May 14

Crawl scenario for Omni Channel – pre-requisites for Omni strategy in Retail

There are a number of reasons to consider omni channel retailing and most retailers are in the process to varying degrees. There are a number of white papers extolling the virtues and promise of Omni Channel Retailing. This post is not about why retailers should consider omni channel but what it will take to get there. The focus is on IT and back end support (both systems and people) to enable the execution required for Omni channel. There are various degrees of capabilities required to achieve the full potential of the omni vision that is being painted in Retail. This post is about the foundational capabilities that are prerequisites to start the crawl towards Omni Channel Retailing.

Common Item Definition (product hierarchy)

To present a common view of an item to a customer in all channels, it becomes essential to have a common product hierarchy between the brick and mortar and online channels. The organization of items into categories and classes and the organization of the items for presentation online need to be aligned. This in itself is a huge change/challenge to many retailers with strong online presence. Over time the different businesses have evolved to have either completely separate product hierarchies or have different branches within the hierarchy branching off at some level. In the absence of a common hierarchy and items, it becomes essential to have a Master Data Management system that can map items between the two channels. It is likely that items will be considered only for one channel or the other (or may be certain sizes are available only online for e.g.). Therefore, an additional qualifier of some kind (an attribute perhaps) will be needed to tag items for one or both channels. This will necessitate all planning and execution systems to be able to not only deal with the common hierarchy but account for the attribute — in planning logic or execution logic.

Handling returns

One key aspect of multi channel are returns. Returns can be made either back to the purchase location or to a different location. Returns will cause two problems — how to handle reversing the sale and what to do with the inventory. In addition, returns to different locations from the purchase location will cause the assortment at that location to break down. It is possible that item returned to a store was not in the original assortment for that store. When returns occur there are four possibilities to handle the returns 1. Ship them to the original purchase location 2. Put them on the shelf in the return location 3. Leave them in the back room of the return location 4. Ship them to a warehouse Options involving intra company shipping will incur shipping costs and increase the probability of damaging the merchandise before it is sold. Putting it on the shelf in the return store makes sense if the item was part of the original assortment but can cause problems if the item was not in the original assortment. Options to hold the inventory at the return location could lead to weird results. When returns are received, sales adjustments are posted back to the location of the original sale. But inventory is incremented at the return location. If there are large number of returns, this could cause the sales to be negative at the return location. In addition it is important to know the true demand at any location to be able to properly assort and plan for inventory. Properly adjusting sales and returns while accommodating the integrity of the stock ledger is crucial.

Merchandise locator capability

It becomes extremely important to know where inventory is available so that when a customer shows up at one of the channels, a quick search can be made across the enterprise locations for availability. This will help fulfill the customer order directly from where the product is current located — this could be a store or a warehouse.  The ability to search for specific inventory in all holding locations is a key capability.

Shipping capability

Not all locations have the ability to ship. There is training and certain capability required to be able to ship depending on the type of products that need to be shipped. There will be a need for inspection and efforts to restore the returns to a new product state before they can be sent to another customer.  Developing Ship from Store or intact, ship from any location is a capability that will be required – especially if returns are not moved back to the warehouse.

Negative sales? Book-keeping impact? Incentives?

If the internal structure of the organization is that there are two separate teams – one managing brick and mortar stores and another managing online store — then there will be a proliferation of sales measures. Each team (depending on how they are incented) will demand different sales and inventory measures. Stores teams will not want online bought returns to effect their sales numbers. Who do you give the credit for the sale to? What happens when the product is returned to a different channel? Sales can be reversed but what about inventory? Stock ledger and its association of inventory to a location means that there could be locations with negative sales to balance on hands with sales. Very soon, there will be a need to have a number of inventory measures that adjust/compensate for the cross channel returns. Different measures of sales will also be required to be to understand the true demand at any location for better Assortment Planning in the future. It is important to have a process in place that covers systems, planning, measurements and compensation to deal with the challenges that will be presented. I would to hear from you on the above issues and any other that you will add to the list as pre-requisites to think about before you getting to amazing opportunities that Omni channel retailing will afford.

Feb 14

Consumption is the biggest problem, Design is one of the best solutions

Picture courtesy NASA

Picture courtesy NASA

We all want to do the right thing when it comes to sustainability and the environment. We want to make the right choices – earth friendly choices when presented with one. Do we really know which choice is better? We rely on folklore to help us decide between paper and plastic for example. But is paper really better than plastic?. While our heart is in the right place we may not be doing much to help the environment until we change our consumption patterns.

The saw this TED talk today and it really resonated with me. Please spare 18 minutes of your time to watch this talk by Leyla Acaroglu (http://on.ted.com/EnvironmentalMyths)

[ted id=1926]

The talk especially has important lessons for designers. Designing for sustainability is not just about using eco friendly materials – it is about taking the entire system and the entire lifecycle into account. And most importantly, to design in such a way to change how one uses your products to reduce consumption.

Feb 14

Whats the matter with all the new iOS apps?

in 2010 we gave my mom (completely computer illiterate) an iPad and my father in law (self thought savvy computer user) an Android tablet (the first Sony tablet).

Four years since, my mom is googling, youtube-ing, facetime-ing, emailing, photographing, shopping and cannot imagine her life without her iPad. My father in law returned his tablet to us last year very dissatisfied. He moved to Windows Surface Pro. He just could not figure out Android.

The simplicity and consistent behavior of iOS is one of the primary reasons for its adoption. Just three basic gestures to learn – swipe up/down, swipe left and right and pinch zoom and you were never lost in the navigation because of the single page app design and big bold navigation buttons that gave you the option of what is possible – Back, Next or cancel. It was impossible to get lost in the navigation tree.

Most apps today are no longer complying to the standards. Most apps just run in a container on the iOS but are really web apps. There is a competition to dream up the next user paradigm, the next cool UI. It is making the apps hard to use and will eventually hurt iOS because no longer will there be a difference between the app on iOS or Android.

Apps now need a manual on all the gestures that are needed. Not intuitive any more. Take the Facebook paper for instance, Swipe up does not scroll as you would have expected, it navigates you into the story and when you are in the story, swipe up will go further into the story by opening the video or the link in the story.

I recently started using two apps – Inside and Facebook Paper. Both do essentially the same thing. They help navigated stories – stories within a category and stories across categories. Each of them accomplishes this very differently – almost opposites.

Consider the problem as follows. Imagine a large table on which stories printed on paper are arranged in rows and columns. Stories that are of the same genre are arranged one below the other in a column. Each column then represents a genre. You start with the first story and decide if you want to read more stories in the same genre or move to another genre. The process repeats in each genre. This is essentially the navigation that both Paper and Inside are enabling.

The way to navigate in the Inside app is that you scroll through a genre (swipe up and down) and you switch genre by swiping left and right. Simple but you still need to read the instructions since it is not obvious that one can/should swipe right/left. But not a big departure from how you use other apps.

Facebook Paper on the other hand splits the screen into two. The top shows you a story in a bigger frame. The rest of the stories are arranged in film strip like fashion at the bottom of the screen. The gesture to navigate is swipe left and right. It matters where you swipe – if you swipe on the strip at the bottom you are navigating stories within the same genre. If you swipe on the big frame at the top you are swiping between genres. You select a story by touching the story. Once in the story you can swipe up and down. Swiping up and down means different things depending on the story. If the story is longer than the page up and down scrolls the page. If there is a link to another story then swipe up navigates into that linked story. You better remember where you are and the actions that got you there so that you are reverse your actions to uncoil back to where you want to be.

The animation and movement is cool but it makes Facebook Paper hard to use without first reading and committing the instructions to memory because there is nothing within the app to help you remember the gestures.

The navigation problem that both Inside and Facebook Paper deal with are the same ones that existed from the very beginning and one that almost all apps dealing with content face. Navigating within a context , navigating across to another context and drilling down to details of an item within a context.

Whats wrong with an overlay that shows navigation possibilities (back, next) and leave the gestures as they are? Why the fascination to dream up new ways to navigate and all by gestures alone? I am all for new ways of doing things but I believe it is the designers’ responsibility to know the difference between a better way and just a new way. Just to be different.

I am afraid to upgrade any of the apps on my mom’s iPad anymore. They may render one of the best things in her day useless.

Feb 14

Is “curated” content the new normal?


For the past couple of years I noticed that I like curated content more than raw content.  I know this because of the types of apps I use and the sites I frequent.  For e.g. on most days my first stop for news is google news and then my feeds in Feedly (I used google reader until it was decommissioned).

My interests are diverse and it is hard to keep up with a large number of sites.  If there is something out there that can help me stay in touch with my interests by sifting through all the noise, I am all for it.

I want to go to a few hubs of information and get what I am looking for.

The big companies and individuals with big ideas detected this trend a while ago and starting retooling towards this new reality.

Move towards curated content

I am moving more and more towards curated content… relying on experts (algorithms actually in most cases – more on that later) to help me get to best information.  Being a consultant myself, I want the best consultants helping me with the most important news, the best music from around the world, the best games, the best entertainment, the best restaurants, fun things to do in a city, etc.

I am moving to Apps/sites like Skimm (a delightful way to start the day by the way) and Inside. Or Alltop for whats trending…

I love Pandora but I am beginning to prefer Songza – which introduces me to delightful new music I would never hear but for the curators.

I like architecture and design of spaces and from various websites/blogs I find that I like Houzz better.

There is a clear move from all the big players towards surfacing content of interest from the noise generated by billions putting forth their thoughts of a number of issues – most mundane but some profound and interesting. Lately, there is more breaking news as people tweet from the location of historical events as they happen.

The constant stream of updates and tweeting and retweeting creates a cacophony in which noises I want to hear are lost.  The noise is deafening ….   Blogs like this being part of the pollution.

Facebook just announced Paper.

Google added Explore to Google+.

Jason Calacanis and team just launched inside.

My favorite curated content source is Feedly… it has all my feeds – content curated by me… hard to argue about the relevance of this information !

The next step will be to offer true experts who will personally ensure that you are getting what you are asking for.  This trend is already here in fashion.

When it comes to fashion – people need help. There are a number of Curated Fashion Sites on the internet today.  Better yet, there are personalized shopping sites that do more than help, they deliver (like fruit of the month club) a box with fashion that is selected specially for you based on your tastes and your profile.  The trunk club being just one of them.

But will you like the results?

I believe experts matter.  I find their inputs and first attempts to surface information of interest to me is useful.  It is a much better start that me having to sift through the information.  I know the information is biased therefore it is important for me to know who/what is behind the curation.  If I know the person or the methodology, I can appropriately deal with the information.  In most cases, I can fine tune what is shown by providing proper feedback on the results being presented.

It is no surprise that with the volume of information, most sites use algorithms to help in the process.  An algorithm that curates news is no Walter Cronkite but it still helps me and I can tune it further to my liking.  Many sites use simple ranking algorithm that floats news that is most talked about (the definition of talked about can vary from the number of likes, or comments, trackbacks, or tweets/retweets,  etc).  If there are topics that a large number of people are interested in, then I want to know about it. If nothing else then to be participatory in a water cooler conversation.

So who is more valuable in the future: the ones who create original content, or those who filter through the noise to curate the most valuable content?

While I do not see the spate of new apps as truly curating content, I am expecting that things will evolve.

Jan 14

Stop redesigning !

There are certain things that are fine as they are and should not change !  No redesign necessary!

Like, showers in hotels.  

3039181 HiRes

Every hotel has a different configuration of knobs and levers.  The new trend is to hide key buttons/levers in an attempt to be minimalistic (sic!).  Getting the water to the right temperature, right pressure and flowing from the right orifice in the wall is not for the faint hearted.  Thinking that a nice long shower will wake you up?  Think again, you better be wide awake before you get into the shower to be able to operate it and sometimes you need to take your reading glasses into the shower to read the instructions and labels and warnings!

Traveling is fun.. discover new places, peoples, culture, food and such… how to operate the shower should not be one of those things.  I have a system now –

  1. First identify how to start the flow of water – push, pull, turn, lift, slide, whatever it takes.  Start with best guess of which knob and work your way through others.  Make sure you are outside the tub/shower area/splash zone before you do this – remember the water temperature, water pressure and where the water will actually exit the wall are all unknowns.  Pray that your arms are long and flexible enough to do this by going around beautiful obstacles like elegant glass doors.
  2. Next figure out how to increase/decrease the water pressure.  Here again, go through the following in a disciplined way  pull, push, lift, turn, etc.  In many cases, step 5 needs to be perfumed in conjunction with this step
  3. Next figure out which direction to go to increase/decrease the water temperature.  Do not rely on the markings since the fittings may have moved since the original installation.  This may take a while since sometimes the pipes are cold, people!  it takes a while for hot water to start flowing.  Depending on the country “C” does not always mean cold.  Do not fall for the blue is cold and red is hot trick when instead of words you see colors.
  4. Next start the discovery of what it will take to redirect water to the spout/shower head/hand shower.  Here again, do not approach with preconceived ideas.  The magic trigger can be on the spout or the shower head, can be a pull, push or slide, can be a button or in some cases a completely different fitting that seems out of place – don’t be fooled.  In other words have your coffee and be ready
  5. You are almost there – it is very likely that there are additional controls directly on the fitting from which water is flowing.  For e.g. shower heads can be turned to change the way water flows – gentle rain to swedish massage to a bee sting setting. Be tall enough (how tall? cannot say, required height will vary) and use both hands for this operation for it is very likely that while you attempt to change the type of flow the entire head will move and change the direction of water.  This may not be a good thing if you are not expecting to wash your hair that morning.  
  6. If you want to use the tub – you are on your own to find how to plug/unplug the drain.  I don’t use tubs in hotels. 

I wonder if there is a keep showers simple petition I can sign on change.org.

There are other bloody well leave alone issues

Like climate control, lights and mirrors in rental cars

Like overuse of icons instead of text (see a friend’s rant here)

Like where to plug the damn head phone in (I was recently on American’s new 777 with lie flat, every seat has aisle access plane and it took me a long time to figure out where the damn Bose headset plugs into.  And when I figured it out, I had to do plug it in by feel alone since I could not get my head in the right position to see the socket orientation to plug the head phone jack into)

Like the secret hidden maneouver to throw the car into reverse in manual transmission cars

Like secret gestures and swipes to activate/deactivate features in apps

whats your peeve?

There must be certain areas – public by definition – where the number of users are large that necessarily need a design code.  The design keeps things simple and consistent to support users with diverse backgrounds – language, physical characteristics, gender, countries.  This code will apply to things areas like public transportation for example.

I am sure there is a such a thing, I just haven’t been able to enter the right magic phrase into google to direct me to what i am looking for.  If you know what this area is called, please let me know.