Taking smart shopping to the next level

When shoppers enter a retail store, they are generally free to browse and shop as they wish. They can move around the store, inspect products, engage with staff, perhaps price check items on their phone. This free-flowing, customer-controlled shopping experience stands in stark contrast to the rigid checkout process where customers are funnelled into a specific location so that their items can be tallied before they pay by cash or credit card.

In practical terms, this kind of static payment process can act as a bottleneck, whether from lack of staff or unprepared customers who have to dig around in their wallets for a credit card or cash. Yet retail stores, for the most part, continue to follow a traditional in-store model which no longer matches evolving buyer behaviour. Not to mention that the purchasing bottle-neck takes up valuable time which the customer could spend moving about the store and exploring other products.

The proliferation of internet-connected devices like tablets and smartphones is interrupting this traditional retail model, providing customers with more flexible ways to shop, while offering retailers an inordinate amount of data which can better inform the delivery of products and services.

At Bilue, we take the retail shopping experience very seriously. Our prototyping team has put significant investment into R&D, developing a model that speeds up the bricks-and-mortar experience by removing the checkout bottleneck. Here’s what we came up with:

The Smart Shopping Bag

The Smart Shopping Bag is a personal, mobile point of sale (POS) system which scans items as they are placed into the bag and keeps a running tally as the customer moves around the store.


This prototype pairs with an app on the user’s phone, connecting their physical shopping bag to an online cart. Placing an item into your digital cart is as simple as adding it to your physical bag.

Customers download the Smart Shopping Bag application (available on iOS, Android and Windows phones), fill in their registration and then visit the ‘pair shopping bag’ option in the menu screen. Each identified phone will have a shopping bag icon next to it. To pair, they simply select the icon next to their phone’s ID and hit connect. The bag will connect to the app via Bluetooth.

All of the products in-store are fitted with RFiD tags which the app will read and update in the cart when they are placed into the Smart Shopping Bag. Once the customer has completed their shop, they simply unlock their phone, enter the app to see the total, hit the pay button et voila, checkout complete!

Because we can track what a customer has added in real-time, there is no need to interface with the traditional POS system. Decided they no longer want an item? They simply remove it from the Smart Shopping Bag and the app will automatically deduct it from the subtotal.

Once a shopper is done, all they need do is detach the inner bag and walk out of the store.

Where to from here?

While 2015 was a strong year for mobile payment systems with the launch of Apple Pay in Australia, the technology and its implementation is still in its infancy. We have yet to see saturation of these innovations in bricks-and-mortar stores, meaning the next two to three years will likely see a mobile payments gold rush to bring the retail experience into the 21st century.

Apple Pay increases the speed of payment transactions, but still requires users to choose a payment method, authenticate with their fingerprint and place their phone or Apple Watch on the POS terminal. Being a deliberate play in increased security and convenience during payment, it is no surprise that Apple Pay does not yet address the pain point of having to stand in a checkout line.

Smartphones allow retailers – and their customers – to do an awful lot more than they are currently taking advantage of. Customers are literally holding the technology needed to bridge the innovation gap. In order to remove these payment bottlenecks in the shopping experience, it is now up to bricks-and-mortar stores to invest and connect to these devices.

By allowing customers to scan their products as they shop with a one-touch checkout, retail stores get the added efficiencies from a distributed checkout system. This is the beauty of internet connected devices, with every customer carrying a potential POS system with them. When transactions are completed on a mobile phone, it closes the loop between the physical shoppers and your digital customers.

The Smart Shopping Bag is still in prototype stage. However even this proof of concept showcases the technology that can be utilised for enhancing the customer experience in retail stores today.

Rolling out RFiD tags to the products in a retail store opens up a raft of new experiences for businesses and consumers to enjoy. Leveraging these technologies would allow retail environments to be free of traditional payment counters and to focus on crafting the ideal retail experience. Consumers could browse and interact with products they are interested in and simply be charged for whatever they are holding when they leave the store.

Creating a network that can identify a customer and the individual products they are interacting with, without manual input opens up possibilities for the next generation of shopping experiences.

We would love to get your feedback on our first round of prototypes. If you are interested in helping shape the future of retail experiences, contact us and join the conversation.

Augmented Reality in mobile today

Last Thursday, 7 April 2016, a few of us from the Sydney office attended Convergence, billed as a conference for Wearable Technology, Smart Devices and the Internet of Things (IoT). The main stand out for us at the event was the dominance of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) devices.

In VR, devices and technology can be used to recreate the world digitally for the user to explore. AR aims to augment the reality around you and can be explored using a camera feed with digital information laid over the top to enhance the user’s view.

While we were at Convergence demonstrating our product design and development principles with a prototype smart shopping bag (more to come on that later) – it made us stop and think about how would we use VR or AR in today’s environment? Whilst we believe there are some great examples of VR out there, AR is more easily applied to today’s environment through the use of mobile phones. Therefore AR is more accessible to companies for enhancing their customer experience.


Source: Shape the future of holographic computing. https://www.microsoft.com/microsoft-hololens/en-us

Most of the examples of AR exhibited at Convergence took the form of digital content overlaid onto the user’s view of their immediate environment. Microsoft took centre stage to discuss their recently ‘released’ Hololens. This is a headset that overlays digital images onto the screen in front of your eyes to simulate a hologram. This was an impressive presentation, only diminished by the fact that there is just one Hololens in the country (at the time of writing). By contrast there are as many mobile phones in Australia as there are people which made us realise the huge potential for using AR to enhance the mobile experience.

Mobile developers have been creating new experiences in AR since 2009 across a broad variety of disciplines that are within easy reach of most people today. Such experiences include an artist who leveraged mobile technology to bring to life in real time with voice and video, his Archibald Prize entry ‘Wilarity’. Architecture and Interior Design are fields utilising the mobile AR space with apps transforming blueprints and floor plans into 3D models. For example the Ikea app where you can view what a piece of furniture might actually look like in your home without getting up from the couch. However, marketing and brand awareness are going to be the big winners here as consumers start interacting with a company’s products in new and interesting ways, such as the humble McDonalds happy meal box coming to life and evolving into an interactive game when viewed on a phone. This cross-over of the real and virtual worlds can create powerful, memorable experiences.

We see the potential for retailers to use AR and IoT in their physical space through product information and wayfinding. For example, searching for a product in a large department store can be confusing and difficult. What if your mobile phone could overlay directions to a targeted in-store offer that interests you on the floor, and then highlight and display extra information about the product you are looking at without the need to ask a sales assistant. Further expansion on this shopping experience would be to pay from your mobile and to leave with your product in hand, similar to the self-service experience at Apple Stores.

In another example, imagine looking at the wine menu in a restaurant with endless wines to choose from. Wouldn’t it be great if you could use your phone’s camera to scan the wine list enabling it to highlight the type/region of wine that matches your taste preference or suggests a match to your meal. Fast, convenient and highly engaging for your customers.

The possibilities of AR are endless when you take the approach of enhancing the physical world with the information that the digital world can provide. And since most people have an AR capable device in their pocket, we shouldn’t wait until headsets are the social norm before exploring the opportunities.

At Bilue we believe that our lives can be enriched by the digital world, and through Design Thinking, Prototyping and Technology we can create innovative products for your customers. If you have an idea or product that you want to validate or explore, reach out to us and let’s talk about how mobility in computing, and AR, could help you achieve your goals.


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