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.

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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.

An Intro to Design Thinking – Part 1

Design thinking seems to be the buzzword of 2016. Since gracing the front cover of Harvard Business Review, more companies are claiming that they are a design lead organisations, many are asking how to become one and many more are asking what the hell is it?

The quick answer is, Design Thinking is a formal method for practical and creative problem solving.

Design Thinking has been around since the mid 80’s where it was commonly used in architecture and urban planning. During the 80’s and 90’s, Stanford University expanded on the concept of Design Thinking by teaching “design thinking as a method of creative action.” When IDEO was established in the early 90’s, it was then adapted to the business realm where it has slowly gained traction since.

There are different methods, processes and flavours of Design Thinking, but the core fundamentals are the same regardless of the flavour you use.

Design Thinking can be broken down into two parts; the first is the approach to problem-solving while the second is the process of problem-solving. This article is going to tackle the first half – The Design Thinking approach to problem solving. Establishing what to focus on when it comes to solving problems for a project.

Design Thinking has an approach to solving problems using three spheres; Human Desires, Technology Feasibility and Business Viability.

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To understand why this diagram has everyone talking about Design Thinking, let’s break it down. First off, it helps to understand what type of organisations or roles operate within each sphere.

Business Viability – Management and Business Consultants, Accountants, Business Analysts, etc.

Technology Feasibility – Software Developers and Programmers, Industrial Factories, Car Manufacturing, etc.

Human Desires – Market Researchers, Psychologists, Advertising Agencies, Actors, Humanitarian Aid, etc.

Understanding how these spheres interlock will help you understand the type of organisation you are a part of. It is important to note how these approaches differ in the way they solve projects and operate.

To illustrate this, below are some examples of different types of companies using components of the Design Thinking ideology and how they operate using different sectors of the three spheres.

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Startups – Many of today’s startups focus on a user needs and how technology can help or solve a problem. Unfortunately, many startups don’t focus on their Business Viability. Instead, they worry about acquiring users and scaling up with the hope of working out monetisation later on. In many cases, they fold because of ‘poor market fit’ (meaning, they couldn’t work out how to make money from their users). For example, while Twitter has millions of users, they are still struggling to solve their Business Viability at a level that is deemed successful.

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Agencies and consultants – Many Advertising Agencies, Market Researchers and large consulting firms look at what will work best for customers and consumers, though mostly from an initial Business Viability problem first. Companies tend to find a way for the human needs to fit within the business model they are developing. Solutions form plans that haven’t had any technology feasibility taken into consideration. Either the solution they come up with can not be delivered, or the execution is below what the customers and business expectations are.

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Enterprise – Seen in many large enterprise organisations, this is the most common or default approach companies take to running projects inside their business. With a business problem in hand, project managers turn to the company technology department to create a solution. The solution may be able to be built and be considered viable from a business point of view, but uptake is lacklustre within the market. Possibly not improving the customer’s experience or fulfilling any of their needs.

Where the Design Thinking approach is clearly different to the above examples, is that Design Thinking seeks to use ALL three spheres in the problem-solving process.

One of the core principles of Design Thinking is to solve a problem that the user has. In other words to take a Human Centred Design approach to each project. So, what does that mean and what does that look like?

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Rather than take a business problem and move through each sphere in a clockwise direction. For example, going to your technology department with a problem, asking them to solve the problem and only then checking if customers can use the solution.

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Start with the customers and move through each sphere in a counterclockwise direction. For example, see the problem from your customers point of view, Test a hypothesis with them, iterate on the learnings with customers and the technology department before closing the loop with stakeholders. This way of thinking uses Human Centred Design that not only solves the problem, but it is also technically feasible as well as desirable for customers.

If you get it right, you will land in the centre of the Venn diagram, which is sometimes called Innovation, but we prefer the term market success. Not all your projects will land in the centre of the diagram, but using a Human Centred Design approach will get you as close as possible within your constraints.

From today, you can use this approach for your projects, problems and goals. Ask yourself, who is the end user or customer? What do they want and what are their goals? Using this approach in your projects is the first step to understanding Human Centred Design and Design Thinking.

So, with your new understanding of how to approach a challenge with Design Thinking, let’s look at how to solve problems with Design Thinking coming up in part 2 of this Intro to Design Thinking.

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