Ideas To Eliminate And Automate Retail Receipts

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, September 06, 2010 at 04:00 AM with 6 comments

photo of retail receiptsAlthough I don’t want to come off as repeating myself, paper retail receipts are out of hand. Where such receipts are important and necessary in documenting financial transactions, they can also become a cumbersome mess that can easily get out of control. Now some of you reading this may think I am going to an extreme, and you may not even save and reconcile to receipts. But I always have personally, and I have to for my Web consulting business, as any business owner should.

Here are a few more ideas I have regarding receipts, which build upon my initial rant conversation on retail receipts. As I don’t have the time, money or energy to act on these right now, I put these out there for anyone to take a stab at. Even if someone is successful and becomes a billionaire with some of them, it will eventually make my life easier!

Receipt File Format Standard – Call it the vCard or iCal standard for retail receipts. This would me an XML file structure for storing all of the data of a receipt into a file. This file will be in lieu of a paper receipt, and identifiable to the retailer by a unique serial number… which most receipts have today anyway. For the sake of discussion here, let’s call it vReceipt.

Deliver vReceipt files by SMS, Email or Web – Once a retailer creates a vReceipt, it needs to get to the customer. It could be delivered to them by any number of methods. If a customer provides their mobile number, it could be sent by SMS. If they provide their email, it could come in a message. The retailer could create a custom QR code for the transaction, and upon the customer scanning it, they could download the vReceipt from the Web. If the customer has a “membership” account with the retailer, the receipt could be delivered via their Web site.

Retailer transmits vReceipt data to third-party service via app – Why not have an app for that? When you check out, your app can show a QR code which can be scanned, then the retailer would transfer the receipt to the 3rd-party service. This service could be Quicken or your bank or a new service you use to track expenses.

Processing vReceipts Makes Expense Tracking Easy – Even though services like QuickBooks Online already sync with your bank, vReceipts can break down the transaction onto its pieces. Were 7 items purchased for work, one was a gift and the rest for the house? A vReceipt will know what was purchased, and will pre-populate the category of an item, or accept whatever override you have for it.

vReceipts App Can Be Used for Returns, Exchanges and Taxes – vReceipts should not just be for figuring out how much you spent on Pringles last year. As a replacement for paper, they should carry all the weight and responsibility of their soon-to-be-defunct paper counterparts. The identifiable information from the retailer should suffice for returns, exchanges, as well as proof for expenses for tax purposes. They would ideally replace having to fax receipts to your employer after you submit your expense report online as well.

What do you think of my ideas around vReceipts? Feel free to compliment, tear apart of use for your own, and your comments are welcome here, which along with vReceipts won’t consume any paper.

This is from The Hot Iron, a journal on business and technology by Mike Maddaloni.

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New And Old Retail Meet Via QR Codes

By Mike Maddaloni on Saturday, April 24, 2010 at 12:44 PM with 1 comments

Walking to the office today something caught my eye that I had to share, as pictured below.

photo of bus Stop ad in Spanish with QR code and Marshall Field’s, Chicago

Across from the former Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago on Washington Street is a bus stop. On that bus stop is an ad in Spanish for Google Android mobile phones. Prominent in the lower right corner of the ad is a QR code. What got my attention was the contrast of the old vs. new retail. The Field’s building, over a century old, with its iconic clock in comparison to the QR code on a non-English ad for a mobile device from a vendor barely over a decade old.

The real question is if these will continue to be 2 completely different retail concepts, or if they will come together as one?

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Google Promotes Maps and Local Listings With Decals and QR Codes

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, December 17, 2009 at 05:44 PM with 1 comments

photo of Google Maps letter and decalIt’s not everyday that someone says you’re a favorite, especially when that someone is Google.

Yesterday I received a letter from Google’s Local Business Team regarding my Internet consulting firm, Dunkirk Systems, LLC. It stated my Google Local listing is a “Favorite Place of Google” and reinforced this with stats – it was viewed 346 times in the 3rd quarter of 2009. Along with this letter of praise came a window decal stating “We’re a Favorite Place on Google” which features a QR code with a link to the mobile version of my Google Local listing. If you have a QR code reader on your mobile device, click on the accompanying photo to see a larger version of it from which you can scan the QR code and navigate to the link, or view the link to my mobile listing in your Web browser.

Where I haven’t done any poking around to see who else got a similar letter, there is some value in this, and just the opposite. First off, Google Local listings work. I have been seeing the hits coming to the Dunkirk Web site from the Local listing in my Google Analytics reporting. It is also yet another way to drive traffic to you and your business. Google Local also gives the ability for people to rate a business, similar to Yelp, which also provides businesses with window stickers.

For a retail establishment, this is a great program to offer the window stickers. But for a business like mine, it isn’t something I can leverage. First off, my mailing address is different from my office location. And my office isn’t typically where I meet my clients or have walk-in traffic. But Google Local doesn’t know this, nor did they ask.

Legendary US Congressman and House Speaker Tip O’Neil is known for his quote, “all politics is local.” Can the same be said for search? Yes and no, with an emphasis on the word “and.” If you don’t have a Google Local listing for your business, set one up right away. Today, there’s many services offered by Google, at no cost, that businesses and Web sites must use. So it’s quite obvious I use them myself, and do business with Google in many ways. Whatever your opinion of them, keeping up with what is offered by the Internet giant is vital.

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Testing Mippin To Mobilize The Hot Iron

By Mike Maddaloni on Monday, October 26, 2009 at 04:00 AM with 1 comments

Add The Hot Iron Mippin widgetMobile devices are the next frontier of the Internet. Where companies and even governments are now battling it out over the desktop, it is the device you can fit in your pocket that will be the next place they will be after. Where those reading this who live outside of the US are very in tune with this, folks here are not so much aware of this, namely as mobile devices are now crossing over from being simple phones to smartphones.

Now I will step off my soapbox and talk about practical applications, which is the path to the success of conquering the mobile frontier. When I recently happened upon Mippin, a service that will format your blog to display on a mobile device, I had to try it out. By creating a free account and entering my blog’s URL, it created an optimized version of The Hot Iron for a mobile device. You can see this for yourself by clicking the widget above or click this link. You are sent to a page to display it on your device, whether by entering a URL manually of scanning a QR code. As it is a Web page, you can display it in a standard Web browser as well.

Eventually I plan to build my own mobile-optimized version of The Hot Iron, but for now this is a good stand-in for it. I welcome your input on how this mobile format looks and works for you.

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Earth Day and QR Codes

By Mike Maddaloni on Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 10:09 PM with 5 comments

QR code for Earth Day 2009 Happy Belated Earth Day 2009! You either scrambled to do something “green” or wondered what more you can do, as it seems you are living about as green of a life as possible. I took a few moments to think about my day-to-day actions and how they impact the big picture of the world, and one word came to mind – innovation.

The Usual Suspects

As I have previously stated here on The Hot Iron I try to be as aware as possible as to my environmental impact. I wrote what I do in a draft environmental statement for my consulting firm Dunkirk Systems, LLC though I never got any feedback and it still has not reached Dunkirk’s Web site. I also carry a Reisenthel bag with me everywhere I go. Based on these, I feel I am doing as much as I have control over to do.

Other than these actions, making a greater impact takes more work, and that’s where I feel innovation comes into play. When thinking about it more, another thing came to mind – QR codes.

What are QR Codes and Why Should I Care

QR stands for “quick response” and a QR code is a 2-dimensional barcode in the form of a cube. With 2 dimensions, it can store a larger amount of information than a traditional 1-dimensional barcode (e.g. UPC code on a product). As a result, you can store whole sentences of information, Web site URLs, email addresses and even entire contact information records. For example, the accompanying QR code in this post reads, “Happy Earth Day 2009 from The Hot Iron @ !”

So how would you know that? QR codes are read by a scanner, and the most common form of scanner is a camera on a mobile device with accompanying software. Most Nokia models come preinstalled with a reader, otherwise you can get one from i-nigma among other vendors. Many devices are supported with a notable exception in Palm OS devices.

When the QR code is scanned, the information stored in the QR code is transferred to the mobile device, and you can then process it. If it displays text, you can read and save it. If it’s a URL, you can then browse to it. If an email address, you can send a message to it. If it’s contact information, you can add it to your contacts. This is basic usage of it. With more advanced software, you can do almost anything.

The following is a popular YouTube video from Japan showing how you can get nutritional information for McDonald’s menu items if you can’t see it you can view it here.

Tying The Message Together

As you may guess, QR codes are popular in Asia and in Europe but are still emerging in the US. I see QR codes as an innovative way to effectively communicate and reduce waste and costs at the same time. QR codes only require energy when they are scanned, and by the scanner themselves. They are also more eco-friendly than an RFID tag that require special manufacturing as well as are more cost effective. Here are a few examples of "green" uses that come to mind.

  • Subway ads feature a QR code, eliminating the need to have tear-off postcard pads attached to them, or the need to write down information and hard-to-remember URLs.
  • For that matter, all advertising should have a QR code with whatever desired call to action the advertiser desires.
  • At networking events or conferences, people can wear name badges sporting QR codes with their contact information. This eliminates the need to print and carry business cards, and reduces the time to process information from those cards.
  • At the Lollapalooza festival this year in Chicago, replace giving out cards on lanyards with people scanning QR codes to get free songs from iTunes, and they could be downloaded right to your device bypassing the iTunes computer software (with a more robust scanner software).

Where Earth Day continues to be popular, for many it is a day to make symbolic gestures. New, fresh and innovative ideas are needed to reinvigorate it, and QR codes fit the bill. What say you?

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Nokia E71 Is A Business Colleague

By Mike Maddaloni on Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 04:00 AM with 3 comments

Prior to attending Nokia OpenLab, I was sent a Nokia E71 device for evaluation. Unfortunately I did not get time to do more than charge it before my trip, though I did get a walkthrough from the friendly staff at the Nokia Flagship Store in Chicago. Upon my arrival in Helsinki, I inserted the Finnish SIM card I got from Nokia and started using the E71 as my primary phone, as well as camera, notebook, etc. When I got back to the states I went back to my Treo 680, but then decided I really needed to put the E71 to task and put my own SIM in it, and used it as my primary phone for the next several weeks. Here’s my recap of this extremely positive experience.

Symbian For The Palm Guy

This was my first hands-on experience working with the Symbian operating system (OS) and S60, the platform that runs on it that powers the device. I had heard great things about it, namely its level of customization. This was a completely new thing for me, as a user of the Palm OS since the mid 90’s. Sadly, other than going color, Palm OS hasn’t evolved much over the years. There has been more activity on the ownership side of Palm OS, and the technical name for it today is now Garnet OS.

photo of clock on Nokia E71One of the first changes I made to the configuration was to show options and applications in list form rather than icons and to change the skin, both to make it easier for me to read. The general flow of S60 was logical, though there were some options that were not exactly where I thought they would be. I did like the home screen, with a clock and customizable list of icons for the options I would use most. A cool feature, in addition to the glowing Navi Scroll Key, is when you press the key when it is glowing, the time is displayed, which is handy as I (as well as others I am sure) use their device as a watch.

Using S60 is to learn S60 and to appreciate it. I most appreciated it being multi-threaded, so I could go between the browser, the phone and back without having to renavigate to where I was. I was also able to do everything using keys, as the E71 does not have a touchscreen. Though I (and others who are iPhone users) were tapping away at it at first, I quickly got over it when I was able to get to where I wanted to be. By walking through all menu options, I was able to truly learn all I could do.

The Physical E71

Of course I did a lot of comparisons between the E71 and my Treo 680. Palm once owned this market, and it was stripped from them by the likes of BlackBerry and now Nokia with this model. The phones had similar width and height, but the E71 is about half the thickness. This may be due to it not having a touchscreen, or just better design. Despite the size difference, it is only slightly lighter than the Treo, but it feels like a solid device, and a lot of that may be due to the amount of metal in the case. The keyboard took a little adjustment – the keys touch each other where on the Treo they do not. Also, the number 0 was to the right of the 9 rather than below the 8 and the * and # keys were to the side of 3 and 6 respectfully. On many occasions I hit the wrong keys when checking voicemail. Once I got over this, I forgot about it with the @ key being a primary key among other changes from the standard QWERTY keyboard.

There are 2 cameras on the E71, one on the front and one on the back. The one on the front is presumably so you can take pictures of video of yourself while you watch yourself. The camera itself was hit or miss with me, and I was prompted to test this from others’ experience. Pictures in brighter light came out better than those in dimmer light. Note my degree is in computers and not photography, and it could have also been what I was shooting and how. I was not a fan of the “spotlight” flash on the camera (there is only one flash, on the back) as when taking pictures of my baby daughter or other infants in dim light, it was impossible to get a shot without them wincing. But it is a 3.2 megapixel camera, and there were decent pictures I got from it, and it beat the socks off of the 640 x 480 pictures I get from the Treo.

Other thoughts on the E71 include the very long-life of the battery, the decent amount of memory (namely as I did not add a memory card to it) and the magnet that it is to fingerprints. I would put a piece of screen-guard film over the screen to reduce some of this. It only crashed on me once, interestingly when I was locking the keyboard. Crashing once in a month is not bad as compared to the several times a week it happens to my Treo 680.

Down To Business

The E71 is part of Nokia’s business line, and the phone does not disappoint. As I simply used the device without a plan, I hit on many of the features that were selling points to me on it. I was able to easily setup 2 POP email accounts, and could check mail with no problem. It took a little poking around to get email lists to show on 2 lines, and how I could choose to download entire messages or not. At one point I filled the on-board memory of the device and in my attempt to try to check mail, I somehow blew away my mailboxes. Not sure what I did, I recreated them and was back in business.

Browsing the Web was enjoyable as I was able to view full Web pages. I like how the browser will load a page, show part of it and as you scroll show you where you were on the larger page. Bookmarks showed favicons, a nice feature, and I was able to use pretty much any Web site I tried on it. And the multi-threaded S60 is worth mentioning again, as I was able to go between calls and the Web without losing my place.

You can create, edit and view Office documents on the E71. All I did was view a couple of Word documents that were emailed to me and I didn’t even realize I could do it – this is something I do on the Treo 680 all the time, and just assumed I could perform it on the E71 as well, and was not let down. I like the idea you can work with PowerPoint, as it would be a great tool to use for reviewing a presentation.

Applications I had fun with were Qik and the barcode reader. I had heard of Qik but never used it myself. Shooting and streaming video over S60 devices is, borrowing from my Boston roots, wicked cool. As I have not been able to find a barcode reader for Palm OS, the one installed on the E71 allowed me to experiment with QR codes, the 2-dimensional barcodes that are now starting to appear more in the US, and will soon be appearing on my own business card. I should note I did not use the GPS features much on the device. I did use Sports Tracker application one day on a walk to a business meeting, but I did not fully exploit these features.

I never installed the Nokia PC Suite and as a result never loaded my contacts onto the phone. This will be something to pursue once I get my own device as I am a Palm Desktop user and am not an Outlook user. The migration of contacts will probably take some work, a task I would like to avoid more than a trip to the dentist! I will probably check out Howard Forums and All About Symbian for input and advice as to the shortest path to completion of this task.

However I almost installed the PC Suite as I wanted to pull the pictures I took on the phone onto my PC. I was talking with tnkgrl at Nokia OpenLab and commenting I was about to do this, when she told me all I needed to do was plug in the USB cable, and the device would ask me how to “act” and I just had to choose it to act like a mass storage device, and it was like copying files from one drive to another. Sweet!

I Like It

In summary, I really like the Nokia E71. It is a durable, quality device that works with me to get the job done. It has a lot of the features the Treo 680 is lacking, and where there is a match of services, they are much better on the E71. It also sold me on Symbian and S60.

If you are looking for a new mobile device, I highly recommend you explore the E71. If you do, please feel free to comment as to your opinion of the device.

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