The top retail tech deployments of the year ... so far

May 22, 2012

Retailers are always looking for innovative ways to reach consumers, and technology is often one vehicle they use. Although only half over, 2012 can already boast several technological deployments that have enhanced the shopping experience. Retail Customer Experience set out to highlight a few successful tech solutions by enlisting help from editors of our sister sites. Below are their top picks.

Digital signage: Timberland's interactive shopping experience

Timberland locations in Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S. are testing an interactive in-store shopping experience using digital signage to help connect shoppers to the great outdoors. The retailer worked with Apologue Experience Design Firm to create an interaction between product and digital signage innovation to transform the typical retail touchpoint into a tool that delivers not only information but also emotional branding to the customer.

It's an open-source cloud-based HTML5 system that can retrieve remote data and create real-time storytelling at every interface touchpoint, in every store at any location around the world. The system allows Timberland to add and tag assets for immediate integration into the storytelling all around the world in real-time, while being managed and monitored from a central location.

Timberland said the aim of the interactive touchpoints is to transcend traditional retail models by transforming the shopping experience into a dialogue between the brand and the customer. The system is designed to adapt, capture and learn from each store globally, providing unique, location-specific content to individual stores and inviting customers to provide meaningful feedback about Timberland products and initiatives that can then be converted into meaningful data for the brand.

Why it's innovative: "It's creative, innovative and involves the customer in new ways — and it helps modify the image of a brand that probably needs to reach out to younger consumers," said Christopher Hall, editor of Digital Signage Today.

Retail banking: Bank in a Box by Genmega and Nexxo Financial Services

One of the more exciting ATM innovations affecting retailers this year is the "bank in a box," a check-cashing ATM/kiosk designed for retail and street settings by Genmega and Nexxo Financial Services, said Suzanne Cluckey, editor of ATM Marketplace.

"A lot of people who have spent a lot of years in the industry have seen 'revolutionary' check-cashing ATMs come and go. And even those who have reason to be pretty jaded by now have told me they're excited about the machine Nexxo Financial and Genmega have developed with check-verifying capabilities," Cluckey said.

With a one-time registration, Bank-in-a-Box users can cash checks, buy money orders, load prepaid cards, pay bills, send money, top up phone minutes and withdraw cash.

Once registered, the customer can swipe a Nexxo card or enter a PIN, select a function from the multilingual touchscreen, complete the transaction and walk away with a receipt — all in less than one minute.

"The customer experience at the kiosk drives the technology rather than the other way around," said Mitch DeShields, Nexxo's chief technology officer. "We've focused on how to make life easier for customers."

The benefit to retailers is cross-product, cross-channel promotions and pricing.

"You can say, 'If you just cashed a check with me, I'll give you a discount on your billpay,'" David Alvarez, CEO and co-founder of Nexxo Financial Services. "We can do that, and so we built some very powerful pricing and promotion engines into the software that allows you to use pricing as a tool to manage your business."

Why it's innovative: It features check-reading technology that seems to be both reliable and affordable; previous machines have been one or the other, but not both, Cluckey said.

Payment technology: Home Depot and PayPal's payment system

Earlier this year, Home Depot partnered with PayPal to test a mobile payment platform at a handful of Home Depot stores. Its decision to expand the program, which allows customers to pay for purchases at the point of sale using a PayPal-issued credit card or the mobile phone number associated with their PayPal accounts along with a PIN, into all of its 2,000 nationwide locations is smart, said James Wester, editor of Mobile Payments Today.

"I can't say that it's going to work, or that it represents the way mobile payments will roll out, but it's a very different way of looking at 'showrooming,'" he said. "Instead of telling retailers how to fight showrooming, PayPal's stance seems to be, 'Hey, embrace it.' And that's smart. Consumers are not going to stop browsing stores and buying online. So PayPal's multiple channels and multiple payment experiences tell them to go ahead and encourage their customers to shop anywhere they want by being wherever they are."

Why it's innovative: PayPal has the tools to make it easy for stores to sell in a living room or in a competitor's store. "By opening up the transaction to any device at any place, PayPal is saying to retailers, 'We can show you how to make you the victor in showrooming, not the loser,'" Wester said.

Self-service: Coinstar's coffee kiosks

Coinstar this year has been testing a variety of new kiosk solutions, but one that seems to picking up momentum is its coffee kiosks, said Cherryh Butler, editor of Kiosk Marketplace. About 50 of the 3-foot-by-3-foot coffee kiosks, designed for high-traffic areas such as grocery stores, have already been deployed, and the company has confirmed it expects that number to grow to 500 by the end of the year. The company has partnered with Starbucks, which has labeled the kiosks with its Seattle's Best Coffee brand.

"This is a great way to enhance the customer's shopping experience," Butler said. "And a lot of people would rather place their orders on a kiosk, especially if it's one of those complicated orders — you know, 'a fat-free, decaf latte with three pumps of sugar-free caramel.' There's probably a better chance of the kiosk delivering exactly what you want."

Why it's innovative:Although vending machines that dispense coffee have been around for years, this one is a touchscreen kiosk that allows users to create custom orders, Butler said.

What other retail technology deployments do you think have been successful this year? Leave your comments below.

Topics: Technology

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