Ideas for Retailers including Borders and Whitcoulls


As I mentioned last week, I am speaking at the  Mobile Marketing Forum in Auckland next month. I’m going to share some good practical business ideas there that smart retailers and destination businesses can implement. You might catch the odd one on #NZSoMo on Twitter, but I’d recommend if you want to get into and ahead of the wave of new social media and location based mobile marketing, you should invest in attending this event.

Some time ago I talked about the situation with Whitcoulls and Borders. I said I had lots of ideas about how they could run their businesses more profitably without sacrificing their models. I’m happy to share some of my ideas, but not all of them, because I am thinking that maybe there is an opportunity to partner with some local developers or entrepreneurs to commercialize some of my ideas, seeing as the people in these businesses can’t see the wood for the trees.

I’m happy to share a few concepts to get things started and to show I’m not just full of hot air.

First is basics. Whenever a business starts falling by the wayside, the smart ones go to consultants or mentors. Often the business has gotten so busy they forget about what made them great stand out businesses in the first place and often they have forgotten good business practices.

A key one is stock turn by category. Some of the books I saw in the sales were going to struggle at $1 a book and should never had been stocked. How did Borders NZ decide what to stock in each category? Did they liaise with the people who read the books or just on what the publishers told them.

Back in the day the late Shaun Joyce of Sounds Music used to consult my daughter on which albums he should bring in for the big teenage market. She was big on music and researched amongst her friends which meant they got what they wanted and Sounds stocked what the segment wanted and it moved.

Shaun Joyce

I haven’t explored retail in the US for a number of years because it was no longer relevant to my current business environment, but that is changing, partly due to a new solution that GeoSmart is launching soon called BIonaMAP or Business Intelligence on a MAP. More on this in the near future but it is very exciting for lots of businesses including retail chains.

I fell in love with Borders in the USA. Shame they may not be there much longer.

They were innovative in lots of ways. there were 3 that I particularly liked (I’m not writing a book here folks!).

  1. They had book signings and meet the author every week (I’m talking about big city stores here). The ones I liked best were autobiographies, for example imagine going to a store, watching BB King play Lucille and sing a couple of songs, having a chat and then personally signing his new autobiography.
  2. They encourage you to read in the store and have a cafe you can take the books to. My first thought was, they will damage the books. My 2nd thought was now I can check a few books to find out which is the one I really want, especially for me technical or music related books. I very rarely go to a book store and buy only one book. This year I have bought at least 20 books from local stores and another 8 from Amazon.
  3. They have massive range, width and depth. If I want to buy anything other than a top 100 book (I’m not generally in the demographic for many of those).
I will come back with some advice and would love some feedback from you dear reader because part of the fin is coming up with the ideas.
My best business read this year has been Jeff Jarvis “What Would Google Do?” My first recommendation to whoever ends up owning and managing Whitcoulls and Borders (if they don’t just shut them down) has a mandatory read of this book. If they don’t come up with at least a dozen innovative, exciting and compelling ideas as a result, I’d suggest they resign from their jobs because they are stuck in the track of “This is how the book trade works, this is the way we have always done it”. Folks this is the way the book industry crumbles instead of making itself relevant. And no hanging a discounted eBook reader off a hangsell rack is not a modern way of doing business.
I will share some more ideas with you for those who need some sparks to get their thinking juices started, but I’m really keen for some participation here, so for each idea, I might also throw out some questions.
What do you think Borders and Whitcoulls can do better that would make you want to go to their stores and spend money?
I visited Borders on Saturday. They were having a stock take yesterday and I would expect some more sales coming up. Not much worth buying but I did get a copy of the 2010 book Kiwi Rock Chicks, Pop Stars and Trailblazers down from $49.95 to $5! They probably could have sold it in volume to the record store next door:(
Footnote, while I believe it is a long time before eBooks totally rule, but Amazon has announced that they have for the first time sold more eBooks for Kindle than printed books. Of course one issue and opportunity is the cost of freight, especially to NZ, but then that is compensated for by much cheaper books as long as you buy a few at a time.

Electricity, disasters and Feed In Tariffs


I’ve been itching to write more about FIT for ages as you will know if you have been reading my blogs. If you didn’t, my last blog was pretty much a summary of my thoughts which started with the Christchurch earthquake.

Prior to that for a few years I have been wondering why a ‘clean green’ country like New Zealand only went so far as to provide subsidies for roof insulation and clean heating. Where is the NZ Green Party on FIT, I asked 2 years ago. I’m not even sure where the party is on much at all at the moment and its election year, when National has launched its new policies on oil and gas and other efficient power sources like coal.

In fairness I do have to acknowledge that Environment Minister Nick Smith did through caution to the wind at the NZ Wind Energy Conference this month, but he also made the point that you need windy places and probably also noted the frequent opposition any time someone wants to set up a wind farm. Personally I like them and if they are silent, I wouldn’t have a problem looking up at them on a hill somewhere.

Dutch windfarm

I have 2 interests here, the first one is renewable energy in the form of solar panels, with the ability to feed power into the grid, but also the ability to make individual households and businesses more resilient in times of crisis.

The common thread anywhere in the world when there is a disaster is that the power goes off. In my recent posts this month I have discussed a whole range of issues where we are so reliant on electricity today that there are a variety of problems after the crisis is over.

I want to again acknowledge the heroism of electricity workers and supporters who risked life and limb to get things up and running as quickly as possible.

Anyway, back to my story. Imagine if we followed on from the subsidies to put insulation into our roofs, by offering subsidies and Feed In Tariffs for installing solar panels on the roofs. This is something we should be doing anyway, but imagine if a large number of people were still able to have at least some electricity when the grid is down. They would still potentially have phone communication, they would have lighting, heating, the ability to wash themselves and much more.

We could find ourselves with a renewable energy source that doesn’t pollute, makes people much more aware of power consumption, involves the community and provides greater resilience while allowing us to get closer to meeting our commitments to reducing carbon waste that we so obligingly adopted with the Kyoto Protocol.

It has been said that I am wont to be verbose. I don’t necessarily want to change that because I am intensely interested in what I write about, however I don’t want to lose you dear reader (borrowed that from Stephen King). So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write an new series of shortish blogs on the benefits of FIT for New Zealand in the hope that more people will understand the massive potential benefits to New Zealand and put some pressure on the politicians and energy authorities to do something about it.

I’ve done some reading on the topic and found the paper by Miguel Mendonca of the Birkbeck Institute of Environment, Birkbeck College, University of London particularly helpful. He also wrote the book Feed-in-Tariffs Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy. You can find more information here. He discovered that FIT could work in the UK, that it had many positive benefits above and beyond the basics of a renewable energy source and I plan to discuss some of these from a New Zealand context. I also find it interesting that some people (who perhaps are the ones who wanted Henry Ford to breed faster horses instead of horseless carriages) say there is not enough sunlight in NZ to create an acceptable level of energy. Kiwis who go to UK for their OE’s don’t often come back recounting stories of endless sunny days.

So lets explore what FIT’s and solar power can do for NZ, for our resilience, for our GDP, for our commitment to the environment, for industry, for entrepreneurs and to generally show the world that we are in fact as green as we say we are. There are some amazing benefits to be had along the way.

Please come back and check out what I have learned.

Doesnt look that shabby

How Did the Telco’s Do in the Christchurch Earthquake


So when the quake hit Christchurch, what happened to telecommunications? Naturally in an emergency people need to communicate and there were some interesting situations. In an earlier blog I wrote about your emergency kit. So here are some interesting lessons from Christchurch and any other emergency situation:

Without electricity portable phones don’t work. If your phone requires a transmitter from the junction box to your portable, it’s not going to be transmitting anything. Many people still had copper phone lines even though they didn’t have electricity. Analogue phones still worked and Telecom in my opinion did an awesome job getting people to donate their old phones and shipping them down to Christchurch. I wonder if anyone has taken up the opportunity to start importing old style analogue phones into New Zealand, it must be a great medium term revenue opportunity!

Analogue Phone

With today’s Smartphones, not only did everyone rush to use their mobile to call their loved ones to check if they were ok, they were using mobile data, social networks, tweeting, sending photos and even video, which the media wanted to gobble up, but which clogged the networks for people wanting emergency services. I think the Telco’s did a pretty good job of getting generators to Christchurch and keeping comms up as much as possible, but they have created a bit of a monster that is only going to get worse. In chasing ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) they encourage us to find every possible way to connect on our mobiles, but then what happens if the mobile network gets congested? Obviously they need to work on increasing their emergency capacity as well as normal usage. They are our lifeline. How were they for you?

As I also mentioned in the emergency kit blog, if you’re trying to do all the things I mentioned above, your mobile battery is going to go flat and if you have no electricity that becomes a major problem. New Zealand has been way behind the rest of the world, or perhaps Kiwis haven’t figured it out yet, but we need alternative ways of recharging our mobiles in the absence of an electricity supply. There are lots of products that will allow us to do that. Car kits if we have access to a car. There are kits that allow you to use those conventional batteries you keep in your home and getaway kits (do you?) and also devices that hold enough charge for 2 or 3 charges and then get thrown away. I have one of those for my iPod which I purchased at San Francisco Airport, its brilliant!

Ipod Charger

The Aftermath of the Christchurch Earthquake: BAU?


So Christchurch had a devastating earthquake and of course the situation is going to take years to get back to a new form of normal. Some people have left, more will leave, some may go back one day. Some suburbs will cease to exist, or will perhaps become memorial parks because it is too risky to rebuild, both financially and from a human risk.

In recent blogs, I’ve wondered what we learned. I’ve been exploring some key areas and also thinking about human psychology and how not only do most of us think it will never happen to us, but we also tend to think it is someone else’s responsibility to do something about it.

So in the blogs to come, I want to look at a number of aspects of perhaps what should be done and who should take responsibility, because BAU or Business As Usual doesn’t seem a suitable answer. We all have immediate needs and there are things we can do to prepare at all levels, individual, family, local and regional government and much more.

Here’s what we know beyond any doubt. Natural disasters happen. They generally give minimal warning. In Japan they had 1 minute warning of the big earthquake and in some cases up to 30 minutes warning of the tsunamis.

New Zealand is on the ring of fire and has always had earthquakes. We rose out of the sea through earthquakes. Our magnificent mountains rose from the sea as the plates moved and squeezed them out. Maybe with a bit of help from Maui if you like.

Christchurch surprised some people and others though it was obvious with 20:20 hindsight. What we have also been told for years is that a big one will happen in Wellington. We have also been told that there is a very high likelihood that a new volcano will appear one day somewhere around greater Auckland. It could appear at sea, it could appear anywhere. Just have a look at the location of current volcanoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are made up of a number of islands in New Zealand. We love our beaches and coastline and many of us live within walking distance, or conversely within tsunami’s reach. We don’t believe it will ever happen to us, but then why have Civil Defence set up tsunami maps and early warning systems?

 

 

 

 

 

So this will be a series of blogs on what we can or should change. I will look at short and long term. I will look at what we as the public should do for ourselves, our families and our community. I will also look at segments such as insurance companies, Telecommunications providers, power companies, food businesses, manufacturers, distributors and retails, Civil Defence, oil companies, the education business, health, SME and Corporate Business, Town Planners, local and regional government, traffic planners (I’ll be at the IPENZ Conference this week) and more.

I’d like to start with a little survey and would love you to participate:

Air NZ Customer Service


I was going to blog about 3D Bio-Plotting today and if this is of interest to you, bookmark or subscribe to the RSS feed. This is going to be a very exciting disruptive technology that has the potential to have a huge impact on our life expectancy and the health industry.

In my last blog I wrote about how John Donahoe, CEO of eBay has a good understanding of what business eBay is in and it isn’t helping people buy and sell things online, or about their recent purchase of Red Laser for comparison shopping.

I wonder if Air New Zealand really understand what their business is at times. If you read their Vision Statement and Guiding Principles, it doesn’t say anything about the travel experience, or about the social relationship with customers or being the facilitator of people’s dreams. In fact a lot that Air New Zealand does is about that, but at times they seem to lose track of that and of course their major focus is on delivering a dividend to their share holders. The bottom line is people do business with people, like me. Individuals who have feelings, not just bums on seats as they say in the hospitality business.

In What Would Google Do, by Jeff Jarvis, still one of my favorite books, this is what he says about airlines:

Air travel’s business model today is based on overselling seats, billing us for checking bags, charging us for pillows and pretzels and just about everything they can think of but air………………. Does that sound familiar. I know it is hard to run an airline profitably, but as someone who has traveled around the world at least a dozen times, there have been many years where I spent 4 months of the year travelling, I understand that traveling is stressful and tiring and little things like being stuck in transit at San Francisco Airport for 8 hours because the Air NZ counter doesn’t open till 90 minutes before the flight and they don’t have an interconnect deal with their partner Lufthansa can be frustrating. They don’t engender loyalty, which I can assure you cost them a lot of money from me from time to time. I have also declined the two invitations to take out an Air NZ Platinum American Express Card. Why would I support an organisation like that, which doesn’t put me first?

Anyway, I started this blog because of frustration over my latest experience with Air New Zealand. Now I have to say that all the people I have spoken to at their service center have been friendly and polite and helpful to a point. But they fall down on some simple things like detail.

So here’s what happened. Last year my wife an I booked flights to Sydney to attend a wedding in Hunter Valley. Prior to the wedding, we were told that my father in law had weeks to live as he had a recurrence of cancer that he was not going to beat. We had to cancel the flight for which we paid $944.20 including taxes and Air NZ said that due to compassionate grounds they would hang on to our money and allow us to rebook at a later date within 12 months, which we thought was reasonable.

I re-booked in January for a trip at the end of this month (I have flown with Air NZ a number of times since then including a trip to Rarotonga in October). I gave my credit card details for the $150 re-booking fee (for 2 of us). Yesterday I went to print off the tickets and organize travel insurance and there was no email. I rang the call centre to find out why and after being transferred and disconnected and waiting a while to speak to someone again, I was told that the flights had been cancelled because they hadn’t been paid for. I was flabbergasted. I gave her my credit card details on the spot, but on checking yesterday, my card account had not been debited. I have already paid in advance for accommodation and we had both applied for leave etc and made arrangements to meet friends over there etc.

Anyway, the nice friendly chap I spoke to went and spoke to his supervisor and apparently, they can still get us on the same flights, but it would now be more expensive for the transfer fee of the tickets. They wanted to talk to the call center person who arranged the booking for us and she is not back until Monday, so they will get back to me on Monday or Tuesday.

So here’s the thing. I have no certainty for one or two more days that I will in fact get those flights and I may have to pay more for my tickets than the extra $150 which in itself would mean that we are paying $1,094.20 for 2 return flights to Sydney from Auckland, at the same time that Flight Center is offering one way tickets for $79 plus taxes (including one bag) at their travel expo.

I can’t believe that the supervisor couldn’t have just authorized the deal on the spot and taken my credit card details once again. What does it cost them for their time to document the discussions, chase the previous consultant who I believed had booked my flights, confirm back to the consultant who I spoke to yesterday and then have him ring me on my mobile to hopefully tell me they will honor the arrangement we had made in the first place. My cost is of course stress for myself and my wife as to whether we will be on the flights booked, that we won’t lose the money we prepaid for accommodation and so on, and it certainly sours our anticipation of a nice little holiday.

On top of that Air New Zealand have had the use of just under a thousand dollars of our money for free for a year. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper and more expedient to just say, sorry, something has gone wrong here, we can’t explain it, but if you will give us your credit card details again, we will send you a confirmation email in around 15 minutes. We hope you enjoy your trip with Air New Zealand. Then I would be writing a blog saying how wonderful and caring Air NZ was, even after they had clearly slipped up. It’s been my experience that often its not the problem but the way it is dealt with that makes all the difference. Frequently when a company has a problem and deal with it well, they will end up with more loyal clients than they would have had if the problem had not occurred in the first place.

OK, I’ve had my vent and will let you know if Air NZ fix things for me or not.

In the meantime, what about your experiences with airlines. What do you think of their visions and their customer service? Do you feel they have a good balance between customer service and shareholder satisfaction? Are you loyal to a particular airline? Why?

New Ways To Read The News


I’ve written before about the newspaper industry and why newspapers will fade away. In Jeff Jarvis’ book What Would Google Do? there is a prediction that the last newspaper will be printed in 2040.

I no longer subscribe to a daily paper. I do scan the office copy and have a Firefox widget that gives me access to my local paper the New Zealand Herald although they haven’t updated it since March and it doesn’t work properly with the latest Firefox version.

Where I get most of my news from is in fact Twitter. Lots of people still don’t understand the power of Twitter. I’ve found it is the best way to get up to date information about what is going on locally and internationally. If I want to get information, I simply do a search on my Twitter client, Hootsuite, which I can save as a stream so I don’t have to keep searching.

In addition, I use the paper.ly service and have 2 daily Twitter newspapers where the content is generated by the people or businesses I follow. I have 2 daily papers. One is for my generic Twitter account, and the other is for my songwriting business.

The service I use is called Paper.li and my daily online newspapers which you can subscribe to for free are the Luigi Cappel Daily and the other is my Cappel Music paper. I can go to either of these papers and read stories that are of interest to me. The reason I can do this, is because it aggregates Twitter stories with links from people I follow.

A benefit of this is that it focuses me on following people that have something to say that I am in fact interested in. So if you follow me on Twitter you will see that I typically hover around the 2,000 follows as opposed to some people who follow and collect people like they were trying to follow everyone. If I follow you and your tweets don’t interest me, I won’t be following you for long. Doesn’t mean you don’t have something valid to say, just that I only have so much time and there is so much going on.

So my newspaper has a front page and today it includes stories such as Google TV devices being delayed, South Korea’s military exercises, arrests in a UK terror plot, the latest in the Pike River Coal Mine Disaster, faulty Kindles and more. There is a Stories Page, an Arts and Entertainment Page, a Technology Page, and more. You can even subscribe to my paper, or make your own and its all free.

I mentioned searches on Twitter for news as well. I won’t go into hashtags, you can google that if you are interested, but for a couple of examples, here is a search on Heathrow, which has been closed for several days because of snow and ice. The best way to find out what is going on is from people who are there. You’ll probably find photos and lots of human interest stories as well as the latest information. Interesting as I write this, Sky News were saying on TV that Heathrow Airport doesn’t want their cameras at the airport interviewing angry people waiting for their delayed flights.

Another topical example is North Korea which is obviously of great concern to those of us who don’t want to see a new war front.

This isn’t the only way I get news, I also have an iGoogle page which is my RSS feed aggregator. I keep standard news searches there for things that interest me as well as tools such as currency converters, time zone calculations so I don’t miss my online tutorials from Berklee Music out of Boston, weather forecasts and lots more.

So do I need a print newspaper? No. Is that good? Well putting my ecological hat on, according to Wikipedia, 35% of all trees felled are used to generate paper. Newspapers must be a massive proportion of that. We know that we need trees to combat climate change, so I’m doing my little bit:)

Death of the newspaper

The Smart Connected Home


The home, its technology and its inhabitants are now becoming more and more connected. Many of us now have WiFi networks in the home. We can sit with notebooks on our laps, wireless routers connected to our internet connection allow us to connect entertainment systems, iPads and other network appliances, printers, external drives, Smartphones and more.

Many other devices are now being developed that also offer the benefits of connectivity. For example Internet TV is almost here with products like Google TV being right on our doorstep.

Many years ago I had the opportunity to spend a day at the Arthur Anderson offices in Chicago for a glimpse of the future. An example was an intelligent  fridge with a bar code reader that created a shopping list and could automatically send the list to the local grocery delivery company.

Bill Gates had a master plan of having a Windows CE engine in home appliances, creating an intelligent house. Smart Appliances will I’m sure be in the home soon and the idea Gates had was that if they all used Windows CE, they would all have a common platform to communicate not only with each other and with your mobile computer, perhaps your home appliances.

The European Commission has perhaps seen the light in setting up The Hydra Project. “The Hydra middleware allows developers to incorporate heterogeneous physical devices into their applications by offering easy-to-use web service interfaces for controlling any type of physical device irrespective of its network technology such as Bluetooth, RF, ZigBee, RFID, WiFi, etc. Hydra incorporates means for Device and Service Discovery, Semantic Model Driven Architecture, P2P communication, and Diagnostics. Hydra enabled devices and services can be secure and trustworthy through distributed security and social trust components of the middleware.”

This has the potential to reduce the risk of being tied to specific brands of computing, communications and other technology by providing middleware that everyone can work with. Of course the home is only one place that can benefit from this concept. It applies equally to telemedicine (monitoring patients in the home), business automation, security, agriculture, manufacturing, warehousing and pretty much any industry you can think of.

Once again Science Fiction is about to become reality. It’s taken a while, but looks like we are getting there.

The following video shows an e-home controlled by voice or even by your X Box Controller and of course you can control it from your iPhone: