Retail, shopping & leisure

Indoor Location Analytics (What We Do In Shops)

In the 2002 movie Minority Report, the Tom Cruise character is greeted in person as he enters a Gap store. Iris recognition technology spots him and asks how his last purchase (some assorted tank tops) worked out for him. Creepy? Invasion of privacy? Perhaps, but something similar is already happening.

Traditionally, retailers have used crude lasers stretched across shop entrances to count the number of people coming into their stores. But given the ubiquity of always-on smartphones, there’s now a much better way to find out how many people enter a store and what they do inside it.

If a shopper’s phone is switched on and WiFi enabled, retailers can track the customer throughout their store. They can tell, for instance, how many people move directly from underwear to alcohol or how many people entering a changing room then proceed to a check out. In Australia, shoppers who enter a store within a Westfield shopping mall and then Google a rival retailer while inside, can be sent an ad or discount voucher to dissuade them from leaving.

In other words, what happens in a real store is starting to resemble what happens inside a virtual one.

According to some observers, in-store tracking could become a $US21 billion market by 2012, assuming customers accept it. Both Apple and Google are active in this space. Estimates are around one third of the 100 biggest US stores are working with one of these companies to glean data about their customers – termed “indoor location analytics”.

Ref: The Economist (UK) 24 December 2016, ‘Following the fashion’, Anon.
Search words: mobile, WiFi, tracking, virtual, in-store, Apple, “indoor location analytics”
Trend tags:Privacy

Blackouts in Coffee Shops

Coffee shops are the most popular places to connect to a public WiFi network, followed by airports and hotels, so says a recent survey of 500 CIO and IT decision-makers in Europe and the US. However, coffee shops are the biggest hacking risk. There is a solution in sight, but possibly not what some people might want.

Coffee shop owners are becoming increasingly frustrated by freeloaders and cyber-squatters using their premises for free electricity, WiFi and office space all day - some barely even buy a single mocha.

Part of the problem, apart from cafeowners trying to make money, is the funereal vibe generated by these customers who no longer seem to communicate with each other. Another problem is simply finding a seat to eat or drink when the place is full of people attending virtual meetings.

What’s the solution? Cafes have tried polite signs asking people not to use mobiles or laptops, but this doesn’t seem to work. The next step is to remove the WiFi altogether or block mobile signals using a Faraday cage.

While jamming devices are illegal in the UK, Faraday cages are not. It’s a physical shield used to block any electromagnetic fields. One enterprising bar in Brighton installed in its walls and ceiling a homemade Faraday cage made of silver foil and copper, to stop people making phone calls on the premises.

The premise is people should be socialising face to face, not staring at screens or making calls. The only criticism so far has come from a woman who complained her phone was still working!

Ref: The Independent (UK), 23 May 2017, ‘Coffee shop Wi-Fi “most dangerous of all” warns security report’ by A. Sullyman. See also, The Guardian (UK), 20 November 2016, ‘Is the jig finally up for coffee shop Wi-Fi freeloaders? By J. Famurewa and LA Times (US), 8 August 2010 (yes, really) ‘Coffee shops are taking Wi-Fi off the menu’ by J. Guynn.
Search words: coffee shop, cafe, WiFi, free, jamming, Faraday cage, socialising
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Car Vending Machines

It’s been described as a supercar vending machine, but it’s really a clever twist on showrooms for crowded cities where space is at a premium. In Singapore, Autobahn Motors has created a 15-storey tower filled with exotic sports cars.

Customers on the ground floor can browse the cars online and, once selected, the car can be brought downstairs in a matter of minutes via specially designed car lifts. The inspiration apparently came from a child’s toy that displayed Matchbox model cars in a similar manner.

Meanwhile, in other cities, car enthusiasts are using the same lift technology to bring cars up to their city apartments and even display them inside glass garages in their homes. Would you admit to buying it from a vending machine?

Ref: Fortune (US) 16 May 2017, ‘Singapore is now home to the World’s tallest ‘car-vending machine’ by J. Calfas.
Search words: vending machine, sports car, Singapore, Autobahn Motors
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8 Trends Transforming Retail (Really?)

Retail Week identifies eight customer experience trends that it believes are transforming retail in the UK.

First is robotic process automation or RPA. This covers process back end, warehousing, logistics and supply chain, refunds and returns and digital customer services. Customers talking to machines rather than people is apparently a step forward, thanks largely to IBM.

Second is personalisation to filter out the mundane. If it means automating things that are inconvenient, like queuing, it may work but what if automation goes wrong and you end up speaking to yet another machine? Examples are Starbucks app to pay and the automated parking charge at Westfield London.

Third is contextual shopping. This is using AI to anticipate what customers want now and want next. World changing applications include 7-Eleven’s promotions that are adjusted according to the weather and time of day.

Four is device holders on shopping trolleys while trend five is immersive experiences. One example is Microsoft's Fifth Avenue store featuring walls made up entirely from screens. But do shoppers really want to ‘access’ Marks & Spencer’s immersive homewares using Oculus Rift? We suspect not.

Six (we can hardly contain our enthusiasm) is Snapchat marketing campaigns. Seven is disruptive apps (aren’t they all?) such as HSBC’s Nudge App. Eight is ‘empowering’ customers with life-changing apps, with Domino’s Pizza Tracker cited as an example.

It is hard to see how this is progress in retail, nor adds anything to our daily lifestyles. In the 1960s we sent humans to the moon and back. Now knowing where your pizza is in real time is seen as progress.

Ref: Retail Week (UK) 6 February 2016, ‘Analysis: Eight trends transforming customer experience in retail’ by C. Parry.
Search words: Snapchat, Nudge App, Pizza Tracker, screens, AI, contextual shopping, automation, personalisation
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Have We Reached Peak Stuff?

The global economy survives because we work to create goods and services to make money to buy ourselves the very same goods and services. It’s a hamster wheel of consumerism. There are small signs across the developed world we may be losing our appetite for more stuff.

Steve Howard, head of Ikea’s sustainability unit, says we’ve reached Peak Stuff. If this is true, then perhaps Ikea and others must start helping people exchange or recycle what they’ve already bought. This is rather than enticing them into buying yet more things they don’t really need. How would this actually work as a business model?

According to think tank New Economics Foundation, there could be five new measures of economic performance that go well beyond GDP. They are: job quality, wellbeing, personal health, environmental health and fairness. Even with these measures, it may take a while before we stop making and buying yet more rubbish. This is because there are powerful vested interests keeping us on the wheel of consumption. Even if we stop buying tomorrow, there will always be another hamster.

Ref: The Guardian (UK) 31 January 2016, ‘If having more no longer satisfies, perhaps we’ve reached ‘peak stuff’ by W. Hutton.
Search words: peak stuff, IKEA, recycling, New Economics Foundation, economic measures, consumption
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