Friday, February 19, 2010

Google Shopper - The NEW Android App

Google just launched their first shopping app for the Android market. There are some other players who have been there already - ShopSavvy, Amazon and C-Net's Scan & Shop. The Google app may be more productive for usability and overall robustness, but not in product selection.

First, with Google Shopper, you can scan, take a photo or even use voice search to find what you need. I've used ShopSavvy in the past and I find it limiting when I can't locate the barcode or there isn't one at all. These features are much more convenient than typing in the product name - which yields varied results to boot. The downfall is that it only applies to books, CDs, DVDs, and video games. Also, there seem to be some bugs. I took a photo of a book that is listed from $3-$595.

Google Shopper also lets you save history for offline use and share products with friends. Drawback - prices are in US ($) only. And don't forget, both the ShopSavvy and Amazon app lets you do the same thing: save items to your wishlist, view history, etc.

So what's the verdict? Although Google owns the Android market and there are some great features with the image capture and voice search, the limitations of only being able to find digital media and books gives ShopSavvy the edge. And as for the other nice features, those already exist. I'm sticking with my existing apps and if I can't find what I need with ShopSavvy or Amazon, I'll try Google Shopper. But by no means is it a mere replacement.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Augmented Reality (AR) at Retail

-Contributed to the blog

One of the newer digital technologies generating buzz right now is Augmented Reality, or AR. What exactly is it? AR is the technique of overlaying graphics on a real-world image so the graphics enhance and recontextualize the scene. Most of the techniques today are generated using a computer's webcam. Users point out a "target" -- a black-and-white image that the AR application uses to determine the scene geometry. Users can view it coming to life on a computer screen by holding it in front of the camera or shooting it with a mobile device. How can this virtual technology be successful for retail? There are successful AR companies bringing their technology to retail consumers in several different locations: at home, on the go (mobile), and at retail.

Let's face it -- online stores are limited when trying to show how their products fit on consumers. One way this has worked with eRetail is Ray Ban's Virtual Mirror. This use of AR allows consumers to virtually try on and sample eyewear while sitting at their desks. French company FittingBox created a technology FIT3D that uses a person's eyes, nose, and ears as natural AR-tracking markers to figure out exactly where the sunglasses "appear" on someone's face. Imagine what this fitting technology can do for retailers or even hair care products.

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Speaking of clothing retailers, another great example is how Zagura's Social Shopper app combines AR with motion capture. While it has some limitations (the user is required to print markers for it to work accurately) that might hinder its widespread use, it's nevertheless a very interesting and useful concept. The company hopes to license the technology to online retailers.

Zugara's Social Shopper App:

Now apps from mobile operating systems such as the iPhone 3GS (via its compass tool) and Google's Android are displaying AR content on the phone. Some require that users take a shot of the "ID tag." This could be printed on a piece of POS or found on the packaging. Others, such as Layar's Reality Browser app, allow users of the application to provide custom-tagged reviews of their own by entering text, photos, or videos of locations (via Flickr, Wikipedia, Yelp!, and Google Search, to name a few) while simultaneously updating social networks (Twitter, YellowPages, and more). Metaio's version "junaio" is debuting next month.

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Metaio has also partnered with LEGO to develop an interactive terminal they've coined the Digital Box to be used in toyshops and LEGO stores worldwide. Together with a camera and display screen, the software lets LEGO packaging reveal its contents fully assembled within live 3-D animated scenes. The customer can rotate the product box to see all angles of the constructed design as if it were put together on the spot.

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Metaio has also introduced what can be done with AR and packaging. Everything from games to videos can be part of a consumers morning routine. Imagine the possibilities with beer packaging or consumer packaged goods (CPGs).

At Comic-Con 2009, AR provider Total Immersion introduced AR-enhanced toys based on the upcoming film Avatar. Each toy includes a 3-D tag (iTAG) that consumers scan using their webcam. What's really cool here is that if shoppers place two iTAGs from the Battle Pack together, the 3-D images will interact with each other.

Finally, the last AR tool generating buzz right now is the USPS Box Simulator. This has great practical applications in the home or office - brilliant! Basically, it allows consumers to virtually see what size box their shipment will fit in without buying the box.

These case studies prove the success of AR inside as well as outside of retail environments. I believe that this technology, when used effectively, can be very advantageous for retailers.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Online Transactions - Fear or Fear Not?

When purchasing items from merchants online, you want to be assured that your credit card information is safe. I was recently a victim of online fraud, and fortunately my bank was able to credit the transaction and replace my card with a new account number (since the charges were recurring). This process is frustrating and can put a significant dent in your account until your bank figures out how to best deal with it.

Here are some quick tips and recommendations for making sure your online transactions are safe and secure. Note: This doesn't cover EVERY possible transaction, so be sure you read the fine print before processing payment with ANY unfamiliar merchant!

- Once you are asked to enter payment info has a secured (SSL) feature. An easy way to check this is to look at your browser bar and make sure it begins with https, not http.

- Look for verified merchant credentials such as Verisign, usually on the home page.

- Be skeptical of miles of agreement forms. Those lengthy forms can contain 3rd parties (such as that will be given consent to charge you a fee (sometimes upwards of hundreds of dollars) in order to process your transaction.

For more info on risk of frauds and scams on Craigslist and eBay, check out the following links from the Geeks:

Does Craigslist Need Better Regulation?

Fraud and Scams on Craigslist Pt. 2

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fools Day: Best Practices - Whole Foods Market

In honor of April Fools Day, I thought I'd share a retail site that really took advantage of this opportunity. Whole Foods - also known as Whole Paycheck - has been notorious for charging a premium on their organic products. They have decided to poke some fun at themselves on their home page, offering "Organic Air" in a 0.02-oz spray bottle for $6.99, with scents such as Mountain Air, and Salt & Vinegar. But that is just one of the many playful anecdotes they gave visitors to their site.

The recent spider controversy was also elaborated upon, with the retailer offering "one free spider with every 50-lb. purchase of organic bananas." They even offered playful recipes such as Toast and Chianti-Gorgonzola Popsicles. Now if you click on these fake items, you will be taken to actual foods and products that are being offered through their store.

What I really like about this is that the retailer has found a way to poke fun at themselves - in a twisted Onion-style sort of approach. This is good because it shows how a corporate retailer can have a sense of humor. It grabs your attention and piques curiosity. That is what every landing page should do. Does yours?

Happy April Fools Day!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mobile Tagging - Instant Interactions & Transactions

The future of advertising is here. Well, actually it's in Japan, and gaining traction in Europe. When this technology evolves to the states, it will change how we view ads with the click of a button - on your phone.

Mobile tagging simply means reading out a 1D- or 2D-barcode using a camera in a mobile device. Currently about 70 different types of barcodes and their specific versions exist and are mostly in use in the field of logistics. In terms of mobile tagging, the number of codes is essentially restricted to a dozen types. For reading out 2d-barcodes it is essential to install specific software, a reader, on the mobile device. How does it work? See below.

Now, how can this be applied to marketing or even shopping? Easy. With its seamless interaction, content can be delivered instantly to the consumer. Whatever the transaction (pushing a URL, video/media, "add to cart") this enables anyone with a camera phone and data plan to view content in a more interactive way. Imagine what this will be like once the program moves over to webcams - any camera is a barcode reader and any barcode can be printed out on a sheet of paper and scanned. What if these barcodes were on product packaging? Then you could interact even more with the product, even while consuming it. Talk about interaction.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Tool for Putting Music on Twitter

(re-posted from Wired Magazine - 2/11/09)

MixMatchMusic impressed us mightily with its online remix contest platform, but we're not so sure about its latest venture -- a URL shortener designed to make it easier to promote and discover music on Twitter.

On the one hand, Twitter has grown into a communication tool for everything from houseplants to washing machines. Why shouldn't people be working on ways to make it a better platform for music too?

On the other hand, one might question the utility of another tool for shortening URLs. Does anyone really need this?

MixMatchMusic justifies' existence in three ways:

1. "URL links are often too long to include in tweets."

That may be the case, but Twitter already does a fine job of automatically shortening URLs in many cases, and other tools (redirx, tinyurl, etc.) already exist for that purpose.

2. "By being given the visual cue of ',' music lovers will know that the link will take them to music related content."

Again, true, but doesn't verify that you're linking directly to a music file. For instance, here's a link to this blog that I ran through the engine: Technically speaking, your usage of merely tells readers that you decided to use it rather than something else. Still, if you're a fan who subscribes to a band's twitter feed, and you notice that two of their tweets have URLs indicating that they link to actual music, that's useful information to have.

3. "Fans browsing Twitter feeds will be able to... play music files directly through's player."

Now we're really getting somewhere. This feature, pictured above, could prove beneficial for labels, artists and users looking to distribute music on the Twitter platform, as well as Twitter users looking for new music. The player includes play and pause, a short version of the song's URL (of course), and, perhaps most importantly, buttons that let listeners to re-tweet or otherwise share the song. (Bands must host the MP3s themselves.)

One label, Controlled Substance Sound Labs, is already using the service on Wednesday -- the day it launched. "Our bands are increasingly using Twitter to stay in touch with their fans," stated label co-founder Jon Phillips. " is simply the best way to use Twitter to point them to new releases, B-sides or special content."

As David S. Hubbins of Spinal Tap once said, it's a fine line... What do you think?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Retail Shopping Goes Mobile

The 2008 holiday season brought many new challenges to retailers. First off, how to you compete with other stores offering the same merchandise at the same cost? Here's one answer: Problem-solve at the customer's fingertips. On November 9th Sam's Club launched their Gifter Stress Lifter online application which allowed the customer to find additional products that they might not think about during the holidays - at Sam's Club. This helped them change their perceptions of what they can buy at the store. Customers who download the app - available online or on iPhone - are asked to build a profile of a friend or family member. Six questions are asked to offer an insight to the person's behavior. Sam's suggests recommended products for each profile. Products can be shopped via a link through the app store to the wired web site or customers can take their iPhone to the store to buy those items (like a shopping list).

In addition, Meijer has introduced its Meijer Mealbox which helps consumers plan meals, find recipes, and save money. How? It finds recipes based on ingredients that are on sale at the store. The mobile application is tied to the store's inventory and sales. The user can save a list of coupons and when checking out at the store, can scan their phone for instant discounts.

Both of these mobile apps are great for reaching your customers through online channels and increasing sales and traffic to your brick-and-mortar store. What I find really compelling is how sensory and emotional factors play into the online shopping experience, which has proven to be difficult in the past. Now the connection is effortless.