I was wowed by the demonstration that Scanbuy’s Mike Wehrs (right) provided, scanning the Sunday circular for QR codes and then drawing us into a variety of back-end applications for further info, and also right to the shopping experience. The device layer—your mobile phone—utilizes 2D barcodes (QR codes) and back-end apps.
Then Jayant Ramchandani (left) of Novitaz intrigued me with the notion of cookies. They are everywhere on the web, but as he pointed out, 90% of our shopping is still done in store. So what becomes the unique identifier between the customer and the merchant then? Their RFID enabled card.
Right now the world is loading up with apps—whether iapps or for androids. It is exciting to contemplate the next universe of all-mobile all the time.
As we discussed with each of these companies my favorite scenario—shopping—I wondered whether they were competitors or complementary. When I hear about technology, I try to understand the applications, but also how they differentiate. That is always the core lesson for tech companies—the value of the application to users, but then, how they are differentiated from everyone else out there! And does that difference matter? If you can’t meet these simple hurdles—then get back and rethink your strategy!
Although there were a variety of scenarios in many industries, here is a story that shows these technologies in contrast, both reaching out to potential customers.
In our scenarios above you can see some similarity and some very unique elements. They are very different apps—and both types of solutions will co-exist in the new retail and other connected universes.
Although they both leverage mobile platforms, the path to the consumer, and the path from consumers to the items for sale, are unique.
Scanbuy is a mobile barcode solution. With partners like Verizon and Sprint they leverage their 2D barcode symbology, allowing one click or no click reading of any barcodes. This then connects to enterprise-specific back-end applications.
Barcoding is quite versatile and cheap. Once the retailer or manufacturer ‘owns’ the code, they can put it on print (newspapers and magazine, and mailings), web sites, signage, tags and tickets. Scanbuy can act as not only the provider of codes, but also the scanning technology and bridge to whatever app, web site, and specific displayed good (say, on a web site) they want. Clients can ask Scanbuy to help manage the whole process from barcoding to app creation. Scanbuy can team up with marketers and merchandiser services to provide a complete turnkey solution. But thinking thus, that Scanbuy is just a way to do mobile promotions, would really limit the potential use of this versatile application.
What is ultra cool about this is that the mobile phone is not an issue for the retailers, per se. They don’t have to think through how to get their app on the mobile platform. Scanbuy has that channel already existing on phones with cameras. So, end-users get to focus a lot more on their business—marketing and selling their products. However, it would be a diminishing of potential of this capability not to do far more with it, such as harvesting the information that the end-user scanning activities tell us, for ‘interest’ data for marketing automation, demand signals, predicting store traffic and many other uses of the data.
Novitaz, on the other hand, is a technology company that provides both devices as well as back-end intelligence software. A retailer will issue a loyalty or credit card with an RFID chip (in this case 433Mhz vs. NFC, 13.56, 2.4Ghz or UHF). Once the shopper is in the store, and, I quote, their “presence-identifying perimeter tracking allows us to trigger alerts and deliver action plans to your sales associates and management teams so they can target as their customer approaches. Our technology also identifies and inventories all sales opportunities in real-time, including new sales, lost sales, and cross-sell/up-sell opportunities—thereby enhancing the value of your retail customer.”
So, the store needs to have readers (active readers are quite cheap) to allow the connection between the loyal customer and the rich selection of services, sales, promotions, inventory locating, etc. In addition, information about the shopper is stored in the customer database, so retailers can keep track of sales history, offer promotions, and use the information to improve product offerings, etc.
However, once I install the technology, I have rich application options for store operations and the linkage to the consumer, something several other technologies have tried before and have not succeeded at, like shopping buddy, smart carts, etc.
At our panel discussion at MIT last week we shared information on the cost of cards for this (433Mhz readers are extremely cheap as compared to passive RFID readers). The fact is that so much money is already being spent on promotions and loyalty programs that the cost for a high-end card that links rich intelligence may be a bargain. Novitaz can work with the retailer to set up mobile promotion alerts, etc. and send these to the consumer.
This article does not do justice to either firm for the richness of capability, but does differentiate what they might do and what the enterprise might have to engage/buy in their solutions.1
Cramming is not the Answer!
What I like about both of these players is the lack of cramming on the mobile phone. There are already thousands of apps for the phone and many more thousands will be here soon. One of the key advantages of cloud or network applications is that users don’t have to have their cell phone crammed with apps that the carrier wants to push, that take up valuable room, and that users don’t want (are you carriers listening?) Yet the carriers can still earn their revenue from partnerships and all that traffic from messaging, calls, web, etc.