The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Sensing and consumer retail

vending.pngI was catching up on my email backlog, since I was on the road all this week and a story caught my eye: New Vending Machine Can Guess Your Age. This machine behaves differently based on the perceived age of the patron, in this case providing free samples to those it thinks deserve it.


I am not sure how successful this will be, but it is definitely an innovative approach to capturing attention of the consumer using sensing, mobile…


“Called iSample, Kraft’s vending machine dispenses free samples of trial products to their target audiences. A new pudding product, for instance, is targeted to adults. The machine determines the age of a customer, who then uses a smartphone with a custom code to get the sample.”


Back in May I mentioned some innovations that soft drink manufacturers are using to change the interaction with their customers.


Personal customization and sensing enabled custom interaction are all great examples of how consumer retail is enabling a more personalized experience but using standard, quality enforcing techniques that benefit both the consumer and the provider. We should see some great examples of these innovation expanding into other industries in 2012.

The Calculus of Big Data

unlimited data.pngBig data has been a topic of conversation to the point where it is battling cloud as the buzzword of the year. The following article from ITBusinessEdge titled: Just the Stats: Big Numbers About Big Data provides numerous thought provoking bits of information about the current state of Big Data use in Retail, Healthcare as well as business in general.


There is more possibilities here than just the traditional perspective of the data itself. With all the computing capabilities there is much more that can be done with the abundance of data and computing. Opportunities exist in nearly every industry, both for static data as well as understanding the implications of data on the move --  turning data into the context needed to make decisions.


The speed and motion characteristics of data generation and transportation can be just as meaningful as the data payload itself. One of the places this is most evident today is in the social networking space, but within businesses similar metadata implication possibilities exist. Who is interested? Who is not? And what are they planning to do with the data, provides insight into the appetite of the organization – just like the derivative in mathematics is more meaningful for certain situations, predicting where objects will be.


Another very powerful aspect of the data is the relationship of the data to other data. What is collected at the same time and what can be derived from the relationship between the data? The shape of the data payload provides quite a bit of untapped context too.


We can analyze these new data and relationships in ways that were just not possible before.


The final interesting tangent I thought I’d mention is to merge the corporate data with data from other sources, like (which just turned 2 years old) and other large public data sets for analysis, in addition to internal systems that may have never had their data cross-pollinated. We have the computing and bandwidth capabilities, it is just our imaginations that are limited.

A hybrid approach to on-line grocery retail in Korea

I saw this video of a project to shift the edge of the enterprise for grocery shopping to something more convenient for the consumer.



This is a good example of changing the definition of the enterprise interface. In this case they made “the grocery store” a thin sheet of paper (with QR codes) in a subway, a smartphone and home grocery delivery. That last part reminded me a bit of some of the failed dot com era efforts. This approach may have addressed some of the issues that made that effort fail. After all, home grocery delivery still exists in the US through PeaPod, Schwan’s and many local efforts.


The physical presence of the sheet of paper is why I called this a hybrid approach. They didn’t limit themselves to a web based or a brick and mortar approach. This approach is somewhere in-between.

Just because the grocery business has worked a certain way for the last 50 years, there can be changes in consumer expectation that makes these new ways useful to a specific consumer space. This is the issue described in the Innovator’s Dilemma where a new approach enters at a targeted market segment and then expands to take over market leaders.




Technology Trends in Retail

This past week I was catching up on my reading and found two articles about how computing will change the face of retail the first in IEEE Computer and the second was in Bloomberg BusinessWeek titled: Virtual Shopping in 3D.


Both articles show how consumerization is entering into the retail space in a big way, with the Microsoft Kinects spurring the imagination far outside the gaming community. There is a great example from FaceCake which virtualizes the “dressing room” experience in a way that speeds up the shopping process. What I found interesting is that most of the technology shown in the video is actually more likely to be found at home than at a retailer – possibly changing the definition of what shopping means.


In a similar vein there was a demonstration by Tissot at Harrods of using virtual reality techniques to supplement even the window shopping experience.


One of the technologies I was able to embrace last week when I was at the HP labswas a wall size display – the one I saw was probably 15 feet long but there are installations much larger. It was running at mutliples of high def resolution. This comes from the team researching the mobile and immersive experience of the future.


This technology was applied at the CES earlier this year to have a full size 3D display of earth wind and fire. I had a chance to see that video in the lab and it was strange to walk right up and almost step into a life-size 3D display.


It is clear that the 3D sensing and display technologies can change retail going forward.

Is consumer data transaction enablement and analytics the real thing?

unlimited data.pngThere have been a number of announcements recently about companies using their IT capabilities to change the interaction with people on a daily and dynamic basis.


One recent example is PepsiCo’s launch of a “social vending machine”. It’s half vending and half bank machine, allowing "random acts of refreshment," or the ability to buy a drink for a stranger, in situations such as sending "a symbol of encouragement to a city that's experienced some challenging weather or a congratulatory beverage to a university that just won a championship," PepsiCo said. I can see it now when a city wins a championship – drinks all around.


Coke had done some other interesting things with interactive vending machines and custom flavors. The Pei-Wei near my home recently put one of these in. Unfortunately, I just wanted a drink and having millions of combinations was a bit too much to deal with.


All of these machines have one thing in common. They collect information about the tastes of those who use them and send that information back for analysis. They provide flexibility and increased functionality. It does make you wander what new business models are possible and what information can be gained, especially if they are linked to our mobile devices to enable the transactions.


We’ve seen it from banks for a while, and in some parts of the world (like Kenya) with phones. Based on some of the videos it looks like we’ve just started to see these capabilities come to fruition. What will happen to retail when the Internet is assimilated to the same extent it is in the entertainment space?

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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