In January, Trend Hunter featured The Springboard Concierge, a Canadian innovation that's shaking up the the shopping cart landscape. A smart cart, the Springboard Concierge features an interactive touch screen that tracks your purchases, enables self check-out, finds coupons and more. The Springboard Concierge won't help you become a better cook, but it will walk you through recipes to help you prepare your meals.
This weekend, I will be delivering my Unlocking Cool keynote at the Techpoint conference, and I was very excited to learn that Springboard was sponsoring my speech. This gave me the introduction to speak with Sylvain Perrier, Springboard's VP of Technology. The result is that we now have the inside scoop on the company's latest developments and also Springboard's unique strategies for global innovation and customer obsession.
10 Questions with Sylvain Perrier
1. What's the story behind the original idea?
The original concept of Springboard Concierge dates all the way back to 2005. We approached the industry with idea for an application that would assist consumers through the shopping trip. It took roughly 3-4 years to refine the concept.
Over the last few years, we really sat through a lot of research... We performed research on 3,500 shoppers, worked with international partners, and I actually went on 16 shop-alongs with our target market, women 25-55.
2. Customer obsession is a big theme for me, tell me more about the shop-alongs.
I would actually meet the women at their home, ride along in their car, shop, and even go home with them to help them put the groceries away. This was helpful to learn how they create shopping lists, how they navigate the store, etc.
3. Have any retailers signed piloted or ordered the Concierge?
This weekend at TechPoint, we are launching the official opening. However, we have been in discussions with some major Canadian and US retailers. We have nothing formal just yet. However, our goal at TechPoint is to secure a pilot. The pilot would be to fully immerse a store in the concept. We would put 100-150 devices in a location to run for 90-120 days. We would do more shop-alongs and research during that time. I'm excited to measure the 'wow-factor' from the vendors and from the shoppers.
4. What has been the media response to your original launch, earlier this year?
The media response was insane. We ended up going on CBS, NBC morning shows, Tier 1 and Tier 2 media interviews. The impact is that we even have retailers as far away as Brazil wanting to test the concept.
5. Since your initial launch, what have been the most significant changes to your concept?
We saw a complete shift in the market place with the intro of the iPhone. Also the notion of social networking taking off has been a significant development. Plus, a renewed excitement for social consciousness.
I remember being at CES 2007 to accept a design award, and I saw the unveiling of the iPhone. I saw there was an immediate hunger of technology where the user controls the experience. To put that into an example, if I am pushing a cart, and I scan a bottle of chicken sauce, I don't want to know that it is $3.99 and that there is a coupon. I control the experience. Maybe I want recipes, and I want them tailored to me because maybe I am on a gluten free diet. As opposed to creating a mass to one experience, we want a one to one experience. That has been the biggest change to the experience.
Yes, the retailer has some control over the experience, but we bridge the gap by connecting to the consumer, empowering them and making them wiser. We help to create the experience and make it fun.
6. As you start to develop these insights, how to you capitalize so quickly, especially since your team is small?
We are effectively just 10 engineers in our organization, but we speak 16 languages and have integrated into formal, financial, legal agreements with partners around the world that help us. Although we are just 10 people, these strategic partnerships help us to be far more advanced than a typical company our size should be.
For example, GE Plastics has been instrumental in testing ergonomics with us. GE helps us to research how the product would integrate with the consumer. We've also received a lot of great ideas from our friends at Microsoft and our friends at Raza Micro (RMI) who helps to build embedded CPUs. Through all of these partnerships, we have effectively grown to 500 people!
7. How important is trend spotting in your role?
Trend Spotting is something I spend 95% of my time doing. My background is business, math and computer science. With that background, I've always been in a role where my role has been building the latest and greatest. This often starts with a concept or a radical idea. To be able to dig through what I believe is worthwhile, I am constantly feeding myself information. I read a book a week, and I probably cover 10 key websites a day, 3 dailies a day, and 10 periodicals a month.
However, most of my experience comes from going to different cities and venues. Blending in and understanding people is so important. I love going into the retail outlets to see how people interact with products. A great example of this is to see what people are like when they go into an Apple Store to interact with a product; or into a Best Buy to navigate the store.
We also spend 6 weeks a year each traveling around the world to work with our partners and to spot trends.
Jeremy, it's like your Unlocking Cool presentation and the Smith Corona example: You need to reinvent. There are companies today that build technologies, but they are 'just there'. They are afraid to reinvent and evolve, even though it might means moving past some of their existing products.
In short, you can't run a company today without a trend spotter. This is vital in all industries from insurance and finance to cutting edge technology.
8. Do you have a plan to create any complementary products?
We have some key strategic ideas about how we want to grow. One of the ideas tied into the device is the network. Since all the carts are wireless, it we rollout a chain, we would effectively be creating the largest consumer wireless network. 1000 locations = 1000 hotspots for a whole host of applications.
Something else that excites me is to see that Apple developed an SDK for the iPhone. The integration possibilities are endless.
9. How do you continue to fuel innovation within your company?
Within the organizations we have a big whiteboard and the staff submits ideas to the board. Every two weeks we have a pizza lunch where we discuss what's going on in the organization and we brainstorm on the whiteboard. Some of them have materialized to the device. For example, our device is actually 5 products in one, so a lot of innovation has been required.
Here's an example of a discovery from one of these pizza lunches: We leveraged a tracking system originally developed for the US military. We licensed their technology for tracking our carts. By doing that, we can show retailers the hot and cold zones of the store. Now vendors and retailers can optimize the spacing of their store.
10. Finally, paint me your ideal future Springboard's future?
Q1 2008, we do a pilot with a major US retailer. After the pilot, we rollout chain wide. Then we grow the business organically and start working with other retailers in the market. Then we start to develop new devices and applications. After that the sky is the limit, especially since there are so many global opportunities!