User Experience

Cortana Reportedly Closes 'Assistant Gap' with Siri, Google

Windows Phone OS 8.1 has received some early favorable reviews. One of the standout features is Microsoft's virtual assistant Cortana

Two early side-by-side comparisons of Cortana with Siri and Google's Voice Search/Now contend (and demonstrate) that the Microsoft assistant achieved comparable performance: 

It thus appears that Microsoft has taken away Siri or Google's assistant capabilities as competitive differentiators vs. Windows Phone. Indeed in the Gizmodo test Siri lagged in a few cases.

Neither review says that Cortana has exceeded the other assistants at this point. But the fact that Microsoft is out of the gate with a comparable capability is impressive. The only major thing that now stands in Windows Phone's way is its more limited app selection. 

Let's hope that Cortana now puts pressure on Apple to further upgrade Siri. Since its dramatic introduction nearly four years ago Siri has not lived up to its potential, though it has continued to improve incrementally. 

Google Voice Search performs adequately. It's speech recognition for dictation is consistently not as good as Apple's (Nuance's). Google Now's "anticipatory search" and related features are much more interesting. However Google Now also hasn't evolved significantly in the past 12 to 18 months. 

Study: Smartphone Users Ready to Buy -- Offline

This morning I received a message in my in-box with the subject line: "Mobile commerce has really arrived." In the associated article a range of data were cited to argue that consumers were doing more and more e-commerce on their smartphones.

While it's true that e-commerce over tablets and smartphones is growing we should be clear about what's really going on out in the real world. Smartphones are widely used by consumers as part of their shopping and purchase research -- between 60% and 80% (or more) use them in stores for product and price lookups.

Marketers routinely undervalue and misunderstand the now critical role of mobile in consumer purchase activity. Part of the reason is tracking/attribution: smartphone owners overwhelmingly convert offline (or on PCs) and much of that behavior is simply not captured. 

New research from comScore, Neustar and 15 Miles reinforces this basic point. The data are based on a December survey and behavioral observation of users. The sample size was just under 5,000 US adults. 

comScore Local Search Study

Source: comScore, Neustar Localeze, 15 Miles

The study found that 78% of local searches conducted on smartphones resulted in a purchase vs. 64% on tablets and 61% on PCs. 

The majority of those purchases (76%) happened the same day and most within "a few hours" of the lookup. This reflects the immediacy of the mobile search user's need. But here's the critical point: Almost 90 percent of those purchases happened offline, in a physical store (73 percent) or on the phone (16 percent). Eleven percent were e-commerce transactions. 

Actual transaction data (as opposed to self-reported survey data) from e-commerce software provider ShopVisible found that 85% of e-commerce transactions in 2013 were PC based, only 4% came from smartphones.

Marketers need to recognize that most smartphone users are going to consult their mobile devices throughout the purchase cycle but largely aren't going to complete a transaction on that device. If they don't understand this behavior and account for it they're going to fundamentally misunderstand the role of mobile and undervalue it significantly.

This is partly why online-to-offline analytics/tracking is such an important development -- and one that we'll be exploring in depth at Place 2014.  

Wearables: After High Interest, High Abandonment

There's a strong belief among tech insiders that "wearables" are an emerging hardware category that's here to stay and perhaps even a new marketing channel in the making. Nielsen consumer research asserts that 70% of US consumers are aware of “wearables" and roughly 15% currently own some form of the technology: 

  • Fitness wristbands -- 61%
  • Smartwatches -- 45%
  • Health tracking devices -- 17%

Nielsen also found that roughly half of its survey respondents were interested in the category: "Nearly half of Americans surveyed expressed their interest in purchasing wearable tech in the near future." Our survey data similarly found a fairly high level of interest: roughly 40% of smartphone owners said they were interested in smartwatches (generally of the same brand as their smartphones). 

A report by Endeavor Partners, published in January (based on Q3 survey data), throws some cold water on all the excitement. The firm says that an online survey of "thousands of Americans" found that 10% of US adults owned or had used an "activity tracker" (e.g., Fitbit, Fuel Band). It didn't address smartwatches as a stand-alone category. 

 

The study also reported high abandonment rates of activity trackers/fitness wristbands. Roughly a third of owners stopped using them within six months of initial ownership and half were no longer using them: 

Endeavour Partners’ research reveals that more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it. 

This first Samsung smartwatch reportedly experienced 30% return rates. But that's probably a function of the poor design and usability of that device rather than a broad statement about the prospects for the smartwatch category. The Pebble smartwatch is apparently selling well. 

It's still early in the development of wearables and there will be a range of new products of increasing quality and refinement. Hopefully we'll see some "next generation" watches coming out of the Android Wear effort. Apple is also expected to introduce its rumored "iWatch" at some point.  

Yet the Endeavor data offer a sobering counterpoint to all the hype about the category and widespread perception that wearables are an inevitable boom in waiting.

Microsoft Formally Launches Its Personal Assistant -- Cortana

At its Build developer conference in San Francisco today Microsoft finally and formally announced Cortana, its personal assistant. The name is derived from a character in the game Halo.

For a time it was thought that there might be a female Cortana avatar (inspired by the game). However Microsoft (probably wisely) chose not to do that.

Cortana aims to go beyond both Siri and Google Now by being a more comprehensive way to interact with Microsoft devices. It entirely replaces the Bing search button on Windows phones and is powered by Bing and all its back-end capabilities. Users can input queries or questions by voice or through the keyboard (which Siri does not). 

Cortana_Collection_Travel03_16x9

I'm not at the developer event and so am only reacting to the announcement and some of the details trickling out. From what I can tell however Cortana combines most of the capabilities of Apple's Siri, Google Voice Search and Google Now.

Previously I asked, will Cortana be a breakthrough or a "me too" product? There doesn't appear (from a distance) to be a "wow" breakthough capability that would immediately differentiate Cortana/Windows Phones and tips the scales in favor of Microsoft. However Cortana might impress with subtle or refined capabilities and functionality. There's a lot going on here.

After I've had a chance to use Cortana I'll be able to render a better judgment about its competitiveness and utility. Basically Microsoft had to offer an assistant on Windows Phones if it hoped to remain competitive with Apple and Google. 

Cortana will launch on Windows Phones with 8.1 software in the US. It will expand to other non-US markets later. 

Surveys Show Growing Demand and Usage of Mobile Payments

Two surveys independently released in the past couple of weeks indicate growing demand for and consumer experience with mobile payments. One survey released by Verifone (n=1,000) found that 55% of respondents were interested in mobile payments, with higher percentages (70%) of "millennials" expressing interest.  

In that survey the motivations or perceived advantages of paying with a smartphone included: 

  1. Mobile deals: 45%
  2. Track spending: 45%
  3. Faster: 34%
  4. No wallet: 28%

A separate survey released by Local Corporation (fielded by the eTailing Group, n=1,294) asked a range of questions about mobile user behavior. Among them were several questions about mobile payments. 

The survey found that 27% of consumers had used their smartphones to pay for an in-store purchase at some point. However the materials and discussion released didn't indicate how "in-store" was defined (did it include Starbucks, for example?). Reasons for not using a "mobile wallet" were security (44%) and privacy (36%).

When asked what brands consumers trusted to manage mobile wallets and mobile payments, consumers said:

  1. Visa: 24%
  2. PayPal: 21%
  3. Apple: 15%
  4. Amazon: 13%
  5. Amex: 7%
  6. Google: 6%

It's not clear whether the findings immediately above are statements about the brand in general or indicate any direct experience of usability. The mobile/offline version of Google Wallet in its current form is essentially a dead product.

Apple and Amazon have not yet fully entered mobile payments but are going to do so. Apple has filed patent applications that indicate its intention to get into mobile payments, with its more than 600 million consumer credit cards on file.

We have argued that mobile payments are entering the mainstream through vertical or specialized apps that contain a commerce elment but with offline fulfillment -- Uber, AirBnB, OpenTable are examples. We should continue to see mobile payments "mainstream" and gain increasing momentum over the next five years.

Facebook Announces 1 Billion Mobile Users As It Readies the 'Platform of the Future'

Yesterday on the conference call discussing the $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also told the audience that it now had one billion mobile users -- quite a milestone. The company previously reported in its Q4 2013 earnings that it had 945 million "monthly active" mobile users, as of December 31, 2013. 

Daily mobile users are now probably around 600 million on a global basis.

Ad revenue from mobile devices in Q4 was "approximately 53% of advertising revenue ... up from approximately 23% of advertising revenue in the fourth quarter of 2012." That means the mobile ad-revenue number will likely be 65% or greater by the end of the year. Twitter gets roughly 70% of its ad revenue from mobile, based on its most recent earnings report.  

Even though mobile experiences, advertising and marketing are still relatively young (since 2007), Facebook is looking beyond mobile to the "next computing platform." For Zuckerberg that's virtual reality. 

He's potentially right.

However much depends on whether and how virtual reality can be translated into a mainstream experience. It's not unlike taking original IMAX and turning it into a smaller but more "accessible" cinematic IMAX for popular film releases.

Beyond gaming, which is Oculus' current pursuit, Zuckerberg articulated the idea of bringing people (virtually) into places, events and experiences in a more immersive and direct way. There are both commercial and non-commercial scenarios. Many of them, however, are straight out of science fiction or dystopian novels and movies (see, e.g., Matrix, Demolition Man, Strange Days).

Paradoxically, the Oculus acquisition brings Facebook more into the "real world" (away from 2D internet) but also offers new potential opportunities to create internet-like experiences for users, into which they can enter.  One such example might be strolling down a virtual shopping street, like a character in a 3D game, where people can "touch" and examine products in a holistic 3D experience. 

It's fascinating to contemplate an internet of the future that might be radically different than what we know today.  

Retailer Apps Must Focus on the Offline Shopper, Not Just Ecommerce

The notion that retail apps or mobile sites should primarily be a shrunken ecommerce experience is misguided. That idea, however, is promoted in February survey results from RSR Research. The survey data reflect how retailers regard the role and value of mobile.

The results divide retailers into "winners" (market leaders) and "all others" (presumably laggards). Among the winners, the top use case for mobile is "an ecommerce site that can extend into mobile." That's followed by "downloadable shopping app, "public WiFi in stores," and "employee assisted selling mobile capability."

It's a bit unclear what these secondary responses mean. However I assume they all pertain to an offline or in-store role for retail apps or sites.

 

Source: RSR Research

RSR celebrates the notion that the primary role for mobile is to extend ecommerce into mobile: "an eCommerce site that can extend to mobile is the best technology approach for their customer-facing mobile strategies." I disagree with this philosophy. 

Although most smartphone users have conducted transactions on their handsets, this is not the primary shopping-related use of smartphones. The overwhelming majority of ecommerce transactions that involve mobile, start on a smartphone and end in stores or on a tablet/laptop later. 

A recent ShopVisible survey illustrated that while mobile devices drive 30% of ecommerce/retail traffic, they're only responsible for 15% of purchases. But beyond this the data show that smartphones only generate 4% of "mobile orders."

ShopVisible data  

There are range of surveys with different percentage findings about mobile transactions. But directionally they're virtually all the same: consumers use smartphones as a critical part of the shopping research process but when it comes to buying they do so on PCs, tablets and, overwhelmingly, offline in local stores. (Internet influenced offline spending is probably worth more than $2 trillion annually, many times larger than ecommerce.)

We don't argue with the idea that mobile apps and sites have an important role to play in ecommerce (tablets especially). Despite this, smartphone retail apps should be thought of primarily as a tool to aid the offline shopper. Most of the current deficiencies of the offline retail experience (lack of competent in-store personnel, inability to find products, additional product information) can be mitigated or addressed with a strong in-store app experience.

It's also possible to "have it both ways": to emphasize ecommerce when the user is far from the store but use location detection (and opt-in) to offer a in-store experience that features shopping lists, product information, buying incentives and in-store maps/navigation (where appropriate).  

Juxtaposing ecommerce and offline commerce is something of a false dichotomy. Offline shopping support should not be neglected, however, because retailers are focused on trying to drive mobile-commerce transactions (because they misunderstand consumer behavior). Retailers should provide an ecommerce catalog in mobile while still recognizing that there's far more value and opportunity in supporting the real-world shopper.

Opt-In a Must: Consumer Survey Indicates Retailer Risks with Indoor Location

There have already been several surveys that show consumers are interested in the benefits of indoor location and will share their personal data or opt-in when they're clear on what those benefits are. See, for example: 

A new survey (n=1,024 US adults) from OpinionLab shows that consumers are skeptical about indoor "tracking" and only want to participate in indoor location and marketing programs if they're opt-in. In an article about the survey Fortune sensationalizes the findings "Consumers hate in-store tracking (but retailers, startups and investors love it)."  

That headline overstates the degree to which consumers are hostile to being located in stores. It's very fair to say they're ambivalent and cautious about indoor location, though most haven't had any experience of indoor location at this point and are speaking only in the abstract.

The use of the word "track" is very charged and that's the framing here -- "In your opinion, is it acceptable for retailers to track shoppers’ in-store behavior via smartphone?": 

  • No -- 77%
  • Yes -- 23% 

An alternative question such as "would you be willing to share your location with retailers for benefits X, Y, Z" would have produced a different result. Indeed, how surveys present these issues to consumers really matters (see, e.g., Majority Of Shoppers Want Cross-Channel Personalization.) Accordingly survey results can be manipulated to serve agendas in favor of or against indoor location. 

Another question in the OpinionLab survey similarly predisposes the outcome -- "If one of your favorite retailers were to implement a tracking program in their stores, would you participate?":

  • No -- 63%
  • Yes -- 38% 

This survey found that consumers are open to indoor location if the programs are entirely opt-in (even with the "tracking" framing) -- "In your opinion, what is the best way for retailers to approach in-store tracking?"

  • Opt-in -- 64%
  • Opt-out -- 12%
  • No tracking at all -- 24%

Consistent with earlier surveys, consumers say they would opt-in for discounts and other incentives -- "What incentives would motivate you to participate in a retail tracking program?": 

  • Save money / price discounts 61%  
  • Free products 53% 
  • Chance to win a big prize (vacation, HDTV) 28%  
  • Better shopping experience overall 24% 
  • Unlock new experiences and awards as you shop the aisles 23% 
  • Personalized attention from store associates 12% 

What this survey, like others before it, shows is that consumers have real privacy concerns about indoor location and tracking. However, the word "tracking" is one that triggers an immediate, negative response and associations (i.e., "surveillance," "spying"). By contrast, discussing the benefits of indoor location produces a very different set of findings (see other surveys).

Yet the OpinionLab survey also shows that uncer the right circumstances consumers will share their location where retailers ask for permission (opt-in) and the benefits are sufficiently enticing and clear. 

Despite my criticisms of the framing of the OpinionLab survey I think it does illustrate that there are clear risks for retailers around indoor location if they don't respect consumer privacy and don't get the messaging to consumers right.

At the upcoming Place Conference Jules Polonetsky, Executive Director and Co-chair of the Future of Privacy Forum, will moderate a session on consumer privacy: "Indoor Location & Privacy: Steering Clear of the ‘Creepy Line.'"

Burger King to Bring Mobile Payments to All 7K US Stores

According to Bloomberg, Burger King is readying an app upgrade that will allow users to pay with their smartphones. Little detail is provided beyond that. 

There are already app-based payments using the chain's "Crown Card," a stored value card that can be reloaded and can be presented physically or virtually via mobile phone (like Starbucks). It's not clear if the Bloomberg report is referring to this or a new options to upload and store a credit card in the Burger King mobile app.

Regardless, the move will motivate fast-food rivals to similarly adopt in-app, mobile payments. Mobile ordering for in-store pickup (a la Chipotle) is expected to later roll out. The rationale behind the move is obvious: more efficiency, more customer data and greater overall customer satisfaction. 

As I've argued elsewhere mobile transactions and self-service ordering will eventually eliminate many thousands of low-skilled cashier and service worker jobs in places like Burger King.  

Finally this is another example of mobile payments being introduced in a very specific context. Broad, horizontal payments tools and platforms such as Google Wallet and Clinkle are struggling while in-app or stored card payments are taking off in more narrow contexts (e.g., Uber, OpenTable). 

It's likely that Burger King's mobile payments will be widely adopted by loyal and regular customers. However it's not clear this will improve the company's competitive position vis-a-vis McDonald's. I suspect McDonald's will follow with its own mobile payments functionality in the relatively near future.  

Update: QSR chain Wendy's has now also announced that it's rolling out mobile payments. 

Location Analytics without a Consumer Value Angle May Not Fly

An article in HBR today discusses what we've known and been writing about for some time now: location analytics is a major "must-do" opportunity for retailers and others (airports, hospitals, casinos, colleges, mall owners, entertainment venues). See also: Report: "Mapping the Indoor Marketing Opportunity."

The HBR piece discusses various provider-vendors (RetailNext, Placed, Euclid) and retail scenarios (operations, staffing, merchandising) that will benefit from indoor and offline analytics. However one of the major issues in the space is privacy and consumer acceptance. The article neglects to discuss privacy at all, although many of the comments raise the issue.  

Location analytics can be done in such a way to avoid any PII collection while giving customers the ability to opt out of any indoor tracking (save closed circuit TV). The Future of Privacy Forum has introduced an opt-out (a kind of do not track indoors) website SmartStorePrivacy.org. This is a voluntary thing at the moment, though with many analytics firms signing on. But it will likely become mandatory at some point in the near future.  

Despite ominous portrayals of indoor location by some journalists, it's not a very scary thing when you actually see it in action. Surveys conducted by Opus Research and others have found that most consumers will happily opt-in to location tracking when there's a value exchange that they understand.

Affirming this again, Swirl released some new consumer survey data (n=1,000 US adults) that found: 

  • 77% of consumer respondents would opt-in to location tracking/awareness as long as they received enough value in return 
  • Consumers are most interested in in-store push notifications (80%) around promotions, but also in price comparison tools, relevant content and loyalty program integration 
  • 72% are more likely to buy off an in-store promotion vs. an online offer or email promotion  
  • 62% said they would use apps in-store more often if their content that was relevant/personalized to the shopper’s interests and in-store location

Whether or not these specific findings are replicated at the same levels by other surveys, their general sentiment is: consumers are receptive to in store promotions and content and happy to share location information with a clear value exchange. 

Where indoor location and privacy become potential issues is when there is no consumer experience: if retailers or others are simply collecting data without offering value in return to consumers. Under such circumstances (where opt-out is offered or later required) we might see substantial numbers of consumers opting out of indoor location/tracking. 

My belief is that ultimately the FTC will compel explicit disclosures and signage where location analytics and tracking are present giving consumers the ability to opt out. Burying a notification such as "by using our WiFi you agree to let us track you" in terms and conditions isn't going to fly for much longer. 

New Full-Screen Apple Video Units Point to One Future for Mobile Ads

When former Apple CEO Steve Jobs discussed mobile advertising and iAd he often talked about combining "the emotion of TV ads with the interactivity of web ads." That call to arms benefitted the entire mobile industry and forced ad networks and platform providers to "up their game" -- temporarily. 

Sadly, that advance hasn't continued. Amid all the talk of exchanges, enhanced targeting and programmatic media, there has been little innovation with mobile ad creative. Most mobile ad campaigns are at best weak or perfunctory. There are some isolated exceptions.

The future of mobile search advertising seems to be relatively stable and relatively predictable: dominated by Google and mostly text based. On the display side, however, there are a number of trends taking shape. 

One strand involves "native" or "stream ads," which are represented by Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook and several others. (Both Twitter and Facebook gain more ad revenue from mobile than the PC). Programmatic is gaining significant momentum in mobile as well. Yet that has little or nothing to do with ad creative. 

Another major trend is video. Video is interesting because it permits sophisticated ad creative and enables marketers not to have to generate new units for mobile campaigns. Brand imagery and messaging can also be more effectively conveyed via video than static display or even rich media. A video ad simply needs to be right-sized to fit the screen or sometimes cut in length. 

Mobile distribution of video ads requires less thinking and less work for marketers and agencies. It now appears that Apple is planning to give mobile video ads a new boost with the introduction of new full-screen in-app video ad units. 

AdAge is reporting that Apple is about to "roll out new video iAds this year that will automatically play full-screen within iPhone and iPad apps, according to people with knowledge of Apple's plans." These new video ads are being described as "interstitials," which means they'll come between clicks and content or launch before content. They'll be larger and more effective provided they're not used too often or too disruptive of the user experience. 

AdAge reports that they're being sold through Apple's newly launched but low-profile ad exchange.k

Will Microsoft's Assistant Cortana Be a Breakthrough or a 'Me Too' Product?

Four years after Apple acquired Siri and two years after Google introduced its "predictive search" assistant Google Now (along with its voice interactions), Microsoft is finally bringing an intelligent assistant -- Cortana -- to market. 

Gadget site The Verge obtained some leaked screenshots of Cortana (see right), which is supposed to launch on Lumia devices with Windows 8.1. The question is whether Cortana will help Microsoft and Windows Phones differentiate and advance or whether they will simply be a kind of late entrant and "me too" product from Redmond. 

Cortana is supposed to operate across platforms and screens, including on the PC and Xbox. Derived from a character in the game Halo, Cortana was at one time going to offer an "embodied" female avatar. While that's still possible the screenshots leaked suggest that Cortana will not have a face or a body (which makes "her" more family friendly). It's also likely now, given the "baggage" associated with the Halo character that "she" won't even be named Cortana when she reaches the market in April. 

The Microsoft intelligent assistant will reportedly offer Google Now style anticipatory search and personalization features as well as Siri-like interaction. For Microsoft users (Outlook, Windows OS) Cortana may offer a rich experience but the company lacks some of the personal and search data that enables Google Now to function the way that it does. It has been speculated that for this reason, Microsoft invested $15 million in Foursquare last month in part to gain access to its location data and content to help feed Cortana. 

We'll have to wait for the ultimate product to assess whether it offers new depth or a better assistant experience. Siri helped create (or more appropriately name) the market but has since not kept pace with increasing user demands. Google voice search and Google Now are highly useful but not entirely "coherent" as an overall user experience. 

If Microsoft can in fact offer a "next generation" intelligent assistant it may have found a tool to drive Windows Phone sales as well re-stake a claim as a technology leader.  

Update: According to demo video above from UnleashThePhones Cortana will ask a series of questions to try and develop a personalized user profile to start. The more data that Cortana has over time the more personalized and "predictive" Microsoft can make the system. 

Apple CarPlay vs. Google OAA: The Race for the Connected Car Starts Now

In some ways the automobile is the ultimate "mobile device." And pundits, analysts and prognosticators have been anticipating the rise of "telematics" for 20 years. Finally the "connected car" has finally arrived in earnest. 

While services like GM's OnStar and several others, including Microsoft Sync and proprietary in-dash navigation systems, have offered a promising glimpse into the future of in-car services, Apple and Google will drive, so to speak, the mainstreaming of these experiences. Apple today formally announced "CarPlay."

Previewed last year at the Apple developer WWDC event, the service is rolling out this week in vehicles from Ferrari, Mercedes and Volvo at the Geneva International Motor Show. A wide range of other automakers are also signed on: Chrysler, BMW, Ford, GM, Honda/Acura, Hyundai, Jaguar Land Rover, Kia, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and a few others.

The CarPlay experience is currently built around calls, messaging, music and maps. Siri is also at the center of CarPlay, offering eyes-free control over apps.

While most iOS apps won't be available through CarPlay it will become a new platform that will undoubtedly see modified versions of existing iOS apps and totally new apps specifically designed for the in-car experience.

Users will need an iOS 7 iPhone to participate. More importantly, they'll also need a new car. Thus it will take several years for CarPlay to take hold as a mainstream phenomenon and reach millions of drivers. 

Google has a competing "connected car" initiative modeled on its highly successful Android, "Open Handset Alliance." Called the “Open Automotive Alliance,” it's currently supported by Audi, GM, Honda and Hyundai. Others will probably join the list as Google offers incentives to automakers and pushes for greater reach. 

The in-car market now becomes like the living room -- another battleground in the war of mobile ecosystems.  

Microsoft, which was first of the big internet competitors to market with Sync, is at a disadvantage because of the relatively limited adoption of its mobile devices. The company will now be compelled to step up its investment in and development of Sync, as well as its lobbying of auto OEMs. 

These competing efforts are good news for consumers and app developers and bad news for terrestrial radio, which has so far escaped the kinds of major disruption that other traditional media, save TV, have experienced.  

Webinar Today: Join Aisle411 and iInside for Indoor Case Studies

At 1pm Eastern/10 Pacific today we'll be hosting a new webinar: Indoor Location - Early Adopter Case Studies and Lessons Learned. It will feature Aisle411 co-founder Matthew Kulig and iInside EVP Jon Rosen. The emphasis is not on theoretical information but on what's actually occurring in the market -- today.  

Rosen will be talking about B2B case studies from current in-market deployments. He's going to cover:

  • Retailer KPIs
  • Measuring the impact of operations, merchandising and marketing on customer behavior in a specialty retail context 
  • Using indoor analytics to benchmark online marketing campaigns
  • Optimizing checkout selling in a grocery context
  • Using indoor analytics to measure and address showrooming 

Kulig will be discussing B2C cases, including the following:

  • Indoor app-based search and ad CTRs
  • Retailer monetization through branded in-app advertising
  • Location and intent based recommendations in store apps  

I'll be offering a general overview of the state of the market and offering attendees a free copy of our recent "Mapping the Indoor Marketing Opportunity" report (only available to real-time attendees). 

The webinar will be eye-opening and instructive to indoor neophytes and those with even considerable knowledge of this emerging market. Register now and show up later today.  

Bridging the WhatsApp-Facebook Advertising Chasm

WhatsApp may cross the threshold of a billion users later this year. The first year is free, thereafter it costs $0.99 per year per user.

If we assume that every one of those hypothetical billion users starts paying $1 per year. The company would bring in an additional billion dollars in revenue to Facebook, which just purchased (subject to regulatory approvals) the company for $19 billion in cash and stock. 

While many are arguing that WhatsApp was not expensive by some standards (cost per user), Facebook will over time be compelled to justify the acquisition by making money off of it. And that doesn't just mean fee-based revenue.  

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp CEO Jan Koum have very different views about privacy and advertising. The Wall Street Journal sums those up nicely in an article today:

The men are divided by more than differing approaches to making money. A legacy of his childhood in Ukraine is Mr. Koum's emphasis on privacy: WhatsApp doesn't collect any personal information other than a mobile-phone number and address book, and it wipes out messages shortly after they are sent . . . Mr. Zuckerberg, by contrast, has riled users by changing Facebook's privacy settings in ways that some thought exposed more of their personal information more widely.

Koum doesn't trust or like advertising; Facebook lives and dies now by the growth of its ad revenue. Something's got to give then. 

Either Koum and WhatsApp will bend on privacy, data mining and ads or there will need to be some accommodation to Koum's positions. That compromise could come in the form of opt-in SMS-style marketing.

Companies such as Placecast and other SMS-based mobile marketing firms use double and triple-opt-in systems to ensure that users consent to receive marketing messages from brands and retailers. This kind of permission-based (including loyalty) marketing could be a way around the conundrum for Facebook and WhatsApp.

The market will expect Facebook to monetize WhatsApp usage at some point in the future. Subscription revenue will probably not satisfy investors because of the perceived, larger marketing opportunity. Less intrusive, permission-based SMS-style opt-in marketing could be a way forward for the two companies.  

TruePosition Acquires Skyhook Wireless, Bolsters Indoor Location Services

Location technology provider TruePosition has acquired Skyhook Wireless for an undisclosed sum. Skyhook Wireless provides location positioning and gathers contextual data on consumer mobile behavior. The company has also been involved in multiple lawsuits accusing Google of patent infringement and unfair competitive practices.

Skyhook was founded in 2003 by Ted Morgan and Mike Shean to map wireless access points but has since expanded solution offerings focusing on mobile consumer behavior and associated analytics. Recently, Jeff Glass, formerly with mQube and Bain Capital Ventures, was named CEO.

Cellular location company TruePosition, a subsidiary of Liberty Media, is mainly focused on public safety applications for indoor location technologies including locating emergency callers and protecting borders and infrastructure. The acquisition bolsters the product portfolio of both companies by leveraging their complementary technologies, according to the press release about the acquisition.

“Skyhook's commercial focus balances TruePosition's safety and security strengths, and their location technology further strengthens TruePosition's ability to accurately locate mobile phones indoors,” said Steve Stuut, CEO of TruePosition, in the statement.

Skyhook's lawsuits against Google, the first of which was filed in 2010, claims Google interfered with its relationships with two hardware manufacturers, Motorola and “Company X” (Samsung). Google has consistently insisted it has done nothing improper; the legal battle is expected to go to trial sometime this year.

Mobile Ordering, Payments Coming to All QSR with Job Losses to Follow

Fast-Food (QSR) chain Taco Bell will soon offer mobile ordering throughout its US locations. Sibling chain Pizza Hut, Chipotle Mexican Grill and others have already implemented mobile ordering.

Very soon thereafter, if not simultaneously with mobile ordering, will come in-app mobile payments. Later we'll have in-store mobile payments as well. 

All QSR (and Fast Casual) restaurants will eventually offer mobile ordering and payments. OpenTable is in the process of trialing mobile payments in its fine-dining oriented app. That will represent a radically improved customer experience and improved security as well (unless these databases get hacked). 

A mobile ordering and payments-enabled app makes sense for QSR for many reasons. Adoption by chains will be driven in part by competitor rollouts of these capabilities. But another compelling reason will be consumer loyalty. App users will generally become more loyal and frequent customers; app-based ordering and payments will form the core of loyalty promotions. The data can also be used for mobile advertising and retargeting purposes. 

JiWire Q4 

recent report from JiWire showed how mobile (and apps in particular) were more influential than the PC internet in driving consumer purchase decisions in the QSR and fast-casual dining segments.   

Within three years we're likely to see the US QSR industry transformed by mobile ordering, payments and mobile loyalty marketing. In general all this will mean a better experience for customers. 

The "dark side" of these developments, however, will be the inevitable elimination of thousands or even millions of low-paying cashier jobs. That trend will later come in mainstream retail as well.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics cashiers and retail salespeople constitute just under 6 percent of total US employment. But it's the largest single jobs category. Indeed the "bottom of the market" will be automated in the near future -- largely through smartphone apps. Only legacy software systems and perhaps union resistance will delay the trend. 

When customers in QSR restaurants can order or pay more quickly and efficiently through their phones (with stored credit cards) fewer cashiers and related employees will be required. This will also be true in Fast Casual restaurants. Where once you needed four wait staff perhaps now you'll need two or even one person. 

Media Still Fixated on 'Surveillance' Angle of Indoor Location

There are two themes running through most of the coverage of indoor location: gee-whiz technology and NSA-style "surveillance." While both approaches have generally been good for the sector, which has gained visibility accordingly, the "surveillance meme" is both unfair and largely inaccurate. 

In the general debate over consumer behavior tracking and data-centric targeting the "offline world" has largely been ignored. The practices and data-mining in use there are longer-established, more aggressive and much more shadowy than the online/digital media world. Yet the media devote almost zero attention to that arena because we have lived with it for so long. 

By the same token video cameras have been watching people in retail (and other) environments in the US something like 40 years. That fact is rarely if ever "remembered" or raised in the public discussion of indoor positioning and location. Why, because we're all "used to it"? 

A recent Bloomberg article about location-analytics provider Placed is a case-in-point. The headline emphasizes the more sensational aspects of what the company does (for impact) and the lede ties the project to the NSA scandal: "Tracking Every Move You Make—for a $5 Gift Card . . . Here’s something the National Security Agency might try to ease resistance to surveillance: gift cards." 

I certainly understand the journalistic "logic" behind these choices but they're misleading. Placed has what amounts to a triple opt-in process. Its users, who are offered incentives to share their location, are very clear on what they're doing. It's totally voluntary. But the article only mentions that in passing, "Placed asks users for permission and scrubs personally identifying information before companies see the data." It's more concerned with the data and inferences Placed can discern and deliver. 

That's all fine. But in neglecting to fully describe the opt-in enrollment process, the article fails to adequately represent what's going on with consumers. 

The implication still is that people don't fully understand what's happening or what information is being compiled about their behavior. The article suggests, with its lead, that Placed users, despite their voluntary participation, are still being somehow duped: they're giving up their sensitive behavioral and location information for "a five dollar gift card." 

Why it matters is because people will voluntarily participate in these systems and services when they understand the benefits and how their data are being used. It goes to questions of transparency and consent. Many articles operate under the deeply held assumption that if people understood truly what was happening with their information they would never share it with companies. (That's certainly true in many of the "offline" cases.) 

But when it comes to location and indoor location specifically people will trade their information for tangible benefits or a better experience. This has been shown repeatedly and Placed's panel is just one more example.  

Writing about the mechanics of disclosure and opting-in gets tedius and boring. So does the idea that people will willingly share location for improved in-store experiences or incentives. That's why we're likely to continue to see these "us vs. them" articles for the foresseable future. 

Make no mistake consumer privacy is a critical issue. Indoor location providers, retailers and others need to be highly respectful of that. And there are some who want to make the default consumer experience of indoor location opt-out. But most of the entrepreneurs and companies I've spoken to are very sensitive to and respectful of privacy.

The questions going forward should concern what sorts of experiences and disclosures must be presented to consumers to engage and educate them and gain their informed consent. Indeed, we'll be having this very discussion in much more nuanced and concrete detail at the next Place conference in New York in a panel lead by Jules Polonetsky

Alex and Ani Deploys iBeacon in All Its Retail Locations

Bluetooth iBeacons are definitely the indoor positioning technology with the buzz and momentum (though it's only part of the indoor location story). Today jewelry and accessories retailer Alex and Ani announced that it's deploying iBeacons in all its 40 US retail locations in partnership with Swirl.

Previously American Eagle announced it would also introduce iBeacons into its stores with ShopKick. However the Alex and Ani rollout is already complete. 

Swirl offers a consumer-facing app that adapts or changes depending on the store the customer visits. Swirl is also working with Timberland and Kenneth Cole. Alex and Ani doesn't yet have its own app but later plans to develop one using the Swirl SDK. Swirl installed the hardware in all the Alex and Ani stores. 

I was able to speak yesterday with Ryan Bonifacino, vice president of digital strategy for Alex and Ani. He comes from a venture capital background and is very focused on innovation and data usage. While most retailers and venue owners are still sniffing around the edges of indoor location Bonifacino said that Alex and Ani began testing iBeacons with Swirl in Q1 of last year in its New York and Boston stores. 

That's well before most people had heard of iBeacon.  

The data and insights the company gained during its two-store trial convinced Bonifacino that a full rollout was justified. Bonifacino said he was pleased with Swirl's ability to drive new customers into the company's stores, especially at times when regular foot traffic was generally lower. 

He explained that the new Swirl-driven customers actually spent more time in the store but purchased at levels that were comparable to Alex and Ani's regular customers. Indoor location was also able to provide greater visibility into who these new customers were. 

One of the things that Bonifacino is looking forward to most is the ability to collect data about in-store behavior and to test and optimize merchandising and displays. Beyond this, Bonifacino wants to provide a better in-store customer experience and believes that indoor location can help accomplish this.  

We spoke at some length about Alex and Ani's use of data in its marketing efforts and how data captured in stores would contribute to improving or refining those efforts. Bonifacino, however, was quick to say that the company is highly respectful of privacy and looking only at aggregate customer behavior. 

Alex and Ani also sells its jewelry and accessories through major retailers such as Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. Even though those retailers are separately examining indoor location Alex and Ani is helping educate them, says Bonifacino. The company hopes to use indoor location to promote its products and attract customers to its displays in those larger retail partner stores later this year. 

Square Will Allow Whole Foods Shoppers to 'Skip the Line'

Square announced a deal with Whole Foods Markets that involves Square Register and Square Wallet. Some outlets are reporting this as another big enterprise deal for Square, after Starbucks. And it is. But what's more interesting is the consumer experience that it will enable in stores. 

Square will power payments for in-store food venues, such as the deli counter: 

These in-store venues -- including sandwich counters, juice and coffee bars, pizzerias, and beer and wine bars -- will use Square Register and Square Stand, Square’s suite of simple and affordable software and hardware tools for businesses. By bridging the digital and in-store retail spaces at these venues, Whole Foods Market shoppers can skip the main checkout lines, reducing wait times for all customers.

In other words, consumers with Square Wallet (with a stored credit card) will not have to stand in line to pay for their purchases. This will both create a more convenient experience for consumers and greater efficiency for in-store staff. (Ultimately mobile payments will reduce the number of cashier jobs across the US but that's another discussion.) 

Whole Foods will gain additional customer data (purchase histories). That in turn will likely enable new promotions and marketing opportunities for Whole Foods.  

The companies also said, "Several Whole Foods Market locations will serve as 'lab stores,' testing additional innovations designed to enhance customer service and cater to the changing needs of shoppers," before those services are rolled out more broadly.  

Earlier today I wrote that mobile payments can become a competitive advantage, promoting consumer convenience and loyalty and differentiating a product or service experience. Whole Foods has a very strong and generally differentiated brand already.

This development will further contribute to that brand strength and may generate additional shopper frequency at those in-store food venues that are mobile-payment enabled. It will probably also lead to more adoption for Square Wallet.