iPad kiosks enhance the in-store experience

Touchscreen kiosks

The iPad has proven to a smash-hit new device for a variety of consumer applications; web browsing, book reading, video watching, email checking, game playing…but what about shopping?

Retailer-specific apps

iPad apps are not generally focused on shopping experiences. Does shopping at home via an iPad app offer a significantly better experience that shopping via a web browser?  Do shopping apps drive higher sales?

Except for broadly adopted portals like Zappos, eBay, and Amazon, it’s unlikely that consumers will download retailer-specific shopping apps.  Would you download a JCrew app next time you want to buy some new socks?  Time will tell.

Aggregators and APIs

Shopping iPad apps that aggregate a variety of brands are showing potential.  Shopstyle has been successful in driving millions in sales for various well-known brands like Nordstrom, Pottery Barn and Sephora.

iPad Kiosks

For commerce, a viable real near-term opportunity for the iPad may be to empower consumers in the retail store itself.   Things Remembered, for example, is a personalized gift store that uses iPad kiosks in-store to allow customers to design a huge assortment of gifts.   Categories include weddings, housewarming, and even ‘new job’.

Ziosk

In the restaurant chain business, Ziosk from Tabletop Media has created convenient, dining-specific touchscreen kiosks that speed up the payment cycle.   Ziosk puts a tablet device on each table.  The self-ordering and self-check out experience increases overall convenience and frees up tables faster.

Ziosk-ready restaurants are reporting impressive numbers. Promoted menu item sales are up as much as 100% in some chains and up to a 50% increase on dessert sales because of the interactive menus and ability to custom-order your own dessert. The restaurant e-mail club has a 300% adoption increase when using the Ziosk system.

At the Delta Airlines terminal at JFK airport (soon to be La Guardia as well) the installed iPads for pre-flight entertainment to check e-mail, read the news and even to order food before their flight.

A higher level of in store convenience

What do all these examples have in common?  An in-store, touchscreen kiosk puts more power in the hands of the consumer.   These intuitive, fun, self-service systems give consumers new interactive tools that provide a higher level of customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to increased engagement and higher sales.

Tablets and mass customization

Recently, the Forrester Research blog posted – Tablets and mass customization: a match made in heaven.  The post references a RIM Blackberry ad for the Playbook.  The ad highlights the fact that the Playbook supports Adobe Flash, a feature that the Apple iPad famously does not support.

Shopping on the iPad

Indeed, tablets will be a critical driver in the adoption of mass customization shopping experiences.   Recently, we posted about iPads doubling as in-store kiosks, specifically in the case of Puma shoes and The Gap.   Tablets will drive significant innovation both in brick and mortar stores and in online shopping.   In-store, the opportunity is to give shoppers a self-serve kiosk experience, as well as empowering employees with better, more mobile order-taking tools.   In terms of ecommerce, tablets provide visual shopping tools both as downloadable apps as well as browser-based web pages.

So what is the state of the tablet market?

The Apple iPad is the clear leader in the space, recently announcing that they have shipped 200 million iOS devices.   In terms of tablet traffic, the iPad owns 97% of the US tablet traffic.   The RIM Playbook, on the other hand, has been struggling.    They recently announced about 500K units sold in the last quarter, but are way below targets and have been announcing layoffs.  There are also a slew of Android tablets hitting the market, like the Motorola Xoom.

Beyond tablets, mobile devices in general could drive the adoption of business-to-consumer customization models.   A tablet is really just a large mobile device.  For both mobile and tablets, the opportunity is for more interactive navigation; ie multi-touch, drag and drop, and finger navigation.

iPad touch navigation

The iPad has caused a great debate about the importance of Flash in Internet devices.  Steve Jobs published a letter explaining why Flash was left out of the iPad’s features.   Basically, Apple blocked Flash because it requires an additional plug-in installation (ie is not an open standard), Flash videos can be converted to more standard formats like H.264, reliability, security, performance, battery life, and touch-screen support.  And, most importantly, Adobe wants developers to adopt Flash to create apps that run on iOS devices.

The Gap

What benefits do touch screens offer?

The most important reason that tablet devices can drive the customization movement is their navigational advantages.   Tablets lack keyboards turns out to be a navigational advantage.  Tablets support drag and drop, touch and hold, swooshing scrolling, and multi-touch zoom.   The experience is more interactive and most importantly, more intuitive and fun.   There is no learning curve.  New users can approach a visual customization tool on an iPad and simply reach out and touch it.    Mass adoption of tablet computing and interactive product customization will go hand in hand.

Update:  Shortly after publishing this post, Mashable posted “7 Innovative Ways the iPad Is Used in Retail” featuring “customization kiosks” and “digital designing.”

Update2: In an open letter to RIM management, a senior employee admits that users don’t care about Flash support in mobile / tablets.

Social commerce trends to watch in 2011

2010 will be remembered as a big year for Ecommerce with top stories including Groupon’s massive $950M raise, the first signs of Facebook commerce, and Black Friday topping $1 billion in sales for the first time.  2011 will bring even more innovation and progress in the online shopping space.  Here are 3 ecommerce trends to watch, specifically in the social commerce and co-creation space.

1) The next frontier of social commerce – design contests

The Facebook “like” button has permeated the web, allowing you to see what products your friends like as you shop.  Facebook was the most searched and trafficked site of 2010, inspiring brands to see the value in setting up fan stores directly on Facebook.     The next step is adding Facebook’s social sign-on to ecommerce sites to offer another level of convenience and personalization to shoppers, as found in a recent research study by Gigya.

Charmed jewelry design

But, Facebook fan stores, the “like” button, and social sign-on are just the beginning of the “F-commerce” story.   The next wave of social commerce innovation will be brand interaction.  For example, jewelry sites like Charmed include visual product configurators that allow their shoppers to design and post their creations.   A natural next step is to allow the community to vote on the best designs, adding an element of gaming to the experience.

In a retail environment, people love to shop with friends – finding great deals and creating outfits.  Brands are taking advantage of their customer’s desire to socialize and be creative by including them in the design and inspiration process.  Shoppers can post their product designs on a fan page, making the design-your-own experience accessible and viral.

Social commerce is disruptive because it allows people to experience shopping in a way that has previously only been possible in a brick and mortar retail environment.  More than just transactions, social commerce enables people to experience shopping in an emotional way, ie asking their friends opinions, showing off great finds, and being inspired by fashion trends that others (and celebrities) are talking about.

2) iPads doubling as kiosks

Mobile commerce has reached a tipping point, as proven by eBay reporting nearly $2 billion in mobile sales in 2010.   2011 will be a big year for both mobile and tablet commerce.  Apple sold as many as 10 million iPads in 2010 and is set to sell as many as 25 million more in 2011.  Tablet computers will permeate not only people’s homes but will re-invent the retail kiosk market.

Puma iPad design tool

A great example is Puma’s announcement of an iPad-based in-store design tool. Puma shoe customers can browse shoes in-store or sit down and design their own variation.  Downloadable shopping apps also extend a co-creation experience to shoppers.   The Gap Stream 1969 app, for example, is an interactive iPad app that invites shoppers to design outfits and share content.

The iPad is bridging the gap between brick-and-mortar and ecommerce environments by creating both mobile and kiosk shopping platforms.  The iPad has effectively become a next generation retail kiosk that can be used for catalog search, product customization, as a sales floor assistant, a personal shopper, and for registries.

3) Product personalization and taste profile quizzes

ShoeDazzle quiz

Personalization has expanded beyond digital recommendation engines (ala Netflix, Pandora, and Amazon) to products customization as well.   Dozens of new mass customization start-ups offer everything from customized furniture to customized dress shirts to customized shoes. The Internet enables a made-to-order business model where shoppers engage with online design tools instead of browsing a pre-defined catalog of products.

A new generation of e-tailers have deployed taste profile quizzes that match their product line to the shopper’s preferences.  Users answer a series of questions to get a targeted product recommendation.   Examples include Hunch, Google’s Boutiques.com, ShoeDazzle, and JewelMint.  These quizzes are like a dialog with a personal shopper that helps match product attributes with a consumer’s tastes.

In 2011 we will see new social commerce applications that are more accessible, more interactive, more visual, more inspirational, more personalized, more fun, and more addicting.