Archive for the ‘Power to the Pocket’ Category

Radio Shack’s Mobile Store Experiment

Radio Shack is testing a new store model under the name PointMobl.  The three test stores in the Dallas area focus on “mobile” categories ranging from compact laptops and MP3 players to smart phones and GPS systems.

The depth of selection is greater than what a typical RadioShack store carries and there is no reference to the parent company to be found anywhere in the store or on the PointMobl website which lists the copyright owner as being “PointMobl Corporation”.

That last point is a very smart move which clearly shows Radio Shack understands where the brand sits in the minds of their target PointMobl customer.  I’m making an assumption here that they are trying to appeal to upscale, tech-savvy customers in the 18 – 35 year old range based on the store description and the images shown on the website.   Taking this “anonymous” approach removes one barrier to acceptance by those target customers.  On the other hand, the way they pitch the concept on the website sounds like the typical safe, boring nonsense that I sometimes hear coming from corporate marketing departments trying to appeal to a much broader and older segment:

“It’s time to let your mobile life out to play.  Give your productivity a power-up, stay connected, and take your inner rockstar on a world tour.  It’s time for a true mobile outfitter. One who really listens to your needs, then leads you to the right solution.”

Blech! If you are 18 – 35, chances are you are already leading a “mobile life”, you are always connected,  and when it comes to figuring out what gear you need, you do your own research because experience has shown that you usually understand the technology and the options better than the salespeople.  The rest of the copy on the site doesn’t get much better.  I should also point out that the website has at least one typographical error where they proclaim “You don’t need another mobile store – you need a good listenter“.  Come on guys, any spellchecker program would have found that.

Some analysts have expressed concern about testing new store concepts under the current economic conditions.  I think Radio Shack has no choice but to explore alternatives given that a third of their existing store revenue comes from mobile sales and that business is being eroded by the likes of Best Buy who has opened their own chain of mobile specialty stores and expanded the mobile departments in over 900 of their superstores.  Radio Shack is also losing business to the mobile carriers which continue to pop up like weeds in every stripmall nationwide.  RadioShack has 6,000 company-operated and franchise stores and 700 wireless phone kiosks.  That gives them easy access to real estate that would be retrofitted into PointMobl outlets.  A slideshow of images from one of the test stores is available on YouTube:

This approach could end up generating higher revenue per square foot  than existing Radio Shack stores.  I’m fairly certain that is one of the test criteria and if the test proves this out, an expansion of the PointMobl concept could boost the chains revenue for a few years.  While that idea seems appealing, I don’t see it is a differentiated strategy that can be defended over the long term.  There’s nothing special here.

Store Aesthetics

The stores are described has being “upscale” with white fixtures and clean glass, but based on the following slide show, the interior of the store doesn’t generate that Apple store feel that I’m sure they were going for.  Instead it looks cramped and dark.  In some places, the dramatic lighting makes it seem almost museum-like; not the kind of feel that invites you to pick up the stuff and interact with it. 

The Competition

The mobile carriers all have significant presence in this size footprint and it would be extremely easy for them to expand their product offerings to include a similar product mix.  The only real differentiation here might be in the ability to offer multiple mobile carriers in one store, but that’s not unique either considering Best Buy’s strong position in the market and the growing presence of mass merchants like Walmart and Target in the mobile space.

In order for PointMobl to really be sustainable, it must be able to offer the customer an experience that no one else can.  I just don’t see that happening with categories that are already commodities.

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Five in the Morning

number-fiveA few months back, Steve “aggregator-in-chief” Woodruff started a daily blog series called “Five in the Morning”.  Through the series, Steve shares recent posts and news items from his feed reader that he finds interesting.  Wednesday night, Steve and I got together to talk shop and to enjoy some award-winning, Bobby Flay-slaying BBQ ribs. Somewhere between the 13th and 17th napkin,  Steve mentioned that he wanted to franchise the Five in the Morning series to cast a wider net around the great content available out there.  When he asked if I wanted to give it a shot this week, I said sure.

So without further adieu, here are five posts that I think you’ll find interesting….

  • Forrester’s Bruce Temkin discusses the just released 2008 Customer Experience Index.  As usual, industries with the least amount of competition clock in with the lowest customer experience scores.  That includes Comcast whose overall index dropped a whopping 12 points since last year despite its ComcastCares efforts. Also, the post includes a link where you can download the complete Forrester report for free.
  • The guys over at MyCreativeTeam explain why an old burglar with a reindeer fetish has such a strong brand.
  • Social media consultant Matt J McDonald tells us that “Blogging is hard work” plus 15 other Simple Social Media Truths.  By the way, some believe Matt and American Idol David Cook were Separated at Birth (Go ahead, click the link.  You know you want to).
  • Crayonista Adam Broitman outlines three creative interactive marketing strategies that invoke consumers to talk to other consumers about brands, with minimal interference from the brand itself.  Note: the post starts on Adam’s blog but continues at iMediaConnection.
  • Last but not least, Amber Naslund picks up on posts from a few other bloggers and makes a great case for looking at old tools through new lenses.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 2

Disney’s parks and resorts have a well deserved reputation for delivering great experiences. In tonight’s installment, I’ll give you a few more examples from my recent trip and also examine some experiences that don’t measure up to the Disney standard.

Extend the Experience

wdw_magical_express.jpgI have written about Disney’s Magical Express before. This is the service that basically extends your Disney experience all the way back to your home airport. It’s absolutely great when it works, but on the inbound leg of this trip, it did not live up to the Disney standard. I think the problems can be traced back to the fact that Disney does not operate this service. It is outsourced to a local transportation company and therefore is not directly managed by Disney. It’s not unusual for companies to outsource parts of their operation, but they need to be very careful about ensuring that the service provider is consistently delivering an experience that lives up to your brand. My wife and I came in on different flights. English was apparently a second language for my driver and so he was silent for most of the trip. The buses have TV screens and on previous trips, there has been either a movie like Snow White or a video marketing the Disney Vacation Club. On this trip, there was nothing. It was just a bus ride.

My wife and daughter arrived around 3:00pm. While their trip seemed to measure up to the Disney Experience, trouble was just around the corner. Knowing that their luggage was tagged and would be delivered to the room, we went to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. When we returned to the room at 1:00am, we discovered that our daughter’s suitcase was missing. With her in tears, we called the Magical Express people who were able to locate the bag at the airport in about 5 minutes. They brought it to the room around 3:00am.

There are controls built into this system that should have prevented this from happening. The bag had the Magical Express tag on it indicating who it belonged to and what resort we were staying at. It should not have taken a phone call for them to recognize and resolve the problem. Disney needs to do a much better job of ensuring that their service providers are consistently delivering an experience worthy of the Disney brand. On the positive side, my return trip to the airport was wonderful. The driver was one of the better entertainers that I had seen all week. Oh, and about the lack of movies on the inbound trip, the driver explained that it was a brand new bus (styled for the Disney Cruise Line), and the video gear had not been installed yet. Setting expectations is a good thing!

Let Me Co-Create the Experience

monsters-inc-laugh-floor-co.jpgIn recent years, Disney has incorporated more and more interactivity into their attractions. EPCOT’s Mission Space, for example, assigns roles and tasks to each of the riders on “the mission”. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in Disneyland allows you to not only rack up the points when you’re riding it in person, but also to participate through an online component. The Turtle Talk with Crush attraction uses digital puppetry to create a verbally and visually interactive animated character. A new attraction in Orlando’s Tomorrowland is Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Like TurtleTalk but on a much larger scale, the Laugh Floor features interactive animated characters, but in this attraction, Disney has gone one step further by integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you wait in line for the next show, you are asked to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. I saw lots of people, mostly kids, texting jokes while waiting for the show. We did it; they used our joke and gave credit to our daughter. What’s really different here is the use of an independent, guest-owned electronic input device to influence the content of an attraction.

I’ll post the rest of my observations tomorrow, but in the meantime, think about how these points might apply to your business. If you are in the business of delivering experiences (hint… you are!), what are you doing to extend the brand experience beyond the boundaries of your physical or digital space. If you are using partners to deliver some of you brand’s experience, are they executing consistently and at a level that your customers expect? Are you engaging your customers by allowing them to help you co-create the experience? You should be.

Part 3 of this series is here.

Jott-Egor-Twitter Mashup

jott-mashup.jpg

This one is for my Twitter Friends. I’ve found a way to do hands-free Tweets. A few weeks ago, Drew McLellan blogged about Jott.com, a service that translates messages left using your cellphone into e-mails to people in your contact list.  At the time, I was getting all infatuated with Twitter and thought it would be cool to be able to Jott a message to my Twitter account. The missing link (unless you can program this stuff yourself) is a tool call egorcast which is specifically designed to allow you to Jott a message to Twitter, as well as Jaiku (if you live in that part of the world) and your WordPress blog.

This allows you to Twitter from anywhere that has cellphone access but browser access is either not available or not advisable (like driving into work). Set up your Jott and Twitter accounts first (if you don’t have them already). Then go to egorcast and connect it all together.

Have fun!

Jott This Down

logo130×55.pngJust when Twittering seems to be all the rage, a new player hits the stage. It’s called Jott.com and its one of the coolest innovations I’ve seen in a while. Here is the basic idea:

You call Jott on your mobile phone. You speak the name of the person or group you want to send a message to. You speak for 30 seconds. Those sentences get transcribed and e-mailed. It could be a “note to self”, or a client, or an employee, or your team, or your spouse who never seems to have either of their two cell phones turned on (that’s another story).

Instant speech to text conversion with messaging. Kinda like a 30 second Twitter version of a podcast.

I often judge the coolness of something by using my 13-year old daughter as a barometer. She thinks Twitter is “totally geeky”, but when I showed Jott to her, she was instantly hooked. She immediately started playing with it; not for anything productive mind you, just wanted to see how much abuse it could take (singing, laughing, nonsensical jibberish). She also told her friends about it and they started Jotting each other. The hyper-connected youth have yet another way to communicate.

I have to agree with Drew McLellan who predicts that Jott “is going to be the breakout of 2007”. Drew suggests several ways he is going to use it:

  • Dictate notes from meetings and send them to myself for a record. Jott it.
  • I’m pulling out of a client’s parking lot and send a note to our Project Manager about opening a new job. Jott him.
  • Forget milk? Never again. Jott me.
  • Have a breakthrough idea while waiting to board a plane — jott my entire staff before I forget said idea. Jott the team.
  • Want to remind my daughter to do XYZ but she’s going to get home before I do. Jott her.
  • See someone across the way at Panera and want to remember to call them in a week or so. Jott me.
  • Have forgotten to grab a book from the office 3 times. Jott me.
  • All the stuff that I try to write down before I forget it. Jott me. Jott me. Jott me.

The other reason this may be big is that it is potentially disruptive to the wireless carriers. Think about it. Text Messaging is hot.  Over 80 Million US subscribers sent over 100 Billion text messages last year (Pew Research). Teenagers have made it a routine way to communicate. Most individual subscriber plans charge $.02 per message sent and received. With Jott, you never have to pay to send a message, so you can send more messages under you current plan, or reduce your monthly costs by switching to a plan that allows fewer messages.

Now if someone will just build a simple interface to allow me to Jott to my Twitter account, I’ll be in lifelogging heaven.


Will iPhone Mess Up Cell Phones Upgrade Cycle?

iphone.jpg

Olga Kharif at Business Week believes the Apple iPhone will disrupt the cellphone upgrade model.  That model says that users generally replace their phones every 18 months.  They do this for a number of reasons: Phone is broken or has battle scars, new features, new styling.  The biggest reason, of course, is that the industry enables it by giving free or cheap phones when you agree to a new contract.

In a recent article, Olga’s makes this argument:

“The new iPhone from Apple….brag[s] touch screens instead of buttons. That means that if cell phone makers or carriers decide to add new functionalities to these phone when they are already in use, they could, potentially, do that over the air. Want to enable consumers to shoot, edit and post videos to a mobile site in a new way? Just send them an application with virtual buttons that will appear on their touch screens and allow for this application’s use.

If consumers are able to get new applications this way, I think some of them will stick with their phones longer. After all, today’s phones all feature cameras and Web access. Unless handset makers come out with additional hardware making replacing handsets every 18 months a must, I don’t see why consumers will keep on changing their phones as often, especially since the phones’ prices seem to be on the rise. After all, with a simple software upgrade, users will be able to drastically change their phones’ looks and functionalities anyway. So, why splurge on a new phone?”

She goes on to ask her readers if they agree.  The article is short, but the list of comments is long and each side makes good points. 

Here’s my take.  The upgrade cycle today is controlled by the carriers.   Apple wants to change that.  The iPhone may be the hottest CE product of 2007 and millions of people will pay the premium to get it.  Once that happens, and assuming that the experience lives up to the Apple brand (and the hype), people will not be so eager to upgrade just because their contract is up.   Assuming that the 5 year exclusive deal with Cingular doesn’t change, they won’t really be able to switch anyway.  Being touchscreen based does not make the iPhone an infinitely extendable platform (sorry Olga).  There will be ongoing evolution of the technology, just as there has been a steady stream of product improvements to the iPod.  This is what will drive the upgrade cycle for iPhone users.  The cycle may remain at around 18 months, but it will be the product itself that shifts the control of the cycle to Apple.

What do you think????

Stupid Quote of the Year Alert

It was bad enough that ,when given the first opportunity to be the exclusive carrier for Apple’s new iPhone, Verizon turned it down.  Now, Verizon’s President and COO Denny Strigl has gone on record as saying,

“The iPhone product is something we are happy we aren’t the first to market with.”

Yeah,  that makes a lot of sense.  Wouldn’t want to be first to market with what will be the hottest product of 2007, now would we?  The back story, according to The Register, is as follows:

The problem seems to have been Apple’s insistence in sharing the call revenue as well as controlling distribution channels and customer service.

Verizon vice president Jim Gerace (one of many veeps at the company) said: “We said no. We have nothing bad to say about the Apple iPhone. We just couldn’t reach a deal that was mutually beneficial.”

We can only assume that Cingular did agree to such a deal, and guess to what heights that will drive the cost of the two year contract it is demanding from iPhone purchasers.

Cingular said it inked the deal with Apple more than two years ago, when the iPhone was no more than a couple of sketches and concepts; such was its belief in the Apple brand and abilities.

It never ceases to amaze me how shortsighted companies can be and Verizon appears to be shining example. They are a victim of their Orthodoxies. Cingular, on the other hand apparently saw opportunities in doing business Apple’s way. Apple has mastered the art of delivering a great Customer Experience; from the user interface on the device, to the human interaction in their stores.  Cingular knows that customers are going to want this thing and sees opportunity in increasing their subscriber base even if Apple gets most of the ROI on the phone.  Cingular has been good at Sensing what the next hot device will be and Responding by getting exclusive access to it early in the product cycle when the highest margins can be demanded. They did it with the Motorola RAZR (Verizon was the last major US carrier to get it) and the iPhone looks to be an encore performance.

The Coming Camcorder Conundrum

Is the traditional camcorder going the way of the VCR.  Recent trends indicate that the answer is “yes” and its a big problem for camcorder makers and CE retailers. 

Sales of camcorders have fallen 6.7% to $785 million so far this year, according to researcher NPD.  In a recent article entitled The Coming Camcorder Conundrum, BusinessWeek points out that the traditional camcorder is being replaced by……. wait for it……. the Cellphone.  Consumers are also opting for low-cost, flash-based, disposable recorders.

“Many consumers are looking for less expensive, less complicated machines, and in growing numbers they’re adopting devices on the low end. Pure Digital Technologies specializes in disposable, point-and-shoot, flash-memory-based camcorders. Its latest point-and-shoot model, released in October, holds up to 60 minutes of video and sells for about $129.”

Pure Digital understands what most people are doing with video these days.  They are creating content for distribution on the web and Pure Digital is building disposable camcorders that interface to Google Video and Sony’s Grouper.  A YouTube interface is in the works.  Pure Digital believes that the traditional camcorder market, reaching fewer than 3 million units a year, will expand to more than 20 million devices sold as disposable and point-and-shoot camcorders proliferate.

The phone manufacturers are on the same track.  The quality available on phones and other low cost devices doesn’t compare to today’s high-end camcorders, but they make up for it in ease of use and price, and over time, the quality will get better.

Is This Your Next Mobile Phone???

SamsungSamsung Electronics presented their new three-way foldable combination of phone, personal computer and music player tailored for an emerging wireless broadband technology the company is pushing as a global standard.

The new device was unveiled at a Samsung-sponsored industry conference on Mobile Wi-Max – a new technology delivering faster remote broadband connections.

Its called MITs, which stands for Mobile Intelligent Terminal by Samsung.   It weights about a pound and contains a fold out keyboard, 5-inch screen, 30GB hard drive, and Windows software. 

It is scheduled to be released in South Korea in early 2007 with Intel, Sprint Nextel and Motorola all looking to commercialize it in the States soon thereafter.

Samsung Electronics unveils new communication device tailored for WiMax

iPod Owners “Likely to Switch”to Zune

Who doesn’t love Chocolate? Looks like even iPod owners can’t resist the sweetness of Microsoft’s new player according to a new survey. The poll of American adults and teens, conducted by ABI Research, found that 58 percent of iPod owners were either “somewhat likely” or “extremely likely” to choose Microsoft’s Zune as their next MP3 player, compared with 59 percent for those who own another brand of audio gadget. Only 15 percent of iPod owners chose “not very likely” or “not at all likely” to characterize their Zune-buying interest.What happened to the idea that iPod owners were fanatical about Apple’s player?

“Our conclusion…is that iPod users don’t display the same passionate loyalty to iPods that Macintosh users have historically shown for their Apple products,” said ABI analyst Steve Wilson, suggesting that Apple is going to have to pull some awfully cute product-enhancement bunnies out of the hat next year to retain its market lead.

ABI Research

RunAway = Nike + iPod

For anyone who wants to get running with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit but is disinclined to drop a hundred bucks on a new pair of special Nike+ kicks, comes the RunAway AnyShoe adapter. This $8 weatherproof sensor holder attaches to your running shoe’s laces and has an easy-to-access button to turn the sensor’s wireless signal off for air travel—which is a slight improvement over the Nike+ shoes, which require you to remove an insole to get at the device. The RunAway is available in five colors to match even the orangest of sneakers. Get your training groove on this way for $30. It is an investment that’ll reap rewards in more runs and a new-found appreciation for leggings.

<reblogged from Gizmodo>

DVD Jon, DoubleTwist crack Apple’s FairPlay

Jon Johansen (a.k.a. DVD Jon), the 20-something hacker widely known for helping crack the piracy protections on DVDs several years ago, is taking on Apple Computer again. He has reverse-engineered Apple’s FairPlay, the digital rights management technology used to make iPod and iTunes a closed system.

He has started DoubleTwist Ventures to license the technology which will make other online music stores work with Apple’s iPod device and let iTunes songs play on gadgets other than the iPod.

In an interview with ZDNet, Monique Farantzos, Johansen’s business associate and DoubleTwist co-founder provides details on the company, the technology.  It’s easy to understand why the start-up has been profitable since day one:

When you buy a DVD, you know that the DVD will play on your Toshiba or Sony or Philips player, but when you buy music or video online, you don’t have that. It is kind of like the zoo: Every animal is singing a different tune. We hope to make sense of that, and we have developed a technology to enable that.

No matter how much you wall in your garden, people will find a way to make things simpler.

Hand On the Zune

The old gamers at 2old2play got their arthritic hands on the Zune and offer a full report. The most important detail?

The top of the Zune had a clear glass layer while the exterior had a tactile feel to it, nothing like the hard metal and plastic of the iPod devices. The ‘skin’ of the Zune was a ‘rubberized’ material that had a smooth seductive feel to it. I found myself unable to stop stroking the device, so much that the demo assistant asked me to put it down.

Read the detailed review here: Hands On The Zune [2old2play]

Motorola Cell Phone Vending Machines

<via thedailyjournal.com

Motorola is installing “Instantmoto” vending machines in nearly two dozen malls and airports nationwide.  According to Bob Many, Motorola’s director of automated retailing, the machines will sell 12 kinds of phones and 18 accessories. 

The products are delivered to consumers by a robotic arm and are run from a central location, similar to the way automated teller machines are operated.  Shoppers will be able to use credit cards to purchase mid- to high-end models, including the Razr and the Q, and can buy with or without a service plan for T-Mobile, Verizon and Cingular service. Using a touch-screen, customers can pick a phone’s style, color and accessories, such as car adapters and chargers.  Shoppers starting a new service plan must go online to sign up for service with their carrier.

Motorola is trying to bring retail closer to the customer through what they call “convenience purchasing” and this is clearly an innovation test that could be rolled out if successful. 

The stores are operated by San Francisco-based Zoom Systems.  You may remember them as the developer of the innovation vending model for iPods, digi-cams, and other CE products.

The Music Store in Your Pocket

Seems that I am on a Zune kick lately, but I am not alone. Wired has an insightful story on the new content models that are emerging from Microsoft and the satellite radio guys. The big deal is that these models allow you to bypass the centralized store to get content wirelessly from other users (in the case of Zune) and from hundreds of channels of programming over satellite. The article discusses the Sirius Stiletto model, but XM has a similar offering. Regarding Zune, the article points out that it…

gives you another way to discover music without hunting and pecking through a multimillion-song, computer-based catalog on your lonesome. Users can beam songs directly to each other using the devices’ ad hoc wireless connections, significantly reducing the friction between a friend recommending something to you and you acquiring it. The beamed song will play three times before asking you to buy it — or, if you’re a Zune subscriber, you can keep it without paying an extra dime.

All of these new approaches are attempting to gain traction in the Apple-dominated digital music market through simplicity. An MP3 player with a music store and hundreds of music channels built-in could make the iPod seem unconnected, which is rarely a good thing to be.

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