Tuesday Oct 02, 2012

Innovation for Retailers

One of my main objectives for this blog is to point out emerging technologies and how they might apply to the retail industry.  But ideas are just the beginning; retailers either have to rely on vendors or have their own lab to explore these ideas and see which ones work.  (A healthy dose of both is probably the best solution.)  The Nordstrom Innovation Lab is a fine example of dedicating resources to cultivate ideas and test prototypes.

The video below, from 2011, is a case study in which the team builds an iPad app that helps customers purchase sunglasses in the store.  Customers take pictures of themselves wearing different sunglasses, then can do side-by-side comparisons.


There are a few interesting take-aways from their process.  First, they are working in the store alongside employees and customers.  There's no concept of documenting all the requirements then building the product.  Instead, they work closely with those that will be using the app in order to fully understand what's needed.  When they find an issue, they change the software onsite and try again.  This iterative prototyping ensures their product hits the mark.  Feels like Extreme Programming if you recall that movement.

Second, they have time-boxed the project to one week.  Either it works or it doesn't, and either way they've only expended a week's worth of resources.  Innovation always entails failure, and those that succeed are often good at detecting failure quickly then adjusting.  Fail fast and fail often.

Third, its not always about technology.  I was impressed they used paper designs to walk through user stories and help understand the needs of the customer.  Pen and paper is the innovator's most powerful tool.

Our Retail Applied Research (RAR) team uses some of these concepts in our development process.  (Calling it a process is probably overkill.)  We try to give life to concepts quickly so the rest of organization can help us decide if we're heading the right direction.  It takes many failures before finding a successful product.

Tuesday Sep 13, 2011

Mobile POS Momentum in Retail

The idea of mobile POS isn't new.  Back at 360Commerce, we created a web-based mobile POS we called "Unleashed."  At the time, most mobile devices didn't have enough power to render the pages quickly, so it never really took off.  Home Depot deployed it on tablets attached to carts, but most retailers limited mobile devices to inventory processes.  Even Apple's first version of the mobile POS, deployed on Symbol devices running Windows CE, didn't garner much attention.  It wasn't until Infinite Peripherals, working with Apple, created the iPod sled that suddenly the concept caught fire.

I suppose there are a couple reasons mobile POS is now trending up.  First, nowadays many retailers have upgraded their in-store networks to support WiFi.  Retailers need a fast, reliable in-store network for mobile POS to work well.  Second, the cost of the iPod is significantly lower than traditional (hardened) handhelds.  They are cheap enough that when one breaks, nobody has to be fired.  Third, customers carrying smartphones increased the their expectations for mobile checkout.

Below I created a table of tier-1 deployments of mobile POS. The dates are approximate, based on news coverage I found on the Web.  I'm sure I missed some, but if I couldn't find a reliable date, then I skipped it.  I used the earliest date I could find.

 Date  Retailer  Notes
 11/2009  Apple  iPod
 12/2009  Home Depot  Motorola
 11/2010  Disney  iPod
 12/2010  Gap/Old Navy
 iPod
 01/2011  Guess  iPod
 03/2011  Urban Outfitters
 iPod
 06/2011  Nordstrom  iPod
 08/2011  Lowes  iPod

Now there are several software vendors writing mobile versions of the POS, usually on the iPod and iPad.  And the solutions range from tier-1 to Mom-and-Pop stores.  One has to wonder if Google, who purchased Motorola, will find a way to get in on the hardware business.  Or whether Microsoft will manage to get its operating system into mobile POS devices.  It just seems like the iPod has all the momentum right now.

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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