When does Amazon “buy” the post office?

Saw this headline this morning about “US Post Office ends Sat service to save itself“. As a business this is not usually the type of thing that bodes well for ongoing customers and revenue.  We have all known for a while that the post office was in trouble when it runs in the red year over year.  Obviously there is a public good that needs to be served here but it is not sustainable.

This comes on the heels of comments like “That’s because Amazon, as best I can tell, is a charitable organization being run by elements of the investment community for the benefit of consumers.”  This is probably unfair as many of the businesses that they run are long-term disruptive and the analysts have always had a love-hate relationship with Jeff Bezos.

Bezos

My prediction is that as Amazon looks to expand it distribution network and footprint that they will look at the Post Service real estate and locations as an option.  My hope is that this could be the beginning of some sort of public/private partnership that dramatically improves the efficiency of the US institution that is the post office.  Saving the post office is going to take a bold thinking and actions.  If anybody is crazy enough to try it, it is probably the Internet powerhouse that started out selling books on a crappy website and now powers the engine for half the known internet.

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Big thought to start 2013 – Google cars & my future

Okay so it is a combination of New Year’s resolution to blog again and just having a few moments of free thinking to make what might be an interesting observation.  Saw a great article on Larry Page in CNN with the leading commentary around Google X driverless cars.Larrycar

It made me think about my habits of media the next morning and I realized that 90% of my Twitter usage was while I was on Bart at the beginning of the day and at the end.  During vacation it went to near zero but not because I wasn’t doing/thinking about work.  It was almost entirely due to the fact that my free time in the morning on Bart has the following priority:

  1. Work email
  2. Personal email
  3. Twitter feed
  4. ESPN

All of the above are on my homepage.  Of course it can be interrupted by a random to do that I want to get done this morning.  I recently downloaded Kaiser’s mobile app and I have found that I dealt with a nagging doctor question while on Bart which was a win since I kept forgetting.  I can see a world where an IFTTT or EasilyDo would prompt me to pick up a postponed task during my BART time.

Either way the Google car connection was that if people who didn’t use BART today started using driverless cars they would be able to have the same “free time”.

Handfree

Would they consume more Twitter, maybe maybe not but I bet that they would spend a non-trivial amount of time on Google products so it is likely ROI positive.

Everybody talks about safety and social good with the Google cars project but running the OS for all “car time” is a huge eyeball opportunity.  Can’t wait to read the Mary Meeker stats in 2017.

I guess not a huge thought at the end of the day but trying to make sure that I start 2013 with an open mind and awareness of what is going on around me after a crazy year of change for me professionally in 2012.  Here’s to pushing the envelope for 365 days this year, Happy New Year!

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Rant about QR codes

On a recent flight I saw most ads had a QR code.  Now let’s remember that I am on a plane that specifically asks me to turn off my phone for most of the duration.  There are 3 times that I might have my phone out.

  1. Before take off when I am likely to be doing something relevant to my life outside of the plane till we take off. (1% of the time)
  2. Flying when I am not allowed to be connected to the Internet.* (98% of the time)
  3. After landing when I am likely to be checking email or calling somebody. (1% of the time)

Notably the 98% of the time which is the only time that I might pick up the magazine to look at the ads.  If you are placing and ad in an inflight magazine please don’t bother with a QR code.  I am not going to take the time before or after the flight to scan it.  You are wasting space and annoying my eyes.

*If the flight has inflight wi-fi this does not apply.

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Safeway Mobile App moves into clouds

I have been waiting for the day that Safeway puts all of the pieces together for a good mobile experience.  I will admit that I was shocked when they put together a great mobile experience.  It is nice to see an older company take big steps to move into modern technologies and at the end of the day have a good experience.

In my journey through coupons & offers I chatted with folks from Safeway & Catalina Marketing, who manage the manufacturer coupons at Safeway.  Not that many years ago they would send a batch file of your personal offers to the store you shopped at regularly so that printed coupons could be given to after checkout via tape machines.  Pretty cool because they were tailored to you but arcane from a technology perspective.

Fast forward through their upgrade to multi-store and real time printer coupons to the current mobile app.  Here are a few screen shots and a link to a good article.

 

I will say that the notifications are “native” and that the information is relevantly shown at the right time, such as how many coupons I have loaded this session. In addition the clipping button transitioned to be “Add to List” which is ideal so I know what I want to shop for later and the UI changed the button color which was smooth. Lastly there was even a nice “moment of delight” with a playful animation of the coupon moving onto your card while it shrinks.  This alone made me want to click more.

A few minor missed opportunities:

  • Could have made me an advocate by mailing me a free re-useable Safeway bag when I downloaded the app so I would tell people.
  • Not grouping by expiration date seems like a miss but that might just be me.
  • Giving me a shared list functionality would be good for my household
  • Any basic social sharing tools if I love something

I assume that these things will come in a version 2.0 and again nothing about this app is “broken” as I was impressed by flows and design.  A final “well done” to the folks at Safeway and I am sure that Trader Joe’s will get a few less visits from me.

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Best Buy vs Groupon market cap

Obviously been a while since I posted but a strange thing happened this week that shocked me.  Best Buy’s market cap is now less than Groupon’s.  Both are just under $7B at this time.  Best Buy controls 19% of the sales in the US and it is being suggested they are on the ropes.  Think about this for a moment, the biggest and best retail store in electronics over the past decade plus is now worth less than a company who has been public just over 6 months and has been on and off accused of being a ponzi scheme.

Best Buy is challenged and just lost its founder, which some people argue is a good thing.  The challenges are steep given Amazon competition, Apple squeezing the market and inherent cost of retail space as well as dealing with “show rooming” products.

Best Buy would probably be best served with one of two strategies.

1) Create a truly value add set of services in the store.  This will require an upgrade in staff training and people who can do more than sell you a warranty that you don’t want.  This will be an information based play and will require making the store a place you want to be rather than something to get through. If they stay a retail store I would suggest a Starbucks like closed loop payment system and a strategy to create everyday purchases to get more foot traffic.

2) Split off the on-line division as a stand alone business and focus on excellent distribution and customer experience like Amazon.  This is about reducing drag of the growth business but the strategy obviously backfired with Netflix.

Honestly not sure if either would work but this was a weird week in Commerce as Best Buy is starting to look like a “buggy whip” which is never good place to be.

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Contextual Apps / Services based on real world data FTW

The online world continues to converge with the real world data and events. We see this everywhere with context being added to new services and I love it.  The punchline is a new service that is at the bottom of this post but I wanted to highlight a few stand alone  examples first.  We all hear about an Internet of things but the idea behind things is that they start transmitting data but the end goal is to allow services to become aware of context.

First up is Winter Wake-up which will automatically adjust your morning alarm 5 minutes earlier if it is snowing.  Nobody in San Diego will understand this problem but everybody who has to de-ice a windshield or shovel a walk sees the benefit.  If one doesn’t have the app you almost always have to wake up early just in case it snowed last night but with it you get peace of mind and extra sleep which are both nice lifestyle wins.

Next up is an old favorite of mine from Specialities.  Did you love warm chocolate chip cookies right from the oven growing up?  Ever wish that you could get that in the middle of the afternoon at work?  Well a nice group of people made the Cookie Radar which is connected to the ovens at the Specialties Cafe.  If you get a craving you can go check what was just finished and walk in or you can wait for the right flavor and make sure that you get it hot.  Fun and interesting to see people react to White Macadamia vs . Snicker-doodles

Along the same vein is the Krispy Kreme mobile app that indicates if the donuts are super fresh using the “Hot Light“.   When 30% of your traffic is foot traffic you want those people to come in more often as well as have a great experience.  If I am a person who is “delighted” by the idea of warm and gooey then I can tailor my experience to be awesome every time.

Other places that could benefit from this are busy sandwich shops.  Put a camera on the line and I can see when there is a lull to get faster service.  It would also be easy for impulse services to show open bookings without me having to call.  Why make me call you to find out when you are available?  As the shop owner wouldn’t you rather be doing something else than writing down my booking?  Make things easy for me and I will probably come by more often.

My new favorite nerd service is IFTTT is a place where you can take some “channels” or events and then execute automated action based on one of the events.  It stands for IF This Then That. You can literally see the digital actions and DNA being created and the best ideas shared. Here is a list of the “most popular” tasks, called recipes.  They will be bringing more channels online and who knows if they are able to get past the nerd clique to mainstream but the many to many connections are overwhelming engineering.  Services layers like this are going to be critical in the future and making the Internet of Things context aware is going to improve everybody’s experience.  Give people the tools and interesting things will happen, good luck IFTTT!

I would love to see is a mash-up of IFTTT and my buddies over at DropCam who are bringing video to the cloud.  Here are their public cams if you want to play around a bit with actions and motion capture.

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Mobile Field Testing Part II

Another day and another field test.  This time Pancho Villa in San Mateo for lunch, same scoring, zero to two for each question.

  • Zero total customer fail
  • Two points for a “moment of delight”
  • One point for everything in between

Pancho Villa

Experience: Had a Google Offer that was expiring on 1/24.  (Side note: anybody notice a theme of expiring deals that I bought at some point and then never used?  This drives my behavior way more than some of the other things I see.)  Ordered easily but then walked up to cash register to pay.  I had my phone out a long burrito line behind me and figured that this would be quick.  They had 3 different electronic loyalty systems available with QR codes so I figured there was no way that training was going to be an issue.  Turns out that I was wrong and became the check guy in the old signature debit ads.  Clerk walked over to grab a phone to scan the barcode and failed.  I noticed that she was using a Groupon merchant app and when I mentioned, “this is Google” she went and grabbed another phone and loaded Google Merchant.  Again the scan failed so she 10 keyed the code and we were good.  Whole process took 10x as long as cash, which I used anyway to pay the remaining $1.50.  Auto-tipped the change just because I felt bad.  I got a laugh from the lady behind me when I apologized for holding up the line.

Moments for improvement: Lots of moments for improvement, clearly quick serve should not have two forms of payment, ie cash and coupon.  Impressed that they solved the employee training / security issue with two phones but clumsy solution for sure.  They may have been located somewhere else for security or because they needed charging.  Either way this could be better.  Overall not bad given the amount of time as the staff knew what to do and the discount worked.

Score: 5 (Mechanism 1, Speed 0, Cross Sell 1, Knowledge 2, Overall 1).  Got what I wanted and cheap but total fail in terms of speed.

Getting a universal digital wallet solution in market is no small task.  These guys are clearly early adopters and have all kind of phone loyalty, payment and offers stuff for their store but the complexity caused them to fail.  If you are going to try stuff do tests and then simplify for the staff.

Free business idea, universal redemption management app for merchants on an iPad.   You could call it a Point of Sale but it might be enough to just manage loyalty.  Justyn at Sprout Social you listening?

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