store commerce is still king. Stores are not showrooms yet.  And social commerce pure-plays like Gilt and Groupon are tiny but worthy of some attention.
  3. There are more smartphones than PCs on the internet, and the disparity will continue to grow. PC growth will be flat and Tablet use will continue to grow. Mobile accounts for 12% of all internet traffic.
  4. A quarter of smartphone sales come from China, so anyone with a presence there better have a strong mobile strategy.
  5. 38% of people have used their smartphone to make a purchase, and many use their smartphones inside stores.  Smartphones are a critical consumer tool for shopping.
  6. Mobile is starting to drive significant traffic to e-commerce sites, especially tablets.  Tablet strategies are crucial for retailers.
  7. Mobile payments from the likes of Paypal and Square are growing quickly.  It will be interesting to see how NFC plays in this area.
  8. Mobile operating systems are losing market share to iOS and Android.  I wonder in Microsoft can finally make a dent?

The internet is being dominated by mobile devices, and retailers had better have a strong mobile strategy to meet consumer demand.

Wednesday Sep 12, 2012

No NFC for the iPhone, and here's why

I, like many others in the retail industry, was hoping the iPhone 5 would include an NFC chip that enabled a mobile wallet.  In previous postings I've discussed the possible business case and the foreshadowing of Passbook, but it wasn't meant to be.  A few weeks ago I was considering all the rumors, and it suddenly occurred to me that it wasn't in Apple's best interest to support an NFC chip.  Yes they have patents in this area, but perhaps they are more defensive than indicating new development.

Steve Jobs wanted to always win, but more importantly he didn't want others to win at his expense.  It drove him nuts that Windows was more successful than MacOS, and clearly he was bothered by Samsung and other handset manufacturers copying the iPhone.  But he was most angry at Google for their stewardship of Android.

If the iPhone 5 had an NFC chip, who would benefit most?  Google Wallet is far and away the leader in NFC-based payments via mobile phones in the US.  Even without Steve at the helm, Apple isn't going to do anything to help Google.  Plus Apple doesn't like to do things in an open way -- then they lose control.  For example, you don't see iPhones with expandable memory, replaceable batteries, or USB connectors.  Adding a standards-based NFC chip just isn't in their nature.

So I don't think Apple is holding back on the NFC chip for the 5S or 6.  It just isn't going to happen unless they can figure out how to prevent others from benefiting from it.

All the other handset manufacturers will use NFC as a differentiator, which may be enough to keep Google and Isis afloat, and of course Square and PayPal aren't betting on NFC anyway.  This isn't the end of alternative payments, its just a major speed bump.

Monday Jun 11, 2012

Comparing Isis, Google, and Paypal

Back in 2010 I was sure NFC would make great strides, but here we are two years later and NFC doesn't seem to be sticking. The obvious reason being the chicken-and-egg problem.  Retailers don't want to install the terminals until the phones support NFC, and vice-versa. So consumers continue to sit on the sidelines waiting for either side to blink and make the necessary investment.  In the meantime, EMV is looking for a way to sneak into the US with the help of the card brands.

There are currently three major solutions that are battling in the marketplace.  All three know that replacing mag-stripe alone is not sufficient to move consumers.  Long-term it's the offers and loyalty programs combined with tendering that make NFC attractive.

NFC solutions cross lots of barriers, so a strong partner system is required.  The solutions need to include the carriers, card brands, banks, handset manufacturers, POS terminals, and most of all lots of merchants.  Lots of coordination is necessary to make the solution seamless to the consumer.

Google Wallet

Google's problem has always been that only the Nexus phone has an NFC chip that supports their wallet.  There are a couple of additional phones out there now, but adoption is still slow.  They acquired Zavers a while back to incorporate digital coupons, but the the bulk of their users continue to be non-NFC.  They have taken an open approach by not specifying particular payment brands.  Google is piloting in San Francisco and New York, supporting both MasterCard PayPass and stored value. I suppose the other card brands may eventually follow.  There's no cost for consumers or merchants -- Google will make money via targeted ads.


Isis

Not long after Google announced its wallet, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile announced a joint venture called Isis.  They are in the unique position of owning the SIM in the phones they issue.  At first it seemed Isis was a vehicle for the carriers to compete with the existing card brands, but Isis later switched to a generic wallet that supports the major card brands.  Isis reportedly charges issuers a $5 fee per customer per year.  Isis will pilot this summer in Salt Lake City and Austin.


PayPal

PayPal, the clear winner in the online payment space beyond traditional credit cards, is trying to move into physical stores.  After negotiations with Google to provide a wallet broke off, PayPal decided to avoid NFC altogether, at least for now, and focus on payments without any physical card or phone.  By avoiding NFC, consumers don't need an NFC-enabled phone and merchants don't need a new reader.  Consumers must enter their phone number and PIN in the merchant's existing device, or they can enter their PIN in the PayPal inStore app running on their phone, then show the merchant a unique barcode which authorizes payment.

Paypal is free for consumers and charges a fee for merchants.  Its not clear, at least to me, how PayPal handles fraudulent transactions and whether the consumer is protected.


The wildcard is, of course, Apple.  Their mobile technologies set the standard, so incorporating NFC chips would certainly accelerate adoption of many payment solutions.  Their announcement today of the iOS Passbook is a step in the right direction, but stops short of handling payments.

For those retailers that have invested in modern terminals, it seems the best strategy is to support all the emerging solutions and let the consumers choose the winner.

Thursday Jan 26, 2012

Navigating the Store

Here's an update on my 2010 posting Going Inside the Store.  Has you phone ever displayed a message saying you'd get better map results if you enabled WiFi?  That's because companies like Skyhook, Apple, and Google send people to public places to correlate WiFi signal strength with locations.  Then they use the information to more accurately determine your location, which is especially important when line-of-sight to the GPS satellites is not possible.

Retailers like Home Depot, IKEA, and Macy's have provided store floor plans to Google so that Android maps actually extend from the streets to the aisles, making it easier to navigate big-box stores.  Similar efforts are ongoing for airports, malls, and arenas.  Wouldn't it be nice for the mapping on your phone to take you directly to your seat in the stadium, your gate in the airport, and a product on the shelf?

Here's a short video showing how you can navigate inside an IKEA store using your phone.

Monday Dec 05, 2011

2012 Predictions for Retail - Part 1

2012 is less than a month away, so this is the time of year we start seeing annual predictions.Susan Reda at Stores just published her take and I know IDC and Gartner have also released theirs.  Many of last year's predictions could easily move forward to this year's:  we'll continue to see lots of new alternative payment types, more engineered systems, better social analytics, more 2-D barcodes, greater adoption of cloud, and improved f-commerce.

In past years we've seen the rise of Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon but 2012 will mark a year of war between these juggernauts on the retail battlefield.  They will fight over NFC, tablets, digital content, and most importantly, trust from consumers.  Retailers must keep a close eye on all four companies.


1. Mobile Loyalty

Often, loyalty cards are just a way for retailers to give away margin in the hopes that consumers will select them as their preferred store.  But strong programs involve a trade-off: consumers get discounts, and in return retailers get to learn more about their customers (and serve them better), and have the opportunity to influence their behavior.  The loyalty card was a blunt instrument that worked well for the consumer, but didn't deliver for most retailers.

The concept of geo-fencing has been around a while, but there are few retailers that have really adopted it. The smartphone, with geo-fencing enabled, needs to become the consumer's loyalty card where retailers can incent, learn from, and communicate with customers.  In 2012, geo-fencing will take off and deliver value for both consumers and retailers.  Look for new loyalty programs built around smartphones.

2. Facebook Levels Off, Google+ Stalls, Groupon Withers, Amazon on Fire

To put Facebook's 800 million users in perspective, that the same number of people that were using the internet in 2004 worldwide, which incidentally is when Facebook got its start.  Only India and China have bigger populations. That kind of growth just can't continue, nor do I think engagement can increase. The novelty is wearing off, so while there are lots of users, I believe the engagement of those users will wane.

Some of those users will feel more at home with Google+, but I seriously doubt many will close their Facebook accounts and make a permanent move.  Google+ may continue to grow is user base, but users will spend more time on Facebook.  Google will continue to dip its toes in retail with more small stores, a possible free-shipping program (similar to Amazon Prime), and of course Google Wallet and Google Offers.  Other than Wallet, these efforts will go nowhere.

The potency of Groupon offers will dilute with all the "me-toos" that pop up, and retailers will learn that their exchange of profits for new, disloyal customers isn't sustainable.  Not taking $5.75 billion from Google will down in history as a huge mistake.

Amazon's success with the Kindle will translate into more Prime customers and greater loyalty.  The trend for shoppers to skip Google searches and go directly to amazon.com will continue, and Amazon will get more aggressive with books, movies, and music. Look for Amazon to acquire in the digital content area.  Also, expect Amazon to have another AWS hiccup that gives retailers pause about using the cloud, but overall AWS usage continues to grow.

3. Apple Payments

With all the news about alternate payments, this isn't a stretch at all.  Apple will finally release the iPhone 5 with NFC support and start to leverage their iTunes customer base for payments in non-Apple stores. I don't see how this will be financially viable with both Apple and credit cards taking a cut of each sale, so look for Apple to push customers toward ACH (debit/checking) as PayPal does.  Look for Apple to start a loyalty program to incent consumers to use the new payment vehicle.

While we're on the subject of Apple, I'm betting they will release a new Apple TV product in 2012.  Retailers should care because it will eventually allow viewers to "click on commercials" to get more details on products and sales.

4. Mobile Self-Checkout

Self-checkout, especially at grocery stores, has been around for a while.  Some love it, and some don't.  Smartphones now make it possible to simulate an e-commerce experience in the physical store.  As you add items to your physical cart, you can scan them into your transaction, then pay and walk out the store.  No need to stand in line at all.

Retailers are already putting mobile POS in the hands of its associates, so its not a huge step to expose that functionality directory to customers.  As Apple leads the way, look for grocery chains to quickly add the capability followed by home improvement stores.



More predictions in my next post.

Thursday Nov 10, 2011

Transparent Technology from Amazon

Amazon has been making some interesting moves again, this time in the augmented humanity area.  Augmented humanity is about helping humans overcome their shortcomings using technology.  Putting a powerful smartphone in your pocket helps you in many ways like navigating streets, communicating with far off friends, and accessing information.  But the interface for smartphones is somewhat limiting and unnatural, so companies have been looking for ways to make the technology more transparent and therefore easier to use.

When Apple helped us drop the stylus, we took a giant leap forward in simplicity.  Using touchscreens with intuitive gestures was part of the iPhone's original appeal.  People don't want to know that technology is there -- they just want the benefits.  So what's the next leap beyond the touchscreen to make smartphones even easier to use?

Two natural ways we interact with the world around us is by using sight and voice.  Google and Apple have been using both in their mobile platforms for limited uses cases.  Nobody actually wants to type a text message, so why not just speak it?  Any if you want more information about a book, why not just snap a picture of the cover?  That's much more accurate than trying to key the title and/or author.

So what's Amazon been doing?  First, Amazon released a new iPhone app called Flow that allows iPhone users to see information about products in context.  Yes, its an augmented reality app that uses the phone's camera to view products, and overlays data about the products on the screen.  For the most part it requires the barcode to be visible to correctly identify the product, but I believe it can also recognize certain logos as well.  Download the app and try it out but don't expect perfection.  Its good enough to demonstrate the concept, but its far from accurate enough.  (MobileBeat did a pretty good review.)  Extrapolate to the future and we might just have a heads-up display in our eyeglasses.

The second interesting area is voice response, for which Siri is getting lots of attention.  Amazon may have purchased a voice recognition company called Yap, although the deal is not confirmed.  But it would make perfect sense, especially with the Kindle Fire in Amazon's lineup.

I believe over the next 3-5 years the way in which we interact with smartphones will mature, and they will become more transparent yet more important to our daily lives.  This will, of course, impact the way we shop, making information more readily accessible than it already is.  Amazon seems to be positioning itself to be at the forefront of this trend, so we should be watching them carefully.

Tuesday Oct 25, 2011

Shopping with Siri

Regardless of how sexy Apple and Google make smartphone user interfaces, they will always be limited by their screen size.  That is until you consider some of  the other capabilities of the smartphone, such as image and voice recognition.  Last year Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, announced our entry into the age of augmented humanity and the recent release of of the iPhone 4S has been an incredible example.

Using the Google app on my iPhone 4 (yeah, I'm not looking to upgrade yet), I can search using voice recognition.  For example, when I say "ASICS running shoes" a search is performed which renders lots of results, including where I can buy those shoes nearby.  And that brings up an important concept: the search is contextually aware.  It knew my location and was able to infer "nearby" in my request.

Amazon's Price Check app lets you search for product information by scanning the UPC, snapping a picture, or by saying the product using your iPhone.  Again, saying "ASICS running shoes" returned lots of matching products, albeit without any context.  How easy is that?

So not being one to be left behind, Apple bought a start-up (a spin-off from the Stanford Research Institute) called Siri and the rest is history the future. While Siri is not general purpose, I don't think the day when we have easy access to Watson and Wolfram Alpha is far off.

So what does this mean for retailers?  In the not-too-distant future you can expect to see shoppers asking their phones "is there a better price nearby?" and "what will this blouse look like on me?" and "is this compatible with the camera I bought last year?"  Product information will continue to be easier to access, be of better quality, and be personalized and contextual.  Here are three things retailers must do in order to remain competitive:

1. Make sure you are a trusted provider of information to your customers.  Share pricing, promotions, reviews, origin, content/ingredients, recalls, compatibility, etc. with your customers.  They are going to get this information anyway, so it might as well come from you.

2. You can't win on price anymore.  With perfect access to information, it will be too easy to find the lowest price for any particular item.  Its better to differentiate on convenience, service, and exclusivity.  (And its no accident that's Apple's model.)

3. Get serious about loyalty.  The younger generations are less concerned about privacy and more interested in relevancy.  Every interaction is a chance to provide personalized service.

In this age of augmented humanity, embrace Siri and don't be a HAL.

Tuesday Oct 11, 2011

Mobile Payment Videos

My friend Andrew Morris, who I work with at ARTS, recently sent an email listing the many videos showing the future of mobile payments.  I've selected a few to include here that represent where we're heading.

To get you in the right frame of mind, let's check with George Costanza first:

Here's a demonstration of Google Wallet using a Macy's POS register in the Google lab:

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon formed Isis to advance NFC.  Here's their marketing video:

And here's PayPal's vision of where payments are going:

Andrew was recently on a panel at the ARTS User Conference, and had this to say afterward:

After our panel discussion in Orlando, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about this issue – and my gut is that we’re starting to spend too much time talking about the inevitability of EMV/NFC and not enough time talking about the real business opportunity with regard to mobile payments and how retailers can either ‘take advantage’ or ‘be taken advantage of.’

Well said.

Friday Oct 07, 2011

Non-Retail Change Agents

During my OpenWorld presentation earlier this week, I pointed out that four men and their associated mega-companies have had a huge impact on the retail industry without being traditional retailers.  Obviously Amazon is a retailer, but when they started they were definitely not considered a traditional retailer.

Arguably Amazon set the standard for pure-play e-commerce and have been a leading innovator for online shopping, including early pushes into user created content, mobile commerce, and personalization.  And don't forget they are putting lockers in malls and on campuses for easy pickup of their products.  Some might call that a small step toward a physical store.

Apple stores have been the king-of-the-hill with the highest sales-per-square-foot, one of the best customer service models, and innovative features such as the genius bar, mobile POS, and iPads with product information.  Their bigger contribution has been moving commerce to mobile devices, which is a channel that will continue to grow.

Now no one will mistake Facebook for a retailer, but they continue to influence how consumers talk about brands and products.  The forthcoming "want" and "own" buttons will make it easier for people to express their relationship to products, and probably spur conversations that result in purchases.

Then there's Google, which has been helping consumers search for products, show them off with haul videos, and more recently introducing a new payment method.  But the big story here is Google's foray into physical stores.  They are starting small with their Chromezone store-within-a-store concept for selling Chrome-based netbooks.  With their purchase of Motorola, I can see them adding mobile phones, GoogleTV boxes, and other consumer devices in the near future. Isn't that exactly how Apple got started in their quest for stores?

Its tough being a retailer, especially when these four companies keep changing the rules.

About


David Dorf, Sr Director Technology Strategy for Oracle Retail, shares news and ideas about the retail industry with a focus on innovation and emerging technologies.


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