Is now the right time for scan-and-go in supermarkets?

Sainsbury’s is resurrecting a new concept and trialling a scan and go solution for shoppers. The Next Web reports

Sainsbury’s supermarket is trialing a new service called Mobile Scan & Go that allows users to shop with their iPhone or Android phone and pay at the till without unloading their trolley or bags.

I’m sure it was over 10 years ago that supermarkets started rolling out a “self scan and pack” solution for in-store shopping. In a time before the smartphone however, shoppers used handheld barcode scanners that were held in banks at the entrance to the store. Once placed back into a dock, shoppers received a special receipt that allowed checkout operatives to take payment as normal.

Ultimately, the self-scan system didn’t last long – I’m guessing they were just trials and shopper resistance to technology probably scuppered it.

Self-scanning also launched on the cusp of reliable Internet grocery shopping – Webvan had gone bust, Ocado had just launched – so maybe shoppers that wanted to avoid checkouts simply went online rather than go through the theatre of picking out bananas at their preferred ripeness.

But in recent months, that concept has made a comeback. Last year, Apple launched EasyPay, which allows you to scan your own items at participating Apple stores, pay with your iTunes card details and leave the store.

Unlike Apple, which uses geolocation and in-store wifi to work out which store you’re in, the Sainsbury’s system requires you to scan a QR code to “check in” to the store then take your phone to the till where payment is taken after scanning a code to “check out”. No details yet on whether you’ll be ‘randomly selected’ to have all your shopping re-scanned, as used to happen with the old system. But this would be obvious.

Though on researching this article, I was surprised to read that Waitrose still offers this under the brand “Quick Check”. And even Tesco are rolling this out again as an improvement.

To be honest, I’m not convinced that supermarkets will switch to an entirely self-scan solution. The growing acceptance of self-checkouts is a driver in that direction, though their perceived unreliability and complexity continues to drive a demand for checkout operatives.

Nonetheless, maybe there are areas where scan-and-go will take off. For example, supermarket kiosks where relatively low value items can be purchased off the shelf. Retailers like WH Smith used to operate ‘honesty’ payment for newspapers some years ago, so given the enhanced security now in operation, perhaps scan-and-go could work in a supermarket environment.

The rise of contactless cards, however, puts a bit of a dampener on the argument that low value transactions will be sped up through scan-and-go. If only there was some way of linking these two concepts

Is the cloud the right fit for owner-managed businesses?

In 1919, a young man named Conrad bought a 40-room hotel in Cisco, Texas. It was a backup plan; he’d originally wanted to buy the town’s bank. The hotel did surprisingly well and, in 1925, he opened his first high-rise hotel: the Dallas Hilton, and the first hotel to bear his name.

Fast forward almost 90 years, and I’m in the Manchester Hilton: a tall, gleaming edifice that stands testament to Conrad Hilton‘s entrepreneurial spirit despite war and economic depression. It’s a building that often scrapes Manchester’s perma-cloud so perhaps for those reasons, it was an ideal place to take part in a seminar about what ‘the cloud’ can do for entrepreneurs and owner-managed businesses.

For the more cynical amongst us, it may seem surprising that in 2012, we’re still discussing what ‘the cloud’ is. Unfortunately, this is a side-effect of the term ‘cloud’ becoming the biggest buzzword since “social media”!

No more. To be honest, we got involved in this seminar because there’s so much misinformation or inaccurate content that exists about ‘cloud computing’ and saw it as a chance to set the record straight. But, perhaps more importantly, it was also a chance to sit down with some of the region’s leading entrepreneurs and answer their questions about the nature of the cloud and how it could help them grow their businesses.

And it’s not surprising that most people are confused. The cloud has been touted as the answer to everything from managing your accounts to avoiding your mother-in-law! But, as with everything, the real answer is to talk about what you’re trying to achieve and then examine whether cloud technologies can play a part.

But time-starved business owners still want a simple answer. The best I can offer is that, with a reputable cloud provider, using a cloud-based option can offer increased reliability and flexibility over traditional hosting and software delivery methods. It’s also easier to scale up resources allocated to cloud hosting and, importantly, scale down – meaning businesses that are growing rapidly can rapidly expand their technology infrastructure and also respond to seasonal demand.

It’s tempting to start with a technology – be it cloud, or physical – and design a solution around that. The thing is, a cloud solution that’s poorly put-together can end up costing more. That’s why we’d always recommend having an in-depth face-to-face conversation with whomever is hoping to provide your solution and insist it’s benchmarked against other options, as well as considering the potential for growth. This is why we’ve also put together a document: the five dangers of cloud servers. We hope helps you ask your potential providers the right questions when it comes to considering a hosting or service platform based on the cloud.

Finally, here’s a copy of the presentation that Steven delivered at the seminar yesterday morning. To be honest, it’s best done in person… but you can enjoy the hand-drawn slides anyway! You can also read a roundup of the tweets from the event below.

Ending over the air TV broadcasts will congest UK broadband even further

Originally published over at

The House of Lords has recommended ending the use of airwaves to broadcast TV and re-allocating this spectrum to mobile data usage.

TV “should be delivered exclusively over the Internet”, reports the Reg. The House of Lords report, titled Broadband for All – an Alternative Vision, presents a series of recommendations that are part of a wider set of suggestions to improving broadband quality in the UK.

The fact is, that if the recommendation contained within the report were to be adopted by the Government, it would put never before imagined pressure on the UK’s Internet infrastructure. This is why the committee’s consideration of a universal service obligation for minimum broadband quality is a good starting point.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of the UK’s domestic and business broadband relies on adapting old copper-wire technology to handle it (i.e. DSL). This means it’s inherently going to be of a lower quality and speed than the fibre-optic broadband Internet access available in some of the biggest growing digital economies in the world, like South Korea and that’s being experimented with by Google in Kansas City, USA.

In Manchester – a major broadband not-spot – tenants of the Manchester Science Park are lucky to get 100 MBps Internet connections provided by our network. If we’re going to stop using the airwaves to receive broadcast content, then this type of connection will become the bare minimum businesses need and consumers will expect to consume content online.

In my opinion, the Government needs to step-in and realise that without significant fresh investment in the UK’s Internet infrastructure, we will continue to languish in the global broadband league tables.

App of the week: Drawing the Cloud with Paper for iPad

Originally posted at

There’s so much marketing guff about the cloud, often couched in dense, endless PowerPoints or thick PDF whitepapers. So for my talk at Business North West 2012, I decided to do something a bit different :)

I’m always a fan of brief presentations, where the slides are mostly visual prompts rather than on-screen notes to read off. The weekend before BNW, I was off to Brussels so I didn’t really have time to put together anything too comprehensive anyway. I downloaded Keynote onto my iPad but quickly realised that learning to use it on a smaller form factor was going to be a pain. At the time, I didn’t own a stand for my iPad either, so typing was a bit difficult.

Luckily, a couple of weeks earlier, I’d seen a presentation from Garry Byrne at Manchester’s #smc_mcr talking about the state of mobile (report). He’d used the iPad app Paper by fiftythree to create his very simple, effective slides which acted just as I prefer – non-distracting, visual prompts for his engaging talk.

So before I got on the Eurostar back, I downloaded the app, paid for the extra brushes and by the end of the train journey back to Manchester, had produced my entire deck. If I’d had a video adapter, I could’ve presented directly from the app but, for compatibility, I exported each page as an image and pasted them into PowerPoint.

This was my first attempt at designing a presentation using but it went pretty smoothly. However, writing words is a bit odd with your finger, so I’ve recently invested in a Cosmonaut stylus on Twitter-based recommendations. We’ll see if this makes a difference.

Paper is currently a free download so watch the video or get it now. And you can flick through my slides above or on Speaker Deck.

Tip: Download the Speaker Deck Embed plugin for WordPress!

Why SocITM surveys are destroying council websites and how to block them

If you’ve visited a local council website in the last few years, you’re very likely to have encountered a request to fill out a survey on how useful the site is to you.

It’s great that councils and other public bodies are seeking feedback on their online services, but unfortunately, many of them appear to have been misled into using the most awful and intrusive methods of doing so.

The main offender seems to be SocITM: an obscure and stuffy sounding body that describe themselves as  the “professional association for public sector ICT management”.

SocITM provide some kind of turnkey feedback service that can be slotted straightforwardly into the code of council websites. Presumably, they then manage the reporting and feedback to council staff. Unfortunately, it is the most annoying and ugly method for collecting user feedback that I’ve encountered in recent years.

The problem is, no-one ever visits a local council website simply to browse around it for fun. They visit it to rapidly find out information, like when to put the bins out or complete some kind of task, like paying council tax. To be presented with a screen where the content is completely obliterated and ugly, poorly-styled and composed text demands you provide “feedback” is tedious as hell. No: I am not going to feedback to you on your site right now and you should be lucky, because I’d tell you it’s crap.

Much better, to provide an unobtrusive feedback link on the right, a la UserVoice or at the completion of transaction. SocITM are doing their clients as massive disservice by insisting on the installation of ugly wrapper code to then ask for poor quality feedback.

What’s worse is that, despite repeatedly saying I don’t want to provide feedback, I continually get hassled for it as the code appears to move around different pages on the website.

How to block SocITM surveys from interrupting your browsing

Anyway, I’ve had enough. If you’re using Google Chrome, you can permanently block scripts provided by SocITM (or their partner Govmetric) from running on your computer again.

The offending script (pulled from this page) is here. To block it, you simply need to add an exclusion for the domain from which the script runs – in this case,

In Chrome, click the wrench menu (top right). Choose ‘Under the Hood’ and scroll down to Javascript settings.

Choose ‘Manage Exceptions…’. Then simply add as an exception. Make sure you set the “Behaviour” to Block.

If you have Google Chrome syncing turned on, this should then reflect across all installations.

Boom! No more SocITM surveys or, in fact, any powered by usability-hating survey house govmetric. Sad smiley faces all round!

UPDATE: Adrian Short has produced a beta Google Chrome extension that will do similar by adding a cookie but it’s a bit buggy at this stage. Feedback on both methods would be welcome.

UPDATE 2: It seems SocITM surveys are now polluting search engine results on Google:

SocITM screen grab from Martin Wright.

Has Twitter replaced your business card?

Originally posted at

When we tweaked our visual identity a couple of months ago, whole stacks of little bits of paper scattered around the office suddenly became obsolete. Now that we’ve moved offices, the information on them could be misleading too.

1895 business card

I’m referring of course to our business cards: little rectangles of information that have been existed probably since Gutenberg was trying to sell his presses in the 14th century. I suspect the format has changed little too; this 1895 example bears a striking resemblance to some designs I’ve seen just recently.

But, just what is the purpose of a business card?
I suppose that during organised “networking” events they’re a part of the theatre practised during formal introductions. A well-designed business card should also act as an aide-memoir.

And given the fact that we’re a digital business, I’ve been wondering just how useful business cards really are? For me, they’re often bland, forgettable and filed away in a part of my drawer I rarely check. It doesn’t help that cards which try to “stand out of the crowd” often end up being examples of awkward “corporate quirk” or suffer from the deployment of gimmicks like QR codes.

At many of the events that I personally attend, a business card is rarely useful. Last week, I stuck my head into Northern Digitals which, to be honest, I go along to as a social event. A lot of my friends work in digital or creative industries and enjoy a pint or two. And a lot of our clients do as well. But because it’s such a social place, I always get chatting with someone new that’s turned up and want to keep in touch with them after the event.

But for me, rather than swapping a piece of paper, the best way to keep in touch is by exchanging Twitter usernames. I almost always follow new people that I’ve met in real life and it’s a far more interesting and useful way to keep in touch with someone you might end up doing business with. It also means you can dispense with the empty pleasantries associated with those staid post-networking emails and work with someone as a partner almost immediately.

This is just my opinion; I know many feel business cards still have a place in the right situation. But given the amount spent on printing cards and the impact that has on the environment, I’m unconvinced that they offer better value for me personally than simply swapping Twitter accounts with someone I meet over a pint. Others seem to agree. But, if we get the design of our new ones right, you might see me try them out…

What do you think? Do you have any examples of killer business cards or have you found you’ve done more business through your Twitter account? Drop a comment below.

Technical fail: Broken mobile Britain

Update 20 May 2012: I never posted the below blog post at the time, but I’ve decided to go ahead and do it anyway. 

I’m so hacked off right now. All that rubbish about “never blog in anger”? I don’t care. Over the next few days, a few companies are going to feel my wrath and they better be ready for it.

So let’s start with the mobile phone networks.  I’m a patient kind of guy, but I’m utterly and completely sick of the shit service that customers have to put up with from the overpriced money-grabbing virtual cartel that are Britain’s mobile phone operators.

It is utterly unacceptable that in 2011, the simplest of tasks cannot be carried out with any sanity or convenience. This evening, it’s the second time that I have attempted to buy a top-up for my Three Mobile Mifi device while preparing to travel and that I have been disappointed.

The situation is compounded by the fact that my primary mobile network, the utter incompetent buffoons that are O2, refuse to let ad hoc personal hotspots be created by iPhone users. In fact, personal hotspots are simply another excuse for the networks to rip us off.

I am angry. Customers are repeatedly sold visions of flawless network performance, fault-free handsets and a company that claims to care about customer service.

Ultimately, the only thing they care about is their bottom line and most consumers are not at all important to mobile operators obsessed with hooking in large corporates with fat BlackBerry contracts or flogging overpriced iPhones with rubbish stock control.

Three, you cannot sell yourself as a 3G data specialist when you won’t even let customers pay you to use your mobile broadband services! It doesn’t help that you’ve signed up to this bonkers 3D Secure (Verified by Visa/Mastercard Securecode) which constantly breaks and frustrates consumers. If you really care abut this, your big boss needs to pick up the phone and bullock someone at Big Bank HQ whose intern designed the system. To be honest, you’re lucky I ever bought this Mifi off you lot because the first dongle I bought in 2008 barely got reception in the middle of central Manchester!

O2, I’m stuck with you because you claimed exclusivity on the iPhone then watched your network collapse like an elephant sitting on a balloon. You have never, ever provided a consistent 3G signal during a phone call and don’t blame the iPhone, I’m holding it the correct way. You also very rudely stop customers using all the features of the device that they’ve forked out £500+ for! Activate ad hoc personal hotspots immediately and take it out of the measly 500 MB allowance you’ve given us. We’ll have to pay if we go over that, as I frequently do these days.

The other networks are pretty much as bad. When the iPhone 4 was released to Vodafone and Orange, they had an opportunity to provide a much better deal than O2 and, in fact, offer welcome bonuses to defecting customers. They did not, and they fail. In fact, at the time I was looking, they didn’t even have any iPhone SIM-only tariffs for customers desperately wanting to jump the sinking O2 ship!

Now I’m sure there are some lovely people working in customer services etc etc but I cannot be bothered with 140 character apologies and whatever. Sort. out. your. mess. And while I’m at it, I love how O2 have just stopped bothering replying to me on Twitter whenever I have a complaint or a comment. I suppose there’s a little flag next to my name with the word “ignore”.

I suppose, if I’m lucky, I’ll get some comment from the above named firms on my blog post. Some sort of platitude/apology (with pleadings that it is truly genuine). I just don’t give a shit. I am trying to throw money at you guys to make this darn thing work! Make it work!

Rant over. For now.

How to install the Samsung ML-1210 printer on Mac OS X Lion (and higher)

One of the things that really should “just work” in the Apple environment is printing. Printers are a piece of hardware “sent from hell” and it doesn’t get any easier just because you have a Mac. See this insightful Oatmeal comic for why that is.

Why I believe printers were sent from hell (comic)

Printer drivers don’t keep up, perhaps because of the endless variants created mostly to sell ink cartridges, toners and other useless add-ons.

Unfortunately, Mac OS X Lion does not include drivers for the Samsung ML-1210, a cheap old black and white laser printer that I bought years ago. I should’ve remembered this as I had the same problem on OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard. The following solution works on all those variants:

In common with other variants of OS X, Lion supports CUPS – the Common Unix Printing System. This means that generic open-source drivers are available to use that enable Lion (and indeed Leopard, and Snow Leopard) to successfully print using this printer.

There are three separate pieces of software to install, including the driver, but all can be found at this page on the Linux Foundation website.

Essentially, you need to download each Disk Image listed (Samsung GDI, Foomatic-RIP and GPL-GS) and run the installer inside each one.

Once you’ve done this, open System Preferences and then click Print & Scan. Click on the small + icon on the left which should bring up the Add Printer dialog box. Samsung ML-1210 should already be listed and, under ‘Print using the Samsung ML-1210 Foomatic/gdi driver should already be selected.

Click ‘Add’ and the printer will be added to the list of available printers on your system. Sorted!

Five ideas for using the new Foursquare brand pages for your business or organisation

Foursquare logoToday, Foursquare launched the ability for anyone to create their own ‘brand’ page on Foursquare. This means that brands or organisations can now quickly set up a presence on the rapidly growing location based network, and share their tips and advice about what to do and where to go.

Let’s take a quick step back – remember, Foursquare is more than just a game or a tool to announce your location. It’s a social recommendation engine: it lets people find out where their trusted friends and contacts hang out and allows them to share tips and advice about places, from where’s good to eat, to special offers. I wrote a blog post primer on this titled How to win Foursquare friends and influence people.

Why is this new? Until recently, Foursquare had a lengthy and manual process for approving your brand on Foursquare and many organisations nominated an individual to be followed instead who could be their ambassador.

Now, to create a Foursquare brand page, all you need is your brand’s Twitter account, some logos, at least five tips and in about half an hour, you could be up and running and being featured in Foursquare’s page gallery. I had a go this afternoon setting up a page for #smc_mcr in Manchester and came up with some ideas for you to harness the power of Foursquare pages.

Creating a page is a bit like using making a Facebook page. You log in with your own personal Foursquare account and then create the Foursquare brand page. You can then ‘act as’ that Foursquare brand page while setting up the page and leaving tips.

Just one word of warning: if your brand or organisation already has a Twitter account linked to a personal Foursquare account, you won’t be able to create a Foursquare page for it using that Twitter account. If this happens, just un-associate (dissociate!) the brand Twitter account from the existing Foursquare account before you try and create a page.

So, once you’ve got your page set up, what can you use it for? Pages let you do two things: leave tips at locations and ‘check-in’ to a location as a brand. Here’s some ideas for how you can use both:

1. Invite users to your stores or physical location

Foursquare’s all about recommending places, so why not recommend your own? Leave a tip inviting someone to pop in for a cuppa, browse your shop or have a chat. Digital technology often works best when it enables unexpected positive real-world interaction, so make it happen. Even if they don’t take you up on that offer, at least people will remember that there’s a physical location nearby.

It’s even better if you’ve registered any relevant locations and have added “Special Offers”. Also, some cities like Manchester, have a scheme which means that venues can opt-in to allow people to use their toilets for free. This is another idea for a tip and invaluable to know if you need to spend a penny in town!

A note about tips: your tips pop-up on someone’s screen when they check-in nearby, if they’re following you. They also pop-up if they’re not following you, but only if there are no other unread tips from their friends nearby.

Make sure you check-in whenever you visit one of your venues or offices too.

2. Leave tips about things you already like doing

Being on Foursquare is means you’re part of a community of people sharing advice, so get involved. As a brand or organisation, are there fun places that your staff or employees like to hang out? Where do you go for lunch, or a drink after work? Tell Foursquare and tell us why – is it a cheap place to get your daily bread or does it have a great vibe to wind down after a long day in the office?

You could also leave tips relevant to the type of location. For example, is there a really useful information resource that someone should check out?

This is a great way to engage in the general conversation – after all, it’s what most people on Foursquare tend to do. If you have staff parties or outings, then you can check-in to those venues using the Foursquare app. It’s a good way of showing that you represent real people who do ordinary things. And, it’s a great way to spread the love in your local neighbourhood.

3. Holding an event? Let everyone know how to get involved

This is a no-brainer: if you’re having an event that people might be interested in, let them know by dropping a tip at the location. It’s a simple way to promote your event and spread the word to those who might not even know you’re doing something in the area. When the event starts, you can also check-in to the location as a page and tweet that you’re there and it’s going ahead.

This is especially good for community-based events or non-profits, but equally for one-off visits to town by brands like pop-up fashion sales or book-signings. Make sure you add a web link and a Twitter hashtag to your tips and check-ins, so someone can tweet it straightaway.

4. Avoid disparaging tips about competitors (leave that to the punters!)

“My burritos are better than their burritos”. While this may be true, it’s not really the place of a brand or organisation to leave negative comments about the competition. Yes, there are negative tips on Foursquare, but what individual users do is up to them (and will carry far more weight than seeing effectively a self-serving tip.

5. Go global

With Foursquare, your brand or organisation can have a presence way beyond the locality you’re based. Say you’re a non-profit sponsoring projects overseas: leave a tip near there letting local users know how you’ve helped and how they can get involved. If you’re a manufacturing brand or cottage industry, why not leave tips near where you source your raw materials? Or, if you’re a sports team with a global following, let people know where you can meet other fans.

It could be interesting for those local users to know just how far something travels and where it’s used, and it helps raise awareness of your online brand. And of course, if you go travelling or exploring new places, check-in as your brand wherever you go and say what you’ve seen and how it influences your business.

In conclusion, try to make your use of Foursquare relevant, quirky and interesting: plain, irrelevant ad-spam is an instant turn-off and can lead to a negative response on Twitter.

Also, set up your page quickly! Don’t worry if it’s not perfect: I’ve no doubt that we’ll see these pages mushroom, just like they do on Facebook, and it’s best to put something up quicker than it is to wait around to see what happens.

Go ahead and try setting up your brand page now. Do you have any other good ideas for how to use Foursquare pages? Leave a comment below.

Review: Share your food eating habits with Food Feed

Food Feed logoBBQ Food by @cubicgarden, licensed under CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0It’s barbecue season in the UK and, in between the downpours, there’s nothing more satisfying than getting out in the sun and charring some meat or veg.

Unfortunately, like Christmas, this can mean your eating habits suffer. Whilst attending a barbecue chez @cubicgarden last weekend, I discovered an interesting Twitter based app called Food Feed, which bills itself as an easy and simple way to track your food habits.

Using Food Feed is very simple. You just need to go to the Food Feed website and sign-in with your Twitter account. Then all you have to do is follow @having and start tweeting.

By tweeting “@having” at the start of your tweets, Food Feed can aggregate all your food tweets in one place, which means you can find them at (like mine). Adding a picture in to your food tweets can make it more memorable or sum up a large meal!

You can share this public feed with anyone you want – your doctor, nutritionist or even your mother. It’s a great way to link up with other people eating the same kinds of foods for inspiration or, in my case, to improve my eating habits and put all my food tweets into once place. If your friend on Twitter following @having too, they can see your food tweets without it interfering with your wider stream.

Unfortunately, Food Feed doesn’t offer much more than a simple search and aggregation tool. It would be great to see it integrated with an app like Meal Snap that estimates the calories in your meal through a photograph. However, the downside of using Meal Snap is that you have to photo every item of food and the data gets sent to Daily Burn, rather than being quite as simple and easy to share as Food Feed.

Check out Food Feed for free and see if it could be useful for you.