Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pay By Touch's "non-core" units on the block

I sort of wondered about whether Pay By Touch -- the biometric payment company that encourages shoppers to pay via fingerprint reader instead of swiping a credit card -- was making any money, and according to this article, apparently they're not (or at least not enough):
Biometric-authentication and loyalty-services technology provider Pay By Touch is in bankruptcy, has cut costs drastically, and is shopping some of its subsidiaries, but the company’s former chief executive--who is now a member of the firm’s newly constituted board of directors--says Pay By Touch is solid at its core.
Part of the problem is that the relatively young company tried to do too much too quickly, expanding into international markets and adjacent verticals like loyalty systems without first building its core US biometrics operations into a profitable entity. While the company is keeping some of its better performing subsidiaries like Capture Resource and S&H Greenpoints, everything else must go:
On the block are several so-called non-core subsidiaries operating under bankruptcy protection, including Paycheck Secure, ATM Direct, and Payment Solutions, the merchant processor that formerly operated as CardSystems Solutions Inc. Some observers were surprised that Paycheck Secure, which provides biometric-based paycheck-cashing services and came to Pay By Touch when the company bought rival BioPay LLC, is on the block. But Morris says Paycheck Secure serves convenience stores and other small businesses while Pay By Touch is focusing on larger retailers such as Shell Oil outlets and SuperValu Inc.’s Jewel/Osco supermarket-pharmacies. “We have not done that integration work” with Paycheck Secure, he says. “The core is viewed as being more around big, multilane retailers.”
I'd have to agree. If biometric payment is going to work anywhere, it'll be in those places where lines can be long and anything that will speed up the checkout process will be seen as a benefit to both retailer and consumer. However, given how quick and easy it is to swipe a card, and considering that cellphones and PDAs are increasingly being used as identification devices to allow access to personal (and personalized) services, I still have to wonder whether biometric payment systems will ever catch on.

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Friday, January 25, 2008

Serious problems with Block Buster Express kiosks?

I just got through reading this blog post from John Bocook, a guy who went to check out a new Block Buster Express DVD rental kiosks at his local store, but came away with more than he bargained for:
The first ever Blockbuster Express Kiosk is located just down the street to me. I decided I would try it and see how it worked. I wish I had my camera. When I arrived to the kiosk the tech i guess forgot to unplug the Keyboard and mouse as they were laying on the floor. The computer guy in me decided to see what was under the hood. Two keys later i was looking at a Windows XP desktop with Admin privelages. How can it be? Blockbuster, Do you not realize what I could do if i was a ambitious hacker? If you don't let me tell you.
  • If Blockbuster isn’t careful, I could:
  • Despense DVD’s for free
  • Add a back door to get access to all the creditcard information that is swiped on this machine
  • Replace the “Play Trailer” videos with a more adult video of my choosing
  • Add a rootkit, so that even if the machine is re-imaged, I will will have a backdoor.
These are just SOME of the things we could do. How about we take the code for the Machine, figure out how the kiosk’s talk to each other and add a trojan to install rootkit on All the kiosks that connects to the main server hub. From there, We could say, Put in the name nich duncan under the account, and get free rentals at all the kiosks or get even more malicious and Swipe credit card information from ALL KIOKS (sic).
I have no idea whether these things are true, but given that we've seen lots of poorly-implemented retail kiosk systems in the past (indeed, for a while it was even thought that kiosks played a part in the largest theft of credit card data in history), and even electronic voting kiosks have been shown to have numerous vulnerabilities, I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The lowly vending machine reaches newfound heights...

... at least that was the conclusion drawn in this Business Week article about "luxury" vending machines and new devices that can dispense everything from hot soup to iPods and charge your credit card for the privilege. The article notes:
"The new luxury machines in the U.S. use a robotic arm to retrieve the products and are much more slick, high-tech, and interactive than the machines peddling soda and snacks. The gold-and-silver Coty machine in Queens Center, for example, has larger-than-life pictures of J.Lo and Becks plastered all over it. Instead of pushing buttons, shoppers use touchscreens to make their selections and get instructions on how to return purchases. A flat-panel TV continually plays a demonstration video with music.

"Certain machines have additional high-tech bells and whistles such as a 'virtual beauty consultant' at the Elizabeth Arden kiosk, which suggests the best product for a given skin type. The Coty machine lets customers sample the perfumes by pushing a button that releases a scented puff of air through a quarter-sized hole below a picture of the fragrance."
While numerous shoppers have indicated a preference for buying certain types of articles from a machine rather than a person, the article suggests that we're in fact witnessing a fad whose novelty may wear off. While I'll be surprised if machines selling plasma TVs or exotic lingerie will ever become commonplace, there's a tremendous convenience in being able to shop, buy, and instantly receive your product after hours or without being bothered by a bunch of salespeople. The high-end machines that carry these items bring the best of the Internet (easy shopping and operation at all-hours) together with an important bricks-and-mortar advantage: instant gratification.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Microsoft Develops Digital Kiosks For Grocery Stores

I know, I know, we've heard this kind of news bite several times before and it's always garnered mixed results at best. Yet, according to this article in AdWeek, Microsoft is obviously determined to provide a more interactive grocery store experience that is tied into shopping carts.

There is definitely reason to be skeptical with this kind of announcement, yet there is also reason to be at least partly optimistic. From a tech stand point, Microsoft is certainly a name to be trusted. If the right advertising and marketing know-how can get behind the kind of well-developed technology that Microsoft is capable of, then it could work.

Reading this article, and then looking back at articles about similar attempts, I got the same feeling that I had when I read Nielsen was going to try to put together a way to better measure digital signage/out-of-home ads. No matter how many attempts have been made at a promising idea and how badly they may have failed (which has certainly been the case with measurement systems), I feel it's worthwhile to look past those failures if an organization with a strong reputation shows up to tackle the issue.... Maybe I just haven't been working in this industry long enough :)

Microsoft is obviously putting a lot of stock into digital advertising because according to the article:
"While Microsoft has trailed large rivals like Google and Yahoo! in selling Web ads, it is moving to extend beyond the computer with its digital ad platform. It bought Massive, a provider of advertising on video game platforms. Last May, it bought ScreenTonic, a tech company that serves ads on mobile phones."
It's no secret that Microsoft isn't quite the dominating presence it once was (I'm sure they aren't hurting for money, but Apple, Google and Yahoo! are gaining strength) so if they can successfully move into the out-of-home digital ad realm and gain dominance before the others then it could be a pretty big victory.

With this, and the recent upfront announcement from NBC, it's obvious that very big names are circling this industry. So now it's just a matter of seeing which ones get things right...

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ez-Pic paperless coupon pilot raises some product sales by 71%

Not sure if this thing technically qualifies as a kiosk, but it's a pretty neat idea nonetheless (whether or not its time has come is a matter for further discussion, of course). According to this press release/blurb thingy from Progressive Grocer:
Big Y here grew sales of merchandise on promotion an average of 71 percent during a yearlong pilot of a new paperless in-store coupon system.

The solution, called Ez-Pic from Chicago-based Unicous Marketing Inc., is a paperless coupon advertised on retail store shelves and redeemed electronically at checkout. According to the vendor, data supplied for the study was made available by progressive Grocer parent The Nielson Co. and select manufacturers which used the Ez-Pic system in the pilot.

"Ez-Pic is a seamless value, with no aggravation for our customers," said Phil Schneider, v.p. of center store for Big Y. "Plus, there are no additional cost to us."

Unicous said Big Y benefitted through a higher volume of promotional sales and cost efficiencies related to reduced coupon handling time at checkout and on the back-end using traditional coupon clearing house processes.
I've been trying to find out more about the Ez-Pic system, but their homepage is a bit spammy and lacking information. I'm not too sure how it differs from simply having a sale price for the advertised product, as it's unclear whether the customer has to do anything (or not) to redeem the "electronic coupon" at checkout.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Self service check-in for international passengers at Mumbai airport news

If you've ever traveled through Mumbai airport, you probably know that just about any change is bound to be an improvement. And given the past successes of self-service in airports, I have high hopes for this project:
International passengers would soon avail themselves of boarding passes, be able to select seats and also check-in their luggage, with the help of 30 Common Use Self Service (CUSS) kiosks to be provided at the Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport by Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL).

Passengers at New Delhi will, however, have to wait till March this year to be able to avail of the facility, according to a Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) spokesperson.

MIAL also plans to install 20 more CUSS kiosks in hotels close to the airport. "We are finalising the hotels where the service would be available," said an MIAL spokesperson.

The kiosks, to be installed by MIAL's GVK-led private consortia, will provide the option of paperless boarding, where a code will be sent to the flier's cell phone.

If well-implemented, that would actually be a step above any international check-in kiosks that I've come across yet, though I must admit I feel a certain amount of security in being able to clutch my paper ticket while moving through the throngs of people towards my gate.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Hilfiger tries out interactive storefronts

Ralph Lauren's 5th Avenue Polo store made headlines last year when it debuted a system that let window shoppers interact with the store windows themselves via interactive touch screen and projection technologies.

Not to be outdone, Tommy has apparently joined the fray and is testing out some interactive storefront tech in Europe. According to a press release posted by fellow blogger Adrian Cotterill at the DailyDOOH:
Hilfiger stores in (London, Amsterdam, Cologne, Antwerp and Dublin) now feature unique through-window touch screen technology, providing an interface for passing shoppers to capture, stylise and submit their image as part of collage of images being shown on digital screens in the shop windows.

The digital storefronts enable customers to interact with the Hilfiger brand even outside of business hours. At the end of the campaign, customers will be able to return to the store and have their own T-shirt specially printed using the image they created as the design.

This is the first time a global fashion brand has embraced an interactive out-of-the-home format to create a unique channel for 24/7 dynamic relationship with its customers. The campaign also serves as mechanic for driving subscriptions to Hilfiger’s email newsletter, with users being asked to opt-in when uploading their images.
Obviously that last paragraph is incorrect, since the aforementioned Polo stores have been doing something very similar for over a year now. Still, there have been numerous sightings of one-off interactive storefronts across the globe now. One wonders if 2008 will bring a "standard" offering that retailers will be able to deploy universally and cost-effectively.

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