Tuesday Jan 29, 2013

Change for Charity

In the rare cases where I'm using cash for a purchase, I'll often toss my change into the charity jar.  But for the majority of my purchases, which are via credit or debit, there's no option to "round up for charity." As far as I know, only Toshiba (formerly IBM) ACE builds that capability into their POS.  There's a huge opportunity to allow customers to make donations at the POS, but few retailers want to invest in customizing their POS to handle this.  Integration efforts like this are often costly, and must be re-done whenever the payment processor is changed.

Companies like Mini-Donations, Pennies (UK), or Change Roundup manage the donations, but again, they have to integrate with each different POS or e-commerce product, an expensive proposition.  That's why ARTS is starting a new workteam to build an integration standard.  Our hope is that by defining an XML standard for integrating to POS and e-commerce systems, we will better enable "round up" functionality in the retail industry.  Imagine the good that can come from millions of people donating pennies everyday.  This can provide a steady income for charities that feed the poor, research cancer, and rescue children.

Our kickoff meeting for this workteam takes place February 4th at the San Francisco ARTS meeting where we will write the charter and define the scope.  Then we'll do the work to build the standard with a goal of publishing in the fall (or maybe even sooner).  Anyone that wants to participate can check the ARTS website for membership information.

Thursday Sep 27, 2012

Oracle Retail Mobile Point-of-Service

When most people discuss mobile in retail, they immediately go to shopping applications.  While I agree the consumer side of mobile is huge, I believe its also important to arm store associates with mobile tools.  There are around a dozen major roll-outs of mobile POS to chain retailers, and all have been successful.  This does not, however, signal the demise of traditional registers.  Retailers will adopt mobile POS slowly and reduce the number of fixed registers over time, but there's likely to be a combination of both for the foreseeable future.  Even Apple retains at least one fixed register in every store, you just have to know where to look.

The business benefits for mobile POS are pretty straightforward:

1. Faster checkout.  Walmart's CFO recently reported that for every second they shave off the average transaction time, they can potentially save $12M a year in labor.  I think its more likely that labor will be redeployed to enhance the customer experience.

2. Smarter associates.  The sales associates on the floor need the same access to information that consumers have, if not more.  They need ready access to product details, reviews, inventory, etc. to meet consumer expectations.  In a recent study, 40% of consumers said a savvy store associate can impact their final product selection more than a website.

3. Lower costs.  Mobile POS hardware (iPod touch + sled) costs about a fifth of fixed registers, not to mention the reclaimed space that can be used for product displays.

But almost all Mobile POS solutions can claim those benefits equally.  Where there's differentiation is on the technical side.  Oracle recently announced availability of the Oracle Retail Mobile Point-of-Service, and it has three big technology advantages in the market:

1. Portable. We used a popular open-source component called PhoneGap that abstracts the app from the underlying OS and hardware so that iOS, Android, and other platforms could be supported.  Further, we used Web technologies such as HTML5 and JavaScript, which are commonly known by many programmers, as opposed to ObjectiveC which is more difficult to find.  The screen can adjust to different form-factors and sizes, just like you see with browsers.  In the future when a new, zippy device gets released, retailers will have the option to move to that device more easily than if they used a native app.

2. Flexible.  Our Mobile POS is free with the Oracle Retail Point-of-Service product.  Retailers can use any combination of fixed and mobile registers, and those ratios can change as required.  Perhaps start with 1 mobile and 4 fixed per store, then transition over time to 4 mobile and 1 fixed without any additional software licenses.  Our scalable solution supports lots of combinations.

3. Consistent.  Because our Mobile POS is fully integrated to our traditional POS, the same business logic is reused.  Third-party Mobile POS solutions often handle pricing, promotions, and tax calculations separately leading to possible inconsistencies within the store.  That won't happen with Oracle's solution.

For many retailers, Mobile POS can lower costs, increase customer service, and generally enhance a consumer's in-store experience.  Apple led the way, but lots of other retailers are discovering the many benefits of adding mobile capabilities in their stores.  Just be sure to examine both the business and technology benefits so you get the most value from your solution for the longest period of time.

Friday May 25, 2012

A little change makes a world of difference

The ability to "round up" at the register to make a charitable donation is not new.  The jar of change at checkout may have been replaced by a PINpad asking for a donation, but the concept remains the same.  Now an Austin non-profit startup called MiniDonations is throwing further innovation at the concept.  What happens when you combine Mint, Facebook, and UPromise for the benefit of charities?

Co-founders Leo Ramirez and Emiliano Lozano wanted to allow the 99% to make meaningful contributions to charity, and rounding-up at the register is the least painful.  But here's where things get interesting.  After rounding-up, your receipt has a QRCode that can be scanned to "claim" the donation for your MiniDonations account.  That way the shopper can control where the donation goes as well as track donations over time.  Then the shopper shares what charities they support using the social aspects of the platform (without disclosing actual amounts).  Why should only the fat-cats get to brag about their philanthropy?  The retailer controls which charities receive the unclaimed donations.

Additionally, users can add money to their account using a credit card to increase their total donation.  Instead of making separate donations at different charity websites, all the donations can be made from one single account.  And of course all the donations are tracked to ease tax preparations.

The ability to consolidate all my charitable giving in a single account is fantastic, and adding the round-up functionality makes MiniDonations even better.  I'm hoping more retailers will consider this innovative approach to donations for their customers.

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.

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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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